Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What kind are you?

What kind of Lutheran are you? You see, almost like ethnicities in the US, we add a label to word "Lutheran" here in the US. Some of this comes from the different synods -- are you A Missouri Lutheran or an ELCA one, or a Wisconsin? Are you evangelical or confessional? Are you liturgical or are you contemporary? Are you pietistic or rationalist or something else?

These terms are important - they tell what we are. They inform. They provide little snap shots of who we are. What word modifies the type of Lutheran you are - what word describes what you are amongst all those various folks holding to the Lutheran banner?

I have one that I think works well.

I am a Sacramental Lutheran.

Seriously - a lot of those other titles have bits of baggage and the like. So what drives me - what thing strikes me. Well, I could say "Confessional" - but I don't have the edge for some of those circles. I'm liturgical, but I'm not super fancy. I'm evangelical, in the old sense, but no one knows what that means.

But Sacramental - that hits it. I am a Lutheran who is sacramentally focused - let's be focused on Baptism, the Supper, and (dare I say) the public proclamation of the Word and see and delight in all that Christ has done for us.

Everything else, if this focus is right, will come out in the wash. With increased baptismal and sacramental focus we will fight off works righteousness, tom-foolery in worship, and Pietism. When we are focused on Christ, we will not become legalists trying to make ourselves perfect nor will we fall to antinomianism. This is a good way to be.

I am a Sacramental Lutheran.

And we aren't this enough. A Roman Catholic friend of mine, hearing me talk, said to me, "I didn't know you Lutherans were so Sacramental." Let's fix this and see where we go.

Our Thankfulness in the Way

I really hate that Luke 17:11-17 has become the great "thankfulness" text. You need to be thankful. See how few people are thankful - you need to be thankful.

All law - when this text is really about nothing but Gospel. Christ is worn and tired from travel - yet He still hears the cries of the Lepers and heals them. 9 of the lepers are short on thankfulness, yet they are still healed, because Christ is merciful. Their lack, their folly, even after receiving mercy is shown - yet Christ remains merciful.

He is merciful - go on with your life. He will heal you - go on with your life. What a comforting text!

And yet -- how many people will wag a finger and say, "Have you been thankful enough to God today?" No, I haven't - but He has been more than merciful to me, so stuff, you preacher of the law! Thank God for how holy you are, how you are so much more thankful than me - I will simply continue to call out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

(Note: In our history study, we are starting to look at the rise of Pietism and Rationalism -- this means I may be in a very cranky mood against any and all forms of legalism, Christian self-help, works righteousness, or "christian" arrogance. You are warned)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Oh noes!

After a brief flowering of semi-weak internet fame, my readership is on the decline. Gone are the halcyon days of July when I was getting over 120 hits a day. . . now I'm declining, only 80. Oh noes, what am I to do?

Maybe I should try to be more hip and edgy? Or maybe I should see what worked -- ooOOoo, evanglism myths light up the search engines, maybe I should focus on nothing but that? Or maybe I should take more open and controversial political stands...

I mean, because, readership is declining - that means I must be doing a horrible job. . . .

Or not at all. You know, maybe I should still do what I set out to do here - rant about theology in my own smarmy way as rants about theology are brought on by events and influences in my life, and let the chips fall where they may. And perhaps I should rejoice in what I have, because it wasn't that long ago where my daily readership was around 35... or maybe I should simply write for my own theological focus and benefit and go from there.


Of course - I hope you realize this post really isn't about readers of this blog. From a sheer egotistical point of view, I enjoy having you all read - I do enjoy it if I get someone like Father Hollywood riled up (um, must get more readers . . . um... Jesus' brothers WERE the children of Joseph and Mary... there, that should do it!) - but really this is about our congregations.

We can be terrified of numbers. We can see any number in decline, and in the thick of things, we can panic. We can remember better days in the past when the place was a bit more full, and then we can start searching to figure out what we were doing "right" back then to pack people in, or we can start thinking about what we need to change into in order to pull more people in.

How about simply being faithful? How about simply being a place where the Word of God is preached in all its purity, purity that upsets and offends some. And this is good, because our vision and scope is limited.

I was discussing just random pastoral practice things with Seminarian Hobson (who will be off to the Fort for year 4 before I get back from a short trip to CA), and I said, "So, I suppose I've got roughly 100 people who are members here who might show up for something or need me" - as opposed to what the books say with 75+ who live out of state, and another 50+ that are members elsewhere/haven't darkened the door in 6 years (we don't have a good roster cleaning mechanic).

I wrote 100 on the board with a little shame. . . it seems so few. I mean, Jay could remember times 15 years ago when that was what you might get on a Sunday... and his eyes lit up in surprise. . . and I asked him if he were surprised, and he said, "You really think there are still 100 people left?"

I do. It's roughly right (here's the hint - count your offering envelopes - those are the people your financial folks think might show up and contribute something at some point over the course of a year). But whereas I saw 100 and was disappointed - he was impressed. He's been out in schooling for 7 years, and has grow in wisdom, and knows what a meat grinder the world is, knows what simple aging is doing to this town, area, and congregation - and so without his artificial expectations, he wasn't disappointed with reality.

Guess what, oh Congregations, understand oh Pastors - sometimes you are just going to be small. Sometimes you are going to be on what seems to be an inevitable decline. Perhaps it will be the decline, perhaps there will be a reflowering -- you don't know, you don't see all ends. So don't worry about that - be faithful.

Proclaim Christ. Teach and Learn. Receive the Supper. Mayhaps God will bring growth - mayhaps people aging and dying is the slow shaking off of the dust of your feet of this godless time and and age. You don't know - and you don't need to know.

Focus on the Cross. See your own sin, confess it, and receive forgiveness. That way you will have life -- and let institutions, fame, repute, and all these worldly things go where they will - your life is beyond these things, your life is Christ and is for eternity, is for the New Heaven and the New Earth where all these things that vex us so needlessly will be forgotten.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Oh, and please, please please tell your friends about my blog. . . Weedon has more readers than I do, and I need to catch up to him (snicker, snicker. . .)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pietism, Mysticism, and Rationalism, oh my!

This morning I am going to start writing the 20th Chapter of the history study that I have been doing here at Zion -- Chapter 20 will be page 321 (although probably half of that is a lot of Luther quotes and then also the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, which we studied in detail) of this study that will have its 6th anniversary next month.

I am a historian. That's just how I look at things. I tend to look at things in the long run. That's one of the reasons why I end up shrugging a bit at the troubles we have with intellectual fads and what not. What we see are just new spins on the same old problems the Church has always faced (you know Gerhardt got canned in Berlin because they wanted to introduce Calvinist worship practices. . . )

And really, coming out of the 30 years war, you have the three things that shape our modern world. Pietism (which focused one upon the self and individual behavior, leads to subjectivism and to your "postmodernism"), Mysticism (which undercuts clarity of confession and individualizes, focusing on experience, which leads to the whole, "but I don't GET anything out of it" approaches of the day), and Rationalism (which leads to the liberal denials of Scripture as well as simply human intellectual egoism where mysteries of God that cannot be explained are deemed to be false, myths, or outdated).

To quote Jon Bon Jovi - "It's all the same/ only the names have changed/ everyday it seems we're wasting away."

So - what does this mean?

1. DON'T PANIC - (note: thoat should have appeared in nice, friendly letters) The new horror unleashed upon the Church by Satan and his dupes is. . . well . . . not really all that new. Built on the Rock, the Church doth stand. Chill out - remain faithful - and if people fall by the wayside - well, go read 1 Kings, see what happens there, then shut your whiney pie-hole until Queen Jezebel calls for your head on a pike.

2. Don't Celebrate - Okay, something goes well, we get a small victory over the forces of whatever. It's just a battle in a long, long war. It's not that big of a deal, and 150 from now (if our Lord tarries that long, come quickly, Lord Jesus!) it probably won't even be a foot note. Be moderate in both your despair and your rejoicing over the big theological picture of the world. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..."

(Note: If I got paid by the word like Dickens did, my sermons would be a whole lot longer)

3. Keep focused on proclaiming Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Hold fast to both Law and Gospel - for that is what will keep you safe and allow you to stand in these days, for Pietism, Mysticism, Rationalism, Neo-Evangelicism, American-style worshipism, postmodernism, and whatever -ism de jour comes up always attack the doctrine of the Law, the Gospel, and normally both.

Pietism guts the Law and obscures the Gospel.
Mysticism ignores them both.
Rationalism denies the Gospel and reduces the Law to social morals.
Neo-Evangelism guts the Law and subsitutes psuedo-Gospel.
American-Style Worshipism substitutes motivation for the Gospel.
Postmodernism does. . . well, what do "you" feel it does, cause I can't tell you otherwise =o)

Hold fast to sound teaching - that's been the way of things since the fall - and that's just the way it is now. Oh well - endure.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Do Good Work better? How about. . .

So Christian - do you say that you want to do more good works? Do you want instruction in how you can be a better Christian? Do you want simple lists of things to do to make yourself a better person. Here I have the ultimate list - so powerful, so simple, it needs only one item, indeed, only one word.


There it is. Not too flashy, is it? Well, you didn't say that you wanted some flashy plan... Oh, you wanted some flashy plan. Well, tough. Flashy plans are dumb and self-centered, and if you are to be a better Christian, you are not to be self-centered. You are to be a denier of self - you are to repent.


No, seriously. Want to be a better Christian - repent more. Search out the sin in your life and repent of it - turn away from it. Fight against it, beat it down. Figure out in what ways you yourself have been a tool, a jerk, a dweebzoid, a wild variety of choice words and...


Turn away from your sin. Beat it down. Fight against it. And in so doing, you will see and understand just how big and nasty your sin is - it isn't a matter of you being decent and just needing a little bit of touch up, a nice coat of paint that you can slap on by watching a 1 hour video and then sell yourself as the most bestest house on all the street. Nope. You are in need of complete refurbishment.


And when you are repenting -- not "have repented", for that implies that you get to stop repenting at some point in your life, but when you are repenting of your sin and struggling against it, know that Christ Jesus lifts the weight and guilt of that sin from you, bears it upon Himself upon the Cross, and that He fills you with wondrous and sweet life everlasting, His own life, poured upon you in baptism, preached into your years, placed upon your tongue and poured into your mouth.

Christ's life is yours. Repent - kick your own dross out of the way, and the life that He has given you will shine forth all the more.

Slugging along in the world

One of the things that can be most disconcerting to Christians is when things this life, this world just seem to drag. Not so much when there is the terror of something awful, because that happens for obvious causes, like _______ is mean, or your 2 pack a day habit caught up to you - but just when every day seems. . . eh. . . like every day. When things become dull and boring, when life has lost its sheen, when things that were good have started to wear thin.

This is disappointing and difficult -- but you know what? Its the way we ought to expect things to be. You see, I think we in the Church has swallowed too much of the world's propaganda, too much of the world's sell job. We believe that our lives ought to look like the commercials (a beer commercial could be especially, especially awesome), that we should be able to always keep up with the Joneses, that the newest and best is ours by the "divine" birthright of being an American.

But that isn't the truth. The truth is that this world is sinful, is fallen, and that all of its joys are fleeting. That meal that was wonderful last night - well, what is it now? That's the way of life in this world. Moth and rust destroy, and food and drink do not satisfy.

So, my friends, do you look out and see the world and just feel rotten and disappointed and disenfranchised - do not be sad but rejoice. You are learning to see things the way they are. And because of this, you are prepared to focus your eyes upon the Treasure which is not destroyed by rust or moth - Christ Jesus - He who is the meal who fills us for life everlasting.

Yeah - the world stinks on ice - this is why we pray "Come, Lord Jesus."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Too Much Jesus? I think not!

One of the complaints that sometimes gets leveled at Lutherans is that we focus too much on Christ. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we get that Jesus stuff, but tell us about law, or money, or morals, or what have you.

Consider this quote from Ignatius of Antioch, chapter 6 of his letter to the Philadephians.

"But if anyone expounds Judaism to you, do not listen to him. For it is better to hear about Christianity from a man who is circumcised than about Judaism from one who is not. But if either of them fail to speak about Jesus Christ, I look on them as tombstones and graves of the dead, upon which only the names of men are inscribed. Flee, therefore, the evil tricks and traps of the ruler of this age, lest you be worn out by his schemes and grow weak in love. Instead, gather together, all of you, with an undivided heart."

I love Ignatius.

Evangelism Myth 10 - If We Only Get the Youth

One of the major myths that deals with Evangelism revolves around youth, and the idea is that if we only can somehow attract and appeal to the "youth", then we will have a vibrant, growing Church.

This is an utter myth, both in the short term and the long term. Why? As for the short term, imply put, kids aren't the majority of any Church population - they are small minority. They are young and vibrant, but just a minority. And often, they are a minority that isn't in control of where they are at. Sure, the ones who are over 16 might have a car - but other than that, they will rely upon parents for transport and things like that.

But more importantly - the youth constantly change - they constantly roll over. So you get a couple of dynamics with this -- first, they often move away, head to college, whatever. They will leave your own congregation - this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it won't necessarily mean growth for YOU. Have to accept that. More importantly - if you try to simply cater to and placate youth, you will have to change what you do with every new batch of high schoolers. What this constant focus on change will do is alienate other people.

Think about this - if you make the focus of your Church "youth" - you have the 17 year old who gets told everything revolves around them - you change, you jump through hoops, you try to be hip all to attract that 17 year old. Great. But what happens when they are 23? You aren't placating them anymore - you're placating the new 17 year old. . . and you've alienated them. You had told them they were special and awesome -- but now they aren't the center. If you run for the youth, you will alienate them once they are no longer youth - because you had taught them that Church is supposed to do what they want. . . and they will run off to the "Gen X" ministry, or the young adult ministry - what have you. This is to say nothing of alienating the adults and elderly if your attempt to please the youth at first involves demolishing the Church's tradition and identity.

Now, does this mean the mean Pastor Brown doesn't care about youth? Not at all - in fact, one of my great loves is Campus Ministry... but this isn't because "this will grow the church." Rather - instead of placating our youth - we need to raise them, instruct them, show and teach them not why "they" are important and how we should focus on them, but teach them why Christ is important, and why everything we do in the Church focuses on Christ... and how they won't get that focus elsewhere.

Other denominations placate people and itch their ears. Is it any mystery that youth whom we spend years placating wander off to new placators when they become old and our "we've got to get the youth" don't view them as so important anymore?

Rather, our task is to take everyone, male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free, young and old - and focus them upon Christ and the gifts He gives to them. Sure, we can have groups and studies focused on whatever - ladies aid and men's club and youth and college and singles -- whatever -- but they need to be focused first and foremost on Christ and also upon being incorporated with the rest of the Church in worship and (literally incorporated) in the Supper.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Muslim Superheroes - Islam and Christianity

So here is a thing on CNN about an upcoming Superhero comic series "based on Islamic Archetypes".

Before I discuss the idea of Islamic Superheroes, the author, who is a liberal/friendly Muslim notes the following: "Christianity came about at a time when harsh rulers subjugated their people, making already difficult lives nearly impossible. The people responded to the message of Jesus as they did 600 years later to the message of Mohammad. Both Christianity and Islam offered simple messages to the poor: Live by the rules and your rewards will come later."

First off, note what he does - Christianity is nothing but a preaching of the Law - do good, get good in the long run. This is utterly sad that Christianity would be watered down and summed up this way. But, well, Law is law is law.

Second, note how this is a social issue - throw of the contraints of the oppressors! He proudly defies the angry, West-hating cleric... because Christianity and Islam are both apparently about casting off oppression.

These both sound like the ideas of liberal, Christless "Christianity". You see what this means. A Christianity that ignores Christ is indistinguishable from Islam -- the only difference are quirks of habit, style, or culture.

Christianity is more than this - remember that.

Second - on Islamic Superheroes. . .

This makes perfect sense, and should fit in quite well with American Superhero stories. The "Superhero", the person who is "super", who is above and beyond others because of something is really much more of an Eastern thought. Consider Arabian Nights - chalk full of stories about might and magic - that's an Eastern thing. In the West, our heroes had classically just been men (perhaps sent by God) to do things. Robin Hood - just a man. Arthur - just a king... the magic sword comes in only after the Crusades imported Eastern stories into the West again.

Perhaps these will be interesting character - perhaps not. But the concept itself - the creation of an idealized set of heroes to teach value makes good sense - and the way that works won't be as odd to us in the West as we think.

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 - Mark 7:31-37 - August 22nd, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
So Jesus is just walking by, on His way to wherever He is going, and suddenly, the people bring to Him a man who is deaf and mute. Can’t hear, can’t talk. These people beg Jesus to lay His hands upon him, to heal this poor man. These are good people, these are good folks. They are utterly kind to this deaf man, bringing him to where he might be healed. They are good and faithful folks, trusting in the goodness of our Lord. And of course, they expect Jesus to heal the man, as do we. But let’s look at what Jesus does in how He heals this man.

First, we hear this, “And taking him aside from the crowd privately”. The very first thing Jesus does is He pulls the man apart from the crowd. Consider what life would be like for the deaf-mute. He has a hard time communicating – he can’t understand, he can’t speak and let his own wants be known – he is cut off. And then, his friends come, and they rushedly bring him out to Jesus – do you see how this might be confusing? So what does Jesus do – first thing, he takes the man aside. There’s not going to be a whole crowd for this man to see and try to take in – Jesus brings this man’s focus onto Himself. And then, what do we see? “… He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” I really do think that this is one of the most beautiful things in Scripture. Well Pastor Brown, why is jamming your fingers in someone’s ear and spitting and grabbing his tongue beautiful? Because Jesus lets this deaf man know exactly what He is going to do for him. You can’t hear, can you? Well, you can feel – do you feel My fingers going into your ears – well, in a moment My Word is going to come into your ears and open them. You can’t talk, can you? Well, you can see. Can’t spit out the words – well, after I speak My Word, this tongue that doesn’t work right will be able to spit those words on out. It is wonderful care and compassion – it is the Great Physician letting His patient know what He’s going to do. And Jesus didn’t need to, I suppose – He could have just healed the guy right away – but now the man will understand this healing, understand the love that God has for him.

“And looking up to heaven He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘be opened.’” A little bit more visual demonstration – see, I am praying, see, my movements tell you what is going on. And then the Word is proclaimed – “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” The Word of God once again takes effect. The Word of God, which brought all things into being in the beginning is spoken once again, and there is recreation. Sin, death, the falleness of the world, these all try to destroy creation – try to break it. This man couldn’t hear – broken. This man couldn’t speak right, had an impediment – broken. And then the Word of God comes in, and creation is restored, things are made once again to how they ought to be, those ears that were meant to hear hear again and lips that were meant to speak speak again.

So, what does this mean? What do we learn from this? We see that Christ Jesus, out of His great love, will speak His creative and restorative Word to people to heal them. And this is true for you. Consider your own body. I’d wager that quite a few of us here woke up with aches and pains today, bits and pieces where our own bodies no longer quite work right. I know that some of you, like the man in the lesson, don’t hear so well – and some of you don’t hear nearly as well as you think you do. I’m not immune – I’ve got myself a speech impediment, and I know aches are coming and my ears, my eyesight are going to be going all pretty soon. We are sinners in a sinful world, and as such the impact of sin ravages our bodies. That’s what this world brings us – we talk about 40 being over the hill. No, really once you hit around 23, 25, the body’s not improving and growing anymore – it’s starting its slide down towards the wages of sin. And that’s simply where we’d be ending up – but for one thing. Christ Jesus our Lord delights in speaking a Word of creation and restoration. Sometimes we see this in healings here – people getting well again from things they had no right to get well from. Most of us probably should have been dead already, and if it weren’t for God’s care and compassion and healing, we would have been. It’s why we pray for folks every week – every day. But more than that – “and I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.” The full and complete restoration will come then at the last day when we hear our Lord with the cry of an archangel raise us from the grave, restore our Bodies, restore not just hearing and speech but every sense and every power and every faculty to these bodies here – whether we are alive when He returns or whether our bodies have been smoldering. This is God’s great love for you. You too shall be healed, and it will be for all eternity.

But this text, dear friends, while speaking directly to physical healing, also teaches us and reminds us of more than just our physical healing. This text, this lesson, is an image of the spiritual healing and creation that goes on in your life as well. Spiritually speaking, when you were born, you were born Spiritually deaf and dumb – sin had you cut off from God, cut you off from man. And that’s what sin does – it makes you deaf to hear. It makes you unable to speak rightly. And what happened? Someone brought you to Jesus, someone brought you to where the crowds were gathered around Christ Jesus. Again, this deaf mute wasn’t left to find Jesus on his own, he was brought to Him. Of course, this man had to be brought to Jesus – he wasn’t going to find Jesus on His own. Likewise, someone came to you – perhaps your parents before you can remember, perhaps a friend, and you were brought to Jesus.

Now, let’s keep thinking about this. Brought to a place where crowds were gathered around Jesus – do we know a place where people all gather around Jesus, even today. . . oh, yeah, Church. And what happened to you in God’s Church? God deals with you directly. The Word of God is proclaimed, and you were given faith – your own callous, sinful ears were pierced and opened by the Word of God, and you understood the forgiveness He has won for you upon the Cross with His death and resurrection. Christ Jesus Himself, through one of His servants, didn’t spit, but took water and spoke Christ’s own Word, and baptized you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost – and you were washed clean of your sin, made a child of God, restored to the community of the faithful.

And this isn’t just a one time thing, it isn’t just a one time thing of the past. Are you still a sinner in a sinful world? Yes, indeed. Satan still tries to clog your ears, tries to tie up your tongue. How about it? This past week, anytime you turned a deaf ear to anyone, anytime you failed to speak words of love and care to another? Of course, and if you think you hadn’t failed this past week, you need to think again. So what does Christ Jesus do? He brings us again to His House, to His Church, where He speaks His Word into our ears to open them, where He places His own Body and Blood upon our tongues so that we are forgiven and may show forth His love. This place is all about how we receive from God through the Word, through the Sacraments (which are nothing other than God’s Word tied and joined into something physical for physical people like us), how we receive from God the love and forgiveness which Christ Jesus won for us upon the Cross. The same sort of things that this deaf man received, the same pattern holds for us here today in what we receive here.

I would like to just take a moment before we conclude to do a little teaching, a little explanation. I have mentioned that I think it is beautiful when Jesus sticks His fingers in the man’s ear, when He grabs the fellow’s tongue. These actions, these physical actions tell and teach what Jesus is going to do. Here in God’s House, we have physical actions that tell and teach us about the faith. Consider – what happens before the Gospel reading? Those who are able to rise do so. Why? What does that movement teach – that something wondrous and worthy of respect and honor is going to happen – the Words of Jesus will be proclaimed. That is worthy of respect. That teaches. In a few moments, I will ask you to rise – why? Because you will receive a blessing from God – and that too is worthy of respect. When I give that blessing – I will make the sign of the cross. Why? Because that tells and teaches you that because you are baptized you can be assured that you have this blessing, that you have God’s peace which surpasses all understanding. These movements, standing or sitting, the sign of the cross – when I kneel in confession, whether I face y’all to speak the Word to you or whether we all face the altar in prayer towards God – these things all teach and focus us upon the receiving of God’s Word – so that even if our minds wander, our bodies move and pull us back onto track. Even these little things, even the bowing of our heads in prayer are designed to continually focus us back upon the love and mercy that Christ Jesus has for us.

And so, with this in mind, my dear friends in Christ Jesus – when you hear and consider this text today of the healing of the deaf mute – know that the same Christ Jesus who healed this man does the same for you. He cares not only for your body, which He shall raise again on the last day, but with the power of His Word He has spoken faith into you, brought you into His Church, where our lips are opened and we proclaim the glories of the God who has brought us redemption and forgiveness. For this we shall give Him praise with all the heavenly hosts, even forevermore. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Just one moral code among many

Many Christians are very scared of the specter of Post-modernism, a thought system which when popularly used ends up devolving to "There is no Universal Truth" or "one truth is just as valid as the next." Seriously, Post-modernism is a common and frequent whipping boy, and its anti-modern aspects which are beneficial (Postmodernism exists to question the truths presented by modernism - you know, all those "truths" that assume that there is no God, no miracles, because that would just be right silly).

Why? I think part of the reason is too often we think of Christianity in moral terms. We know that we need to start with preaching the Law and then the Gospel, but we confuse the Law with morality... and if Christianity is presented first and foremost as a moral code, or if that is what you think Christianity is, then indeed Post-modernism is the scariest thing in the world.

Why? If you play up Christianity's moral truths, you are jumping into a competitive world. Buddhism can give you an interesting moral code, as can Hinduism, or even Islam. And if it is just about moralism, just about moral behavior - well then, (thinks the typical post-modern thinker) any one of these is just as good as the other - it's just what flavor I want to use.

This was illustrated most clearly to me when I was visiting my old Greek Professor, Ralph Doty, at OU a few years after graduation. Dr. Doty is. . . well, I know he was raised Baptist, but he has a good knowledge and love of buddhism (something I understand completely - I almost did grad work focusing on Japanese Buddhism -- interesting stuff). Well, as is common at OU, one of his students determined that she was going to save his soul and convert him - he mentioned respect for Buddhism, so she was going to win him for Christ. And she took a nice little tract, and it had "The 4 things you must to do be a Christian" - and they were all moralistic, man centered. Love your neighbor, things like that.

At this point, Dr. Doty says, "Hmmm, that's interesting," and then turns around and pulls a Buddhist text and says, "Hmmm, love your neighbor - that's here, and then that one, oh, that's here" for all the points, and then asked if she wanted to read his book while he read hers. She fled.

Now, Dr. Doty illustrated a point in a very blunt and caustic fashion (as Dr. Doty is want to do - my favorite line - his absence policy is if you miss or are tardy for seven classes, you fail. "If your grandmother dies, miss class and bury her. If she dies seven times, put a stake through her heart and be done with her.") If we treat Christianity as a moral code, as a way of living your life - eh, there are tons of those. In fact, if this were just morality, I'd probably belong to that Jedi Church thing, cause it's weird and I can be weird.

But we forget two drastic points.

1. Morality does not equal the Law. The Law is not "be nice." The Law is you are a sinner and you are going to die, and you deserve it. The Law is not one code among many, but it is a very specific statement about you. The Law explains the "problem" of evil. Yes, there is evil in the world, and you know what - you're it. Don't try and get bogged down in metaphysical discussions - look at yourself, look at the wickedness you do.

The Law explains that. The Law explains that like no other system of belief does -- and unlike every other moral code, it says that ultimately all your discipline and strength won't fix that.

This makes Christianity, when properly taught, utterly unique - it removes Christianity from the whole morality buffet that frightens people in these Postmodern times. "But, but, but - people with post-modern mind sets might decide that they just like something better!" Yeah, so what? People always have.

But the Law has a wonderful post modern hook -- all those truths people claim, they are all same and all flawed -- and postmodern thought loves seeing how supposed differences are really the same, and postmodern thought loves seeing where an assumed truth is false. Opportunity knocks.

2. Most, most importantly - Moralism does not equal the Gospel. The ultimate thing that cuts through Post-modern palaver, the thing that makes Christianity stand out and be unique in the world is the Gospel - Jesus died for you so that you might live forever. Nothing comes close (closest would probably be Amida Buddhism, but Amida will just help you to not exist forever -- a completely different concept). Jesus is the solution to the Law and all those pesky truths it reveals.

Seriously - if you are worried about Christianity being lost in the post-modern religious buffet - proclaim more Christ. It is the most unique doctrine in Christianity.

Of course, if you bothered to read the introduction to Pieper, you'd know this. The Gospel is what makes Christianity stand out from every other religion on the planet. He wrote that to counter Modernist thought - but like all truths of God, which cut through time and space, which are stronger than the wisdom of men, be it modern or post-modern - it still holds true today.

Don't let your Christianity become just another moral code.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A strange lesson from Scott Pilgrim

Okay, I will blow some spoilers for the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which is visually and nerd-culturely teh awesome).

Basically, you have a weak character, who becomes stronger when he realizes he is in love and becomes stronger, but then gains self-respect and becomes a fuller, better person. It's journey of self-respect masquerading as a love story.

It gets the order of the two mixed up. Love does not come before self-respect. Love is not mere desire, it is not mere wanting someone, or wanting to be with someone, or having someone make you feel good. Love is service, love is giving yourself to another in order to serve them. And in order to do that, you must have a respect of self, a value of self. You should know who it is that you are giving - that way you can give yourself well. And the movie even almost touches upon that - Scott shows more love after his revelation of self-respect, but it doesn't articulate it.

Now, I know there was shock and horror that I would even talk about the importance of self-respect.

Christian - you are to respect and value yourself. Not because of your own worth and merit, but because Christ Jesus Himself has placed the highest value upon you - His own precious blood. And this is what the world will never get.

The world loves to talk about self-respect, self-esteem. You have to find something about yourself to like. This is why in college I would utterly freak out and confuse my friends when I would freely admit my flaws and weaknesses, where I said too many people esteem themselves too highly (for they esteemed themselves for frivolous and fleeting things. . . like I'm smart, I'm pretty -- things that can pass away and fail).

And the reason this freaked them out was that without a positive sense of self-respect, one won't be able to act. This is true - the world properly understand that.

What it fails to understand is that without the love of Christ and His redemption, anything which I would build up my self-esteem upon is fundamentally flawed and weak and will crumble. I'm nice? Well, I can be mean. I'm smart - well, I can be clueless, and often was in the matters that were most important to me. I'm caring - well, there's a reason - I've been trained by Christ to do this; that's not fundamentally from me.

I don't need to respect my own value -- I need to be honest and see my own flaws, the ways in which I utterly abuse the wondrous strengths and powers that God created me with (as He created you with), and then I need to know the utter love and value that God has placed upon me, the love that would make Christ say, "Even though I am God and lack nothing, I will lay down My life for you."

And you know what? Now, I can grow, slowly but surely, more and more like Christ. I learn to say, "Even though I am a Christian and lack nothing, for Christ is my Lord and has given me all that I need, I will lay down my life in service for you."

If only the folks who had made Scott Pilgrim had read Luther's Freedom of a Christian - they would get this point.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Preaching Dictum Number 1

Since I couldn't find it, here it is, Brown's First Dictum of Preaching:

You preach The Text to The Congregation.

Simple, isn't it? But you will have noted that I have three words (or words with their article) highlighted, you, text, and congregation. It is because these three things must be remembered when it comes to preaching a good sermon.

First and foremost is the text. If a sermon is to be a good sermon, it must be faithful to the text upon which you are preaching. To preach to proclaim the Word of God -- and if you are not paying attention to the Word of God upon which you are preaching, your preaching upon the Word of God won't be very "Word-of-God-y". Textual care and consideration must be given - what is this text saying, what is going on.

Now, a few things to note - this isn't reader response, this isn't "what this text means to me." No. Know your text. Know what is going on. Know what the Law and Gospel of the text are, even if they end up only being implied. Know your text.

Also, it would follow that you ought to have a text. Seriously. Preach the Lectionary - it saves your people from having to hear pious sounding rants each week about whatever bugaboo has riled you up each week. Seriously - preaching the lectionary keeps you from wandering off into your own tangential thoughts - and don't worry, that bugaboo you have will come up in the lectionary at least once a year (and if it doesn't, it's probably not a bugaboo you should be wasting people's time with).

This is the sort of thing you should have learned at the Seminary.

Second, one preaches a sermon to the Congregation. A specific, concrete congregation. This, sadly, is the thing you can't learn at the Seminary. Why? Because when you are at the Seminary, you have no congregation. You see, every congregation is different - different people, different concerns, different ways they are impacted. A hot, dry summer impacts the city Church differently than the hot, dry summer impacts the rural farming Church. Different annoyances, different fears play in.

What you are to do as a preacher is to take the text and apply it to the fears, concerns, and flaws of your congregation. That one true text needs to be applied specifically to your congregation in question. Does our Lord encourage humility in the text -- okay -- how ought that be applied to your congregation? Have they forgotten humility - then extol its import. Have they fallen into false shows of humility - then show them true humility. Are they humble, but frustrated by how humility doesn't bring them earthly gain - then commend their humility but warn of greed leading them away from humility. Whatever the truth of the text is, apply it to your people.

Above all, I have to thank my own Vicarage Supervisor, Stewart Crown, for pointing this out. We would discuss a text every day at Matins, and it would end with him asking me how I would preach this text to Trinity, Palo Alto. And I'd have to give him an outline -- and if it was too generic he would say, "You could preach that anywhere - what do you preach here?" That's the point -- if your sermon could be preached anywhere, then you haven't preached to your congregation -- and you aren't called to preach anywhere, you are called to preach to your congregation.

Finally, the last ingredient is you. Yes, you. If you are a pastor, then God has called you to be a pastor, so you should get too it. Your preaching needs to sound like you. So, what does this mean. My dad's a pastor - has a wonderful, booming voice. I don't. My college pastor was David Nehrenz, who has this suave, "cool" presence (from his folk-guitar days). I don't. My field work supervisors were Peter Cage, who is the most manly presence in a pulpit you will ever see. I don't have that. There also was Kevin Karner, who can be ironic and off handed without being grating whatsoever. I don't have that.

If I tried to preach like my father - it would be off. Likewise if I tried to preach like Nehrenz or Cage or Karner. I'm not them. I can't walk into a pulpit and preach like David Scaer - because I'm not David Scaer. I'm Eric Brown - so when I preach, it has to sound like Eric Brown preaching. Who am I? Who is this person whom God has sent to preach? Well, I'm a bit sacrastic - that will come out in my sermons; I use sarcasm more than most - but that's me. I like to ask questions - so I rhetorically ask a lot of questions in my sermons. I've lived all over the country and love colloquialisms, so I use a lot of them in my sermons - such as "all that and a bag of chips" or "burns my buttons" or "ferschnickered". Are these Oklahoma phrases - no... but they are Eric Brown phrases.

When your preaching sounds like you, it will be easier to listen to. Why? Because your people know you - they know what you sound like, how you act, what you do. If your preaching doesn't sound like you, it will just be a bit wrong. Keep in mind, I do have a preaching voice, a pulpit tone - what I am doing determines the tone, but it's still my own voice.

And there's nothing wrong with that - because God has not called Gregory Brown or Kevin Karner to be the pastor here - He's called me, so I had better put my own voice to work. This is learned only with experience and practice - whereby you can learn from the preachers you have heard without aping them.

So there it is - You preach the text to the Congregation

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why Satan Attacks the Efficacy of the Gospel

One of the thoughts and temptations that will cross a pastor's mind is the doubt, the fear, the concern that simply preaching the Gospel will actually "do" anything. When it comes to sermon prep and review, seeing the Gospel, sometimes the thought crop in, "I'm bring this up again. . . won't it seem tired and old? Really? Resurrection again - aren't you belaboring the point. It won't do anything for them, they already know it."

This is the root of all forms of legalism that have arisen in the church. Pietism - they know the Gospel, so hit them with the Law to make them better. Social "Gospel" - they know about Jesus, but brow beat them so that they will make their communities better. Even old fashioned monasticism - to hear and live your normal life isn't enough, you must join this place to make yourself better.

What these ultimately attack are the efficacy of the Gospel - they attack the idea that the Gospel does things, that it does what it says -- and in particular, it attacks that the Gospel which proclaims "You have life in Christ" actually gives that life.

And why would Satan attack this so? Because if we think there is no life in the Gospel, we will turn to try to find life the in the misleading dream of the Law. And the Gospel then will no longer be our focus - and those people who knew it won't hear it anymore, and they will be focused more and more and more upon the Law.

Of course, the bigger danger for pastors is not that you are actually worried that your people are bored with the Gospel - it's that you yourself become bored - you yourself think, "Okay, we ought to get this by now" -- forgetting that preaching is not simply the giving of information, but proclamation. Yes, we know - but we need to hear. Life in the fallen world has happened - people need the Life of Christ for them proclaimed - your pep talks are worthless, for it is the Gospel of Christ that is efficacious.

Tire not of preaching the Gospel! It does what it says.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Preaching Dictum Number 2

My first dictum of preaching is "You preach the Text to your Congregation". I can't find where I wrote on that before - it's somewhere. But I have formulated a second dictum of preaching:

"Good preaching is typological, because what Jesus does for one is typical of what He does for all."

While from our perspective they are wild, unexpected, and miraculous, what Jesus does in the Gospels is not extraordinary for Him. These things that we see Jesus doing are things that are typical - the things that He does all the time. Does He heal the deaf mute? Of course He does - He is the Word by which all things were created, of course He will be about the business of recreating.

And as such, the example of what Jesus has done for this deaf man can be applied to you - for this is what Jesus does. He restores creation - and so He has come to restore you, to forgive your sins and raise you to life everlasting.

What we see happen to others in the Scriptures is the reality of what happens to us - for what Christ came to do for them, He still comes and does for us.

Let your preaching show this, and it will be solid preaching.

Monday, August 16, 2010

You're wrong in how you tell people they are wrong

One of the things that has been overlooked recently in Confessional circles is the importance of tact. We by in large love the idea of being a theologian of the Cross, and we delight in the truth that a Theologian of the Cross calls a thing what it is. I'm all for that - and I'm all for bluntness. I have no problem saying that something is poorly done, or even mocking it on occasion. Especially ideas and the like - those are well and thoroughly lampooned.

However, I would like to point out that Lutheranism historically does place a large amount of value upon tact, especially in dealing with other people. Consider the 8th commandment - we are to put the best construction on things. This also holds true when we are correcting or admonishing a person, especially when they are engaging in poor practice.

For example, let us assume a brother in the ministry who engages in open communion. How shall we approach him?

A: You are wrong to do open communion, you flaming liberal heretic - you make baby Jesus cry!
B: I understand that you have a great concern for people - so why do you engage in open communion when St. Paul warns us that this can lead to their damnation? Aren't you a Steward of the Mysteries of God - shouldn't you be acting as a steward and taking care to see that people receive the Supper properly?

While choice A is most satisfying (to the self), it isn't the best. It will quickly make the person become defensive, and they will write you off as just another confessional kook. However, with the later, you acknowledge that the person has good intentions (flattery gets you everywhere), but then show how his actions don't live up to his intention. Then perhaps you can win, convince, and teach this brother. . . and if he says, "Eh, I only do open communion because people like it," then you can say:

C: You pathetic excuse for a horse's [backside]! Why don't just got find yourself a millstone and spare the Church militant your stupidity, jackwad.

See, here's the key - point out how people can do better -- it would be better if we said _______ or didn't use ________. "It would be better" is a nicer phrase -- or even better is "wouldn't it be better if_________" because then the person has to agree with you or HE's being disagreeable.

Tact. It's what lets Luther dedicate Freedom of the Christian to the Pope even as he is being excommunicated. Reclaim tact, Lutherans!

To be a Pastor. . .

To be a Pastor is to feel the overwhelming weight and burden of your office, knowing that you cannot do it all, while pointing to the overwhelming love of Christ Jesus, who has done everything needed for your eternal life.

Are You a Nestorian?

Over at his blog, Rev. Mason Beecroft posts his sermon from yesterday in which he laments that the LCMS calls August 15th "Mary, Mother of our Lord" instead of "Mary, Mother of God." (Okay, he rails). I think he overstates his case a bit too much -- I don't think it is inappropriate in the slightest to echo Elizabeth's words from the Gospel and call Mary the Mother of our Lord. I do prefer the term "Mother of God", for reasons which will be clear shortly - but is Mother of our Lord off base? No.

However, Rev. Beecroft does have good cause underlining his rant. Nestorianism is a problem.

So what is Nestorianism? Nestorius was the Patriarch of Constantinople, and he ended up rejecting the idea of calling Mary the Mother of God. . . said that one could call her the Mother of Christ, but not the Mother of God. Well, let's think about this logically. Is Jesus God? Yes. Is Mary the Mother of Jesus? Yes. Therefore, is Mary the Mother of God? Yes. That child that Mary carries in her womb is God. Now, is that God the Father? No. Is He God the Spirit? No. But that Child is the 2nd Person of the Trinity, and when you see that Child, you see God.

So, when Nestorius said that Mary was only the mother of Christ and not the Mother of God, Nestorius said that Mary was the Mother of a Man who was the Christ, but not really the Mother of God. So what does this do? It splits Jesus into 2 - a Divine Part and a Human Part, that don't really act in concert. His Body is separated from His Divinity. And as such, Jesus isn't really Immanuel, God with us, any more. There's a man, a body with us, but "God" is still far off. It means that God doesn't really give His life for us upon the cross. . . because that life is just the body's life and not God's.

Now, Luther is actually sympathetic towards Nestorius, because Nestorius didn't think a lot of these things through -- but folks that followed after him did, and Nestorianism was a vile thing.

So where does that leave us today? Most Protestants have Nestorian leanings. What do I mean? Consider this typical protestant statement, "The Bread and Wine in the Lord's Supper can't be the Body and Blood of Jesus, because Jesus' Body and Blood are in heaven." That's a Nestorian view -- why? It puts limits upon what Jesus can do... separating His Body from His Divinity. If Jesus says, "This is My Body" - He's God, He can do it. But what we see in a lot of talk today is language limiting Jesus.

It is as though they were to say, "Jesus can't simply enter the locked upper room because Human Bodies don't do that!" Now, no one is going to say that (well, very few, there are some highly liberal scholars who say that someone must have let Him in) - but it's the same idea. Why can Jesus just enter the room? Because He is resurrected and glorified and exercises His divine power in His Body whenever He wills. Likewise, in the Supper, Jesus exercises His divine power in His Body whenever He wills, and He wills to give you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink for the forgiveness of your sins.

Okay, okay, we get it - but why is this really such a problem. . . why is it so bad if someone can't understand the Supper and wants to take a symbolic view? First off, no one can "understand" the Supper - I confess that it is Christ's Body and Blood, but this is a mystery that is beyond my little mind... don't be so arrogant as to think you can our ought comprehend the things of God. We confess what He has revealed.

Second, it denies the Word of God. "Did God really say" is the root of all temptation... this opens the door to all sorts of other temptations and tomfoolery with the Scriptures.

Third, and most importantly, it pulls God away from salvation. The point, the whole ideal of what salvation is rests upon the fact that God Himself comes to sinners - that the Good Shepherd finds you, the lost sheep, that He comes to you and heals you. And then, this horrid doctrine teaches that God doesn't really come to you. . . there could be nothing less comforting or horrific than that.

This is why you have so many Protestants talking about how one needs to go to God. . . they make God powerless. This is why you have so many worried about works - not in service to the neighbor, but in terms of what they have to do to get closer to Jesus. It's all law, it's all weight, it's all burden, and faith is crushed.

Do not be a Nestorian! Rather, simply confess what Christ has said to you.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sermon for Mary, Mother of our Lord

Mary, Mother of Our Lord – August 15th, 2010 – Luke 1:39-55

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
I am going to say something that you probably did not except to hear this morning when you woke up. If you want to know what it is to be a Christian – look at Mary. Not pray to her, not blasphemously call her co-redemptrix as Rome does, not denigrate her and ignore her as the Protestants do – but look at Mary, the Mother of our Lord. Listen to her. Not because of her great authority, not because she has any power or might, but listen to her because these words which Luke records in his Gospel, the words of the Magnificat, are some of the most Christian words ever recorded; it is one of the best Christian confessions you will ever hear, and indeed you would do well to have her attitude and focus as well.

When we see Mary today, she is pregnant with our Lord Jesus – there she stands, God dwelling in her womb. She has gone to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who also is pregnant with John, and suddenly Elizabeth starts heaping praises upon praises on Mary. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb!” Heady stuff. I mean, this is big. Think about it this way. If for some fool reason we ever wanted to get into a “Christian” bragging contest about what we’ve done. . . oh, I’ve done this for Jesus, I did that, I gave such and such, you realize that Mary could just walk in and smash any of us. Oh, you did that, well I gave birth to Jesus. None of us are going to trump that. So, what does Mary do here? Does she boast? Does she glory in how awesome she is? Does she say, “Oh yes, Elizabeth, I am all that and a bag of chips”? No.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Right away, Mary’s thoughts are directed to Christ. Right away Mary shifts the attention from herself and to the Child in her womb. Okay, what’s happening to me is really neat – but let’s glorify God. That’s what that word “Magnify” means – let’s focus on how great and wondrous God is. And why is God great? Because God is my Savior. She cuts to the heart of the matter, doesn’t she? The point, the thrust, the center of everything in the Church is this – Christ Jesus came into the world to save you by going to the Cross and dying for your sins. That’s the point – that’s the focus. If you want to know how great and wondrous God is, that’s where you start – that’s the big thing. God’s greatness, God’s wonder and glory is shown most clearly, most powerfully when Christ Jesus hangs upon the cross for you. Mary gets that. God is her Savior – this wonder, this pregnancy isn’t merely to show how cool she is, it is the way in which God will be her Savior, and that is a wondrous thing.

“For He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.” Now, Mary has confessed that God is her great Savior. What does this mean, what does a God who saves people do? He looks upon Mary, even in her humble estate. What does this mean? It means that Mary is lowly, that there is nothing in Mary that would demand that God respect her. She is lowly, she is humble. Yet God, in His great mercy and love, looks upon her to be her Savior. Now then, does this not mirror the words we spoke ourselves a few moments ago? “I, a poor, miserable sinner”? When we confess that, we say exactly what Mary says – that we too are poor and lowly, that we are humble and unworthy servants – yet what does God do? He looks upon us with favor and forgiveness on account of the forgiveness won for us by Christ. God forgives the sinner, which is wondrous.

“For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.” And again, Mary gets it, she gets it where we are easily tempted into pride and arrogance. All generations call Mary blessed – and she is. But why is she called blessed, is it because she herself is so wondrous – do we call her blessed because right here she shows herself to be a wondrous theologian? Nope. She is called blessed because God has done great things for her. Yes, she is the Mother of our Lord – but that’s something God has done for her. And actually, more importantly, she is forgiven and declared righteous because of the Death and Resurrection of her Son, Christ Jesus – and she will be called blessed for His sake forever more. Now then – do you not know that this is your future as well? On account of Christ’s death and resurrection, you are forgiven and shall rise to eternal life – and all generations will call you blessed by God, blessed by His salvation. God has done great things for you – He has not made you to be His mother, but He has taken water and the Word and poured it upon you, attached His most Holy Name to you, baptized you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. The Father has made you His son, His daughter. Christ Jesus has made you His brother, His sister. The Spirit has made you His temple – for holy is the Name of the Triune God – and you are blessed, and shall be for all eternity… this is what God has done for you.

“And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” We should fear and love God so that. . . we should confess our sin, we should confess that we have not been the people we ought – and what does our wondrous God do? He gives mercy. Always. From generation to generation God’s mercy flows to those who humbly confess their sin – the Blood of Christ covers every generation. Again – do you see how Mary is focusing totally and completely upon what God has done for her, done for you, done for all generations in His great mercy? Your salvation, your eternal life is secured by God. This is His awesomeness.

“He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” And this mercy and goodness of God extends even into this life. I think that we forget sometimes just how thoroughly God has blessed us. In part, this is because we have the false preachers who keep offering new blessings, new wealth, new power at us, over and over and over. But the true wonder isn’t that God will give us more. . . look at Mary’s approach. God’s great blessing is that He hinders the wicked. Have you considered yourself blessed because some dictator hasn’t seized your goods this day, or that a warlord hasn’t taken over this area, enslaved your children? This is God’s goodness and blessing to you – He has restrained wickedness in your life – the troubles that you have seen in your days are but a mere fraction of what we would see if God did not with His might hold back wickedness. If left to our own devices man would literally make hell on earth – but God scatters the proud, brings down those who would do wickedness. This, again, He does simply out of His love and mercy for you.

“He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” Yes, this is speaking to daily bread, to the support and care of this Body – but on this morning, can we hear these words and but help to think of the Lord’s Supper? If you think yourself “rich” already in righteousness, if you spurn the forgiveness of sin, if you spurn our Lord Himself, if you deny His presence for your salvation in this meal – then this Supper is not for you, and you are sent away empty. But are you hungry for salvation? Are you hungry for righteousness – do you desire to be righteous and holy? Behold the table of the Lord, where Christ Jesus will fill you with His own Body and Blood, and there is nothing more holy or righteous than Christ. There are no greater “Good Things” than our Lord’s Body and Blood. Again, God in His mercy will fill you, fill you to the brim with everything needed for life and forgiveness and salvation.

And Mary concludes by saying, “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.” And this mercy that God has shown – it’s nothing new or unexpected. It is simply what God has promised – simply what God has proclaimed in His Word. Do you wish to know the promises of God – do you wish to know where the salvation of Christ Jesus may be found? It is in His Word – look to the Words which God spoke to the Fathers in the Old Testament, the words He spoke through the Prophets, the Words He preached Himself in the Gospel, the Words the Epistle writers wrote by the Spirit. And what do all these various books of Scripture do? They point to the mercy of God, who in love sends His Son Jesus to be the Messiah, to be the Christ, who dies and rises to bring forgiveness and salvation to you.

And that is the Magnificat – and in this, Mary does nothing but praise God for His goodness to her. Likewise, dear Christian – this is what our words, what our response to God is. Here in this house, we hear God’s Word of Salvation, we receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, we are brought from sin and death to life in Christ, and seeing this we join in the songs of timeless praise that point out the glory of God’s salvation. Mary teaches you what praise is – praise focuses on what God has done for you. But most importantly – God has done mighty things for you, He has looked upon you with mercy and forgiven you for the sake of Christ Jesus, and He has made you to partake of eternal life even forevermore. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Friday, August 13, 2010

Evangelism Myth 9 - The More Complex, the Better!

There is another myth that seems to sort of revolve around Evangelism Circles, and that is the more complicated the plan, the better it is. If there are stages and daily goals and weekly goals and monthly goals and various committees and groups and timetables, then clearly we are dealing with wise people who have thought through these issues carefully. Hence, we can just follow the massive outline they present for us and we will have success.

This is a popular myth for a couple of reasons. From the perspective of the authors, well, if you are going to write something. . . write. From the perspective of the consumer. . . well, it's big and shiny. And it also provides some cover for when it doesn't work. The author can say, "Well, you didn't do these steps right". The consumer can say, "Well, this was just too much for a little congregation like us." The complexity gives a false hope going in and it provides a ready made excuse on the way out.

Here's the simple truth. Evangelism is nothing more than this - speak the clear Gospel of Christ Jesus to people who are aware of the struggles they face against sin and the fallen world.

If they aren't aware of their sin, you need to speak the Law. This is uncomfortable - and unless you are their friend and know that you care for them and love them, they will simply write you off.

If they aren't aware of the struggles we see in life. . . um, give them a bit of time. They will fall and skin their knees at some point.

When the Law has done its work - proclaim the same Gospel that you delight and rejoice in - tell them that what Christ has done for you and given you is what He has done for them and desires to give them. This means you need to know real Gospel, and not a false Gospel of money, wealth, or power - but the true Gospel of forgiveness of sins and life in Christ.

It's simple. Know the Law, and know the Gospel. This makes it a wondrously difficult art to master, but that's as hard as it gets. It really is simple - but we think it has to be complex.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good Works and the Gospel

In reading Ephesians 2:1-10, and especially verse 10, I had a simple thought. Good Works are part of the Gospel. Not that you MUST do Good Works to receive the Gospel (that's some messed up false law there), but rather this -- the Gospel brings good works attached to it. The same faith that receives salvation and forgiveness receives good works. Why?

Because you receive life as well as salvation. Life is expressed in good works.

And they happen, simply because you are a Christian who is forgiven, whom God has given new life. They happen because God has prepared them for you to walk in. Good works happen now just as they will in heaven - because that's who you are in Christ, because you have received life everlasting from God the Father through Christ Jesus. It's all tied up.

The thing that is damnable about false doctrine is that it tries to take these works, the most wondrous and blessed results of forgiveness, and make them the cause.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Love Songs to Jesus! How about from Jesus?

Sometimes people seem surprised that I don't listen to a lot of contemporary Christian music. I don't know why this is surprising. I'm not into praise bands on Sunday, why would I be interested in them outside of Church? I suppose this is because in theory it's "good, Christian music". Well, aside from the fact that a lot of Christian pop is full of false doctrine (hey, wait, a lot of rock is full of error - yes, I know, but I'm not expecting it to deal with theology, I'm expecting it to deal with human emotion, which is messy) which makes it fundamentally "bad, Christian music". However, there is just another aspect.

Most of them are just sappy love songs to Jesus.

Seriously, they are songs that could be sung to your gal, your baby, your honey-bunny, except they happen to be to Jesus. And if I want a love song, I'd rather listen to Hysteria by Def Lepard, or Mandy by Barry Manilow (admit it, Mandy is one of the great songs ever. . . don't deny it!), or the obvious Lovesong by the Cure, or plenty of other wondrous love songs from Rock or even County (although Country tends to excel at the "He done me wrong so I had to, officer" genre, like Before He Cheats by Carrie Underwood or Papa Loved Momma by Garth Brooks). But most of the Christian songs -- no, I don't give it a chance, and I really don't feel the need to.

But this isn't to say love songs can't be religious. This week our women's bible study will look at the book of Song of Solomon. It's a love song. It's poetry about love and romance - and of course it's really about God's love for the Church.

Hmmm... maybe that's the key. Maybe I don't want to hear so much about what I feel for God, but what God feels for me should take the foreground. And it does in the Song of Solomon. I suppose I'll even concede that there could be a good Christian lovesong - but it would probably start with Jesus and live there more. Like Song of Solomon.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Luke 1:53 as Closed Communion Text

Does anyone know if anyone has developed Luke 1:53 - "He has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich He has sent empty away" - as a closed communion text? I'm sure someone has, but does anyone know where it is located?

If you think you are rich in your own righteousness, this supper is not for you. If you think you are rich in reason, and deny our Lord's presence, it is not for you. But if you are hungry for Christ's righteousness, take and eat. . . .

Preping for Mary, Mother of our Lord

August 15th is the Feast of Mary, Mother of our Lord. August 15th depresses me. Why? Because these Marian days remind me just how off course American Lutheranism has gotten. I hope to vent her a little bit, so my sermon doesn't become a giant venting.

Lutherans are to be reformers of Rome, not reactionaries against. Our approach is to take and hold on to the things that Rome has, cleanse them of their false doctrine, and present these wonders in a clean and pristine manner. To be a reformer means that you have to love what you are reforming. This means we correct - we cling to the truth and reject that which has built up and is erroneous.

Sadly, too many Lutherans have become mere reactionaries - thinking that to turn ones back upon anything Roman is what it means to be Lutheran. Nothing shows this more than things concerning Mary. Rome overhypes Mary (in ways that would make the blessed Virgin weep sorrowfully - imagine humble Mary being used as the excuse to blaspheme her Son!), and they fall into error. As a reforming Lutheran, we ought to cherish the things that may be rightly said about Mary - that she is the Mother of God, that all nations indeed call her blessed. If one wishes as Luther did, even hold to her perpetual virginity (although I do not). But we should rejoice and delight in this wondrous saint of God who gave birth to our Lord.

But many will want, in the name of their reactionary Lutheranism, to have nothing to do with Mary. Any mention of her in Scripture (except for the Wedding at Cana or where Jesus says, "These are my mother and my brothers and my sisters") tends to be hurried by. They will say nothing at best - or at worst they will mock and malign Mary, as though 2 wrongs would make a right.

Go read the Magnificat - and what do you see? Sometime all of us should hope to be - a humble sinner who glorifies God for all that He has done for us. Mary is quite the theologian -- it's just such a shame that so much bad theology, Papish and Reactionary, centers upon her.

Trinity 10 Sermon

Sorry it's a day late -

Trinity 10 – Luke 19:41-48 – August 8th, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
To begin today, we need to remember where our Lord is when He speaks these first words of our Gospel Lesson. This is all happening on Palm Sunday – when our Gospel talks about Jesus drawing near to the city of Jerusalem, He’s drawing near riding a donkey – He’s drawing near with the crowds around Him singing, “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna, Blessed is the He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” And as Jesus rides towards the city, rides with all that pomp, and the crowds praising and shouting… He weeps. “And when He drew near and saw the city, He wept over it.” It’s a stark contrast, isn’t it? We’re used to the celebration, the joy and festivity of Palm Sunday – and there Jesus weeps. It almost seems backwards, doesn’t it? It almost seems so utterly bizarre. And why does Jesus weep? He speaks these words as He weeps, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Jesus weeps from utter disappointment, from great sorrow that Jerusalem doesn’t know the things that make for peace.

Peace is a loaded word, a fuller word in the bible than we think of it in English. We don’t use it all that much – but you can’t speak Hebrew without saying peace daily. Shalom – that’s how you say hello. Shalom, peace – my friend, be at peace, I hope you are at peace. Peace is a full word to a Hebrew – it mean calmness, security, fellowship, it means forgiveness. When in the early Church they had the kiss of peace, when places today “exchange the peace” and shake hands, that was to be a sign that everything is all right and proper and good. And Jesus approaches Jerusalem, and with all that He is He desires to cry out, “Peace be with you!” But Jerusalem, Jerusalem did not know the things that made for peace. Its calm would be shattered, soon on Good Friday as the mob turns angry – and then in the years to come as rebellion after rebellion leads to destruction by the Romans. Our Lord speaks to the latter saying, “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you.” When Rome attacks in 70 AD, it’s bad. As bad as any destruction that any of us have seen in our lifetime, as bad as anything from World War II. And it comes about because they don’t know what makes for peace. They sought peace in military security, a great rebellion to drive out the Romans. There was no peace there. No, the One who makes for peace, the One who could give them true security was there, riding upon a donkey – but they didn’t understand. The glorious revolution didn’t come – and they didn’t know peace.

“And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Why? You didn’t see Jesus, not really. What’s interesting about this word “visitation” is that it is basically the same word for Bishop, for Pastor. You didn’t get it when Jesus came to be your Pastor, your Shepherd, to do that spiritual stuff, that preaching of the Word, that forgiving that you need for peace. This is the contrast – a contrast between the things that are worldly and the things that are Spiritual. So many were so focused on the here and now, on their life in the world that they missed the mystery and wonder of the fact that there was Jesus Christ – the Messiah, God become Man to be with His people. God Himself bringing life and salvation – but Jerusalem hadn’t been paying attention to true peace, to true forgiveness for a while. They didn’t know.

We see the proof of this as Jesus enters the temple. He walks in there and what does He see? It’s a spectacle. The temple would have been full of stalls and shops catering to the religious pilgrim, people exchanging money at exorbitant rates, people selling overpriced animals for sacrifice. He would see people from Jerusalem who came to the temple merely to make money off of other people’s religious piety. And Jesus drives these moneychangers out – He casts them out. The same word gets used here for what Jesus does to demons – get out. Why? “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” Didn’t know the things that made for peace. And then people want to kill Him. The Chief Priests, the scribes, the principal men of the people – the good folks of society – they want Jesus gone. But they can’t, because the people are listening to Him, because people are simply hearing the Word.

Now, let’s consider this passage. We see Jesus weep, we see Him brought to tears by wickedness. We see Jesus enraged in the temple, casting out the money changers. We see people plotting to kill Jesus. This isn’t a very happy text for Jesus, is it? If you have a day where you weep bitter tears while everyone else is celebrating, if you have a day where you have disgusted, righteous anger at wickedness, if you have a day where the people in power decide you need to go – you’ve had a lousy day. Those are the days that make us want to crawl up under a rock, make us want to just head back to bed, to toss up our hands, say something coarse, and just walk away. The trials, the pain, the simple messy nature of life in this world can be hard to deal with – and there are many things we can’t deal with. Yet, what does Christ our Lord do? When He sees Jerusalem and weeps over her because she doesn’t get it, because she is going to ruin everything, does He turn around and leave? No – He rides on into Jerusalem, knowing that it will be His death. When He sees the temple sorely abused, does He wash His hands of it, angrily stomp off, I’ll just stay at home? No – enters the temple, and He fixes it, cleanses it, casts out wickedness so that righteousness may dwell there. When people want to kill Him – does He become silent, does He duck and cover? No. He speaks. He preaches, He teaches – and He’ll teach uncomfortable things. In the next few chapters – render unto Caesar (so no rebellion people), the wicked tenants who will be killed, the destruction of Jerusalem.

Why? Why does Jesus keep doing these things that bring Him to tears, that rile Him, that will get Him killed? Because these are the things that make for peace. Because these are the things that will let His people have their peace with God restored, these are the things that will let them be saved. Sin and wickedness must be confronted – and so Christ enters and preaches. Salvation and forgiveness must be won, so Christ is nailed to the tree, so that our sin might be forgiven and there might be peace. Nothing stops Christ – do you see how focused, how determined He is for there to be this peace, this forgiveness? Nothing stops Him – things that would have stopped us cold in our tracks – Jesus keeps on going – He does what we could not. He knows the things that make for Peace, and He does them.

Sometimes, it is easy for us today to look at the things we see in life, things we see in the world, things we see in the Church, and become sad, become angry. I know there have been times where I’ve looked at this congregation and wept saying, Zion, Zion, would that you knew, would that you paid attention to the things that make for peace. So often we don’t. The same lament can be leveled at our Synod - Missouri, Missouri, would that you knew the things that make for peace. But so often our focus get turned and shunted elsewhere. We can get so focused on money, power, who wants what and how much, that we forget the importance of simple Sunday morning worship. And I know that there are times when all of us have felt the scorn, the mockery of people ridiculing our Lord, our faith - mockery from people who thought that they were too big, too important. It’s depressing stuff. It’s very sobering to realize just how messy and rotten this world can be. Then we look in the mirror, and it’s worse, because we see how often we ourselves can be the biggest rotting piece in the whole deal.

And yet, what happens? Just as Christ saw and still entered Jerusalem, He still comes to us this day. As wondrous as it was for Christ ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, so it wondrous that He comes to us today in His Word to bring us peace. The Word of His Law comes in and breaks and crushes our sin, and His Word of Salvation and life drives our sin out and restores us. He makes us to be hearers of His Word, He makes us to hang onto His Word, to hold it, to grasp it, to be secure in this wild and crazy world by it – we know what sin is, but we know what Salvation is, the death and resurrection of Christ for our own resurrection as well. Jesus still comes to us. He comes to us in Baptism, sweeps out sin and says, “Now this child is Mine, and hers shall be a life of prayer and peace, because I have forgiven her.” We saw a miracle most wondrous today – a miracle we ourselves have received from God ourselves – Jesus still comes to us today. He comes to us in His Supper, He gives us His very Body and Blood to wrest our body away from temptation, to make love and life and forgiveness course through our veins. Jesus still comes to us today – that is the wonder that we see – now is the day of His visitation unto us, and whenever He comes to us in His Church He brings with Him His good gifts of life and salvation.

Dear friends in Christ – behold God’s great love for you. It is as great and wondrous as anything we see in Scriptures, for just as He entered Jerusalem to bring people there the things that made for peace, just as He let nothing stop Him, so too this day He visits you with His life giving Word, He visits you, for you are the Baptized, joined to Him by Water and Word and made His own. He shall not give you up, He shall not let you remain broken and abused, but He will make you to know His peace. He has gone to the cross to give you life in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Friday, August 6, 2010

Is it really against you?

I have never met a person who didn't like to think that people were against him. Let's face it, we love to play the martyr card; we love to be the stoic victims who boldly endure the insults and the slings that people cast against us. Oh woe is us! Can I say that it is safe to say that many times this attitude is overblown?

There are times when people are against you - not just people complaining, but people in positions of power and authority who want to do you wrong. That is rough. But times when other people simply don't care what you think? Eh, that's not them being "against" you - that isn't them persecuting you.

What makes me to say this? Well, there's court stuff going on in California, and there's been another round of "Oh my, they are so anti-Christian". No. Gay Marriage proposals are not anti-Christian, they aren't part of a nefarious plot to drag all Christians to the stake (although I'm sure that there are some proponents of Gay Marriage who might like that). This isn't "anti-Christian" - it's "achristian". This isn't a sign that people want to do you harm - it's just that they don't care what you say or think.

You know what - we may not be the dominate force on culture that we used to be. That isn't persecution. That's just the general world not being with you or for you. This isn't persecution - not yet.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Simpering Politieness vs. Kindness

As Christians we are instructed to be kind. We are to be kind, we are to be loving, we are to put the best construction on things and not act in anger. I get this. We should strive to be kind. If we must correct someone, let us be gentle and kind in our correction, for we seek to restore, not to destroy.

However, the kindness taught in the Scriptures is not a simpering politeness where we speak empty words to each other. Kindness is not ignoring another's err. Kindness is not putting a best construction that is not true. Being kind isn't doing whatever possible to avoid offending a person no matter what they are doing - being kind is striving to do and say what is best for your neighbor, even if at first blush they won't like to hear it.

There are times when I myself am wrong, when I am stupid, when I am foolish, rude, and arrogant. In those times, don't smile and pat me on my hand and tell me how wonderful I am. Right then, I don't need that - your simpering politeness shows me neither love nor true kindness. If I am being a jerk, pull me aside and say to be, "You know I love you, but right now you are being an utter and complete tool." Be kind - strive to restore me to the correct path!

Today, all too often we have replaced kindness with a wishy-washy never-gainsay politeness. This serves no one (of course, being a jerk about how you correct people serves no one either, for it only confirms people in their err while adding a self-righteous martyr complex, but that's another post). Rather, be a friend - a friend who helps to aid a person.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Luther Gets It

"At the same time Paul did not condemn circumcision; nor did he compel anyone to undergo it. For it is neither sin nor righteousness to be either uncircumcised or circumcised, just as it is neither sin nor righteousness, but a physical necessity, to eat and drink. For whether you eat or do not eat, you are neither better off nor worse off (1 Cor. 8:8). But if anyone came along and attached either sin or righteousness to it and said: 'If you eat, you are sinning; but if you abstain, you are righteous,' or vice versa, he would be foolish and evil."

Luther get it. Sinful, fallen man will, in his desire to be the author and perfector of his own salvation, will continually attach both sin and righteousness to various acts. He will say, "This is sin" when it is not. He will say, "this is righteous" - or at least more righteous than what you are doing - when it is not. This is as Luther says both foolish and evil.

It is foolish because it sets silly standards that have nothing to do with real sin or real righteousness. It is foolish because it establishes artificial holiness which will only spread discord and discontent amongst Christians. It is foolish because it will lead people to abandon blessings provided to them by God.

And it is evil, because it is idolatry. It makes the self into a god, and thus is the most wicked of all sins and the root of them all.

It's simple. Learn the commandments. Apply them constantly to your life. Strive to live them out - and when you see how utterly and wretchedly you have failed, confess and rejoice in Christ's righteousness. It's as simple as that.

The Scary Gospel

I think sometimes we can forget just how scary and terrifying the Gospel is to our sinful flesh. The Gospel, in its full, unadulterated sweetness tells me that everything is about Jesus and what He has done for me - that I simply receive His goodness. What's scary about that? It leaves absolutely no room for me to exercise any control or power.

Many things that we fear in this life have to deal with losing control, with not being in charge. I think this is part of what makes surgery so frightening - not just the cause, but what happens - you lay down, you are helpless, you are put to sleep - you are totally passive. The days of eating right and having a healthy regime and your control are gone. Or think about being afraid of the dark - you can't see, you can't control. Or the nightmare - you can't control. Or politics -- history is full of people making stupid decisions based on the fear of losing control.

Our old sinful flesh wants control. Period. This even comes into life in the Church. People want to control what happens, how money is spent (we are all familiar with the bribe that hides under the guise of an offering or gift -- if you do X I'll give $Y -- if not, forget it). We see this in the struggles between people - in the congregation, between spouses (Happy Anniversary, dear!), parents and children, neighbors. It so often runs back to control - we want to have control.

And the Gospel tells us we aren't in control. Now, this is a good thing - because, let's face it, when we try to control things, we generally end up doing a pretty stupid job of it. This is a good thing, for God is much better at being in charge than we are. But watch yourself for this - is your old sinful nature going to let you try to water down the Gospel a little bit by asserting your own control in there? Here are some examples:

1. If I change X, then we will get more people (see, that's me being in control).
2. If I pray the right prayer, then God will bless me (see, that's me being in control)
3. You have to ask Jesus into your heart (see, that's me being in control)
4. Anything dealing with works (see, that's me being in control)

Your flesh is at war with you, O Christian! It will try to convince you that you should try to take control, that you should be a tyrant for Jesus (really, a tyrant for self, but it will tell you you're doing it for Jesus). Be wary, smack down your flesh, and say to it, "No, Christ Jesus is my good and gracious Master - and He is the One who is in control!"

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

For futher insight

Scott Diekmann gives the following quote from Walther over at his blog. Let's consider it for a moment or two.

…In recent times people actually think one has to make additions, that church doctrine evolves gradually and grows in scope as the church grows older. [They maintain that] in apostolic days, so to speak, the church was in its infancy, but that now it is gradually maturing into full adulthood in Christ [cf. Eph. 4:13]. But it is not doctrine we are to develop, so that new doctrines are introduced, as among the newer theologians; rather we are diligently to use our reason, so that we truly know and understand the doctrines the church has always had. It is not our task to develop new doctrines, but to master our comprehension of the doctrines already revealed and always known to the church. God has by His grace enabled us here in America to realize that it is and can be neither man’s enlightened reason nor anything else, but only God’s Word, that is to be the source of all doctrine. As long as we cling to it, we will be unshaken, as on the rock [cf. Matt. 7:24-25]. Let us gratefully cling to it, refusing to let Satan drive us away. (brackets in original)

C.F.W. Walther, Essays for the Church, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1992) 157.

Now, this quote drives to one of the main differences between Lutherans and Protestants/rationalists. We do not try to create new doctrines - we seek to understand the teachings of our Lord more and more so. We do not try to make the Church respond and speak to the culture - we seek to see how our culture might blind us to the truth of the Scriptures (and thus what from our own culture we ought to reject and avoid). We aren't trying to increase our information, we aren't trying to create knowledge - we are trying to grow in knowledge that has been know. We don't make new doctrines, we seek to ensure that doctrine remains pure.

Now, this doesn't mean blind obedience to the opinions of those who came before us -- there are points where I will disagree with Luther (shock!) and even points where many disagree with Luther that I don't think he was off on (horror!). Same with Augustine, or Cyril of Alexandria, or Walther. They had fantastic insights, and many things they knew and expressed well. We learn, we see them point to Christ. . . but keep our focus upon Christ. We learn, we grow, we think and ponder and meditate.

Just learn, without pride, without arrogance - just learn.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Athiests - the New Protestants - and Why Lutherans Aren't Protestants

I have often said that Lutherans aren't really "Protestants" - not in the modern American sense of the term. And part of the reason why comes across in this interesting article entitled Here comes the Hair Dryers - where an anthropolist compares the Athiests who did their de-baptizing ritual with your typical American protestant -- and of not, I especially liked the following lines:

"Consider: one side believes it possesses an infallible book written by an omnipotent author with a huge beard with completely explains the dynamics all living things on earth. The other side believes in the literal truth of the bible."

That's just fun, but more importantly for this blog here is the following line:
"Atheist parodic appropriation of Christian identity even comes with (according to the article) a ritual officiant who 'doned a monk’s robe and said a few mock-Latin phrases' before the drying began — and of course there is nothing more protestant than damning your opponent for their popery."

This gets to a the heart of the matter, and why I will not just randomly bash Rome (specific doctrines, sure, just wholesale mockery, no), why I will never claim to be a protestant.

With your typical American Protestant (and also you materialistic athiest) there is this idea that what people knew in the past is bunk but now we are smarter and more wise and know better. The Protestants say "The Church completely disappeared, but now that I'm here, it's all good." There is a disregard for the past, for tradition, for wisdom being passed down.

Lutherans don't despise tradition - we simply don't say that because you can claim something as a tradition for several Centuries that it must be true. In fact, if you look at how we write, our qualms with Rome are when they departed from the tradition and institute something new and say, "Alright, now we have to believe this." It's not that we want to discover "new" truth that no one has ever known - it's that we simply want to remain with the Truth that had always been known. In fact, I'd actually argue that we have a greater respect for Tradition because we don't believe it can be simply changed or created by speaking "ex cathedra".

Now, sadly, many Lutherans are impacted by American society - we have our rationalist leanings like Americans can do ("we're getting better all the time!!!" Really?) We picked up on the cultural bias against Rome -- we need to move away from that. We aren't American Protestants - we aren't religious scientists finding the new truths of Scripture. We are people who simply hold to the same old thing that the Church has taught forever - Christ Jesus died for sinners, of whom I am the chief.

Be wary of thinking you have found something "new". Beware of the latest and greatest wisdom - all that will do is change. Rather, remain steadfast in the simple Word of God as you have received it. And don't go mocking Rome willy-nilly.

Now, mocking Baptists on the other hand. . . okay, go easy on that too.

Your ________ Life Now

I think nothing encapsulates what is wrong with Christianity more that the simple, mere title of Joel Osteen's book, "Your Best Life Now." That is what much of what passes for (or is passed off as) Christianity today has been reduced to - how to manipulate God and appease Him to make your life better now.

Is that all we think Christianity it - some type of guided self-help series? Go into the "Christian" book store and you will see this is sadly true. Oh look, it's the biblical guide to balancing my checkbook - well, if it's biblical it must be extra holy, I better buy it.

To often preachers are trying to sell something to people, something to make their life different now. Have your best life now. A few years ago it was have an EXTREME life now. I'm sure there will be some new sort of AWESOME life we are supposed to have, fulfilling, enriching, whatever the hip lingo is. I don't know, I don't care.

You know what Christianity is really about? Your Crappy Life Now. Christianity is about the fact that you are a sinner in a sinful world, surrounded by sinful people - and you know what that means? In your life, there will be lots and lots of junk, and it doesn't matter how much you sweep, how much you clean, there's always going to be junk, and pretend otherwise won't change that. Putting on a happy face doesn't change that.

And the Christian faith, when it isn't merely trying to sell stuff, will tell you way. You're a sinner, and the wages of sin is death, and all those little craptacular moments, all those moments of utter suckitude you face - little bits of death, snipping away at things. And you can't escape, you can't fix it. No matter how good you determine to be, no matter how virtuous you strive to be - sin and death will just snip out one thing after another.

That's the Law.

And over and against this problem, the Church doesn't proclaim programs or plans - it proclaims Christ Jesus, God become Man, God who goes to the Cross to die and win us forgiveness for ours, who takes up our death for us - and then, and this fantastic, rises from the dead, defeating that death that constantly annoys and messes with our life now. And being risen and victorious, our Lord says, "I give you my life - because of me, you don't die. Death can do it's worst, this life now can stink on ice - you will rise to live everlasting. And this is yours now.

In the midst of Your crappy life now , you have Christ's Everlasting Life Now, life that stretches beyond this present morass, life that brings joy even in the midst of all this junk we see -- because we know all this junk, it's temporary, it doesn't win out, we don't have to ignore it and play pretend happy time - we have life in Christ.

And that is a good, good thing. That is good news, that is Gospel. Enjoy Your Everlasting Life Now in Christ.