Sunday, January 30, 2011

Epiphany 4 Sermon

Epiphany 4 – January 30th, 2011 – Matthew 8:23-37

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
By the time we reach the beginning of our text, Jesus has already had quite a day. That day began in chapter 5 with the sermon on the Mount – so a morning spent preaching and teaching, which is a tiring thing, in and of itself. Then, as He comes down the mountain, our Gospel lesson last week, the Leper and the Centurion are healed – and then that is followed by many other healings in Capernaum. And by this point, the crowd is whipped up into a frenzy, people are just so excited, and Jesus does what He normally does at this point… He leaves. Our Lord doesn’t want unruly mobs; He isn’t the Lord of the mosh pit, He doesn’t like crass pandemonium with people going all crazy. In verse 18, just before our text, we hear, “Now, when Jesus saw a great crowd around Him, He gave orders to go over to the other side.” And even as the disciples make ready, you still have more people come up, more things, more teaching, and then finally, finally, at the start of our lesson, in verse 23, Jesus gets into the boat.

“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep.” I had always used to think that it was a bit odd that Jesus was asleep – I mean, He’s on a boat trip, that’s exciting, and there’s a storm, surely He’d be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for that! Well, not with the day He’s had – He’s been on the run since early morning, it’s probably mid afternoon, and He’s tired. Fair enough. If you’ve ever had one of those afternoons where you were just gonna take a nap, that’s Jesus’ day. And so the disciples are tending to the boat, which makes sense, they are the experienced sailors. And then, a storm whips up. Makes sense – at least it should to us in Oklahoma. If it’s a nice spring day, when is nasty weather most likely to spring up? And that is exactly what happens this day – a squall springs up, something that wasn’t uncommon for the Sea of Galilee. And it’s a bad one. The disciples, seasoned sailors, rush and wake up Jesus saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” Wake up Jesus, because right now, right this instant, we are in the process of sinking and drowning and dying. And this isn’t baseless panic – this isn’t my out of town relatives hearing that there’s a tornado watch for the entire state and wanting to know if we should run to the fraidy hole right then – This is the sirens are going off, the storm is here now, and there on the sea, even the veteran fishermen are frightened. Save us, Lord; we are perishing.

Jesus wakes up, and then He says to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” I don’t wonder if this isn’t one of the most misapplied, most abused verses of all of the Scriptures. There are few verses which get used to make Christians feel worse, which get used to grind down Christians by false preachers more than this verse. “Oh, looks like you’re a bad Christian because you’re afraid. Looks like you’ve got a little faith. We can’t have that, you’ve got to have a big faith – and the way you get that is by sending me a nice, big old check. Big check means big faith, little check means little pathetic Christian, and you don’t want to be that, do you?” Okay, so maybe what we hear isn’t quite that crass, but we’re in the heart of the bible belt – we hear all the time how if we only had a big enough faith this or that, how if we only believed there’d be no more fear, if we had more faith then this or that would happen. And we sit, and we hear that, and we can think, “I have fears. I must not be a good Christian. I must have a weak, tiny, pathetic faith.” And then comes the manipulation – being broke down, being made to feel little, we’re tempted to do whatever that preacher tells us we need to do – buy his book, send him cash – whatever it is.

Fear is real. I want you to pause for a moment and think about what you fear. We all have them – our lives, our past, these have impact upon us, and we have learned to fear things. Some of your fears I know, some I can guess, some you’ve probably kept hidden from everyone else. Likewise, you probably know or can guess some of mine, and some I’ve kept hidden. And they are real. They deal with things that happen in this sinful, fallen world. Fear is part and parcel of life in a world full of sin – because bad stuff can and does happen here. And that doesn’t change because we pretend they don’t happen. Our Lord isn’t instructing us in this text that we are to just pretend things aren’t scary – He doesn’t say to the disciples, “Oh, just ignore the storm, you’ll be fine.” No, the storm is there, it is real. Sin is real, fear is real. It’s often big and nasty and scary. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise, don’t let people downplay sin and its impact.

The point isn’t that fear isn’t real – the point is that Christ Jesus IS real, that while sin and fear may be running around in this world, Jesus is God with us, and while sin, while fears may be big and strong and powerful, while they might be more powerful than us – they are not more powerful that Christ Jesus, God Himself come down to save you and rescue from sin and from fear. That very real storm comes – and what does Jesus do? “Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” That’s the point of this text. Not that the disciples’ fears were silly – but that Christ Jesus is God Almighty who is in charge, who is in control, always. That’s the point – there’s a reason the old song calls God the ruler of wind and wave – and that was something they knew in the Old Testament even before Jesus came. It was part of our Introit today. It’s sort of part of the point of Noah and the Flood – God Almighty is in charge – and those very real things, those very real fears – they don’t mean that God is no longer in control, and when He knows it is best, He will deliver us. He is God with us who loves us.

And this is where the false preacher will add, “but only if you have a big enough faith, so cut me a big old check.” Again, misses the point. “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” People will want to hit upon that phrase “little faith” and say, “Oh no, that’s bad, got to have a big faith, bigger, bigger, bigger…” To them I say, “Or what?” So the disciples are afraid, so their faith is “little” – what does Jesus do? He still cares for them, He still protects them. He still loves them. His love and care for the disciples is not determined by how big or little their faith is. It’s not as though Jesus says, “Oh no, sorry disciples, your faith is too small, I’m just gonna have let the storm rage cause you’ve got a little faith – good thing for Me I can walk on water. I guess I better go wander back to town and find Me some real believers. Hope you suckers can swim.” God isn’t petty like that. In fact, over and over the Scriptures tell us how He tends with greatest care to the weakest – how the bruised reed He will not break, the smoldering wick He will not quench. You see, it’s not about your faith, about how big our small it is – it’s about Jesus, the One you have faith IN. And He is good, and He loves you.

Why does Jesus say to the disciples, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Not because He hates them. Not even because He’s disappointed in them – but because He doesn’t want them to be afraid. Being afraid is lousy. When we are afraid – the object of our fears, what we are afraid of looms ever larger, ever bigger. Fear tries to make us focus on what we are afraid of. Faith, on the other hand, pulls our eyes off of that which we fear and causes us to look to Christ – not because what we fear is silly or small, but because Christ Jesus is the God who has redeemed and forgiven you, has died to forgive your sin, has risen to assure you that whatever this world throws at you, however real and scary it is, you will rise to perfection and life everlasting because of Him.

One of my fears is that I’ll end up preaching a lousy sermon, so forgive me if I belabor the point this morning. As Christians, we do not deny sin, we do not pretend the things that we are afraid of don’t exist. Rather, we confess. We see our sin, and we say, “I have done it, it is lousy and wrong, forgive me for the sake of Christ Jesus.” We see troubles, and pain, and heartache and whatever it is that we fear, and we don’t pretend that they could never happen – we pray deliver us from evil. But we don’t stop there. By the power of His Word, by the gift of the Holy Spirit and faith, whether it is faith big and strong that moves quickly, or whether it is a bit small, and a bit slow, God turns our eyes away from our sin, from our fear, and He holds before our eyes the Cross of the Christ Jesus, because that Cross is what is truly important. Are our sins great? Sure – but not greater than Christ Jesus and the power of His blood shed for us. Are our fears real? Sure – there are plenty of things to be afraid up, but Christ Jesus conquers them all, even death – behold the empty tomb. Is our faith small, do we tend to see the Storm Clouds more than we see our Lord? Many times yes – so God calls us to His house to hear Christ preached so that our eyes might be fixed on Him, calls us to His table, where receiving the Supper we hear, “Now may this True Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith” – we pray that as it strengthens us in love toward one another it would strengthen our little faith.

The world is a dangerous place, and it means to kill you, to grind you underfoot. But, despite what the world will tell you, what the world will try to make you think, what the world will try to scare you into believing – you are not alone, for Christ Jesus your Lord has come to be with you – He has claimed you as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism, and against the love that He has shown you there, the world can bluster and storm all it wants – He is Christ the Crucified who has won your forgiveness. And when those fears come, He pulls your eyes again to Him, so that you in the face of those fears, you would see Him and His love for you. Whatever the world throws at you, you are not perishing, not really, for you have life in Christ Jesus, for He is God come to save you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Theological Assertion

Theological Assertion - Contemporary Worship Denies the Catholicity of the Church

I don't think I'm going to flesh this out fully - I'm fighting off some bug. But here is the point - contemporary worship denies the catholicity of the church.

When we confess that the Church is "Catholic" we are saying that it is Universal. Often, we think of this idea of "universal" as being mainly world-wide - a spacial focus on universality.

That's only one dimension (or three, if you prefer). To be universal means to be present not only in all places but in all times. That the Church is present in the past, is present now, and shall be present until the end of the world (because where Christ is preached and the Sacraments are administered, the Church will be). There is a temporal catholicity that is included in the Christian faith.

Contemporary worship fundamentally flies against this, as it tends to emphasize merely the present. It tries to make worship something tied merely to the present rather than the eternal.

Of course, contemporary worship also tends to be contra-catholic in terms of space, as well, buying into a very localized concept.

It becomes a matter of collective ego - we're here, we'll do what we want to do to praise God. It cuts off a sense of history, of growth, of development. It does not seek to refine and improve, but to be "creative".

Now, we are in specific times and places. I'm not going to argue that worship must be in Latin or only according to plainsong... but our time and place should not overwhelm worship, but rather fit and coincide -- it should be that what we see is the present and local manifestation of the Church Catholic, not an experiment in trying to ride the current trends in order to appeal to people.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pastor Peters Nails it

Pastor Peters Nails another one about why 'Evangelism' can be a bad thing. Just go read his blog, and often.

A Sasse Quotes

From "Here We Stand"

There are really few churches which have been so receptive to alien influences, and which have borrowed so much from other churches, as the Lutheran. But whenever, after such periods of learning from other communions, the Lutheran Church returned to concentrate upon itself, this was not due to a spirit of ecclesiastical separatism, but rather to a recognition of the fact that its agreement with the church of the Fathers was still far greater than its agreement with the other churches. And every time this happened, the Confession of the sixteenth century became alive again in a manner unknown to any to communion. The artificial stimulation of anniversary celebrations was not required. The Confession simply began to speak again. "After I learned from the Scriptures what saving truth is, I turned to the Symbolical Books of my church. I cannot describe how surprised and how moved I was to discover that their content conformed with the convictions I had gained from the Scriptures and the experience of faith."

How often this experience of young Harless in 1827 has been repeated! How is it that men of our own day, who believed they had long since outgrown all church dogma, suddenly regain and understanding of what the Confessions of our church teach, on the basis of Holy Scriptures, about the depths of human sin, about the heights of divine mercy, about the power of God's Word? How meaningful, today, is the old teaching of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology concerning the State! Not because it was the opinion of this or that great man, but because it expounds the New Testament. How often has it been proposed to do away with Luther's Catechism! And yet it has always been restored because it is an exposition of the Scriptures. (179-180)

Just good stuff.

Where Do They Need Us?

Two things primarily shape this post. 1 - I was getting ready to post some Sasse quotes. 2 - The looming shortage of calls, where pastors cannot find pulpits to fill.

Hermann Sasse was a great theologian. He was German. He ended up in Australia. I read him here in American. The world is more interconnected than we thing - the Church spreads throughout the whole world.

America is turning her back on God, as was Europe and Germany in the mid 20th Century. Sasse left. He was needed in Australia.

Where do they need us now? Where do they need men who long only to faithfully preach and baptize and commune and teach? It is looking less and less like it is America - or at least where we are right now. There are places in America that need pastors, and places around the world. Where do they need us?

And I'm not speaking simply of some board in the LCMS organizing missionary plants (either home or abroad) - we've done that for far too long.

No - raid us. Call our pastors to be your own. If there are a few of you in some city who want to be Confessional Lutheran - form a congregation and call someone - either a single guy who isn't afraid to be a boarder, who like Christ shrugs when he sees that he has no place to rest his head. Call someone whose wife can support - and see what growth comes - call one willing to be a worker-priest -- but let the Word and Sacraments be there!

To those overseas and in need - call our pastors to be your own. We have a glut - surely there are some here who would go, for men in every age have forsaken home and family to go and preach the Word. Call, ask, request. There are those eager to preach, those who have no parish - perhaps they will come.

Just as a dandelion bursts into a bunch of seeds as it dies - well, if this sad, greedy Church dies, let it send forth the Word of God to the four winds, and let new growth take place.

Where do they need us?

(And somewhere Jay Hobson mother vows that if her son ends up in Africa, she will hunt me down and beat me)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Since I'm linking. . .

I know there are a few new readers to this site...


I said a few. =o)

Any, if you do not already know of this website, you must go to Worldview Everlasting, which is where Rev. Jonathan Fisk and his crack team o' Lutherans do two important things.

1. They answer questions under the "WE Got Answers link" - fantastic answers.

2. Rev. Fisk does two weekly video podcasts - one on Tuesday and one on Friday. These should be part of your weekly viewing (you can also see the videos at - which is where I normally go. The Tuesday video looks at the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday in the 3-year lectionary and the Friday video is about random topics and questions. Best stuff on the web.

Seriously. Beats the crud out of my stuff.

Wolfmueller and illegal uses of the Law

Pastor Brian Wolfmueller (of Table Talk radio. . . fame?) has entered into the blogging world, and his post on the 5 illegal uses of the law is absolutely wonderful.

Seriously - go read it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Scripture, Natural Law and Tradition

I'm not super keen on a lot of natural law arguments. That's not to say that I think that they are wrong, or bad, but I'm just dubious of them. Why?

I am a historian. Historians like to make a distinction between a primary source and a secondary source - a primary source being a document that is and of itself a source of information, and a secondary source would be something that talks about other things. If I am doing research on George Washington - Washington's letters, official documents, etc. would be primary documents. A book by some other history writing about Washington would be secondary.

The primary sources are what they are. Secondary sources - they could be good, or they could be bad. They could be accurate, or they could be someone wanting to pound an agenda.

Natural Law arguments are a secondary sort of way of approaching theology. Does natural declare the wonders of the creation? Sure. Is the Law written on the hearts of man? Sure. Are there things that are (or at least should be) obviously bad to all? Yep.

But we are in possession of the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, breathed by the Holy Spirit, the revelation of Christ Jesus, written so that we might believe and thus have life in Christ's Name. That's a pretty spectacular primary source.

So, when I see someone go on and on without relying upon it; if I see someone use Scripture to establish that there is Natural Law and then just go on and on about what they think Natural Law "obviously" implies... that makes me nervous, just as I'd get nervous if I read a history book that was lacking in primary sources and high on personal interpretation.

It's the same thing with Tradition. Tradition is a good thing... but it's not primary. If your arguments are based upon the tradition, well, that's nice, but it's not primary. It can only be a secondary, a supporting argument. Ditto Natural Law.

Natural Law arguments seem to be gaining in popularity, and I'm not sure why. Possibly it's a reaction against modern liberalism... I'd say even a condescension to liberalism (oh, you reject Scripture, um, well, here, let's try arguments on nature and reason to persuade you). Maybe its because people are wanting to influence society as a whole, and Scripture isn't the primary argument there - which I can understand. Natural Law is a great tool for the kingdom of the left.

But we are the Church - we are those who have the life giving Word of God. The love of the Law, especially the Law of man for order (i.e. tradition) or the love of Natural Law must never eclipse our first love.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What Goals for Witnessing?

I had a thought while driving home last night from Tulsa. I think I have noted a problem with so many evangelism programs -- the results we expect.

Now, just follow me here for a second. Eliminate the traditional means of Church growth (i.e. having kids). We'll just talk about conversions. What would happen if God, through every person, brought in 1 new person in that person's lifetime.

Only 1. In a lifetime.

What would that mean? It would be huge! Massive! Doubling the natural size -- if our kids just replace our own, I mean. . . wow! Who wouldn't love that!

(It's hard for me to even try to keep up some semblance of excitement - please imagine one).

Yet what sort of expectations do we put upon ourselves with "successful" evangelism? We have no patience, no long term thinking... we want quick, huge numbers. . .

Eh. 1. 2. 3 would be awesome. In a lifetime. But that's just me.

Epiphany 3 Sermon

Epiphany 3 – January 23rd, 2011

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
My dear friends in Christ, in today’s Gospel lesson we continue with our Epiphany theme of Christ Jesus revealing that He is indeed True God, come down on earth to win salvation for mankind. In our text, we see Jesus heal two people – He heals a leper, and then He heals the serving boy of a Roman Centurion. Indeed, if we were to keep reading in Matthew 8, we would see more healing – in fact, the next section gets entitled in the ESV as “Jesus Heals Many” – including Peter’s mother in law. And Matthew sums this all up, Chapter 8, verse 17, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” These healings, these miracles, these are Messianic – these are things pointing to the fact that Christ Jesus is True God. There had been healings before, the prophets of Old did some, but these are different, the number, the way in which Christ approaches them – different, as we shall see.

But, as we begin to consider these two healings given for us in the Gospel lesson this morning, to begin, I want you to consider how shocking these miracles would have been to the Jewish people who saw them, how shocking this lesson would have been to the Jewish folks who first heard them. Here we have Jesus interacting with two people – a Leper and a Centurion. Jesus interacting with either would have been shocking would have been shocking to a 1st Century Jew. First we hear this – “And behold, a leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.’” Part of the problem is we know the story, we know Jesus, we know that He wants and desires to heal – and so we can miss how shocking this is. Lepers didn’t walk up to people. It just didn’t happen. Lepers were hated and feared and cast out of society. A few of you here are old enough to remember when AIDS was starting to get noticed in the 80s, and there was wide spread panic and fear – how might it spread, can we safely let kids who have HIV show up in our schools – just panic over what might happen. Take that attitude, but make it worse, because with leprosy, it’s not just fear – its knowledge. You know that this leper who suddenly comes up and kneels before Jesus could infect you – that if you were to touch him, for the safety of all you should be banished. Do you understand the revulsion that hearers would have had, the shock that would have been on people’s faces, how those with Jesus would have been pulling away from this man? And yet, what do we see Jesus do? “And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’” Jesus touches him – while everyone else in the world would pull away, Jesus touches him. That would have been more shocking to the people in Jesus’ day than the healing.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Next we have the Centurion. We hear, “When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to Him, appealing to Him, ‘Lord, my servant is being paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’” If the poor and diseased weren’t enough, now we see a Roman. Jewish hatred of the Romans was palpable. These Romans were invaders, occupiers, people from a decadent culture who were blasphemous and vile. Think of how your typical Muslim extremist views America, would view our soldiers over in Iraq or Afghanistan. That’s how the typical Jew in Jesus’ day would have viewed the Romans. And here you have this Roman dog – a Centurion, someone who has almost certainly ordered Jews to be killed, saunters on up to Jesus. The expectation would be for Jesus spurn this centurion as one would spurn a rapid dog. Yet, what do we hear? “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’” This is shocking. Jesus will… come. Jesus is actually going to go to this man’s house, his domain? Jesus is going to enter the house that this man has sullied? Shocking! Now, we know, Jesus doesn’t actually get to the house, the pious Centurion says that he isn’t worthy to have Christ come, simply speak a word. We will address that more in a bit, but do you see how shocking both of these are – you have Jesus touching the untouchable one, you have Jesus offering to enter the house of the hated one.

Now, this should serve as an admonition to us, because here we see the fullness, the limitless nature of Christ’s love. The initial, the gut reaction, the sinful reaction of anyone hearing this in Jesus’ day would be, “Oh, surely Jesus isn’t going to deal with them.” Man’s hatred and revulsion would spring up, yet Jesus’ actions would cut right through it. And so this day, we are called to consider our own lives, and how hatred and revulsion play a part in them. This is an example, given to us by our Lord, for He is serious when He calls us to love our neighbor, and this means everyone. Those people that we make excuses not to love, not to care for – no, that isn’t right. It’s sin. These healings, this love that Christ shows calls our sinful hatred out to the carpet, shows it to be vile sin, opposed and at odds with how God Himself thinks, what God Himself does.

Yet these healings are also a great comfort for us. When we consider, when we confront our sin, when we take seriously what the Scriptures say we are to do, who we are to be, we see how utterly low we are, how often we fail, and even how we delight in our failure, how we will brag of it even – any of you delighted in how you showed hatred to another, any of you have a moment where you got to do the, “Well, I sure told him” sort of reaction? It’s not who we are supposed to be. And of course, even the outside world will pile on us. I’m sure that this week, every one of us here has had some treat us rudely, cruelly, had someone look down upon us, disdain us. Whether it’s from our own honest self-examination, or whether it’s from the hateful accusations of the world, we can be tempted to think that we are so low as to be unlovable. Indeed, Satan wants you to see your lowliness and then have you think, “I am beyond love.”

“And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him.” “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’” You are not unlovable to God. These healings, the fact that Jesus shows such love, such care to these two men, this is written so that you might know and understand and be assured that God loves even you – that there is never a point, never a moment where you are beyond God’s love. When God says that He loves the world, He means it. He even loves this leper, even loves this Centurion – and likewise He loves you. This is the hope and comfort we see from this text, this is what this text drives home, what it reveals about God. Our God loves even the poor and miserable, and indeed, Christ Jesus comes to touch us – to wash us in the waters of Baptism, to give Himself to us physically through His supper. He not just comes to our home, but calls and invites us to His home here – indeed, prepares for us a home where we can dwell eternally with Him. Nothing you have done hinders His love – no sin you have done is bigger than the Cross or stronger than the blood which He poured out on the Cross to cover and forgive your sin. That is the point of these texts.

Now, our texts do also give us some instruction, some wisdom for how our lives should be shaped knowing that God has such wondrous love for us. The leper teaches us. Did you note that the Leper doesn’t actually ask anything, he doesn’t ask a question? He simply states a fact. If you will, you can make me clean. Jesus, You can do whatever You wish, whatever You want to – and if You want to, You can heal me. This is what we believe by faith as well. This is how we are taught to pray – Thy will be done. Because we know, because we are focused upon Christ’s love, our lives are to be ones where we trust in God and let Him show us the love that He wills – that even when we pray, even when we ask God for something, we do not demand, but say, “If it be Thy will, grant unto us…. whatever.” Do you see what this teaches? We don’t have to be in charge, we don’t need to tell God what He has to do – we don’t have to impress God with our piety or righteousness or how awesome our prayers are to manipulate Him. We know that He loves us – and because of that, He will do what is good for us, and if He so wills, He will grant our requests. If He doesn’t – eh, He has other plans. So be it – the fact remains that God loves us, and if our requests aren’t answered the way we want – Thy will be done. Our eyes are not focused upon our desires, but always upon the Love that God has shown us by sending Christ Jesus to the Cross. That love reigns, and that love shapes us so that we learn more and more to be content with whatever God wills.

Likewise, the Centurion teaches us. When Jesus offers to go to his house, the Centurion says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the Word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘go’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” And even Jesus marvels at this, says He hasn’t found such faith in all of Israel. So what does the Centurion teach us, what does this show us faith to be? The Centurion knows that the Word of Jesus has power and authority – that by His Word, Christ accomplishes what He wills. This is faith – and faith recognizes the authority of God, the power He gives His Word. And this holds true to this very day. All of us here have been brought to the Christian faith by the power and authority of the Word of God – when Christ Jesus used someone to speak His life giving Word of forgiveness and salvation to us. And this idea – this focus on authority shapes everything in our lives. Why are you here listening to me preach? Is it because Eric Brown is so awesome? Hardly. Is it because you think, “eh, we give the poor sap a paycheck, we might as well humor him”? I hope not. Rather this – I have been called and ordained, I have been placed here with God’s own authority, not to speak healings and riches for this life, but called and ordained to proclaim the Word of God that forgives you your sin because of Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection, called and ordained to give you Christ’s own Body and Blood until the day when He returns, resurrects our bodies and calls us to the heavenly feast directly. The Centurion understands authority and the Word of God, and what do I have here as pastor – only and simply this, the authority to proclaim the Word of God here.

You too are under authority – you have been given authority in your life. Are you a parent? Then you have been authorized by God to train and teach your children, to correct them when they are wrong, to point them to Christ and His Church. Are you someone’s child? Then you have been authorized to serve and care for your parents, given by God the duty to serve and obey, to care for them as they age, and even to speak the Word of God to comfort them as they need it. Spouses – same thing – placed by God to care and to speak Words of Christ’s own forgiveness. I’d recommend you read the Table of Duties out of the Small Catechism this week – this all deals with this authority, what we have been authorized by God to do. And this always, always revolves back to God authorizing and instructing us to show His own love to each other.

There is a lot in this text, more that we could ponder. But this is the point – Christ Jesus loves you, and in order that you always recognize and know that love, He has put people into your life to tell you that you are loved and forgiven – be they your pastor who is to preach it, or your neighbors. And knowing this love, you are called to be confident in Him – to trust that His will is for your good. Christ Jesus came to this world to win your salvation from sin, and He shall come again to give you the wonders of heaven. How things happen between now and then – I don’t know – but the love of Christ Jesus for you will remain, and you know it because it is given to you through His Word. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Contemporary Worship, Adiaphora, and Being Beneficial

The Oklahoma District is going to be having a worship conference, based upon the model of the big national one they had last year, and I hope to attend. In speaking with my dad about it yesterday, he off-handedly said, "Oh, I'm sure we'll get to hear about FC X how its all adiaphora."

Adiaphora. The word that is the bane of many a Confessional Lutheran. A word that is almost anathema to many.

Adiaphora is that which is indifferent, which is neither commanded nor forbidden. Stuff that we may do, stuff that we may refuse to do if forced to do so. Fasting on Friday - Adiaphora. Do it if you wish, but if someone says you must fast on Friday to be a Christian, oppose so that the Gospel is not obscured by a new Law.

The response and reaction of many, especially on worship issues, is to assert that what goes on in Contemporary worship is not adiaphora, and often the debate ends up being a debate over whether or not one "can" do something.

This is a horrid place for those who support and see the value of the historic liturgy. Why?

1. It won't convince anyone who isn't already opposed to Contemporary Worship already. We aren't going to get people who have wild worship to suddenly say, "Oh, you mean I can't? Because you say so? Oh, we'll, I better stop."

2. Arguments from Tradition don't win. As specific forms and liturgical structures aren't specified in the Scriptures, people can simply dance away from your assertions. While we are shaped and guided by Tradition as Lutherans, Tradition itself is not binding. You can't pin someone down with tradition in the Lutheran Church.

3. And, well, I'm sorry guys, but it is adiaphora.

There. I said it. Oh no, I've lost all my cred. Oh well. The specific structure and form is... well, indifferent. The key is the preaching of the Gospel and the Administration of the Sacrament -- if that is done, well, it's done.

"Well then, why don't you just go and break out your guitar and start your praise band, you sell out!"

A-ha! Now, that, that is the question.

All things are permissible, but not all things are profitable. Instead of spending the worship discussions trying to say, "you can't" - we should spend it saying, "Why are you - what good does this do, how does it teach what we say we believe?" Instead of spending our time on the defensive, trying to pin a mandatory definition on worship, we should go on the offensive.

If, as we say we believe, God Himself is physically present in our worship in order to bring us the forgiveness of sins - how does a specific part of the liturgy or song or what have you teach and proclaim that? Ask that question. It's not that you can or can't do something, but why would you do something that teaches what we believe about God's salvific presence less well?

That is how we take the offensive on this, that is how we can pokes holes and break things apart. It won't be the quick win, it won't be the 1st round knockout of "Not Adiaphora!" It will be a long, 12 round slug fest -- but we might win some.

What are you trying to teach and communicate with how you conduct worship?

"Well, I've seen you on children's sermons, it doesn't work on you, why should it work on them?" Because the knock against children's sermons are all assertions that aren't things that I myself would say. I'd never say that I'm trying to teach my kids to be Baptist, or that they aren't part of the worship in toto. And thus, the argument goes around whether or not your assertion is true.

That's not the point - shouldn't be.

Rather, instead of telling them, ask them what they are trying to teach and communicate -- and then break them down.

"I want people to feel the joy of salvation in our worship." That's nice, but:
1. Is making people feel something about salvation or is making people know and receive the point?
2. Will and must all Christians have the same emotional response? Why do you denigrate Christians who feel more awe, or wonderment, or even tears at this message. Why do you devalue those emotions?
3. While you might bring forth joy - there is group response (consider when one person starts clapping in a room, or laughter being contagious) -- are you really communicating the joy "of salvation" or just simply joy?

Then you start chipping away and the assumptions that lead one to come to the conclusion that a Contemporary style worship is best.

And what if they respond with a "Well, you know, everything that is supposed to be there is in there, so this is just as valid and good as what you do"?

Here, I would direct you to consider that great practical theologian - Bill Cosby. Cosby does a routine in Bill Cosby Himself about how his kids talked him into letting them have chocolate cake for breakfast. And Cosby showed how he rationalized his decision - the ingredients said eggs, flour - that's breakfast stuff right there. And the children even sing his praises - "Dad is great, he gives us chocolate cake!" And then, mom comes home, and there is hell to pay.

I don't need to argue whether or not something is valid - such, there's flour and eggs in chocolate cake - but that doesn't make it a good and healthy breakfast. Doesn't mean your approach to worship is good and healthy. Can't shouldn't be the question.

Now - there are a whole host of other objections and defenses that could be raised -- I'm certainly not going to anticipate them all. But make them answer questions, questions that they can't answer well, and let their own answers speak.

"But a theologian of the cross calls something what it is!" True - but your job isn't to prove to them that they aren't theologians of the cross, it's to make them start thinking like theologians of the cross. They aren't enemies to be defeated, but little brothers who ought grow into maturity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Authority, Pastors, and Christians

So, I have been working on my sermon on Matthew 8:1-13 - which has gotten me thinking about authority. Authority, in the Scriptures, is almost always tied to the proclamation of the Gospel. Indeed, as a Pastor, I have been authorized to preach and administer the Sacraments - that is my calling.

This is a calling that is often under appreciated and mocked today. The Office of Pastor is often disrespected (even sometimes by the men holding that office). But my job, my duty, is to forgive the sins of people, all and any who are repentant - I am to be a professional forgiver.

We need to refocus our thoughts on this. We need to move away from the other ideas and duties we have started pinning on pastors. A Pastor's job is to forgive sins - everything else is secondary.

However, I do also fear that sometimes, in an attempt to re-establish the focus on the roll of the Pastor as the one who is to absolve, that we will be tempted to swing to far. While I have been given this authority to preach, to proclaim forgiveness, to absolve the person who confesses any sin to me, to give our our Lord's Body and Blood... I am not the only one in this place called to forgive or speak the Word of God.

Every Christian has as his possession the Word of God and the authority to use it in his own life for his neighbor's sake. This doesn't mean everyone is a "minister" - don't go do your own fly by night church. Every Christian, in their own private and personal life can and should speak God's Word of forgiveness to those people that God puts in their life.

Some might ask where they are given that authority - that in an effort to emphasize the authority and Office of the pastor would diminish what all Christians have. Consider Galatians 4:7 - "So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."

We are sons - we are those who have the possessions of the house - all that the Father has is ours, ours to use. God's love - that is yours now - use it in your own life. God's Word - that is yours now - use it in our own life.

What then is the difference between the normal Christian and the pastor - nothing but office - I am called and appointed to do this publicly, to preach and teach publicly to all what every father ought to teach to his family. I am called to teach of God's love, the same love that one neighbor might instruct another in. And I am called to administer the Sacraments... that's the big distinction - those are communal things - to be baptized is to be baptized into the community, to commune is to commune with the community (hey, those words are related!). As I get to oversee the community, that's my purview.

But other than that - every Christian can speak God's word, every Christian can forgive, for forgiveness is given simply through God's Word. These are not in conflict, but they compliment. If you ever put or pit pastor against laity, you go beyond and against the Scriptures, which gives to us both the authority of every Christian as well as the authority of the Office.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thoughts upon the Task of Preaching

Preaching is an interesting thing. I live in Oklahoma, a land where I'm apt to be referred to, even by my own parishioners, as "the Preacher". One good thing about the Bible Belt, they still get the idea that a pastor is supposed to preach.

I tend to contrast preaching with teaching. I love teaching. I love sitting down and tearing through a text, examining it, bringing up all sorts of connections and the like. I love asking questions and seeing how people answer - I especially love it when my class starts asking questions that are good - that show me that they are thinking theologically. I love bringing in points of history, making connections.

But that's not preaching. Preaching is not fundamentally teaching or explaining a text -- you'll do some of that, perhaps, but that's not the point of preaching. To preach is to apply a text - to take this Gospel text and lay it over your people, let it nestle into the nooks and crannies of their lives, and then say, "See, this is how what Jesus does here applies to you, here's how it impacts you."

I enjoy preaching - I enjoy the writing of a sermon, the pondering of what in a given text my congregation needs to hear (I was pondering this as I wrote... this whole, "I should try taking Mondays off" is an utter failure, especially when me bride is out of town). I enjoy going back and forth over how I ought to put a turn of phrase - and I enjoy giving the sermon, often putting forth a 3rd option I hadn't thought of before. But when it boils down to it, all preaching must take this text, indeed, take the life and death of Christ Jesus and say, "This is what this means for you, now, this day, this place - this is the effect and impact of Christ upon you."

And so preaching will always be new - because the people will always be. . . different. Needing different things, different applications. Preaching is infinitely repeatable, a well never to be gotten to the bottom of.

I may love teaching, but preaching, sometimes preaching boggles the mind.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Baptism of our Lord, Transferred

As we observed Epiphany Last Sunday, we are observing the Baptism of our Lord this Sunday.

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world +
One week after Epiphany, traditionally the church has observed the Baptism of our Lord with the texts we have heard this morning. This is quite fitting. In every single Gospel, Jesus begins His preaching, His teaching after His Baptism. And there is a point to this – because it is here, at His Baptism, where Christ Jesus in earnest begins the work that He was sent by His Father to do – the work of winning your salvation. This is the point where it all begins. So then, without further ado, let us examine our Gospel text.

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’” So here we see Jesus come to John to be Baptized, and John is out where he normally is, the Jordan river, off at the edge of the wilderness. Yet, when Jesus comes to John to be baptized, John is confused. I suppose it is an understandable confusion, as John was baptizing sinners – and Jesus is no sinner. Indeed, Jesus has no sin of His own, Jesus is the promised Messiah, True God and True Man, and John even admits that he himself is poor and lowly and needs to repent himself. So far, so pious. But John goes a bit beyond just confusion. John would have “prevented Him.” John would have stopped Jesus from doing what Jesus wanted to do. Now, think on that for a moment – Jesus, whom John acknowledges as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, comes up to John and says, “I’m here to be baptized,” and John says, “Now, just wait here one minute. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it.” It is a bit arrogant, isn’t it – to tell Jesus that He must be mistaken, simply because John doesn’t understand.

Yet, how often do we read God’s Word, see what our Lord says or instructs us, and then are tempted to think, “Oh, surely Jesus didn’t mean that”? That’s the heart of every false doctrine you can think of – it comes where someone sees what our Lord declares in His Word about who He is and the forgiveness He brings and then says, “Oh, that can’t be it - surely there is something else going on here.” It makes sense, because the very essence of sin is to doubt God’s Word – in the Garden, the temptation is “Did God really say”. And when it boils to it, every sin, including yours and mine, is an attempt to prevent God from doing what He wills through you, is trying to get in His way. God tells me that I should love my neighbor; indeed I have been created to love my neighbor, placed into this world so to care for him – yet what happens? I get angry, upset, annoyed – and suddenly, no, I don’t want to show *him* love. Surely that whole “love your neighbor thing” doesn’t apply to someone like *him*. Our sinful flesh wants to ignore God, to contradict God, to correct God. Surely You didn’t mean what You said about sin, about love. Sadly, some say this about God’s forgiveness, or even as we see John in the text, surely, Jesus, You don’t mean to be baptized here this day.

Yet Jesus corrects John with words of wonder and beauty. “But Jesus answered Him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’” This is a big, big thing that Jesus says. Actually, if you wanted to you could probably call this the Gospel in the nutshell – because this is what we proclaim week in and week out – that Jesus Christ is our righteousness, and that He has fulfilled it all. Since the fall, righteousness has been a bit of a sticky wicket for us folk, because we do not have it. There is not one of us who is righteous – that is, who does what he or she ought to do. There isn’t a one of us who is perfect, who shows the love that we ought. Instead, we are sinners, and even us here, we Christians who know better, we still keep on sinning. Our old Adam, our sinful nature keeps on popping out, and we do not do what we ought. What does this mean? It means that we, of ourselves leave righteousness unfulfilled. We are not righteous, we don’t do what God in His law demands – in fact, we seem to have made a hobby of sinning and breaking God’s Law.

John knows this – that is why he had been preaching repentance and baptizing for repentance. To repent is to admit and confess that you are not righteous, that you in and of yourself aren’t all that great. Indeed, it is to say that you are a sinner. And not a little sinner, not a “but at least I’m not as bad as *he* is” sinner – but a poor, miserable sinner, who can do nothing to make yourself righteous. That is what those people being baptized by John were saying – that they were poor miserable sinners, that they were stuck in a pit and unable to get out of it, that their only hope was to receive salvation from the Lord.
And suddenly, in the midst of those sinners strides Christ Jesus our Lord, and He walks right on up with them, and He comes to John to be baptized. Why? Not because Jesus is a sinner, but because they are, because you and I are sinners. He comes to fulfill all righteousness. You and I – we’re not righteous. We aren’t filling anything. But then you have Jesus – and who is Jesus? He is true God and true Man. He is Man, perfect, without sin. He is Man who is righteous. But more that than – He is the righteous Man sent by God in order to fulfill all righteousness. All – Jesus comes to fulfill all righteousness – He comes to fulfill your righteousness. Where as you had a lack, Jesus comes to be with you, to not only take away your sin, but to give you His own righteousness. This is what Paul is referring to when he says in our Epistle that Jesus is our righteousness. When He is baptized, Jesus takes His place at your side and He says to you, “I will cover your sin, take it away, and in its place I will give you My righteousness, so that you are accounted righteous because of Me.”

Let me give an example. Let us say that you are on a basketball team, playing for the state championship. And let’s say you are utterly lousy – you turn the ball over 20 times, you miss every shot you take, you don’t get any rebounds or steals or blocks. Indeed, you are so bad that every moment you are on the floor it hurts your team. Yet, what if one of your teammates is brilliant, makes every shot he takes, rebounds, steals the ball from the other team, blocks their shots, dominates the game completely, and your team wins – what are you? What do they call you? They call you State Champion. You’re a State Champion, not because of how awesome you are, but because your teammate’s greatness is applied, is given, is shared with you.

When Christ Jesus is baptized, He says that He is One of us – that He will be on our side, and that even though we lack righteousness, even though we are horrible sinners, He will take up the burden of our sin, and He will give us His own righteousness and holiness. And everything you see Jesus doing in the Gospels after His baptism is simply Jesus fulfilling our righteousness. While we don’t show love – He shows love perfectly for us. While we don’t always like the Word of God – He does nothing but preach it, calling us to repentance and instructing us in truth. While we deserve to die for our sin, He goes to the cross in our place, dying so that we might have life everlasting in Him. Because Jesus takes up your sin and gives you His righteousness, you are called, you are declared righteous – you are Justified. That’s what that word Justification means – it means that on account of Christ Jesus, you are forgiven and declared righteous.

And this is why Baptism is so important. When Jesus was Baptized, He took His place with mankind, said that He would be with the sinners in order to fulfill righteousness for them, in order to justify them. When you were baptized, when God poured water and His Word, His Spirit upon you, you were joined to Christ, Jesus brought you to His side by your baptism, and through your Baptism He declared that all of His righteousness, everything that He does, is yours. Everything that Jesus does, He has done for you, and you know this, because you are baptized, because He has joined Himself to you. You are justified by Christ. And all this gets its start, all of this is shown and revealed to us when Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan to fulfill all righteousness.

So, did it work? Did Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan do what He said it would, does your Baptism now save you, as Peter teaches in his Epistle? I ask only because there are those who deny that Baptism really does anything, who say that it’s just a symbol, that it doesn’t really accomplish anything. “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Well, let’s see – does the Baptism of Jesus accomplish anything? Well, the heavens open, and the Holy Spirit comes, and the Father says that He is well pleased. Well, I’d certainly say that when Jesus is baptized a lot happens. It’s not just a symbol, symbols don’t cause the heavens to open or the Spirit to come or the Father to declare His pleasure. Jesus’ baptism accomplished what He said it would, it fulfilled all righteousness.

This is why you know that your baptism accomplished something in you. When you were baptized, heaven was opened unto you, for you were no longer just a sinner, but you were a forgiven, justified sinner. You were no longer a stranger to God, in rebellion against Him, but the Holy Spirit came to rest upon you in your Baptism, indeed, where you can now say that you body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. And God the Father, now, when He sees you, He too sees you as His own Baptized Child, and because Christ Jesus has given you His righteousness – the Father is well pleased with you, you are the beloved child of the Father. It is all done by Christ Jesus for you, and it is given to you in His gift of Baptism.

Does this gift of Baptism mean we are perfect now? No – we are still sinners, we are still in these fallen bodies. This is why we look forward to the resurrection, to the life of the world to come when we will be perfect. But until then, even now, we have life and salvation, we have our righteousness fulfilled in Christ. This was given to us at our baptism, it is given again whenever the Word of God is proclaimed, whenever we receive the Supper. It is always about Christ Jesus, who shows Himself to be our Savior, our Redeemer – the One who fulfills all righteousness for us, all praise and glory be to Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Lord's Prayer as the Hinge of the Small Catechism

For a while when I started teaching the Catechism, I wasn't sure what to do with the Lord's Prayer. Well, I taught it - but I couldn't fit it in with the order, the system. There's such a beautiful pattern to the catechism.

You have the 10 commandments - all about what we ought to do and fail in.
You have the Creed - all about what God does for us.
You have Baptism, Absolution, and the Supper - How God comes to us with His salvation.

What then is prayer? Is it something that we *do* for God? That's not how it's taught. Is it a sacrament? Well, no. Rhetorically, how does it fit - or does it fit? Is it just there because Jesus taught it to us?

The Lord's Prayer serves, via Luther's explanations, as a hinge between what comes before it (the 10 commandments and the Creed) and the Sacraments which follow. It is the hinge between the overarching ideas of Law and Gospel and the sacraments - a study in how all these things impact our lives.

Consider petitions 1-3. Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Each of these petitions simply sums up the 10 commandments - as Luther points out in their explanation. Each of these explanations show how we ourselves do not hallow God's name, how we disdain His kingdom, and how we try to thwart God's will. This is Law - and it is an application of Law to our lives.

Then we have Petition 4 - Give us this day our daily bread - and the explanation looks almost exactly like the 1st Article.

Then we have Petition 5 - Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Deals with the 2nd Article.

Then we have Petition 6 - And lead us not into temptation - Deals with the themes of the 3rd article - being preserved and kept by the Holy Spirit.

So, in the first 6 petitions we have a recapping of everything that has come before, the 10 commandments and the Creed. And then in the 7th, we hear this - But deliver us from evil.

Where and how are we delivered from Evil? In the Sacraments. The 7th Petition thrusts us forward into the concrete ways in which God does deliver us from Evil.

The Lord's Prayer is the hinge of the Catechism - it shows how all this theology stuff isn't far away but is the shape of our daily lives, and it moves us from what could become just an intellectual exercise in theology towards the Sacraments, where we participate in salvation.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Order Not Everything

We can love order, but order is not the heart of the Church. The forgiveness of sins which sets us free in Christ is. We can be tempted, though, to impose new laws for the sake of order, in order to hedge people (according to our human wisdom) from error and keep the Church safe. We can come up with rules to protect the Church.

You cannot protect the Church by imposing a man-made order which contradicts freedom, for you cannot protect the Church by destroying that which forgiveness gives.

Shall we have order? Yes. But not to protect the Church, not to preserve the Church, not to grow the Church. That alone is the task of the Spirit, who works through the Gospel to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the Church. Order should only be to clear the table so that the Word can have free reign - it cannot save or protect or grow the Church - only the Word and Spirit do that.

Fisk on Headcovering

There are times when Rev. Jonathan Fisk puts me to shame with his ability to speak clearly and plainly biblical truth. And example of this is found in his discussion on head coverings over on the Worldview Everlasting Page. He does brilliant theology - I make a Worldview Everlasting team for NCAA Football 11 (replete with Fisk's image as the team logo, and the Grandpa's Church Walther as the midfield logo -- my ID is OUtotoro if you have the game and want to grab it).

So what brilliance do we get this time? Fisk beautifully and simply explains how to uphold the Law without falling into Pietism:

Perhaps the hardest thing for the modern mind to take from this (beyond the simple main distinction of God-Christ-Man-Woman economy) is the idea that God really did create hair to be worn differently on men and women. He *designed* us. This is not a legalistic idea, but an assertion that such a thing as "Beauty" really does exist. It is not in the eye the beholder, but a matter of the purposes God gifted into his creation.

However, God also didn't create meat to be eaten by men and women, nor polygamy to ever be acceptable. Yet, at various times since the fall, the fruit of sin is overlooked in favor of the greater Truth (cf.acts 17:30). In this way, I have come to understand this text as an excellent example of Paul upholding the Law while avoiding pietism! He teaches that the Law is good, and he gets to the heart of it: the relationship of God to Christ in love. Then, he says, "yup, there's a wrong way, an ok way, a good way and a best way, but as long as you're not teaching the wrong way as the right way, don't sweat it if some prefer the 'ok' way." Only get up in arms if they deny the entire doctrine." Meanwhile, be patient and focus on the stuff that really matters: the actual teaching of headship, not to mention the Sacraments.

Just because something is better doesn't mean that it MUST be done that way. Rather, encourage others to that which is better, but not as your primary focus - for that must always be upon Jesus (who is our Head, who gives Himself to us in the Sacraments, etc....)


Don't be a Ham!

And by this, I don't mean "don't be a Ham" in the sense of hogging the spotlight or hamming it up, but rather this - don't be like Noah's son Ham. When Noah is drunk, and Ham discovers his father passed out drunk in his tent with everything exposed, instead of covering up this shame, instead of dealing with it privately, he runs, he points it out to his brothers - he makes a production out of the sin of his father.

Of course, Shem and Japeth are decent, they cover their father with a blanket, walking backwards into the tent so they don't even glance upon him in his inebriation. And, as you would guess, this is what is praised in the Scriptures, while Ham is cursed.

Don't be a Ham.

On line discussions can be intense, can be direct, can be fierce. That's one thing. Argue your points. If you think someone says something that is not theologically accurate, point out the error.

However, do not point out other people's personal sin. Do not bring up their mistkaes and errors of the past in order to discredit them (and thus sling mud on their arguments). It's not just an ad hominem argument - it's acting like Ham. Your theological point is not so important that you need to expose your neighbor's sin and shame to the world - go deal with it privately. Protect the reputation of the one who disagrees with you. Speak kindly of them, even if they don't "deserve" it - for you too have received from Christ that which you do not deserve.

All theology has as its ultimate goal the forgiveness of sinners. You cannot advance theology by using another's sin as a cudgel with which to beat them. This is good, for theologies and practices which have not forgiveness and mercy as their focus which permeates everything should not be advanced.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just some Luther from Galatians

"When it comes to the defense of the truth of the Gospel, therefore, we are not embarassed to have the hypocrites accuse us of being proud and stubborn, the ones who think that they alone have the truth, those who refuse to listen or yield to anyone. Here we have to be stubborn and unbending." -AE 26:107

Getting ready for Galatians

Tomorrow afternoon I will teach my women's bible study class - this is a class that meets once a month, during which time we go over a book of the bible in one hour. Simple overview of the major themes and the like (I cheated twice - I split Exodus in two and I did a second one on Jeremiah to look at the prophetic acts that Jeremiah does).

I love Galatians. I love it because it is the book of freedom. It is the book that teaches, humble, Christian freedom - that you are free not to try and prove yourself better or more holy than anyone else, free to not be bound by silly regulations, free to live your life how you wish so long as you do not use your freedom as an occasion to sin. Why? Because Christ has set us free - there is no bound, no weight, no sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. We are forgiven, we have life in Christ, and we have it abundantly - and it is a gift that no one, no matter how well intending they might be, can take away.

Freedom is a wonderful thing.

I think Luther's Galatians commentary is one of the most profound things ever written - and well worth your time and your read.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Root of Pietism

The root of Pietism is the smug self-satisfaction of ones own piety, and the disgust felt at other people's lack there of is its fertilizer.

When Jesus Was Himself Baptized

When Jesus was Himself baptized
by John in Jordan River,
His redemptive work thus began
and sinners were delivered,
For Christ has filled all righteousness,
The sins of man He has addressed
And cleansed them from us fully.

For True God has become True Man
At the will of the Father
And with poor sinners takes His place
in His baptismal waters.
He who bore no sin ours now bears
That for His sake we are declared
Justified and forgiven.

For when the Lord took up our sin
To slay it upon the Cross
He also gave His righteousness
to restore what we had lost.
When in Eden Adam first fell
He had consigned us all to hell
But Christ has now restored us.

By Baptism our sins are washed
taken away by our Lord
and also we are given life
the image of God restored
For now we are joined unto Christ
And thus we truly share His life
Which conquers sin and dying.

So rejoice mankind when you see
Your Savior's own baptism
for He has joined Himself to you,
and you are thus forgiven
For as He doth the Father please
You are at the same time redeemed
For Christ fulfills everything.

All praise to Jesus Christ our Lord
Who ever shall be adored
With the Father and the Spirit,
Triune God forevermore
For life eternal He has brought
He war against sin He has fought
And He has made us victors.

What Is and What Should Never Be

I understand a desire for order. I understand why people would want to revamp systems and organizations - be this civil reform or even reform in the Church. There are many things in the LCMS where we are sloppy, where our terminology isn't clean and precise, where our practice isn't clean and precise, where we do not act in accordance with one another. I understand the desire to clean this up.

I have my own things that I would love to see. I would love to see the establishment of a delineated three-fold office of Bishop, Priest/Presbyter, and Deacon (I'd argue that this is what we have with our Pastor - Assistant Pastor - Vicar(/Elder?) set up already, but I'd love to see it spelled out clearly). I'd prefer more liturgical order within the Church - much more of a "say the black, do the red" approach -- even if this curtails me. I like order, really I do - even as I argue for freedom until I'm blue in the face.

Here is the reason why I argue until I am blue in the face - just because something is messy doesn't mean that it is wrong. Just because something isn't how they did it 500 years ago means it violates the confessions (otherwise, all of us in America are up a creek without a paddle as I don't think the Confessions say anything about a Church independent of the state). Just because something is not traditional does not mean it is wrong.

Can it be foolish and messy without being wrong? Yes. Can it be foolish and messy and be wrong? Yes. But many times there is a distinction between the mess that we see and what should never be allowed. And sometimes in our zeal for order, we can confuse the two.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sermon for Epiphany (Transferred)

Epiphany Observed – January 9th, 2011 – Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
The season of Epiphany began on January 6th, a service which we observe today. This is the start of the Epiphany Season, the season where we focus on the revelation of Christ to the world. Yet, Epiphany itself is a neglected, undervalued day among us. We mark the start of Advent, the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, yet January 6th often passes unnoted. Historically speaking, this is sort of odd. For Centuries, especially among gentiles, among those not of Jewish line or descent, Epiphany was the chief, the highest celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, higher even than Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Why? Because on the day of Epiphany we observe and celebrate not just the birth of our Lord, not just that the angels told some Jewish shepherds about this – but that even the Wise men, men from the East, Gentiles, non-Jews – that they too are shown Christ Jesus, that this infant in Bethlehem was to be the Savior not just of the Jewish race, but of the whole world, that He would be a Light to lighten the Gentiles. We are those who have seen His light, and so we are right to rejoice in this revelation today.

Our text this morning provides us an interesting contrast to ponder this morning. In it we hear this: “Now, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” Here we see the Magi, scholars, teachers, wise men from the East, from the Gentile nations, and they arrive in Jerusalem. At the time, the world viewed Jerusalem as of being of little importance. It is not like it is today, where so much violence hangs over who controls Jerusalem, where so much of Muslim tensions with the West revolve around Jerusalem. No, in Herod’s day the coming of these wise men would have been quite a spectacle, quite unexpected. Yet they arrive – and what do these wise men arrive to do? Do they come so that they can spout off wisdom? Do they come so that they can impress the people of Jerusalem? No. They have seen a star, and somehow through sign this they understood that a new King of the Jews was born. And more than that, they come to worship Him.

This is what is astonishing. These magi from the East, these wise men who know so little, who don’t even know where the Christ Child is born, something any of our little Children could tell us, they know that they ought to come and worship Christ Jesus – that this One who is born is worthy of worship and praise. How they knew this – that is beyond me. I make no claims to being a wise man, but I would simply note that in Genesis, at the creation, God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons.” Somehow, by the Grace of God, these wise men read this sign – and I give thanks to God that we do not need to look to a star to learn of Christ, but that He is revealed to us in His Word and in His Supper. That is much easier and better. But, at any rate, the wise men know that Jesus is born, and right away they know and desire to worship Him. That, ultimately is why they have come – they come to worship, to get down on their knees before Christ, to praise and give Him thanks for His goodness.

And yet, what do we hear of the people there in Jerusalem, the very people who should have most carefully been looking for the coming of the Messiah? They are caught completely off guard. “When Herod the King heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Whereas the coming of the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the promised Son of David is a cause of wonder and rejoicing to these Gentile Magi – this news is met in Jerusalem with fear and trepidation. Whereas the Wise Men hear and wish to worship, there is no thought of worship on the part of the people of Jerusalem. Herod assembles the chief priests and scribes and he asks them where the child is to be born. They say in Bethlehem, that is what the prophet, in this case Micah, proclaims. So what do they do? Do the people of Jerusalem form a long, large train and march out to Bethlehem, determined to find this one who is prophesied? Do they too say, “Ah, the promise Messiah. Oh come, let us adore Him, oh come let us adore Him”? No. There is no worshipful procession from Jerusalem. No one of the chief priests and the scribes goes to seek out this wonder. They are too caught up in whatever it is that they are doing, perhaps too fearful of offending Herod, who is a violent man. Their excuses are made, and they forsake going to the house where Christ Jesus is present in the world.

This should serve as a warning to us in the Church. We are the ones who know what the Scriptures say. We are the ones who know where Christ Jesus was born, we are the ones who know where He is present. We know that He comes to be with us here in His house, that He reveals His salvation to us in His Word and Preaching, that He is placed upon our tongues in His most Holy Supper. And the temptation can be to ignore this, to disdain it. How often we can and we will be tempted to act like the boorish people of Jerusalem! Can we not often think that there are “better” things to do than to come to Church? Think about that – God is here with forgiveness, oh, no thanks, I have better things to do. We can be fearful, worried about what our friends and peers think, fearful about money and finances and how things will work out. These excuses can try to keep us away. And we can’t pretend that these temptations don’t come upon us. How many of our own, how many people who we know, who have been trained and taught as we have been trained and taught are acting the delinquent this morning? While some fall away in defiance, how many more fall away through simple indifference? This should serve as a warning to us.

So, how is this to be avoided? Consider again the Wise Men. What do they do, what is their focus? Their focus is upon seeing Jesus. That is what they want, what they desire. If you look at the Wise Men, you see precisely what the book of Hebrews is getting at when it instructs us, “Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” The wise men disdain the hardship of travel, they worry not what Jerusalem thinks of them, they are simply focused on following the star to where Christ is – “And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until to came to rest over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” They are looking towards Christ. And I would note here – what sort of Christ are they looking for – what sort of Jesus do they desire? Do they wish for an entertaining Jesus, one who will give them an hour of entertainment? Babies are cute and entertaining, but they aren’t that cute. Are they looking for a Jesus who will make them wealthy and give them every earthly bauble that their heart can imagine? Hardly. If you want to know what sort of Christ the Wise Men are seeking, look to what they do when they see Him.

“And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” They worship Christ – but why do they worship Him? Because He is the Messiah, and their gifts show that He is the Messiah. Gold is tribute – Gold is what you give to your king, your liege, your Lord. So, paralleling what the hymn says, in humble devotion their tribute they bring. They acknowledge that Christ is King. But what sort of King? Not a king like Herod, for Herod received no tribute from them, but rather a king above just the problems of earthly rule. He is a Holy King, a King that they bring frankincense. Where is incense used? In the temple, in the Holy Places. Incense is the tool of the priests of the Old Testament – whenever the priests would enter the tabernacle, the temple, they would burn incense – that’s just what you did. So what does it mean that they give Jesus incense? It means they know that He is the Holy King, our Great High Priest – that He is the true temple and you never go to the temple without incense. And what would this Holy King, this Great High Priest do? They bring Him myrrh. Myrrh is what you use to anoint a dead body with. When it says that they take Christ’s Body from off the cross and wrap it in spices to bury it, the chief spice used in Myrrh. They know that Christ will do what He is supposed to do. A King is supposed to protect His people, a Priest to offer sacrifices for them. And Jesus, our King and High Priest would do both by going to the Cross, offering in Himself the appropriate sacrifice for our sin, protecting and defending us from sin and death everlasting with His own death. This is what the wise men see, this is their focus, this is what they know that this Child Christ will do, and so they come and worship Him.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus – our Lord, in His great love and mercy has won you your salvation, and by His Gospel He has enlightened you to this saving truth, He has washed you clean in Baptism, He has invited you to His House, brought you to the meal of Heaven in His Supper, and prepared you for life everlasting. No other gift you have received, no gift you could ever give, can top this. You have salvation in Christ, and He has revealed this salvation unto you. I therefore encourage you, in the midst of a world full of toil and struggles, keep your eyes focused on this gift, and come, join us next week, and indeed all through this Epiphany Season, and we focus on texts that show us, that reveal to us that Jesus Christ is indeed our God and Savior. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Friday, January 7, 2011

Another Fisk Gem

You should watch the latest Worldview Everlasting with Jonathan Fisk wherein he says the following:

Notice this, when you base the majority of your New Testament Christianity on Old Testament proof-texts... think about it. Not that we don't use the Old Testament, but what do we use the Old Testament to do? Establish laws? No. To preach Christ

Absolute Brilliance.

What is AC XIV saying?

What is AC XIV talking about when it speaks to being "rite vocatus" - when it speaks how men are placed in the pastoral office?

I would bring up two things for consideration - first, how condemnations work in the Augsburg Confession. Quite often the Confessions condemn heresy and error - however, if the error is one exercised by Rome, they do not label it as Roman. On the other hand, much pain is taken to distinguish those making this confession from ancient heresies or the modern errorists, like the Anabaptists, who are condemned by name in articles 5, 9, 12, 16, and 17. So, while much of the AC is designed as a defense of the Christian Faith against the errors of Rome, great pains are taken to demonstrate that Lutherans are not to be painted with the same brush as the radical Reformation. If the main target of an article is a non-Roman target, then the Confession quickly and clearly says so. However, if the target is that which is either Roman Catholic alone, or even a combination where both Rome and the Anabaptists might fall into opposite errors, no direct label of condemnation is applied by name.

What does this mean? On articles where neither heresy nor the Anabaptists are condemned, there is an implied room for correcting Roman excess - but also an concession that if Rome will let our teaching stand, we can live with their excess. It's a very charitable document towards Rome (unlike the later Confessions, where Rome has fully defined herself as against the Augsburg Confession).

In light of this, before simply examining AC XIV and debating what "rite vocatus" means and doesn't mean, we should look at AC V and AC VII.

Article V: Of the Ministry.

1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake.

4] They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works.

First a note here - there is a clear condemnation in the AC of anyone assuming to himself the Ministry (that is teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments) without an external call. The external Word is to be used. This is highly related to the call - that one, if he is going to be preaching and administering the Sacrament must be called by the external Word (i.e. by God through someone other than himself).

Article VII - Of the Church - Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6.

In article VII we have here the appearance of "rite". And here it is used, not as what *must* be followed, but rather an example of human tradition, created by men. Moreover, the rite need not be alike everywhere.

And so then we get AC XIV, which reads:

Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.

"regularly called" is "rite vocatus" - called according to the rite. This article flushes out what 5 and 7 had said -- that the call is to be external, according to the rites of the Church... however the rites and customs of the Church, especially in giving the call, do not need to be the same.

While the Lutherans will accept the current Roman system, that system specifically is not vital, but rather is a matter of human construction which should be maintained for peace, but if peace is not possible then new rites and structures shall be developed as seen fit.

What does this mean? As long as someone is called, appointed, or elected to the Ministry via the normal customs of the Church in a specific place, then AC XIV is not violated.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It always boils down to the text

It always boils down to the text. What do the Scriptures say - what does the text say? Then let it stand. What do the Confessions say - then let that text stand.

Not what you derive from the text. Not what you assume the text means. Simply the text. It always boils down to the text - a point well illustrated throughout the midsection of Jonathan Fisk's latest video.

Contemplation Upon Liturgical Changes

One of the things that gets brought up whenever a matter of what happens or is done in the worship is that whenever a proposed change or practice or custom is given, the charge will be laid sooner or later, "Oh, you only want that because you like that" or its converse, "You only don't want that because you just don't like it."

We will eventually reduce discussion and debates about a multitude of things - styles, ceremonies, mannerism, all of these down to mere preference, and if someone disagrees with what we argue, it will be chalked up not to their arguments, but simply to the fact that they like or dislike something.

I fear that too often this may be true.

I will say something here that may seem surprising to folks who read this blog and others. I will say something that many will assume disingenuous.

I don't like children's sermons. Not that I think they are wrong or intolerable - I just don't enjoy them that much. I don't think that they are fun. They aren't part of my ideal service.

But the question of whether or not in this particular place that I serve that they will be done does not rest on my particular preference.

I, personally, enjoy a very high liturgy. If I had my druthers, there would be chanting and incense and, while technically it is "low", I'd jettison the Lectern and simply read from the horns of the altar. I like the genuflection at the Verba. I miss kneelers. These things are good to me - if I am traveling, I will find as high a place as I like (although, I must admit, I do, according to my own personal piety, prefer receiving Christ's Body in my hand).

None of those practices have I introduced here.

Why? They are not part of his congregations custom and tradition - and hesitate to introduce them precisely because I like them. I am biased towards them. They are something I crave, something I would love to see, something that would make me happy.

But my duty is not to serve myself - I have been called by God to nurture and serve the people of this congregation.

If I make the service to look more like what *I* would like to see, what reasoning do I use? That the service needs to be more reverent? Well, does it *need* it, and if there is a need for more reverence, would those changes increase the reverence that is needed (i.e. is it pastoral conduct that is irreverent),? Or will I use "reverence" simply as an excuse and pretext to follow my own desire?

Perhaps I can say that we need to resist the culture? I suppose, but is that the best way to resist the culture? Our culture craves glitz and glamour and the needless pomp of the red carpet. Would these changes resist that culture, or do I desire it because it is pomp and spectacle, is it a giving into my own desires that I hide under the guise of religiousness?

These are questions I ask myself. I'd advise you to ask them of yourself when it comes to making changes (or even pronouncements about what is good).

I think the change, the movement to something, for the sake of your people, which you do not personally like, is safer. It is less apt to be self-serving, and we are not called to serve ourselves, to make our congregations what we would like a congregation to be. We are called to proclaim Christ, to point to Him, to give out His forgiveness.

I must decrease that He may increase - and often that means my own desires and preferences.

To Correct or to Defend

Which is the higher priority of a Christian - to correct his neighbor, or to defend his neighbor?

Granted, I will contend that we ought do both. But which, in this sinful, fallen world, takes higher priority, which is easier to do?

I tend towards defense. To have love and compassion upon the erring, the weak, the abused (whether completely unjustly abused, or even one who is receiving more abuse than is meet, right, or fitting for his restoration). These things are always approved. When is gentleness and care ever warned against?

But correction - there we have warnings a plenty. There we are warned that when we see the speck in our neighbor's eye, we must find the log in our own. There we are warned that by the measure we use it will be measured against us.

And I think these warnings are apt. If I defend, I am called to defend even those that I personally don't like. Defending isn't about me. However, if I correct, there lies the temptation to correct not according to God's standards but according to my own desires - where my correction becomes an attempt not to align people to God's Will, but to align them to my will.

Which is your higher priority - to correct or defend? If we see some in some error, do you wish to correct them, or defend them (even if that defending them is from themselves)?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Just a Few Luther Quotes

The greatest and principal purpose of every service is to preach and teach God's Word. - Introduction to the German Mass

Although praying is also a great service rendered to God, it is not equal to preaching; for when we pray, we perform a work that rises from earth to heaven and is properly called our work. But when we preach and hear the Word, we are hearing and witnessing the performance of a divine work; for the Word is not ours but our Lord God's. Now insofar as God is greater and more glorious than we, preaching excels every other work. Unfortunately, however, it is considered a relatively unimportant matter by both preachers and hearers. - 9-12-1533, concerning Luke 10:23

Your Grace may comfort yourself with the thought with which I comfort myself: ceremonies are not articles of faith. And yet they have always created more and greater fuss in the church than the Word and the Sacraments, and the common folk easily come to make an unalterable matter of them. Therefore I take no other course than this: Where the ceremonies are observed, I also observe them (if they are not godless); where they are discontinued, I also discontinue them. in a letter to George Buchholzer, a prelate of Berlin.

We pastors must see to it that ceremonies are made and observed in such a manner that people become neither too disorderly nor too sanctimonious. from a Table Talk.

We must use moderation so that in the end there are not too many ceremonies. First of all, however, we must see to it that they are by no means considered necessary to salvation but that they merely serve outward discipline and order. They are to be looked upon as something that may be changed at any time and not as something that is commanded as a perpetual law in the church, as that jackass of a pope does - 1539

And finally, an adominishment written by Luther to the folks assembled at Augsburg as they were crafting the Augsburg Confession....

For old fools to strut about in miters and finery of clerical vestments and to make it a serious matter, nay, not only a serious matter but an article of faith, so that he who does not adore this child's play must have committed a sin and have a tortured conscience - this is the very devil!... Unfortunately, we have hitherto experienced that this child's and fool's play has been given more, and more serious, attention (and this is still the case) than the matters that are of real and primary importance. This, then, is our opinion: If for the sake of the young we are able to retain such of these childish amusements as are tolerable and without injury to the really serious matters of prime importance, we shall gladly do it."

How do the Confessions Work?

In his answer to a question about baptism giving faith Rev. Jonathan Fisk gives a wonderful description and example of how actual and true Confessional theology works.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Liturgical interuption, innovation, and the classic form of idolatry

So, I have been involved in a good discussion at the Gottesdienst Blog concerning, depending upon who you ask, the Confessions, Children's Sermons, Liturgical Innovation, and other various and sundry things. However, it has gotten me thinking on something.

Two frequent complaints leveled against children's sermons are that they are unnecessary innovations that don't fit in the service and that they disrupt the service.

Now, the point that they aren't "necessary" doesn't sway me much -- I'm more concerned with whether or not something may be freely done, not whether it *must* be done. However, it is a common concern for many, and I have been pondering it. Also, the idea that the 3 or 4 minutes a children's sermon takes also causes some consternation. Again, I'm not sold -- once any rite becomes established in a place, it becomes part of the flow of the service. I don't think my predecessor used the Gradual with regularity - I do. This was disruptive for a bit; now omitting the gradual would be disruptive. However, many people view the service as having a specific movement and flow that can be easily disrupted.

Offhandedly I had made a comment that, if we must eliminate anything that disrupts the service, we should remove the Offering, as this is an innovation that also disrupts the service. It was meant to be an argument... not of absurdity, but of comparison. There is no furor raised over the offering - it is accepted. Hence, something that is likewise disruptive could be accepted.

Then I saw a news promo this night. A Roman Catholic Parish in Oklahoma City was robbed -- and what does the promo show? Not offering plates, not a safe - but collection boxes.

Think about it. No break in the middle of the service. No pony show. No paying attention to what someone else might give - is it an envelop or just a few bucks from the wallet. No parade of cash to the front of the Church. Rather, when people give, quietly, out of the way, in the back of the Church, on their own time, with no one the wiser. No trumpets, no musical fanfare - when you give, let your giving be in secret.

And this is a new innovation - A Christianity Today article puts it really coming into vogue in the 19th Century. And mainly a protestant innovation (another bugaboo).

Why do we allow this? How is it beneficial? How does taking a collection in the middle of service support the idea that this is Divine Service, that worship is about the gifts that God gives us? We stop the service so everyone can see the money brought forward.

Now, I'm not going to say that have a collection for home mission work is wrong (although, when we have had special collections, we do just put a plate or basket in the back of the Church... and I don't do the LWML mite blessing - I think many would say that is uncouth). It really, though, when we think about it, seem odd. It seems much more odd to stop the flow of the service to focus on that old idol of cash than it does to pause to devote time to teaching children.

Yet the later raises fervor and fury among some as one of the signs of the utter decay of the Lutheran faith -- yet in nothing do we seem to borrow more from the reformed than when it comes to offering, tithing, and "stewardship" drives.

Just something to make one ponder.

A story of correction

When I was little, my home congregation had Children's Sermons, and these sermons would happen this way. The pastor would sit down in the front of the Church, and we would gather around his feet. There he would ask us questions.

We would go to the 8 am service. I was a smart kid. I was a morning person. I always went up quickly to sit right at the pastor's feet and gladly answered the questions.

But one Sunday, he didn't call on me when I raised my hand. And no one else had their hand up, and he kept asking if anyone knew. Obviously, he didn't see me (thought my little mind), so I tapped him on his knee. He still didn't acknowledge me. So I tapped his foot. Still nothing. So I put my foot on his foot. Still nothing, still asking for answers but not calling on me! Then my heel onto his foot, then I'm on my haunches, driving my heel into his foot! Didn't he know I knew the answers to these questions!

At that point he finally, quietly asked me to stop. And it was over. And as I walked back to the pew, I saw my mother. Here eyes were wide with anger, and I realized that I had been bad in Church, that digging your heel into the pastor's foot is not good behavior. And as I sat down next to my mother I asked, "Am I going to get a spanking?"

Her voice quivered (I can still hear it today) as she said, "Ooooh yes."

Then there was the sermon to sit through. And I had been bad in Church.
Then there was the distribution to sit through. And I had been bad in Church.
Then we went to Sunday School. And I had been bad in Church.

After almost 2 hours contemplating the fact that I had been bad in Church, we began the long walk to the far side of the parking lot where our car was parked. The 10:30 folks were walking past us on their way to church... I had been bad in Church.

It was too much for me to bear. I broke into tear and began to cry aloud, "BEAT ME NOW! BEAT ME NOW AND GET IT OVER WITH!"

I had been bad in Church.

I remember the walk to the car, I remember getting in the backseat while wailing. Intrestingly enough, I don't remember the actual spanking I got (although my mother assures me that I did receive one). But I learned that it was a terrifying and horrible thing to be bad in Church.

Across the Desert's Sand and Dune

Across the desert's sand and dune
Over the rocky mountain path
On through the scorching heat of noon
Enduring nightime's wintry blast
To Bethlehem
To Bethlehem
Come and worship the Infant King

Disdain the might of earthly kings,
and the priests who this Child ignore
There lies of Whom the Angels sing
And Whom prophets foretold before
To Bethlehem
To Bethlehem
Come and worship the Infant King

The Star shall lead on through the night
To the house where Your God and Lord
Shines, revealing salvation's light
That He might be worshiped, adored.
To Bethlehem
To Bethlehem
Come and worship the Infant King

The gifts there brought declare Him Christ
Gold,that mirrors His own Blood's price
Incense adorns His sacrfice
Myrrh to be His burial spice
To Bethlehem
To Bethlehem
Come and Worship the Infant King

To home return with hearts secure
Rejoicing in the mystery
That God has salvation procured
Shown forth on this Epiphany
Forth and rejoice,
Forth and rejoice
Christ has come, our Savior and King

All things are Permissible.... BUT

St. Paul teaches us in First Corinthians 10:23-24:

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

In practice, in practical terms, as fallen human beings, we hate this verse and desire to violate it on one side or the other.

There are those who wish to condemn as impermissible any practice they don't like. Anything that is foolish or unwise is responded to with claims that "You can't do that" or "If you do that you violate ______." There is a desire to establish order by the addition of rules - rules to prevent tomfoolery.

Of course, there are those who violate these verses on the other side. There are those who say, "All things are Lawful -- therefore I can do whatever I want and you can't say anything against it." There is the desire to do what one wants, irregardless of what anyone else wants, thinks, or is impacted.

Both of these approaches end up focusing on the first clauses, when the weight and emphasis is placed by Paul upon the second clauses.

The debate over whether or not something is "permissible" often misses the point. The question is not to be whether or not something is permissible, whether you "can" or you "can't" do something. That discussion will always be reduced to legal wrangling.

The question that Paul would have us ponder is whether or not our actions are helpful, whether or not they build up, whether or not the action is done for the good of the neighbor.

We want the knockout blow. We want to say, "See, you can't do that" and have the discussion end there. We want to say, "See, I CAN do that" and have the discussion end there. We want one simple phrase so that then we can feel justified in what we do or do not do.

But that is not the way of the Christian life. Our goal is not to deliver the knockout blow, but to be helpful to our neighbor. It is not to defeat our neighbor, but to teach them up so that they are built up. We are called not to serve ourselves but to show love to our neighbor in all things.

Even when they are doing something we disagree with, even when they unjustly tell us that we are wrong.