Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Commentary and Sermon

New Year's Eve is always an interesting service for me. It's the lowest attended service of the year - many places have canceled theirs, and if there was a service to cancel here, numerically it would be this. Less than a midweek Advent or Lent service. And selfishly, there would be reason to. All my friends from college gather for a huge shindig in Houston every New Year's Eve -- folks who have scattered will be flying into Houston. I've gone once, had my dad do service here. It was fun - it's a good thing.

And though I will miss my friends tonight, though I will head home after service to an empty house because me bride is working tonight, even though my week off is ended 40 hours earlier than it might have been... I'm glad to be here tonight.

There are just a few folks here who can't imagine closing off the year and starting a new one without celebrating the Lord's Supper. And that, even though it is just a few, is an utter joy - it reminds me what it is that I delight in about being a pastor. No one is going to worry about attendance tonight, no mutters about there being so few (of course there's only a few). No meetings, no hoops to jump through, no wrangling. Just people who desire to come and receive the Body and Blood of Christ so that they may endure whatever years are left to come.

It's a good evening. Here's the sermon.


Circumcision and Name of Jesus – New Year’s Eve, 2010

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
The close of the old year and the start of a new year is a time both for reflection and for rejoicing. The rejoicing one is easy to see – there will be parties a plenty tonight, people watching the ball drop in New York, and even fireworks in some places. This may be one of the most celebrated nights of the year, as people try to ring in the new Year. But, the close of the year is also a time of reflection, of contemplation upon the past year. The news programs and websites have all had their “year in review” sort of specials – reflections on what went well, what didn’t go so well, what tragedies we have seen and even who has died. In our world, reflection and rejoicing are both brought together into sharp focus tonight.

The same holds true in our Gospel lesson, the simplest and shortest Gospel text we have of any reading throughout the Church year – “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” This simple passage will bring us to both reflection and to rejoicing as well this night, for both are brought into sharp, clear focus here. So, let’s begin.

First, some background. As we are not practicing Jews, nor are we bound to the custom of circumcision as they were, we can forget the background of this text. From the time of Abraham onwards, every male born amongst the children of Abraham was to be circumcised on the 8th day, one week after he is born. This was given to be a sign of the covenant – a reminder that one day one of these little boys being circumcised would be the Messiah. It was a reminder that God would bring deliverance to His people, indeed, to the entire world through this Messiah. And for every male before Christ, it was a reminder that, while they were part of the people of Israel, they themselves were not the Messiah.

Circumcision is an interesting thing – it is something that makes for reflections that are easy to come to, if not comfortable. It is violent, it’s bloody, it’s painful – and it happens to a child. I’ve talked to people who have called circumcision unfair, because what did that poor child do to deserve it? It’s not about fair, it’s about the realities of life in a sinful world. Circumcision is a visceral reminder that we are sinners living in a sinful world, where violent, bloody, painful things can happen at anytime to anyone. Sadly, it’s not even uncommon today for children not yet born to suffer violent and bloody ends. This is the reality of a fallen world. While we may try to sugarcoat sin, especially our sin, pretend that it is no big deal, sin means death and pain and suffering. And we who are sinners simply have this as part and parcel of our lives. This is part of the point of Circumcision – that as we come into this world, we are all born under the condemnation of the Law, and that by rights, by what is truly “fair” we deserve nothing but death and damnation, for in sin our mothers bore us.

Yet, with circumcision, with this promise God gives to Abraham, God points out a more blessed reality to us. Amidst the pain and suffering of this life, God points us to another reality; that a Messiah would come. The pain of circumcision, even the pain of childbirth, they point to sin – but through a birth, through a Child who would be circumcised, who would face all these trials and pains that we see, there would be deliverance. The promise of circumcision was a call to look beyond the pain and suffering that we know in life and to instead look to the Lord for His promised deliverance. It was a cause to rejoice, even in the face of pain and suffering, because it was the promise that God would redeem His people.

This Christmas season, we have seen the fulfillment of that promise. By His birth, Christ Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God, Holy, Righteous, Innocent – comes into the world, God become Man in order to fulfill all the promises of salvation made in the Old Testament. We have Immanuel, God with us. We know this, we’ve been singing all the Carols of that joyous night – all the sweet, beautiful, romantic songs that make you want to sigh. On Christmas Eve we have those simple, wondrous thoughts – a week later, reality sets in. We see what it means when our Lord comes down to be God with us. What does this mean? Even though He is without sin, even though He is perfect and holy, He takes our place under the law, suffers what we must suffer. And this is brought into sharp clarity this night as we hear of our Lord’s circumcision. The songs about this night don’t talk about everything being calm; we don’t sing, “no crying He makes” tonight. Tonight we remember the fullness of what it means that Christ Jesus takes His place with us under the law – it means He sheds His blood. This circumcision is simply a foretaste of what is to come on Good Friday – because the Law is not merely about rites and customs. When it boils down to it, the Law is this – the sinner must die. The wages of sin is death. To sin is to abandon, to reject life. And Christ Jesus, though He is without sin, comes to stand with you, to take up the burden of sin for you, He comes to be the Sinner, the One upon whom the sins of the whole world are lain. This is a momentous, awe inspiring thing. So often we can say, “Oh, I don’t deserve this,” when tragedy or misfortune befalls us. Theologically speaking, that’s not true – we deserve worse, for we are sinners. But little Lord Jesus, He didn’t deserve to have His blood shed – and yet, He comes down from heaven and submits, is put under the Law, taking up our burden. This is a momentous thing to reflect upon.

And yet, so as to not keep us simply morose and solemn, right after this depiction of the first shedding of His blood, we are told once again the Lord’s Name – Jesus. Yeshua. This name is the sweetest sentence in all the world – the Name Jesus simply means, “The Lord Saves”. This night, even in the midst of reflection, is a time for true and utter rejoicing, because in the middle of pain and suffering and disappointment that we see in this world, Christ Jesus, your Lord, comes to save, comes to win salvation. Yes, it is awe inspiring to consider what Christ suffers, but it is utterly joyous to remember that He does this, that He suffers this for one reason – He loves you and desires to save you. He comes to be under the Law in order to free you, who were under the Law. He comes to die so that you need not die eternally. He comes to rise again so that you too will rise to New Life. And when Christ comes, when He fulfills the Law – it is fulfilled. None of us men in this room had any need to be circumcised – we did not need to in order to fulfill some Law – our Lord was circumcised for us. His blood was shed in our place. Likewise, because of His death and resurrection, none of us here, man, woman, or child need ever fear death, for even should it come, should we die before the Lord returns, on account of Christ we know that this will be just a temporary thing, and that at His return, at His trumpet blast, we too shall rise to new life, just as He is risen. He has done it all, He has fulfilled it all – the Lord has saved us.

Thus, we are no longer under the Law. We no longer hold to that old covenant. Instead, our Lord gives us a new covenant, a new Testament in His Blood – one that brings us no pain, no suffering, but simply forgiveness and life and salvation. The blood that our Lord shed at His circumcision, that He shed upon the Cross, it is sufficient for salvation, and it has accomplished that goal for you. No more will His blood be shed, instead, it will be given, poured onto your tongue in the mystery of the Supper, where Christ Jesus comes to you to be with you, to make you participate in His death and resurrection, so that you have His salvation now, this moment, this instant. Thus, with rejoicing triumphing over sadness, with forgiveness triumphing over sin, with life triumphing over death, we are called to our Lord’s table this night, to share once again in His blessed communion – so that in the midst of this world full of very real pain and sorrow, the very Real Body and Blood of our Lord might give us salvation, remind us of the Victory we have in Christ, and prepare us rightly to show forth His love in the Year to come. Rejoice, for Christ Jesus has come to save. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Monday, December 27, 2010

St. John, Evangelist... and...

Today is the Feast of St. John, Evangelist. I find that often John gets the short end of the stick sometimes. He is a Gospel writer, and also the writer of Epistles. He is the Apostle with the longest career. He's the Apostle who ends up taking on early Gnosticism. And in the early Church, He was highly respected. People would trace their lineage (educationally speaking) back to John.

Yet, he seems to take second fiddle to us in American today ("harumph, what do you mean us?" I'm speaking in generalities - if you are observing St. John today, bully for you). Paul takes so much precedence today among most Protestants, the Romans love to point to Peter, and the liberals love to focus on Mark... um, or Q, or, well, something. And of course, the 3 year lectionary decides that his Gospel is the one that doesn't really need a thorough, systematic approach. We'll just cut it up and toss it in where can find room.

Yet, John is the one I appreciate most. John is the writer of love. Everything is summed up by John in love. The Law? Love. Love your neighbor. Don't even think you love God if you don't love your neighbor. The Gospel? God loves you -- God fulfills the Law for you, and God pours our His love upon you, and because of this, you have salvation in Christ Jesus. Everything is about God and His love, everything flows from there.

I'd even argue that Revelation is nothing else than a writing showing that God's love endures forever, through all diversity of situation.

It's good that John gets his feast day. I just wish we learned from him more often.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day Sermon

Christmas Day, 2010 – John 1:1-14

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
John starts us off this morning, not in Bethlehem, but in Genesis. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” We are sent in our minds to the very beginning – to when God first spoke the Word, “Let there be light.” That Word, that Word that came from the mouth of the Father, that Word was God. That Word created all things that are, that exist. It was that Word which brought forth life and order to creation, that Word which called forth the plants and animals. That Word was the tool for creation – indeed, for your creation. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” This Word of God brought, gave, created, established life. And when He had done so, it was good.

Yet, Eden did not remain good. Sin crept in, and mankind fell. Mankind turned away from God, turned away from the Word, and so turned unto sin and death and darkness. The fall was an abandoning of the gifts God had given to us, a look of disdain upon His gift of life and all the blessings He had given. And lured by the whispers of the serpent, mankind fell. And in that fall, there would be left no escape for us, no way we could reconcile or justify ourselves, no hopes of somehow worming our way out of it. We gave ourselves over to darkness and doom and despair, and there we would stay, at least if we were left all on our own.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” While we may have failed and fallen, the Word of God who created us did not fail, nor did He fall. He was still life, He was still the light of men. God would not have us fallen men be consigned over to death and hell; He would not have us be sundered from Him for all time – so He decides to intervene. The Word was life, the Word was the light of men, so the Father would once again send forth His Word – but instead of creating, this time the Word would become Man Himself in order to redeem, restore, forgive, and justify us sinful men. The Word would re-create man back into what we were meant to be, what we were before the Fall – holy and blameless and innocent in God’s sight. And so God began to prepare us for this. He told Adam and Eve in the garden that the Messiah would come and crush the head of the serpent. He made His promise to Abraham, that all nations would be blessed through his seed. He delivered His children Israel from bondage in Egypt, foreshadowing their deliverance from bondage to sin. He established the tabernacle, the place where God’s presence would dwell on earth with man so that we might be prepared for this idea of God being with us – something that had terrified us since the garden. He sent the prophets to proclaim Immanuel, God with us. And, as the fullness of time approached, He sent John. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

And there was John, preaching in the wilderness – repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, for your deliverance approaches. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” This is the message John preached. The promised One, God Himself, had come. This is what we celebrate this day – this Child in Bethlehem is God Himself, is the Word of God incarnate, God taking on our Flesh, come to be with us, to restore us to life and salvation. This is why we gather this day – for God has not abandoned us, but has provided for us salvation, has provided in His Son Christ Jesus our own hopes of life and forgiveness. Christ Jesus, the light of men, the light that is life, comes into this world, and He shines His light on you, He enlightens you, He makes you to live again, live as God had intended you to live in the Garden. This is what the Christ child came to do.

Yet what do we hear? “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” This too is what John preached, what John warned us of. Last week we heard John say, “Among you stands One you do not know.” And indeed, in the Gospels we see the rejection of Christ. In the Epistles, we hear of the false doctrines which obscure and hide the Word of God under darkness again. This is the sad reality of this world – that many who dwell in darkness are content to remain there. Be that as it may, hear how our Gospel describes you. “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” But to you who have received Christ, you who have been baptized, united to Him, you have been restored. You have been made again a child of God, redeemed, forgiven. Your baptism is the evidence, the proof, the accomplishing of this – all the wonders, all the good that this Christ Child would do, indeed, even His death and resurrection, that is yours now, for you have been tied to Christ Jesus in Baptism, and you are now a child of God.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And God has come to be with you, not just for a time, not just for a brief visit, but to dwell with you. Just as the tabernacle, just as the temple was to be the place where God dwelt among His people of old, now, in these days, and indeed throughout all eternity, Christ Jesus dwells with you as your brother. Right now, this very instant, Christ Jesus is a man, a human being – this Body that He took up in His incarnation is still His, and because He lives, we too know that we will live and that we will be with Him as He is forever. But His dwelling with us is not just a future thing. This moment, this day, Christ our Lord dwells us with – for in a few moments we will unwrap His gift to us, and He will come down from Heaven to this very altar and to give to us His own true Body and Blood so that we receive His forgiveness, so that He enlighten us and make us to shine forth His light, so that He quite literally will be with us, never to leave us alone, never to forsake us, but always to be God with us and God for us – always to be God who redeems us.

My dear friends, this Christmas morn, we see the beginning of our restoration, we see the beginning of Christ Jesus coming to win us life and salvation, we see the establishment of the life and faith that we share and participate in even today. Christ Jesus is God with us, God dwelling with us – and through this, by His life, death, and resurrection, the Fall is undone, death is conquered and destroyed, life is restored to us, and we have hope, we have the surety of life everlasting with God. Why? Because God became man so that we might be saved and restored and called once again children of God. This truth shines forth upon us all this day, and so we rejoice. Though the world does not know or recognize it, though it might be spoken of less and less out there – my dear friends, and hearty and joyous and indeed everlasting Merry Christmas to you all. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Friday, December 24, 2010

More Igantius - The Imprtance of Speaking Christ

"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." - Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians, 6.1

One of the great and common laments around Christmas time is about how the many distractions of the world seek to cover, hide, and obscure Christ. This is true - I doubt anyone will gainsay me on this. And as Christians we know that this is bad - that this, as every time is, is to be a time of focusing upon Christ Jesus and His salvation.

However, the world in its wickedness tries to ignore Christ. The world, not just at Christmas, promotes wickedness and vileness - year round. And there in, in this constant bombardment of evil, lies a two-fold danger for Christians. The first is that we can give into the ways of the world and fall away. That is bad.

But there is a second danger. When we see the wickedness, the vileness in the world, we can become so focused on combating wickedness, on attacking evil, on trying to defend morality that we lose our focus upon Christ. We end up playing to the tune the world pipes, rather than focusing on Christ.

Igantius drives home this point - you have a Judiazer and a Christian talking. Don't listen to the one, maybe the other, but if neither of them talk about Jesus - they are just tombs.

In our zeal for righteousness, we cannot forget or lose our focus on the righteousness of Christ. In our zeal for holiness, we cannot forget our lose our focus on the holiness of Christ. In our efforts to improve the world, we cannot forget that Christ came to win us deliverance out of this fallen world which will always hate us.

When you are lamenting the wickedness of the world - why do you lament it?

Because it harms you? So what of that - your salvation is won by Christ and you lack nothing.

Because people are becoming worse and worse? So what of that - do you think you will undo the fall, ever?

Because things you cherish are crumbling? So what of that - they are going to pass away in the fires that prepare the way for the New Heavens and the New Earth?

Because sin is bad and wicked? Indeed, it is - but is sin corrected and countered by Law or by the proclamation of Christ?

Because people need to be taught? Taught to what end - to be better people in this world, or to focus their eyes on Christ?

Because their sin harms my neighbor? That is laudible - indeed, love your neighbor. But you will never be able to protect your neighbor from all harm. Don't have that as your goal - rather, be prepared to aid him either by prevention or by care after sin has its impact. But even then, this isn't the primary reason we teach about sin.

Because sin obscures Christ -- ah, then and there, and only there, is opposition to sin in the world meet its full purpose. Sin obscures Christ, and we are to call people away from sin, not to better themselves, not to make things nicer for us, but we call out repentance for Christ and His Kingdom is at hand.

In all things our point, our goal, our focus must be to point to Christ Jesus, the savior from sin. If this is not the goal of your correction, then your correction is faulty. We are to be beacons pointing to Christ, so that people might see us and then see Christ.

Anything less is just a tombstone, and emblem of death, covered with the names of mere mortals. That is not our task - rather, proclaim the Name of Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, the very light of the world who is Life.

Advent 4 a few days late

Um... forgot to post this. . .

Advent 4 – December 19th, 2010

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
One last Sunday in Advent, one final week to go before Christmas arrives. One last week of last minute preparations and shopping trips and this and that. And on this Sunday morning, to bring our Spiritual preparations into focus, we travel with the people of Jerusalem, both the repentant faithful and the callous skeptics out into the wilderness by the Jordan, and there we behold John the Baptist. There you have John, out in the wilderness, calling people away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives, crying out, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Calling out for people to repent, to turn away from their sin, from their greed and anger and hatred and lust and disdain. Now, understandably, John’s preaching caused a bit of a stir. These people were waiting, were hoping, were expecting the Messiah to arrive at any time – and then you have John, out in the desert preaching like one of the Prophets of old. So some of the priests, some of the Levites – perhaps even relatives of John, whose father was a priest, come out and ask John, “Who are you?” Who are you John, what are you doing out here?

And right off the bat, we hear this: “[John] confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’” This is interesting. It doesn’t seem surprising that John would say that he isn’t the Christ – but note the focus our Gospel lesson puts on it. He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed. Do you hear the emphasis? Why such emphasis on this idea of “confessing”? Because, dear friends, like John the Baptist, we too as Christians are called upon to confess Christ, to point others to Him. We are not to deny Christ. And this situation with John shows us a common way in which Satan can try to tempt us to end up denying Christ. There you have John, and people are flocking to him, important people are paying attention. It would be so easy for John to get a big head, to start pointing to himself. I mean, this would be really easy with John – John’s able to point to passages in Isaiah and say – see here, this is me. He’ll do that eventually after people keep pressing him – but no, that’s not first and foremost on John’s mind. No, John isn’t worried so much that people understand him, know him – rather, his goal is to point to Christ. Right off the bat – I’m not the Christ, people – we’ve got another one that we are to be looking for. John does not deny Christ by taking glory to himself, he doesn’t deny Christ by seeking his own attention and glory – rather, first and foremost, John is concerned with confessing Christ so that others might see and know the Lord and His salvation as well. Even when they keep pressing him – are you Elijah, are you the Prophet? Are you someone cool and awesome – John ends up replying simply – No. Finally, when they demand an answer, something they can tell the big wigs in Jerusalem, John says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.’” When it boils down to it – I’m not important – I’m just a voice, just a tool pointing to the One who is to come. You should be seeking Him.

This humble focus and pointing to Christ is something we need to learn and emulate today. Americans are glory-hounds. We are. Our news is dominated by celebrity – by “celebrated persons” – that’s where we get that term celebrity. We have people who are famous apparently for nothing other than being famous. The TV is full of “reality” TV shows where people can get their 15 minutes of fame, or where if someone is lucky enough they can become an idol for the whole nation. Or even closer to home – how many awards do we give out. Awards for this, for that – multiple trophy shops are up and running in Enid – and if you are a kid, well you’ve just got to get at least a ribbon. We are so used, so focused upon getting awards and recognition that we almost don’t know how to act without anyone patting us on the back and telling us how good we are. We thrive on encouragement and recognition. Now – encouragement and recognition isn’t a bad thing – encourage one another, it’s good to do so. But here is the danger – as Americans we are so used to the focus being placed upon us, so used to people taking note of what we do and then rewarding us accordingly that we end up being easily tempted towards self-centeredness, where even the good that we do ends up being for our own glory, so that people will see how wonderful we are.

That’s not to be our focus as Christians. Rather, all that we do is to point people to Christ Jesus. Before service, in my prayer with the acolytes, I generally end up praying along the lines of, “be with us and our service so that we might point people to Christ Jesus, the Light of the world.” That’s why we have candles, they point to, they are reminders of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. That’s why the acolyte and I are wearing white, why the Elder who assists with communion today will be wearing white – because the focus isn’t to be upon us as individuals but upon Christ who covers all our sins and washes them away, upon His Word preached, upon His Body and Blood given for you. Our focus is to be upon Christ. And the thing is, this is supposed our focus not just one hour a week, or maybe two or three on a week where we have Christmas – but in all things we are to be pointing people to Christ. Even our works, the good that we do, these are simply suppose to shine forth the love of Christ, that through them God might be glorified, for indeed we proclaim that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, Christ who works through us – to Him alone be the glory. Keeping this attitude is hard enough for any sinful person, but for us Americans, in our culture of celebrity today, it’s even harder.

What we need to remember is why we put our focus upon Christ. The messengers ask John why he is baptizing if he isn’t the Christ. John’s reply is wonderful – “I baptize you with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” John admits his own lack – eh, I’m not much – but Christ Jesus the One who is coming – ah, now He’s something else entirely. This Christ Jesus is so righteous, so holy, so good, that I by rights shouldn’t even be allowed near Him, not even to pull off his sandals. And indeed, Christ Jesus is righteous and holy – but did you note where John said the Christ was? “But among you stands One”. This is why we focus upon Christ. It’s not just that Christ Jesus is holy and awesome and cool – but rather this. Christ Jesus is God Almighty who comes to be with sinners in order to forgive them. This whole season of Advent we have been focused upon the coming of Christ, that Jesus is coming – and this is the beautiful thing. This holy, righteous, almighty God comes to you to be with you and to forgive you your sins. He comes to be with you so that He might save you.

Are you mired in sin and death? Christ Jesus comes to take up those sins and suffer death for you upon the Cross? Are you in a world that is cold and callous? Christ Jesus comes to shower His love upon you and show His own love through you. Do you have fear, doubts, concerns; are you simply and often overwhelmed by this life? Christ Jesus has His Word of forgiveness proclaimed to you, so that you might receive His forgiveness and life. Christ Jesus comes to be with you. John, he baptized with water – but you have been Baptized, at Christ’s own command, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, baptized by Water and the Spirit, so you know that Christ Jesus is with you and that you shall be with Him forever more, whatever this world shows you. Christ Jesus comes to be with you. And of course there is our Lord’s own Supper. In the verse following our Gospel, we hear this – “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and saying, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’” In just a few minutes, on this very day, and indeed every day when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we say those very same words that John says here. Why? Because we too, in the Supper behold and receive the very Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world as Christ Jesus comes to us in His Supper. In so many ways, over and over and over Christ Jesus comes to you to give you life and forgiveness.

What we will celebrate this Friday night, this Saturday morning, this is not a one time event. Christ Jesus, who came down from heaven, born as a human being to be with us and save us, always, always comes to us. He has promised to be with us always, until this world passes away and yields to the new heavens and new earth for all eternity. And this is what we look for – we look for it daily in the Word, weekly in His Divine service and meal, and we look forward to the consummation when He comes again. But always, it is Christ Jesus come to save. This is the message we will hear, the message we will declare, the message we too will confess in the 5 services we have in the next 2 weeks. Your Lord and Savior comes to be with you – it is all about what He does for you, and thus it is joy and celebration that the world might try to imitate, but can never match. The Lord be with you as you finish your preparations for Christmas, and if you are not traveling to be with family, I look forward to seeing you this Friday night as we rejoice in our Lord’s birth. Until then, our prayer remains as it has this Advent – come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Incarnation and the Eucharist

Every Christmas time I find I become more and more saddened by Protsteant theologies that deny the Real Presence of our Lord in the Supper. It's sad because to deny Christ in the Supper cuts directly across what we proclaim at Christmas, the Word of God Incarnate for our salvation. As we proclaim that Christ Came down from heaven to dwell with us in the flesh, we hear those who preach that the Supper cannot in fact be Christ come down from heaven to dwell with us in the flesh. The disconnect is disconcerting.

I would direct you to The Letter of Igantius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans. This is a fantastic letter, which I encourage you to read today. In it, Ignatius deals mainly with the docetists, those who taught that Christ only appeared to have a body. While modern day Protestants are not docetists - I do find some similarity in that they reduce the Eucharist to a mere symbol. Here are some quotes from Ignatius with some commentary from me.

I Glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom. For I have observed that you are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if you were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded with respect to our Lord, that He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church.

It's worth while as we approach Christmas to note just how directly incarnational Igantius is. We are dealing with a Real God who becomes a Real Man with a Real Body to bring about salvation. He is clear on this. Others, though, are not.

For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death.

Now, this stands in sharp contrast to our world today. We are so eager for the praise of all - yet Ignatius' approach is different. Who cares if someone likes me but blasphemes my Lord! Yet, we can be so eager to please, to make sure everyone likes us - when our focus should be upon proclaiming the Lord.

Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels, and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty. Let us stand aloof from such heretics. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again.

This disregard for Christ manifests itself in a lack of love for the neighbor (and rather a focus on individual "piousness" that puffs up) and also a disdain for the Eucharist. And again, note that this is tied to a direct denial of the Supper being Christ's Body and Blood. There is a direct tie there. What does this mean?

It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.

And some say that Closed Communion is some sort of modern invention. Poppycock! Don't worry about what the heretics say )other than to refute) - rather give heed to the Word of God, God's true revelation - and be content with that.

The Christian faith is so focused upon the Body of Christ - that Christ took up a Body, suffered and died in that Body, rose in that Body, so that we might live in our own bodies. And a denial of the Supper cuts across this, cuts across everything that we are preparing to celebrate.

God grant that Pieper's felicitous inconsistency holds!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A rather neat article

I'd highly recommend Ray Hartwig's 3-D Christmas as worth your reading.

And now I do want to add to our nativity a slinking... well, go read the article and you'll see.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Righteousness always leads to salvation

If you wish to understand what "Righteousness" is - righteousness always leads to salvation. Righteousness is not concerned with proving itself to be good, awesome, or cool - Righteousness does that which is right and proper - and it is right and proper to save, to show love, even at cost to yourself.

Consider: Let us say you see a child playing in the street, and there is an on coming car. What do you do? Do you say, "My mother taught me better than the play in the street - getting pasted will serve the kid right." Do you say, "Oh, this will be sad, but really, it doesn't concern me?" Do you say, "Let the car come and decrease the surplus population?" Or do you try to get the kid out of the road, even if it means you get hit yourself?

It is just right to save, to rescue the kid, even at cost to yourself.

Now, this is I think easier when it's just a simple, quick reaction from us. When we have time to think, we can rationalize reasons to not care, to not intervene, to not be righteous. Or we can start thinking of ways in which to try to trumpet our own righteousness. But that's not the point of righteousness.

Jesus' concern is simple. He comes to win you salvation. Why? Because it's just the right thing to do, when you see someone trapped and dying in sin, to try to rescue them. Jesus is righteous, and this is good for you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell - Don't Lobby?

So this afternoon we were sent a letter from our Synodical President notifying us that it looks like the Congress might, in a mad, lame duck flurry of activity, try to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." We were asked in this letter to basically contact our Congressional Representatives and Senators and ask them not to do this. The letter may be seen here.

Now, I will admit that this change in policy might have some impact upon Lutheran Chaplains serving in the military, but really, I don't know how much. Really, I don't. It's not as though the military has had a strict policy of demanding strict adherence to the 6th Commandments in all its shapes and forms - I don't think having homosexual behavior be added to the milieu of extra-martial sex that you can chat and brag about radically changes the the difficulties Chaplains face (I don't know, are chaplains allowed to warn against sex outside of marriage right now).

However, I do find that I am highly, highly uncomfortable with an appeal from an Church leader to lobby a specific way on a specific issue. If Matt Harrison as an individual, or you as an individual, or I as an individual want to lobby on an issue - fine. It is our job as individuals in our country to do such things.

But is it the Church's job? Is it my job as a pastor to encourage people to lobby on a specific issue in a certain way? This goes beyond my duty as a citizen to make my voice be heard by my representatives.

Keep in mind, this is simply a question of principal. Personally, I do not want Congress touching "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Frankly, I think it should be an internal issue within the military - if the Joint Chiefs determine that Don't Ask, Don't Tell should be rescinded, let them rescind it. If they think it should stay, let them keep it. Their job is to establish and maintain a well prepared fighting force - they can tend to that - I don't need to poke around in their job because I'm worried about societal issues. That's my opinion.

But does this mean that I, as a leader in the Church, should encourage people to lobby a specific way? Or what does it mean when the president of the LCMS tells me to lobby in a way that I don't quite agree with... I'm not worried about ensuring that Don't Ask - Don't Tell be maintained as a cultural barrier -- I'm much more worried about the fighting abilities of our troops and think that should be left to the Military.

Our world, our society, our culture doesn't always look the way we wish it to. Of course it doesn't, we are in a sinful world! I don't know how much the Church should be focused on trying to keep that world in order.

Now, I can see the Church lobbying that whatever happens, our clergy should not be hindered from speaking out that homosexuality is wrong -- because that is speaking to directly how our own clergy are handled, and that is something we have a direct interest in. But overall policy - eh, not so much.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tired of Christmas - It ain't surprising

One of the things that happens this time of year, or at least in the next 10 days, is that it seems as though most people get tired of Christmas. Most of us have heard the old, familiar tunes a few times (at least if we have done our shopping - if not, be prepared to hear them all when you hit the mall), and we've seen the lights, the decorations, the sales for quite a few weeks now. In fact, by the time next week rolls around, and the pretty songs are sung on Christmas Eve, and the presents are opened, and the Christmas dinner is eaten, and the day-after Christmas returns and discounts are accounted for,the gift cards consumed in post-holiday shopping bliss (perhaps this is the chief holiday, in reality)... most people will be done with Christmas.

This shouldn't be surprising. What have we turned Christmas into but a season of the belly? The belly gets full, and then it wants other treats. We'll be looking towards New Years' parties (i.e. booze) and then to Valentine's Day (i.e. Chocolate) soon enough. What have we turned Christmas into but a season of shopping and gifts? Well, once they are opened, what's the point? Once there are no more presents under there, might as well take down the tree. The pleasures of the world never last, and we've turned Christmas into a season of the pleasures of the world.

Of course, even the fact that Christmas has become so commercialized isn't surprising. What were you expecting? That it would stay focused on Christ? I know there is this romantic idea that for a while, in the good old days, Christmas was just Christmas - and it was about Jesus. That the Coca-Cola Satan and Dicken's Carol were exceptions and that Linus reading Luke 2 was the rule (I'm dubious, but for the sake of argument, I'll concede). We will lament that Christmas has gotten so much less about Christ.

Here's the thing - why should we be surprised that people make Christmas less and less about Christ, when the rest of the year they ignore Christ Jesus come down from earth to be with them? When people in general despise the preaching of the Word should the collapse of Christmas be surprising? When people have no more interest in Christ Jesus coming to them in Bread and Wine in His Supper, should we be surprised that they don't really care that much about Him coming and being laid in a manger?

We as a culture are tired of Christmas - and it shows every Sunday when Christ comes to be among us in His Church, and so many people could care less.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dr. Strangegrammar

Dr. Strangegrammar
(Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Greek Participle)

There is perhaps no greater source of angst to the Greek Student than the seemingly elusive “participle”. With the introduction of the Participle there comes much wailing and gnashing of teeth, students trembling with fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. But as for you, dear reader, when you see a participle, lift up your heads, for the wonders of the Greek language is upon you.

The Greek Participle is not scary – in fact, it really is your friend. You just need to know what a Participle is in English, how to recognize one in Greek, and then how it is used in Greek. So, let’s look at things very briefly.

1 – The Participle in English.

We will make this super, super simple. A participle is what you have anytime you see this: Verb + “ing”. There. Simple as that. “Running”, “Crying”, “Fishing” – these are all participles – and what a participle does is it takes a verb and changes it into a “noun” – into an idea or concept. Consider.

“Joe runs. Joe likes running.” The participle lets us discuss this “idea” that comes along with the verb run. You can also use these verbal ideas to set up complex sentences – for example: “While running, Joe saw a duck.” The main point of the sentence is the highly important viewing of a duck, but now we can know in what context Joe saw this duck. (Or even look at the previous sentence – “viewing” is a participle!)

Now, one can go on and on about all the various types of participles that we have in English – but let’s keep it simple. Verb + ing

2 – The Participle in Greek.

The Participle in Greek is the exact same thing that it is in English – it is a verb plus an ending that let’s you know what sort of noun (ah, those lovely declensions). In Greek it is Verb + Noun Ending. Simple as that. If it’s 3rd Declension – it’s active (hitting). If it’s 1st or 2nd Declension (i.e. the typical adjective endings), it’s passive (being hit). Oh, and if you didn’t notice, the basic 3rd Declension endings, if you don’t stick them to a noun, is the participle for is – “being”.

So, this makes identifying a participle in Greek easy – whenever you see a verb with a 3rd declension ending stuck too it, it’s a participle. “But,” you say, “They have 8 different participle paradiagms, each with 24 different words, that’s 192 possibilities, one for every hour of the week with 2 on Sunday! Surely I will fail!” No, you won’t, and here’s why.

Remember, Greek verbs have changes to the stem that let you know how they are functioning. The same thing happens with the verbal part of a Greek Participle – so once you see the ending, figure out what tense the verb. Here are the seven main participle tenses and how you can identify their stems.

Present Active - Base stem + 3rd Declension
Present Passive – Base stem + men + 1st or 2nd Declension
Aorist Active - Base stem + sa + 3rd Declension or 2nd Aorist stem + 3rd Declension
Aorist Middle - Base stem + sam + 1st or 2nd Declension
2nd Aorist Middle 2nd Aorist stem + men + 1st or 2nd Declension
Aorist Passive Base stem + the + something that looks a lot like the 3rd Declension.
Perfect Active Reduplication + Stem + k + 3rd Declension
Perfect Mid/Pass Reduplication + Stem + men + 1st or 2nd.

So, what does all this mean? Simple. If you see 3rd Declension endings, it’s active. If you see “men” and either 1st or 2nd, it’s passive. If you see an Aorist looking verb, it’s aorist. If you see reduplication, it’s perfect. There – if you have this down, you can recognize any participle.

3 – Translating the Greek Participle.

How then does one translate participles from Greek to English? At this point, you will probably have terrors thinking of different lists of how to translate – different terms for how you do this or that. Don’t worry about that. Simply do this – translate the Greek word as the verb + ing. That will give you a very broken sounding English translation – then simply make that expression sound nicer in English.

To go more complex, think about things this way. If the participle is aorist, it denotes something that “has” happened – just bear that there will be generally some cause and effect, some “as… then” sort of thought movement. If the participle is perfect, it means it is something that “had”. Other than that, they work just like the nouns – matching up.

A quick note, just because it’s neat. If the participle is genitive, it can denote “when” or “while” – because genitive denotes that something comes out of or from – and that’s all that its doing there.

4 – That’s it.

Seriously. That’s it. Now, sure, as you read, you’ll get used to the ways in which participles are used. You might even remember the spiffy titles we have given to these uses – but basically its just this simple. Don’t let the jargon or the preponderance of paradigms freak you out – it’s just a verb + noun ending leading to something that works like an English verb + ing. Nothing more, nothing less.

Stewardship, Hardness of Heart, and a Fallen World

A lot of Charity happens this time of year - especially in our congregation. We put on a Thanksgiving dinner, free to the public. We do an angel tree - this year 36 kids. We will make food baskets up for 10-12 families. A lot of things.

Then of course, I myself get requests for aid. Some of these are outlandish (for another pastor's example, check out post on one of his recent encounters), some are iffy, and some are matters of serious need.

How do you respond? At what point does it become a point where you can harden yourself to another person's request? I'm sure if it is a matter where you end up merely feeding an addiction or something like that - but there are times when your giving, your aid has to stop so that you can take care of your own responsibilities (not that most of us approach that point).

But this highlights something that we must accept. There are limited resources in this world, and you have been made steward over some of them. In your role as steward, you have been give certain areas of special focus - your family, your Church, your immediate neighbors, and then others. In your stewardship, you must make decisions, you must prioritize how you handle things.

At this point, one might say, "Well, you should just trust the Lord, that He will provide." Does that mean you should give the family's groceries for the week away... every week? Or would that be an abrogation of my given responsibility (my family) for some sort of feel-good at the best, works righteous at the worst holiness kick that brings harm to those entrusted to my care? Is it "faithfulness" to put God to the test while at the same time depriving those He has already entrusted to my care?

I think sometimes, and perhaps this is just a product of being in the bible belt, that we can forget how the Lord already *has* provided, that we are to be stewards of what He has given, and run and tend to the responsibilities He has already given us. Find your responsibilities (including the stranger), and work through them, balance them, and in all things pray for the return of Christ.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Luther about Listening to Pastors

What follows is a quote from Luther's very last sermon, delivered on Feb 14th, 1546.

"True preachers must carefully and faithfully teach only God’s Word and must seek its honor and praise alone. In like manner, the hearers must say: We do not believe in our pastor; but he tells us of another Master, One named Christ. To Him he directs us; what His lips say we shall heed. And we shall heed our pastor insofar as he directs us to this true Master and Teacher, the Son of God."

As Pastors, we are called to teach only the Word of God. We are to point to Christ and instruct people to follow Him. In all things, whatever we teach, it must point solely to the Word of God, and no where else.

If someone ignores you, disagrees with you, besmirches what you teach, you must ask yourself a simple, yet difficult question. Is this person rejecting me and what I say, or are they rejecting what Christ and His Word says?

If you are downtrodden and burdened by rejection, and then you see that you have been speaking simply what Christ has commanded you to say - then know that you are not rejected, but Christ is. Remain faithful.

If you see that they reject and despise not what Christ says in His Word, but what you say, what you conclude, what you command, then repent and apologize. If you see that you have be teaching the way you wish things would be instead of what Christ does and brings and what He makes to be - repent.

As a Pastor you have no authority whatsoever other than the authority which Christ gives you - and that is to teach His Word of life and forgiveness - and you have no authority to add to it nor call to subtract from it.

Criticism is a chance, a call for you to reflect upon this. Are you speaking God's Word or instead your own thoughts on how best to please God? One is good, the other is not.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11 – December 12th, 2010

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
We are told by many today that being a Christian means that your life will be clean and smooth, that if you just have enough faith, every blessing you could ever desire will fall into your lap, that if you just give a bit more God will enlarge your bank account. We are told as we enter and approach the time of celebration at Christmas that all things should be merry and wonderful and great. And I suppose that many things are. Yet, for many of us, things aren’t as rosy as people say they should be. Sometimes our family gatherings are more marked and marred by who isn’t there this year, or even who showed up, and we can approach them with fear and trepidation because of the fights that might break out. Or we even look on our own lives, and things aren’t what we wanted them to be, that the blessings that the preachers on TV tout that we should have if our faith is strong just aren’t there. And what does this mean for us? What does it mean when our lives aren’t the pretty picture that the prosperity preachers proclaim, when our lives don’t look like a Hallmark card or a Thomas Kincaid painting?

To you who are burdened by doubt, by fear, by simple sadness over what goes on in this world – I would ask you to consider John in today’s Gospel. When we see John, he is in prison. And he isn’t in prison singing, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” He is in prison in a bad way, a cold dark cell, and when next he sees the light of day it’s because they are pulling him out simply to chop off his head. It’s a dark place, harsh, terrible place. And we hear this – “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” Well, doesn’t John know? This is John the Baptist, who was there in the Jordan river when the heavens were torn asunder and the Father boomed forth, “This is my beloved Son!” This is John the Baptist who pointed to Christ with words that we sing to this day, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” No man in History, not even Peter or Paul has more fervently proclaimed Christ Jesus to be the Messiah than John. Sure, he knows - and yet – there John is. In a cell. Cold and dark. About to be killed. Right then and there, John sees another truth – that this world is not how it should be, that things in this life are about to go poorly for him. And so He calls out to Christ and asks - Are you to the One who is to come – is this long advent, this long time of waiting done, or do we need to wait for, to look for, to trust in another? This prison is horrible, Jesus – am I still, even now, to put my trust in You?

Do not be surprised, my dear friends, when doubts and fears assail you, when Satan has you look at your life and whispers to you, “Is this how it really is supposed to be – If God loves you so much, why is your life like this?” This is what the serpent was doing to John in the prison. It’s the same thing Satan will try to do to you. But John doesn’t simply listen to fears and doubt, he doesn’t just focus on the walls of his cell – he does one thing that is beautiful. He seeks the Word of Christ – go ask Jesus – please, let Him speak to Me, let Him tell me what I need to hear. And so John’s disciples go to Jesus, and they tell Jesus what John asks, what John wants to know.

So, what is Jesus’ response? Does He say, “What, John is in prison? Come on boys, we’re breaking him out!” No. Does He lambaste John, “You go tell John that he should know better and that he just needs to suck it up and tough it out.” No. Does He say, “Ah, one who pays any attention to such fears and doubts is not worthy of me – be gone with him!” No. Jesus does what is wonderful – He proclaims the Gospel. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

Go tell John what you hear and see – Go tell John what Christ Jesus has been doing. The blind – they see now, because Jesus speaks a Word of healing. Ditto the lame, the lepers, the deaf – all healed at Christ’s Word. Even the dead are raised – and the poor have Good News, have the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins preached to them. All this stuff, all these things that Christ does is the answer to John’s question. Are you the Christ, Jesus – well, look at all these things – these are the things that the Messiah has been promised to do – these are the signs Isaiah tells you to look for. Yes, I am He, John. I am the Messiah.

But this is more than just Jesus saying to John, “yes, yes, I am the Messiah.” What happens with all these things that Jesus would have John be pointed to? The blind see. A horrible wrong in this world, a horrible problem – Christ comes and fixes it. The lame, those with legs that don’t work – Christ comes, and they are restored. Lepers, those who are made outcasts by their disease – they are cleansed and restored to their communities. The deaf, those who are cut off from people even being right among them – they are restored by the Word of Christ. And even the dead, they are raised. What does all this mean? It means that the Messiah has come, and that the effects of sin, the ways in which it messes with life here in this world, that is being undone by Christ. And the highest example, the greatest way in which wickedness is undone – Good News is preached to the poor. Not just the effects of sin like blindness or lameness, not even just the wages of sin, but sin itself is done away with and destroyed by the preaching of the Gospel. To those who have nothing, who have been utterly battered and bruised by life in this sinful, fallen world – your sin is forgiven, and you shall have life everlasting.

And through this Jesus says to John – “John, this too is proclaimed to you. I have not forgotten you in that prison, I have not abandoned you. You know why you are there – you are there because wickedness and evil and sin reigns in this world, and things are not as they should be. I come to put them aright, once and for all upon the Cross – believe in Me, trust in Me, be not offended by Me – but rather see and know that I put all things right – that even when Herod takes your head, you will rise, forgiven and justified to live forever.”

And through Matthew, through Matthew recording this Gospel – this is what Christ Jesus says to you here today. Do you look on the world and see things that are just horrible? Do you see your own situation, your own sin, and are nothing but ashamed and shocked and disheartened? This makes sense, for sin and wickedness is very real, and often it is very present in our lives. But listen to what Christ has done. In His days on earth, He undid evil, undid that which was wrong. But the chief thing He does is this. The Christ whom our fathers waited for, the Christ whose birth we prepare to celebrate, this same Christ, seeing you, seeing your struggles, your burdens, your hardships, goes willingly to the Cross, so that by His death and resurrection He would fully defeat Satan and the world and death, and by His resurrection win and assure you life everlasting. These trials of this life – they do not last forever. How long will the trials you face last for you – beats the tar out of me. Tomorrow might be better, or it might not. Some burdens might disappear, and some burdens might accompany you all your days. Over and against these, one thing holds true – that Christ Jesus has died, and thus your sins are forgiven; and He has risen, thus you too shall rise, and these troubles will be gone.

This Sunday in Advent is the pink Sunday, is “Gaudete – Rejoice”. Why then such a dour text? Because, oh Christian, your rejoicing is not rejoicing because things are great, not because right now life is high and everything is coming up roses. There may be times that is true, bully for you. But that is not the center of your rejoicing. No, rejoice in this – You are poor, you are a poor miserable sinner, and there are times when it is quite apparent and overly apparent that you are – yet to you, Good News, the Good News of Christ’s love and redemption is proclaimed unto you, and thus you have forgiveness and life in His Name – and this can never be robbed from you. This Word of life which Christ has given to you in yours – whether it is the happiest day of your life or the worst. Every day, wherever you are, wherever the twists and turns of this life, this world leads you, Christ Jesus is your Lord and Savior who has died and risen for you.

And whatever happens in your life, whether it be joy or sorrow, better or worse – be directed to the Word of God – come and hear what the Scriptures record for you – be told again what the Apostles have seen and heard – that your Messiah has come – that He has died and risen for you – that He has joined Himself to you in Baptism, so that you are never alone but that He is with you in the face of every trial and shall see you through them unto life everlasting, that He strengthens you with His own Body and Blood in His Supper, so that you can face anything in this world until the day you see Him face to face on the Last Day. Because of this, you may rest secure in Christ, for He has proclaimed the Good News of His salvation unto you, redeemed you, forgiven you, made you His own. He came to win you this redemption, and now we simply rejoice and wait until He comes to bring all goodness unto us. Thus we pray, come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


"For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence,” Says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 2:16 (NKJV)

Marriage is a wonderful blessing from God. It is the picture of God's love for the Church, it really is the last remaining vestige of what we had in paradise. We acknowledge that in marriage God joins one man and one woman together and that we should not put them asunder. God even expressly, directly says that He hates divorce, by name, without any doubt to what He is referring. Indeed, divorce is the ultimate sign of condemnation - Consider Jeremiah 3:6-8, which reads "The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: "Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, 'After she has done all this she will return to me,' but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore."

Divorce is the very picture of condemnation and destruction. It is the opposite, of what God created man and woman to be together - it is the failing of the fall made manifest, and it undercuts and destroys the blessing that God intended marriage to be. God hates divorce.

The above is truth, is solid, is what the Scriptures say.

Do we on the basis of the above make a hard and fast rule - "No one may ever divorce!"

Of course we don't, because, even though Divorce is expressly decried and vilified and condemned, in both the Old and the New Testament, there is an allowance for it.

Leviticus 24 allows for the writing of a certificate for divorce.

And in the New Testament, we see our Lord engaged in the following discussion Matthew 19:

1Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. (2) And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

(3)And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?" (4) He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, (5) and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? (6) So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (7) They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" (8) He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (9) And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."

Even as our Lord points and teaches that Divorce is not how it should be - it's not how it was in the beginning, it is a result of human weakness and frailty, it should not be done simply for "any cause"...

He never says "Thou shall never divorce." He doesn't say, "Nope - you must never do this thing, for it is vile." He does not say, "If you were just more faithful and trusted in the God who put you together with your wife, you would know that you can never, never, never divorce."

God understands perfectly well that our sin, that life in a sinful world, breaks and shatters things He would not have broken. He understands that things now are not as they were in the Garden. And because of this, He makes allowances for us -- not putting us as liberty to be vile or wicked, but rather when the consequences of life in a sinful, fallen, imperfect world fall upon us, He provides us a way of escape.

Is this ideal? Is it His Will? It's His will that there be no more sin -- but He doesn't pretend that sin doesn't exist, doesn't impact, doesn't vilely abuse us.

His solution to sin is not simply to toss out absolute Law. God does not say, "As I hate divorce, therefore, Thou Shall Be No Divorce Ever!" That is not His solution. He, for as long as we live in this vale of tears, allows a way of escape - not that we should run at the first sign of trouble, but if we must escape or be utterly crushed - there is a way of escape.

And then, He sends His Son, Christ Jesus, to enter into this world, to suffer and die, so that we might be restored unto perfection, might be rescued from this vale of tears on the Last Day.

We can be eager for this - indeed, I would imagine every Christian desires perfection, desires to be free of the burden of sin, can say with Paul - Oh wretch that I am, who will save me from this body of death. Indeed, we confess that we look forward to the life of the world to come.

But until then, God is aware of the burdens of living in a sinful world - and even as He redeems us through His Son, He makes allowances, gives us ways of escape so that sin and doubt and fear do not crush us.

He does this even concerning divorce - something He expressly states, teaches clearly and unequivocally that He hates. Is not His mercy and compassion to us a wondrous thing.

Let us rather remember that in all things, as Paul says, whether we live or die, we live or die to the Lord.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Failing of American Lutheranism?

One of the great failings of Lutheranism is that we end up abandoning a term because of its abuse. Now, this is often done with the best of intentions. We want clarity, we don't want people to be confused. And many terms slip away and fall into disuse.

One can see many of these in terms of our relations with Rome. While some are striving to reclaim them, the terms "Mass", "Father", or even liturigical forms are basically dropped because, for the sake of the clarity of the Gospel, we did not want to be confused with those who obscure it.

Or even the Name Lutheran. We got it because we abandoned the name "Catholic" (which we are) and the name "Evangelical" (which we are) to others. We aren't the "Reformed". We give ground. You will even hear more talk about how we should be not simply of the "Real Presence" which has been our standard, but should use "Bodily Presence" because the tom-fool sacramentarians are saying, "Jesus is really present, really present spiritually." Again, for the sake of clarity, I'm guessing that the term "Real Presence" will slide away because of the abuses of others.

But the one that bothers me the most, that frightens me the most, is my fear that we are abandoning the term "love". Love is the simple, plain description and summation of the entire law. And that term is abused sorely today by many liberal theologians, who teach that love is to simply placate others, to ignore sin and vice, to sit together and sign kum-by-ya together and pretend that any doctrinal differences are unimportant.

That's not love - that is hatred and disdain for your neighbor of the worst sort! And yet, we seem to be abandoning the term. Instead of saying, "That is not love you teach - love is this. The laying down of your life for your neighbor. Placing their needs (not desires, but needs) above your own. Speaking the truth to them in kindness, even if they hate and revile you for it. Pointing them to Christ in all things." Instead of this - we abandon the word. We assume that anyone who speaks of love must simply be wild and crazy and not care about the Word of God, not care about anything God.

Have we abandoned the term love? And can we do that safely? Mass, Father, even Catholic and Evangelical - these are our terms, things that we came up with - words you don't even really come across in the Scriptures. We can take them our leave them. You never find the phrase "real presence" in the bible - it's our short hand to describe what the Bible teaches.

But the term "love" - that's all over the place. And if we abandon this term, if we flee from it, avoid using it lest someone think of a spineless liberal, haven't we de facto conceded the whole of Scriptures, the whole of speaking about God, whether it is the Law (love God, love your neighbor) or the Gospel (but God shows His love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us) to those who spout false doctrine about Christ?

Do not give up the term "love". It is too important, too biblical a term to yield up.

Vader's Guide to Pastoral Practice (Special Edition)

(In Honor of My Ginormous Star Wars Mug which contains around 2.5 cups off coffee)

How do you handle those tough, tough cases of pastoral care? Learn from Pastor Vader proper pastoral care!

Member 1: Pastor Vader, I'm not sure what to do. I have some coworkers who have been giving me a hard time. How do I handle them?

Pastor Vader: If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny.

Member 1: I don't want to fight - I don't want to hurt them. They've hurt me, I'm upset and angry, and I don't know what to do.

Pastor Vader: Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy them.

Member 1: What? No, no, I don't want to destroy them. I just want to know how I should handle, them or approach them.

Pastor Vader: Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.

Member 1: No, it's not about fixing them - it's about how I can be more caring to them, in spite of their mistreatment of me.

Pastor Vader: You are unwise to lower your defenses!

Member 1: Um, okay. I think I'll just go and work this through myself.

Pastor Vader: No, leave them to me. I will deal with them myself.

+ + + + + + + + +

Member 2: Pastor Vader, my wife and I have been considering using contraception.

Vader: I find your lack of faith disturbing.

M2: Well, it's not faith, I know God will care for us, but it's really me just wondering how I should do my duty - I am the head of the household, I have responsibilities to plan and care for my wife and children. That's the vocation God has given me as husband and father. Don't matters like this ultimately fall upon me?

Vader: No. I am your father.

M2: Um, okay. Well, I just want to know if there is any time in which we might use contraceptives.

Vader: Obi-wan once thought as you do.

M2: Well, yes, I know many people think it is allowable and some don't. I'm interested in good, scriptural study about parenting and headship and children and the will of man as regards children.

Vader: WHAT?

M2: I'm guessing from your response that you think all use of contraception is wrong. I just don't see that in the Scriptures.

Vader: You should not have come back!

M2: I'm just saying that I think you might not really be using Scripture there...

Vader: You are part of the rebel alliance and a traitor! Take him away!

+ + + + + + + + + + +

Remember, as Archbishop Tarkin says, "Fear will keep them in line."

Join us, or die.

(Note: Initially I had "Now strike them down with all of your hatred" but that is an Emperor line. This has been corrected)

+ + + + + + + + + + +

(Mike Baker - who is sort of like the Irvin Kurschner of this whole thing, has written the fitting and appropriate prequel. It follows here)

Let's not forget Pastor Vader when his friend and mentor noticed these problems and try to correct him:

Friend: "I am concerned because you are not acting like a pastor anymore. You seem confused and and under the... influence of foreign teachings."

Vader: "What?! How can you do this? This is outrageous, it's unfair... How can you be on the Council and not be a Master?"

Friend: ", it's not about being the Master of anyone. You are a teacher and helper to these people. It's not about control and domination... but love and sacrifice."

Vader: "I have brought peace, freedom, justice, and security to my new empire!"

Obi-wan: "Uh... wow... that sounds like pietism."

Vader: "Don't lecture me, Obi-Wan. I see through the lies of the Jedi. I do not fear the dark side, as you do."

Obi-wan: "You should fear it. Remember our Sem professor? He told you specifically that this road ends in suffer suffering."

Vader: "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy!"

Obi-wan: "...maybe there are some grey areas here. Sometimes black and white thinking creates a false dichotomy that does not help you reach the truth."

Vader: "Don't make me kill you!"

Obi-wan: *sigh*

In this life there is much suckitude

In this life there is much suckitude. Thus sayeth one of my profs at the Sem. It was funny, he even wrote "suckitude" in Greek letters when we chuckled at the word. But it is true, there is much suckitude in this life.

Now, the problem comes in when we see the suckitude in another's life and think, "Oh, that's not that bad." It might be we thinking that things aren't that bad because:

1. We have it SO much worse.
2. It's about something we don't care much about.
3. We are focused on the blessings God still gives.

The first two are superfluous. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. The toe doesn't yell at the finger, "Oh, you got slammed down hard - well try getting stubbed, you pansy!" The elbow does not yell at the finger, "It's just a splinter you weenie!"

But what of that third - where we aren't dismissive of their pain, but we are simply focused on the glories God gives to us, even over and through and in spite of this.

The Gospel is not "your pain is foolish." The Gospel is not "your pain isn't that bad." The Gospel is "your pain is real, for it comes from sin - but Christ Jesus has defeated sin, and this pain too will pass because of Him."

In this life there is much suckitude. The world is dark, cold, and messy. Don't pretend that it isn't. Don't tell people that because of Jesus they shouldn't notice this. Even Christ weeps repeatedly while He is saving the world.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Conscientious Guide to Contraception

I think it is fitting to write a conscientious guide to Contraception - a series of things to consider when confronting the issue of using Contraception in marriage. This is not a post for discussion (although if you have any questions feel free to e-mail me) or debate – but rather things that I would counsel to the married couple about contraception (or to the couple who are engaged and wish to determine how they ought to handle such things).

Note – this will not be a checklist of things to mark off and then decide that the use of contraceptives is okay. That runs dangerously close to the man who asks of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” We are not seeking minimums here, or seeking excuses or justifications, but rather how might we approach this issue rightly. There are things that should give you pause before setting up a plan for the use of contraception. So, let us begin.

First, any approach to contraception has to be undertaken knowing and accepting one thing – God may still give a pregnancy. Humility is called for – and if a child is given, rejoice and give thanks, trusting that God knows what He is doing. I mean this with all seriousness. If you are completely and totally not prepared for the possibility of a child then abstinence is the only solid solution.

Reasons For Use

Now, there are two main reasons for which contraception might be used – for reasons of health and for voluntary reasons. These two are quire different.

Health Reasons. If there are serious health ramifications for pregnancy, one may choose to seek to avoid pregnancy. What is the limit, what is the seriousness of expected complication – I don't know. I do not think we can set a specific limit, because what one woman can handle another cannot. Thus, ask yourself what can you bear? I will not judge either way saying, “Oh, she could have kids, she's just a wimp” or saying, “What was she thinking letting herself get pregnant.” But I would have you seriously consider if the health burdens are truly beyond what you can bear.

Remember that children are a good thing, not to be despised. If unfortunate health circumstances , physical or mental, prevent you or give you pause from becoming pregnant – see and hope they your issues might someday go away or be corrected. However, I would have you think about whether pregnancy is truly a danger to you or whether it is just an inconvenience. If it is the first, you have my prayers. If it is the second, then I would read the next section.

Voluntary Reasons. Some would limit the proper use of any means of contraception (including natural family planning) to direct health related issues. I think that is too harsh and does not account for other troubling matters in life. I would say that there can be proper voluntary usages of contraceptives, but I would have anyone considering bear several things in mind.

First – Voluntary, non-health related use contraception should be a temporary thing. Part of the reason for marriage is procreation. Children are a good thing. If you are viewing them as a continual bad thing, this really isn't a good or scriptural approach, so you ought to reconsider how you think of them. One way to check if your attitude isn't off is to think whether your use is meant to be temporary There should be a specific time, a specific reason for why contraceptives are used rather than using contraceptives as a status quo. Again – what, how long of a time is temporary? I don't know – but approach this humbly, and make sure that you aren't just making excuses, but that you have a specific, concrete time table for your use and that you aren't just trying to perpetually avoid children.

Second – Voluntary use of contraception shouldn't be for trivial things, but rather for the sake of the good of the family. If a couple decides to try to avoid pregnancy, it shouldn't be for light reasons. Wanting to have a small dress size at a friends wedding isn't a serious reason, nor is the desire to have money to go traveling. Rather – would attempting to postpone pregnancy at this time be for the legitimate good of the whole family? And deal with this seriously – do not simply assume. If you are given pause for economic reasons, are these serious economic issues or simply a matter of having to forgo some luxury? If you are given pause for a business or professional reason, is this a serious issue that is temporary, or is it an excuse that will perpetually be there? If it is the later, again, you should reconsider your own approach to children, for it seems to be off.

Third – The voluntary use of contraception should not be used out of fear. Consider why you might want to use contraception. Is it because you are afraid of the burdens of parenthood or the consequences of parenthood? Outside of health reasons that isn't reason enough – and there are other issues that you should face up to. Children are a blessing, and if you are given them, be good parents, trusting in God to give you the strength that you need. If you are using contraception, it should be out of a hope – a hope for improving a temporary situation, of preparing your household for children in someway – of establishing things so that they are in good order for your next child. This is important because should God decide to throw your time table to the wind, you are still prepared to humbly receive the blessing He gives you – His wisdom is better than your wisdom. Using contraception out of fear hinders this.

Again, with all these things, I urge you to give careful thought to them It is easy to rationalize away a simple disdaining of children under many guises. You are not to disdain children – they are a good thing and a blessing. If you find that you are disdaining children, then repentance is in order. Do not do this lightly, but with due consideration. This is not a check list where you can "whew, we can" but rather things to consider before willy-nilly using birth control.

Methods. As a closing note - that there are means of birth control that Christians should avoid. These are any methods which end up destroying life. The day after pill – wrong, and should not be used. Anything that allows for conception but only prevents the child from implanting or otherwise developing – avoid these. These methods are mainly chemical and come about as the result of a prescription. Consult with your doctor so you know what is happening.

As for barrier methods, these are appropriate means, as they are indeed intended simply to prevent conception. However, remember that they are not always effective, even if used properly. Hence, humility is called for.

Finally, if you wish to not use any aids and simply engage in “Natural Family Planning” or things like that – that too is a fine thing. Whatever the method, make sure it is something that both you and husband agree on and do not have doubts concerning. If one of you has concerns about a particular method, for the sake of your spouse, avoid it.

Again - humility is the order of the day, as is thought, consideration of the needs and emotions of your spouse. And do not view these as simple checklists so that you can say, "We are good to go", but rather a set of ideas which you continually check yourself against, to see whether or not you are wantonly despising God's gift of children.

Also, do not hesitate to seek your pastor's advice or council on this. In fact, in the East they mandate that you seek the guidance of your spiritual father first. As I hold that the Father is the head of the household, I can't mandate it, but it is generally good advice to bounce your reasoning off of your pastor. If your reasoning is frivolous, he should be able to point this out, and if there are other issues that present themselves, he should be able to give you good guidance on them.

Why - Not What

The Law is more concerned with why we do what we do than simply with what we do.

Consider the giving of an offering. Is this a good thing - is it good to give to the Church? Well... why did you give it. If it is an offering of love for the good of others and the support of the preaching of God's Word, yes, it is a good thing. If by giving to the Church you are hoping to acquire fame and glory for yourself - you have received your reward (i.e. it ain't a good thing). If you give because you feel guilty and the gift is an attempt to lessen your guilt - again, not a good thing. It becomes an idolatrous gift.

Why is important.

Likewise - is it a bad thing to kill? We even have the commandment - thou shall not kill. Well, why do you kill? Are you killing because you are angry and annoyed with someone who is cruel to you? Not good. Are you a soldier who is exercising lawful orders for the defense of others? That is something else entirely.

What doesn't tell you the story - why does.

This is because it is not what goes into the Body that defiles it, but what comes out of the heart. It is not enough to say "This is good, that is bad - follow this and you will do right" - why is important.

Is it good to observe the Sabbath? Sure. But it is good to pull your son out of a well, even on the Sabbath. And simply kicking up your feet, "resting" with NFL pregame stuff in the morning is not "rescuing your son". And, if you observe the Sabbath, not because you know you are a sinner in need of God, but rather because you are a good person who follows the Law - it is in fact self-centered wickedness of the highest sort.

We cannot simply say "This is good, that is not" - we must consider why something is done. Otherwise we will become hypocrites who think we worship God with our works while our hearts are far from Him.

A Limit-One Comment Post

Alright - While there has been passion and vigor on many posts in the past, it has raised a question or two with me.

As this is a sensitive topic, it will be a limit-one comment post - and that comment is to be a direct reply to the question here. There will be no flaming and the like. Just a simple answer will suffice. Comments violating this will be deleted.

Here it goes.

1. If "Be fruitful and multiply" is a hard standing command that applies to all today - how can chastity and virginity (in the "remain unmarried sense") be approved by God?

2. I'm guessing the answer will be that it is only to the married. Then, the question becomes this. I know many who are upset with my take on contraception also hold to the perpetual virginity of Mary. This seems to put Mary in a bind, for then she was refusing to engage in what was God's command for the wedded. How is this reconciled?

I seriously want to know how these ideas are reconciled (i.e. - that marriage is for the production of children and that Mary was married yet, according to pious tradition, remained a virgin, thus contradicting the command to be fruitful and multiply) - and again - one comment, to this question. No one will jump you here for what you say.

(As commented below)

I would not that I am not making a trap, or a set up - I'm not going to jump up and down and say, "A ha, then you must support contraception". I myself am not going to respond to any answers that someone gives.

Rather this - I see two things can can be viewed as contradictory.

1 - The command to be fruitful and multiply with the praise of chastity. How do these two reconcile.

2 - The command for those who are to be married to be fruitful and multiply with the idea that some hold that Mary is Semper Virgo, thus not attempting to multiply even in the bonds of marriage.

I'm not going to do a "neener, neener, neener" - I am just wondering how those ideas are reconciled.

If you would like to share your ways of reconciling them, please do so.

A Bit of Advice for Pastors (and Anyone)

This morning I would like to direct people to perhaps the best book ever written on Pastoral Practice - Ignatius' Letter to Polycarp Polycarp was a young bishop, Ignatius an old one on the way to martyrdom - and Ignatius instructs him. Read the whole thing. However, just a quick comment on a line or two.

First, "Bear with all, even as the Lord does with you."

This is a brilliant piece of advice - not only to pastors, but to all. Bear with all - not because if you do so you will be such a good person, not because you HAVE to - but simply because of this. You understand that the Lord has shown you much patience and mercy.

Everything in the Church flows from the Gospel - it is from our understanding that we too are sinners who have be forgiven much that we approach people. That is how we can approach them in mercy. The same mercy that I have received, let me be an instrument in showing it. The same love and forgiveness that I have received, let me be an instrument in proclaiming it.

Second, "Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer. And especially, we ought to bear all things for the sake of God, that He also may bear with us"

I prefer the translation "It is the mark of a great athlete to be bruised yet still conquer". However, this gets to the point. In your life - be you a Pastor or a laymen, you will be bruised, battered, insulted, mocked, and will have people unleash all sorts of ire against you.

In this - be as an anvil. Bear the strikes without striking back. Show love, show mercy. And do not think that the rants that people launch at you are a sign of your failure. If you proclaim the Gospel, if you put the focus upon Christ, it will happen. Do not let the focus become your feelings, your wounds, your desire to strike back as you have been struck -- you aren't a sword to lash back and cause wounds to those who would strike you. You are an anvil. People will be struck against you - stand firm that they might be shaped into useful tools for the kingdom of God.

It's a great read - I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Contraception and the Hidden Will of God

One thing that I have thought of that disturbs me is this. There are those who will say that using contraceptives goes against and attempts to hinder the will of God.

To which I say - "Show Me."

What is God's will for the number of children that I have. Point to me the chapter and verse that lets me know the number that God really, really, really wants me to have.

You can't because there is none. The number of children that God desires for me is part of His hidden will - and I can't know it, and for me to speculate about it only brings about false doctrine as well as either pride or despair.

We are not Calvinists harping on about the hidden will of God.

I know that God willed for me to have my wife - I know that now, didn't know that 7 years ago. But it was there. Likewise, children. Was in fact not His will that we have any in the past 3.5 years. What the next years hold - who knows. I know what my wife and I are hoping - but He will give as He wills.

As for us - we live our lives in humility, using the tools at our disposal to make decisions as seem best for ourselves and our neighbors that do not violate God's Word. And when we fail at that, when we transgress the clear Word, we repent, and trust the clear Word of forgiveness.

But wringing my hands about whether or not everything I do is God's will or goes against it... sheesh - forget that. God has revealed what He desires me to know in Christ Jesus and His Word - the rest in free, and I ain't gonna sweat it.

The Purpose of the 3rd Use

The Goal of the 3rd Use of the Law is not to make you a "better person".

The Goal of the 3rd Use of the Law is to shape you so that you show your neighbor more love.

The Gospel is how God deals with you - the Law instructs on how you deal with your neighbor.

And by "deal with" I mean "love"

Exceptions and Crushing People

Again, I'm just going to write more on comments from this post.

First, Mike Baker, in perhaps the best thing written on this blog, writes:

That's precisely my point. Whenever this topic comes up, people who think contraceptives are "evil" like say that we shouldn't argue from the point of view of the exceptions.

...but I'm telling you that the exceptions are the only ones who care enough about this topic to listen to you. You'd better take their situation into account.

Yes, contraceptives are often used for evil purposes... but they have positive and even life-saving purposes as well. The last thing America needs is more reactionary attitudes from people who have not done enough research to have an informed opinion on a given topic.

To which I respond

"...but I'm telling you that the exceptions are the only ones who care enough about this topic to listen to you. You'd better take their situation into account."

This may be the most brilliant things you've said, and precisely what people forget. We don't live in some rosy, idealized world. We live in a world of exceptions, where even the Law of Moses is centered and wrapped around exceptions.

There are cities of refuge.
For the hardness of your heart - divorce.
If you can't afford the Sacrifice, two doves.

Over and over and over the Law of Moses made exceptions for people in various situations. It seems quite foolhardy and unbiblical to not do so in our discussions.

This gets to the heart of why I can get so nervous on how many people treat issues with Law. Instead of painting the ideal as a goal to strive for, it becomes how it is to be. It becomes "be perfect, as Your Father in heaven is perfect". Yes, that is Law - but it is Law that runs roughshod and crushes people. "Be Ye Perfect" is not guide, is not shaping your life, it shows how messed up you are.


When it comes to life in this sinful world there are always exceptions made for the frailty of our flesh. God understands that we are not perfected, that the Law, while good, is a burden we cannot bear. So exceptions are given. Allowances are made for the impact of sin.

Consider the 2nd table of the Law.

4 - Honor your father and mother. Yet, what else does our Lord say? That He will set father against son and mother against daughter. Why? Because of the sin of unbelief, and we are to follow God rather than men. This is not to be of our own devising (bad Korban, bad!), but it happens.

5 - You shall not kill. Yet, in this world there is violence and evil and wickedness, and so the sword is given to the State. This is an exception to the rule.

6 - You shall not commit adultery. Not to happen - yet, even though He hates it, God Law allows for divorce in certain circumstances. He understand that marriages will fall apart, and allows for how things can be handled when they become messy. Shoot, Paul even acknowledges that marriage can be entered into not for lofty ideals, but as a way of curtailing lust.

7 - You shall not steal. Hmm. Actually, I can't think of exceptions to this one (although the Libertarian in me wants to shout out "Taxes, Taxes" - but that's a political argument). Perhaps you could point to if someone takes your coat, give him your robe -but that is more from the victim's perspective.

8 - You shall not bear false witness. Again, I can't think of too many examples of where lying is spoken of well - I do see plenty of lying, but not exceptions.

Although many people would assert that one could steal or lie in order to prevent or hinder wickedness - and perferable state sponsored (a la the 5th).

As for 9 and 10 - The two commandments on coveting highlight just how wretched man is and how often we can fall into the temptation of covetousness. It's a very realistic view of what we are like (and it's interesting how we so rarely talk about these - probably because there's nothing we can point to in order to say, "See, I HAVEN'T coveted." It's hard to be self-congratulatory about coveting).

And of course. . . if your son or ox falls into a well....

The point is this. In the Scriptures you see two things - there is the ideal, the goal to strive for that is given. However, you also will see a baseline that you are not to fall below, that even in the frailty of your flesh you ought not transgress.

What happens? Instead of phrasing that ideal in the same sort of lofty terms Christ does (love your neighbor as yourself) or Paul does (love is the summation of the Law), we can be tempted to treat specific acts as the ideal (and make no allowance, give no sense of when there should be allowances).

I worship this way.
I don't use contraception.
I don't drink.
I don't dance.
I only listen to the right music.

That's all nice... but what does it have to do with me.

Literally - what does it have to do with me? How does that show me love? Also, why do I have to do that as well.

Is the worship at my congregation as idealized as I'd like? No. Why is it not? Because I am evil and vile? No. Because out of love and care for my people I have not tried to force them into a pattern into which they have not yet grown.

Do some people use contraception wrongly? Sure, but sometimes it is used for the sake of showing love and concern for one's spouse, what he or she needs or fears, for their sake. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Can drinking and dancing and music lead to wickedness? Sure - but it can lead to good and God pleasing joy as well - so I'm not going to willy nilly tell other people not to enjoy things simply because I in my frailty can't - my frailty doesn't shape their life.

+ + + + + + + + + + +

But why, why do you lament all this stuff about the Law so much? Why do you rant about this, oh Confessional Gadfly?

Because, ultimately, errors about the Law attack the Gospel.

"Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven."

The Gospel is this - Jesus condescends.

Con - with
De - down
scend - comes.

Jesus comes down from heaven to be with us, to be our Savior. He comes to those who could not bear the Law to lift us up and win us salvation. The heart of the Gospel is that Christ Jesus comes down. That when He sees people transgress, He has mercy and compassion on them instead of a desire to simply whip them into shape.

The Law says I must die. Period. Christ Jesus comes down and makes the ultimate exception - fulfilling the Law in my place, dying in my place, all out of His great and wondrous love for us.

We are taught that God desires love, not sacrifice. Why, when we speak about the Law do we speak in a way as to try to force people to sacrifice rather and thinking about dealing with people and their flaws in love and compassion?

(The answer is that too many people end up celebrating flaws in today's society and we can be tempted to over-react. We are in the world, not of the world - our statements are not to be reactions to the world, but rather the proclamation of the Word of God to the World).