Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Validation Culture or Christian Freedom

Colin Cowherd, sports talk guy, has a little phrase that I think is highly accurate.  Today people crave "affirmation not information."  We want people to say things that affirm our particular opinions, and any statement that doesn't line up, whether true or not, is not just... cast off or ignored, but often seen as an attack, as an attempt to persecute. 

You hear this in Sports Talk all the time.  If you were one social media you surely saw it in politics.  It's one of the things that makes discussions about sexuality such a hot topic.  And even amongst ourselves, we can fall into this same trap, where we assume that if someone doesn't validate our thoughts, whims, ideas, actions -- then they are obviously an enemy who thinks ill of us.

We have become in America very much a validation culture - where people must praise our actions or we are offended.  People must make sure not to disrespect us or anything we do in any way, otherwise we will be greatly offended.  Indeed, it is to the point where if someone doesn't do the same things we do -- they are viewed almost as a tangible threat.

Even happens in the Church.  So, Chasuble or no?  Chant or no?  1 year or 3 year?  Yea or nay to birth control?  Liturgy or Contemporary?  Confessional or Missional?  We could add more. And the thing is, it seems to me that we tend to view anyone being on the other side of an issue as a direct threat, simply for not agreeing and validating our own opinion.

Remember the old TLH vs. LW divide?  It didn't seem to work that way.  You had pride - proud TLH congregations, proud LW folks, give each other a hard time.  And that was it.  Even as TLH was threatened to go out of print - eh, so what, we will keep using it and demand will bring it back.

I think we have been slipping into that American Culture of Validation - where we crave, where we need people to agree with us, to tell us we are right, otherwise we feel threatened.  Now, compare this with what Paul writes in Colossians 2:13-19:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

We are in Christ, we are free.  Let no one pass judgment on you. 

Here we are taught to take a position of defiance against opposition, and yet now we see opposition whenever someone doesn't pat us on the back and tell us what a good boy we are and how brave they think we are.

Be bold.  Be confident in Christ.  Christ has the victory, and thus so do you.  If He says you live, why do you need to worry what anyone else thinks?  Do not seek validation, but rather delight in Christ and His freedom.  We are the people of forgiveness, we are the people free of the debt, we are people who cling to Christ - what validation do we need?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Last Sunday of the Church Year

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

          We have reached the end of the Church Year.  Next week we will begin Advent and all our joyous preparations for Christmastime – but this week it is the end of the Church Year, and we look forward to the end of Time, when Christ Jesus will return in glory to judge the living and the dead.  And so it is fitting that we look to this parable where Christ describes what the end will be like – the parable of the wise and foolish virgins – for this parable tells us how we are to be prepared for Christ’s return, how we are to be prepared for the life of the world to come.  Let us examine our Lord’s Words, and from them be prepared.

          Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  For when the foolish ones took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”  Note, dear friends, that this is a parable aimed at just Christians.  This parable is not talking about the good, nice Christians as opposed to the bad, bad pagan hordes out there.  There are ten virgins, and all know that the Bridegroom is coming, all are going out to meet him.  This describes the Church – we who know that Christ is coming, we who know that He shall return.  Even the foolish virgins know that the bridegroom is coming.  The foolish ones here are not gross pagan unbelievers, but those who claim to be Christian themselves.  Let us see what happens.

          As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.”  This parable isn’t about what you do to be a good Christian or a bad Christian – it isn’t about how hard you look out for Jesus, it isn’t about how you work really hard and make yourself ready for Jesus.  They all sleep, they all become drowsy.  When Christ returns, none of us will expect it, we will not know the time or the hour – when He comes again our heads will be jerked up to look at the sky along with everyone else’s.  What separates the wise and the foolish isn’t that the wise are stronger and remember to stay awake – all fall asleep.  They all drop the ball.  Or, as Paul says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  You won’t be ready for Christ’s return because you are somehow a better person than the person next to you, your own strength isn’t what prepares you.  No, what distinguishes the wise from the foolish is something else.

          But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’  Then all those virgins trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  But the wise answered saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourself.’”  The difference between the wise and foolish is the oil.  That’s what separates them – that’s the only thing.  Both were sleeping, both knew what was coming – but when it comes – the foolish aren’t prepared.  And they miss out.  And so they hurriedly seek out oil, but then – “And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.  Afterward the other virgins came saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.”  But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’  Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’”  They are left out – they had ignored the oil, and they were unable to put their lamps to use when they needed to, and they are left out in the cold, they miss the feast.

          So, what is the oil?  That’s the key, that’s the point of differentiation.  What is the oil, what is that which makes us prepared for Christ’s return?  The oil is the Word of God and God’s own Sacraments.  Think on this.  What powers you, what gives you strength as a Christian?  It’s nothing of yourself – but it comes from God.  And how does God give you strength, how does He come to you?  Does He just zap you?  No, He comes to you through His Word, He comes to you in the Waters of Holy Baptism, He comes to you in Holy Communion, and by these means He forgives your sin and strengthens you and prepares you for this life and the life to come.  Just as oil lets a lamp burn, so Christ’s Word causes our faith to shine.

          What happens to a lamp that has no oil?  It goes out, it goes dark, it becomes useless and vain.  Likewise, what happens to a Christian’s faith when it stops receiving the Word, when a person decides they have no more use for their Baptism, when the Supper is despised?  It flickers and dies.  We don’t like talking about that.  We don’t like talking about faith dying, about being able to abandon and lose our faith.  But that is what Christ is warning us of.  On the last day there will be those who had known better, who had known Christ, who had delighted in His salvation, but then. . . fell away.  There will be those who cry Lord, Lord – but whose faith has died. . . but it will be too late.

          It’s a scary thought – and one we don’t like to deal with.  People even come up with false doctrine to avoid it.  Once saved, always saved – that’s one way of trying to avoid this.  But it isn’t true.  People can fall away.  Or do you not realize that is what Satan tries to do at all times – to make you fall away – to lure you away from Christ’s Church so that your faith is shattered and destroyed.  Satan desires to make you a fool, to let you do the most foolish thing possible – to lead you away from Christ and have you abandon your salvation.

          Christ warns us here of how subtle Satan can be.  His attacks are not always open and obvious, are not always loud and brash.  The foolish virgins don’t say, “Forget the Bridegroom, I’m getting drunk and heading to Vegas, woo-hoo!”  Satan’s attacks can be quiet.  Satan can lead to your downfall with the sin of indifference.  Oh, you know about Christ – but you just slowly stop hearing the Word, you stop being fed. . . and your faith dies.  The Word that feeds it. . . you foolishly see no more use for it. . . and faith wastes away, just as a lamp runs out of oil, just as you or I, if we stopped eating, would starve to death.  Many of you probably even know what I’m talking about – where you yourself had fallen away – had felt as you fell away your own faith flicker – perhaps even gutter out.  And then you were restored, by a friend, by a loved one speaking God’s Word to you again and restoring you, where the Spirit revives you again through the Word proclaimed and relights, rekindles your faith.  It happened to King David – Create in me a clean heart O God, renew – make new again a right Spirit within me – for I had in my folly snuffed it out!  We can lose faith – God does not desire this for us – but our stubborn indifference can damage, can wound, can even kill our faith.  If we cut ourselves off from Christ, if we shut out His Word – we remove ourselves from Him, and we die.

          Christ reminds us today why we go to Church, why we come here and hear His Word, why we receive our Lord’s Sacraments.  There are many false reasons why one might come to Church.  One might come to church to put on a good show – see, I go to Church, I’m a nice person.  One might go to Church to make connections – to hob nob, to find people to do some business with.  Happens quite often.  One might even come to Church to convince God to give them blessings – see all that I do for You.  All these – these are just folly.  Why does God call us to His House? So that we might be forgiven and kept strong in the One true faith, that on the last day our lamps, our faith might have oil to burn, that they might be real and true – so that we might enter with Christ into the eternal feast in heaven.

          God knows that this world can beat you down.  God knows that Satan will constantly tempt and hound you.  God knows the frailty of your flesh – and so He calls you to His house for your sake.  When God calls you here it is not because He needs your praise, or He demands part of our time so that you can earn brownie points – it isn’t a matter of you having to kowtow to Him or He’ll cut off the gravy train of blessings.  Church isn’t a hoop to jump through to curry favor with God.  It is a gift to you for your benefit – it is where God Himself comes to you and restores you.  It is where your sin is forgiven and you are given strength to endure in the world.  It is where your faith is bolstered and kept strong.

          Dear friends, do not despise the preaching of the Word but gladly hear and learn it.  As Hebrews says, do not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourag[e] one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  We need Church, we need to hear the Word, we need our faith strengthened, and it is only Satan and his work that convinces us otherwise, it is only the acts of the Devil himself that whisper to us that what happens here is something we can do without.  Think on how merciful God is.  Before that last day, before the great feast – Christ continually comes to you here, calls you to the feast of His Supper so that you are ready for the last day.  If you persist in rejecting His service here, if you are content to ignore Him when He comes to you now – why would you think you would be ready to meet Him on the last day?

          Yet in His mercy, He still calls you.  As the clouds of judgment gather, as this world groans ever more in travail and pain, and sin mounts and grow and the end draws near but we do not fear – Christ still calls to you here – He is the Shepherd who seeks you out and gathers you here.  Make diligent use of what He offers here to you, lest you fall away and your faith dwindle and die, and at the last day you are found to be counted among the foolish.  May God grant that we not fall prey to Satan, that we not starve ourselves of God’s Word, but that we hold His Word sacred, and that we remain faithful, being fed by His Word and His Supper.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Thanksgiving Day Sermon

(As the wireless router at work failed last week, this is getting posted late)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          This Thanksgiving Day, we are following the readings for the Harvest Festival, for reflecting, celebrating, and giving thanks for all the gifts that God has given us, all the wondrous bounty He has bestowed upon us.  And the text the lectionary assigns for such a day is really quite interesting.  Is it a celebration?  Nope?  Is it super cheery and happy?  Nope.  It’s a family inheritance squabble followed by a parable where the man dies.  So why, why this Gospel lesson today?  Because when we hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are instructed on how to approach this life remaining truly and rightfully thankful, understanding what is important.  Let’s dive in.
          “Someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’”  Now, let’s set the stage.  Luke 12 begins by telling us that “many thousands of the people gathered together that they were trampling one another” – tons of people are around, and they are wanting to hear Jesus teach, and He does – He teaches them to be content.  He teaches them not to fear those who can harm the body – indeed, by the end of the chapter he will get to the verses that form the basis for the hymn “Have no fear, little flock”.  He tells them to acknowledge the Christ, to understand that in Jesus they have salvation and life everlasting – that nothing in this world can topple them or destroy them – indeed, right before our Gospel we hear, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  What joy, what confidence – live your lives having trust in God, for even if earthly harm comes your way, you endure for life ever lasting!  Indeed, God Himself, the Holy Spirit will be with you and guide you!
          And then, hearing this, someone pipes up.  Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.  In the middle of teaching, in the middle of preaching a wondrous sermon about God’s love and care, love and care that lasts even unto the life of the world to come – tell my brother to pony up the cash.  It’s a start contrast, isn’t it?  Good stuff, blessings from God, eternal blessings no less – eh, I want my share, make my brother give it to me.  Forget this “have no fear, don’t be anxious stuff” – there’s money to be talked about!  And now let us consider this Thanksgiving Day.  When we speak to Thanksgiving, so often it becomes the day of “stuff” and “stuffing”.  Let’s hurry up and think about all the stuff we have and say a nice prayer so that we can get to the Turkey and Stuffing.  We can get bogged down in earthly blessings, we are so blessed that these things are all that we see, all that we think to be thankful.  A fellow in the crowd hears to be bold, and so what does he ask for?  Jesus to boss around his brother so he can have more.  We come to a day of Thanksgiving, and let’s be honest, how often do our thoughts slide so quickly to stuff?  Things.  Possessions.  And in fact, we think that we had better be thankful for them, otherwise God might cut off the gravy train!
          Jesus isn’t overly impressed with what this fellow had interjected.  “But [Jesus] said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’”  Do I look like Judge Judy, what’s going on?  Why did you even bring this up?  And then Jesus drives to the point.  “And He said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”  You are thinking simply about stuff – about things – and while those are great and useful things… they are just things.  They last only for a time.  In fact, after the reading Jesus will bring up the familiar passage about “Consider the lilies”, “Consider the birds of the air.”  Your life is not your stuff, your house, your food, your bank account.  These things while nice are of no lasting value.  These all come and go and 100 years from now will be gone.  No, there is something more important.
          “And He told them a parable saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?”  And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.””  So, here’s the setting – look, there’s a rich man, and what happens – he gets richer still.  Oh, how fantastic – he even has to build a bigger barn.  Is this not sort of the American ideal – expanding, growing, bigger, bigger, bigger?  Better get the bigger house because I’ve got so much stuff.  Man, wouldn’t we all like to be the rich man here – and then we’d be mighty thankful!  But the Rich Man continues on.  “”And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.””  Early retirement!  Even better!  With parties and celebration and just fantastic fun!  Again, it’s the American dream.  “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”  Fool!  Literally “non-thinking guy!”  What were you thinking – here you had all these things, and did you enjoy them?  No, you were so busy getting more and more that you never enjoyed the blessings, you never delighted in them.  You slaved away and for what?  Nothing, because you don’t get to take it with you.  You put your trust in stuff, and your trust fell short.
          So what, Pastor?  Does this mean we better start being rich towards God, tossing the cash in the plate by bucketfuls so we don’t die and can have more stuff?  Nope.  It’s an interesting phrase, “rich towards God” – and because we are so focused on stuff, we think of this richness first and foremost in stuff.  No, what does it mean to be “rich towards God”  It’s not about giving, or working – but rather this – where is your attention?  Where is your focus?  Is your focus upon stuff, power, money, cash – the things of this world?  Well, then you are going to have a fairly miserable life, because things, money, cash, and stuff are lousy – they always demand more and more of your time, they promise more and more stuff, so don’t even rest and relax tonight, you better hit the stores tonight at 8 pm before all the good sales are gone.  No – don’t lay up those treasures; rather this – have your focus be upon God and His mercies to you, and then you will see true richness, then you will understand what and why we are thankful.
          Consider this.  God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth loves you.  He has promised to care for you and to use you to care for others.  Even as we are in a fallen, sinful, messed up world, even as we sin ourselves, do stupid things over and over, what does God say?  “I still love you, I still care for you, I still sustain you, indeed, I have sent Christ Jesus to win you salvation and forgiveness, so that indeed, I will take you out of this world which you messed up, and I will make New Heavens and a New Earth which will be full of nothing but joy and peace for you, and with My Son as your head, it will stay that way.  You have total and complete security and peace in My love for you.”  This is the Creed – God the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ, and I look forward to the resurrection of the Body, life of the world to come!  Instead of the rat race where you struggle always after more and more – where you strive to be the biggest, the best, and never have peace, consider what God does.  He says, “Look at Me, remember My love for you, and then you will be free, free to actually enjoy what you have, free to not wait for later, for some measure of success that your neighbors, that TV, that the Joneses set, but you will be free to rejoice now.  You will be free to show love, to do good to others, to care for them with confidence, for you are supported.” 
          This is what we are thankful for.  That God has set us free, that God pulls our eyes way from sin, indeed, even from the sin of covetousness where we worry and fret and strive and struggle and bite and fight for more and more – and He says, “Enough of that.  You are forgiven, you are cared for now and forever.  Relax.  Be at peace and joy – rest in Me and My love for you, and enjoy.”  Remembering God’s love for you, being secure in Him changes the way you see the world, the way you experience the world.  It frees you to see the world as nothing but gift and joy, even in the midst of being in a sinful fallen place.  God provides and cares and most wondrously puts things back in their place, where instead of us serving and worshipping stuff – the things of this life are tools, tools used for our joy, tools used to serve the neighbor.  And this approach to life, this truly free and thankful approach to life is centered in this – you are forgiven and redeemed by Christ, your care for all eternity is assured, and it rests not upon you and how hard you work – it rests upon Christ and His goodness and love, and thus it is totally secure.  My dear friends in Christ, you are utterly well blessed by Him, and shall be even more.  Rejoice and be glad in Him, for this is your richness towards God.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Bit Silly With Thanksgiving

I admit it - as an American, I think Thanksgiving is a silly holiday.  I mean, think about what it is.  It is the Federal Government telling us... not to remember Veterans or Soldiers, not to remember Independence or honor Labor... it's the government telling us to be... thankful.

You there, people - um, go pray or something.


I don't know, it seems odd to me that we in the Church would need a governmental reminder to show thanks.  Of course, I also think it's funny how many churches do services on Wednesday night -- because people don't want to be bothered to go to Church on Thanksgiving when they could be spending time with their family... so we will give thanks early.

Well, we have service on the day.  And we have a dinner afterwards - because not everyone has a big family to gather with, nor wants to slave over turkey.  So we've got 90+ pounds of turkey, probably 30 pounds of potatoes (which will be 35 pounds of mashed potatoes after I add the butter and sour cream), 25 pounds of ham -- stuffing, veggies, so on and so forth. 

And it will be fun.  And we will give thanks.  But it still just seems... silly to me. 

Oh, and pastors, in your sermons - don't just tell people to be thankful for stuff.  Stuff here fades.  Give thanks for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come - all given to us in and through Christ.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Caretaking, Order: Redemption and the Fall

Adam was put in the garden to tend the garden.  After the Fall, he was consigned to wrestle against the weeds and thorns to pull forth a harvest.  Sin caused his approach, his view to change.  At first, Adam was a caretaker.  He tended to things.  After the fall, more force was necessary.  Weeds to be hacked.  Orderly and forced plantings to be made.  The rules of the game changed -- Adam now had to not merely serve but rather impose his will over the creation -- a creation that was unruly and fought him. 

That was a punishment for sinful man that fit the crime.  Okay, Adam, you don't merely want to receive My care?  Fine - you deal with something as unruly as yourself!

And this twisted the way we view things.  It was a survival response, I suppose.  Rather than seeing things through the lens of caregiving or caring, things became all about order.  About bringing order, imposing order, shaping order.  Our efforts became less and less on caring for the specific individual and more and more on sweeping responses against an ever chaotic world.

Christ comes.  He is the new Adam, Adam as Adam was meant to be.  He is the ultimate caregiver - He is the world's Redeemer.  He brings forth forgiveness by the shedding of His blood - but He does not stop at the mere restoration of order.  Instead, He gives this forgiveness out, personally, to each one.  Here, you are Baptized.  Here, take and eat, this is My Body, given for you.  Shed for you.  For you, for you, for you. 

Gone are the giant, sweeping universal arraignments.  Gone are the attempts to impose order -- Jesus is no new Moses, trying to keep unruly Israelites in line and focused upon God with Law -- there is no new and better Law with more and more specifics designed to micromanage the folks into order.  Nope - simple care.  This is My love for you - you are forgiven.  Oh, you want something to do -- well, you are a caregiver.  Go love your neighbor.  No, I'm not going to be more specific -- you are a caregiver, give care, give love.  Oh, I know you will stink at that while you are in this world - you are forgiven.  You are baptized.  You are mine.  This is My Body, this is My Blood, given and shed for you.

The Fall still clings to us.  We disdain simple forgiveness.  We want to categorize and organize it to death.  We disdain the simple commands to love.  We would rather legislate our neighbor's sin to death than simply forgive them and show them Christ.  We don't trust people to care for their loved ones - we had better organize and make extra rules, apply some order.  And don't forget a bureaucracy - that will keep things in line.  Oh, and we better add just a bit of fear back in, to make sure people toe our lines that we want.

The Fall brought a shift.  We moved from caretakers, caregivers. We became those who imposed order.  And even though we have redemption, that's still how our gut goes.  Not a modicum of order, and certainly not submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ (hmmm... if we follow each other's lead, won't we be on the same page) -- no, more and more regulation, more rules, more things we devise to give the order, the instructions that Jesus just happened to overlook while He was busy with redemption.

But the truth that is truly central is this.  God loves you, and in Christ He forgives you.  Simple and sweet as that.  Without the strings.  Without the order people, even without the order I want to impose.  Christ has died and risen for you, and you have life in Him... not in our attempts to provide order.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trinity 24 Sermon

Trinity 24 – Matthew 9:18-26 – November 18th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          We are approaching the end of the Church Year, and as we move towards the end of the Church Year, the readings tend to shift.  There becomes more of an undercurrent, a focus upon how this world is broken, how it is fallen apart, how things just aren’t right.  We move beyond the lessons that focus us on teaching, on what is right or wrong – and rather we just see things being messed up.  And that’s what we see in our Gospel lesson today.  Two tragedies, two situations that are just utterly horrible.  So let’s consider this text, let’s see how Christ deals with tragedy, and indeed, remember how He ultimately deals with every and all tragedy.

          “While He was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before Him saying, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.’”  It’s an interesting contrast.  In the verse just before our Gospel, we hear that the disciples of John the Baptist came up and they complained to Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”  Why aren’t Your disciples fasting Jesus, why aren’t they acting like good little Jewish boys?  And Jesus gives an interesting response – “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bride groom is with them?”  I am here, I am with them – the Messiah has come – the time for mourning is not now.  When I am present, I take away mourning and fasting.  And then, even as Jesus is teaching this, who should come up to him, but a ruler, a powerful man, who by rights should be mourning.  His daughter has died.  His child.  A terror, a sorrow I don’t even want to think about.  And yet, there he is, kneeling before Jesus.  You are here, Messiah, turn what should be a cause for wailing into a cause for joy.

          “And Jesus rose and followed him, with His disciples.”  And Jesus stops His teaching.  He rose – He got up from where He was sitting down and explaining things to people.  Teaching has its place, but now there is another task at hand – confronting tragedy, confronting sin and death.  This story isn’t the way it should be.  Death shouldn’t be here.  It’s not right, it’s not good – so Jesus stands up, and He goes to fix it.  Priorities are priorities.  Again, this is a great reminder to us.  The world around us, they will often concede that Jesus is a great teacher, but that isn’t His main job.  Jesus is the great Savior; He has come first and foremost not to merely teach us how to live now, but He has come to defeat sin and death with His own Cross, with His Resurrection, so that we live forever.  And so, the teaching is paused – rather now, let the healing commence.

          “And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch His garment, I will be made well.’”  What is life like in this fallen world?  Jesus can’t even get to the ruler’s house before He comes across another tragedy.  Behold, a woman suffering for a discharge of blood.  Now, I will not go into all the details, but just let’s think about what this means for a Jewish woman.  There are ritual purity laws – and if there is a discharge of blood – you are socially cut off.  You cannot have contact with folks – you don’t get to, spend time with your husband, shall we say.  Your hopes for a growing family are utterly dashed and destroyed.  You are a social pariah.  This isn’t an indifferent thing – this is something that in Christ’s day would be been viewed as horrorific.  And the woman is utterly embarrassed about it – there is no loud call to be healed – it would have been too shameful, too embarrassing to even say out loud.  So just very quietly, up she comes.  While no one is noticing, maybe I can be healed.

          “Jesus turned, and seeing her He said, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.’  And instantly the woman was made well.”  She doesn’t slide past Jesus’ notice though.  Instead, He pauses, even just for a short moment, and addresses this woman in the midst of her suffering and trials.  Take heart, be encouraged, rejoice.  Take heart, daughter – be encouraged, you who are close, who are dear to me.  You are healed.  You have seen where there is healing, you have looked to Me, and you will be healed.

          And that’s it.  We don’t hear any more about this woman.  She’s healed – and that’s it.  Off she goes.  And it is fascinating that here you have Jesus on the way to do one miracle, and even on the way, a second just spin out.  And He does so gladly, joyously, and then off He continues about His business.  There is no big production – indeed, the people standing by may have no clue what is wrong with the gal.  Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.  Kindly, gently, and quickly, one small tragedy is dealt with, and off Jesus goes.  The faithful woman sees, believes, is blessed, and goes on her way.

          Jesus comes across a different sort of reaction when He arrives at the ruler’s house.  “And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, He said, ‘Go away, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.’  And they laughed at Him.”  It’s a fantastic contrast.  The ruler who kneels before Jesus.  The woman who knows that if she merely touches the Lord, His grace and love will surely pour out from Him onto her.  And the crowds who laugh.  And it’s not only laugh – these crowds were in the middle of mourning, of weeping, of playing funeral songs on the flute – and they stop their mourning, not in faith, not in hope, but in order to mock and deride Jesus, to treat Him as though He is insane, is a lunatic.  Isn’t this what we still see today in the world – where so many will pause merely long enough to mock Christ and Christians, and then go back to their expectations of nothing but death and doom.  And these folks would have known who Jesus is – He’s been teaching, He’s been healing.  The ruler knew to go quickly to Him – but the crowds, indifference turned to scorn.  This Jesus doesn’t know what He is talking about.

          The crowd doesn’t stop Christ.  “But when the crowd had been put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.  And the report of this spread throughout the district.”  The ruler comes home, and he chases out all the mourners, all the people making the fuss, and then Jesus walks on in, and again, He restores this girl to life.  And again, note how.  He takes her by the hand.  He touches her – and she is healed, healed from death.  It is a wondrous miracle, a wonderful thing.  The mourners, the mockers – both their mourning and their mockery is silence, and the ruler and daughter are reunited.

          In this world in which we live, fallen, broken, decaying, we see sorrow.  We experience sorrow.  Suffering and death confront us all the time, more often than we want to admit.  There isn’t a one of us here who could spend hours telling tales of woe and heart ache.  That is just what life in a sinful world is.  But here is our hope.  God Himself is not content to let us remain alone and abandoned, consigned just to this time here in this fallen world.  No, Christ Jesus came and He entered this fallen world, He got involved.  He came, and He healed people – our God is a hands on sort of God, He gets directly involved.  Jesus is hands on – the woman’s hand touches Christ’s robe, and she is healed.  Jesus takes the little girl by the hand, and she is healed.  And most wondrously, the nails pierce those hands, nail Him to the tree, and our Lord takes on death, immediately, takes it on and swallows it up with His own death.  Jesus steps into the middle of decay and sin with His own death, all so that He might rise again and defeat death, that He might win life beyond just this fallen time.

          Jesus got involved many years ago – but this is not just a story of His action thousands of years ago.  Christ Jesus has taken you by the hand.  He took you by the hand when He washed you in the waters of Holy Baptism – declared you to be His own, His son, His daughter, declared that you were clean of all of your sin, of every spot and blemish.  He stepped into your life, when you were stuck in a world of death and decay, and He said to you, “No, you will live, you will be mine forever, you are forgiven.”  And He continues to tell you this, over and over and over.  The world around you mocks – He tells you that you are forgiven.  The world around you sees nothing but death – He tells you that you have life now, that even if you die you will live, for He is your life.  The world thinks and lives only for the here and now – He says, “Come to my Supper, have a taste now of the heavenly feast, join in even now with the Angels and Archangels and all the Company of heaven.”  And all of this, it’s all points to yet another truth.  He shall come again.  The Bridegroom will return.  The time of sorrow, of fasting, of struggles in and against this world, that will be done away with – and we will have nothing but joy before our eyes.  That is our hope, that is the promise that Christ Jesus has made to you.  You will live with Him for all eternity, for He is your God, He is the God who has claimed you as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He sustains you through His Word, even until He comes again.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sin is appealing

Sin is appealing.

Seriously, sin is appealing.  Oh, to be sure, not every specific flavor of sin is appealing to everyone, but, as a rule of thumb, sin is appealing.  People sin because at the time, in the moment, it seems like a good idea.  People sin because it's something they like.

You have your own sins that you like - that appeal to you, that call out to you, that tempt you.

Remember this when dealing with other people, especially people who find sins appealing that you find disgusting.  They don't go "ewww" when they think about it... it seems rather enticing, even if there is guilt and shame there.

You aren't going to out appeal sin - you aren't going to make goodness somehow seem better -- and you certainly aren't going to convince someone that their pet sins are "icky".  What you can do is point out that it is wrong, and the honest, simple truth that we as fallen human beings often want things that are wrong or bad for us.

Don't try to get people to not want to do a specific sin -- rather, show them that you yourself struggle against things which you know yourself are bad for you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Same Old New Normal

I think the word "Normal" is one of the strangest words we have.  It's the word that is used to describe how things are, how things ought to be, what we see, what we think we ought to see.  It is that word that gets used both to describe reality and also efforts to shift current trends - we establish the new normal.

The best use of the phrase "the new normal" I ever heard was in regards to grieving.  You never "get over it" - you just adapt to the "new normal".  Sin and death have hit your life - and we deal.

Then, of course, there is the usage that puts much fear and anger into those of us who tend to be traditional -- the "new normal" as the victory cry of change and moral decay.  Well, living together before marriage is just "the new normal"... statistically that is true.  Or there is that creative, permissive new normal -- same sex marriage.  Again, a "new normal" in response to sin... but not adapting to its horror, but a cry for accomodation.

In reality, all of this - mourning, grief, shifts in cultural mores -- there's nothing new about it.  It's all the same old situation normal in this fallen world.

Seriously - when is the glorious golden moral age which we would point to and say, "ah, yes, they were moral then!"?  There isn't one.  In every day and in every age folks have decried the declining morals of the people -- the only difference is what displays that decline.

Because... we are fallen.  We are sinful people living in a sinful world, and the normal situation is to see more and more sin (remember, that's what the nomos, the Law does -- it reveals sin).

So thus, I will not get too worked up over moral decay -- may as well get worked up over the fact that there are less hours of daylight in November than in June (at least up in the Northern Hemisphere).  That's just the tilt of the world.

And our response to sin and decay is the same as it always has been -- not some vainglorious rear guard action, but to proclaim the destruction of sin and the doom of death and decay -- to proclaim Christ and Him Crucified.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What Defiles a Person

"And He called the people to Him and said to them, 'Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.'"  Matthew 15:10-11

There are two wondrous responses to this statement of Christ.  First, the disciples ask Jesus, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?"  Second, the disciples say, "Explain the parable to us."

Here Christ Jesus stands, having just been yelled at for not making His disciples do the ritual handwashing, having just condemned following vain traditions of men, and when He speaks to what it is that defiles, that ruins a person, He points inside man. 

And the disciples don't get it.  First they worry about the reaction of the "Good folk" -- the folk who make sure nothing bad ever touches them.  Jesus dismisses them.  Then they ask Jesus to explain the... parable?  What... parable?  Surely Jesus, surely there has to be some other hidden, obscure point to this!

"Are you also still without understanding?  Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person.  But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone."

Don't you get it, guys?  Righteousness, holiness - it's not a matter of a checklist of doing a bunch of outward acts, it's not a matter of jumping through the right holy hoops.  It is a matter of the heart, a matter of motivation.

And in this... our hearts are corrupt.  We are sinners - as we sing, "Our flesh has not those pure desires, the spirit of the Law requires, and lost is our condition."

This is why, over and over, instead of focusing on *what* I can or cannot do, I want to look at *why* something is done.  It's not the outward act that is the problem - it's the why.  If your why is wrong, if you have not love - even giving up your body to be burned gains nothing.

This is why we cannot judge -- we do not see the heart, we cannot see what really defiles.  Oh, we can see wickedness, but that really isn't that big of a deal.  It sees nothing on the inside - no doctor would give a clean bill of health to a man just by looking at him from a distance, nor does an outward aliment tell all about the man's condition.

But how, how then can I know that I do right, that I am not defiled!

The answer is this: you are defiled, for you are a sinner, and everything you do is filled with sin.  And no outward behavior, no discipline, no force of will, no holding to any code of behavior will change that.  That is all a false and misleading dream.  The Law is not your hope, it is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light.  Your task is useless and in vain, your guilt is ever increasing.  The guileful heart will not be purified by your deeds.  My works, even if I gaze upon the law lovingly, no peace will ever bring.

But Christ, He comes, and He brings forgiveness.  Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Eh, forget typing, let's just sing.

5. Yet as the Law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and hath God's anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He hath for us the Law obeyed
And thus the Father's vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

6. Since Christ hath full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Thy grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Thy death is now my life indeed,
For Thou hast paid my ransom.

7. Let me not doubt, but trust in Thee,
Thy Word cannot be broken;
Thy call rings out, "Come unto Me!"
No falsehood hast Thou spoken.
Baptized into Thy precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.

8. The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes men conscience-stricken;
The Gospel then doth enter in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.

9. Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
Yet faith alone doth justify,
Works serve thy neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.

10. All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God that saved us by His grace,-
All glory to His merit!
O Triune God in heaven above,
Who hast revealed Thy saving love,
Thy blessed name be hallowed.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Trinity 23

Trinity 23 – November 11th, 2012 – Matthew 22:15-22


In the Name of Christ Jesus +

          Once again, another trap for Jesus.  That is what we see in our Gospel lesson, another trap set for Jesus in order to make Him look bad, to make people dislike Him.  And the would-be trap setters lay it on thick – “Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for You are not swayed by appearances.”  That’s probably the nicest thing they’ve said about Jesus – but they are setting Him up.  You don’t care what people think, do You – then let us make You answer an question with an unpopular answer.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  That doesn’t seem like that hard of a question, does it?  But remember where Jesus is.  He is a Jew is Jerusalem, and Israel is a conquered nation.  The people in Jerusalem would look on the Romans roughly the way you would have looked upon the Russians 30 years ago if they had somehow conquered the US – hatred might be too strong of a word but only just slightly.  Besides, the children of Abraham were God’s own chosen people – they shouldn’t be a victim of conquest – God surely wouldn’t want that.  So what are you going to do, Jesus – incite rebellion and tell people not to pay taxes – or are you going to say, yes, we must pay taxes to these cruel occupiers and alienate all the people?

          Jesus’ answer is familiar.  “Show me the coin for the tax.”  And they brought Him a denarius.  And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They said, “Caesar’s.”  Then He said to them, “Therefore render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”   Jesus answers the question justly – you pay tax.  Sorry, that is the duty of a person living in a country – to pay the taxes that country has established, whether you like it or not.  But Jesus also defuses any complaints He might hear about this – look at the coin – it has an image of Caesar on it!  It’s his money – you’re living with his coinage and his laws – that means you live with his taxes.  You don’t want to pay taxes, give up the cash.

          But Jesus adds another part to this – He doesn’t make it just about paying taxes.  Render unto God the things that are God’s.  The things that are God’s.  So, what in your life, is God’s?  What in your life belongs to God?  An hour on Sunday morning if you aren’t too busy, maybe a few prayers before meals and before bedtime?  2, 3 hours out of the 168 in a week?  Is that what you should rightly give God?  Or maybe Jesus is talking about giving money to God – talking about what you put in the plate.  How much do you give to God, how much goes to the support and maintenance of this congregation?  Is Jesus here cracking the whip, smacking it down upon your heads – you people need to do more!  Shall this be a fire and brimstone sermon where we sit here and squirm for 15 minutes while we list all the ways in which we fall short?

          No.  It’s easy to look at this phrase – render unto God the things that are God’s with such a harsh, law focused lens.  What do I have to give to God?  What kickback does the big guy in the sky demand before blessings stop coming my way – what’s the tax on Christians that we have pony up?  That’s a common way of thinking – that’s why even though it is nowhere commanded in the New Testament, we like the concept of tithing – 10%, nice and simple, concrete, easy to use.  It’s like a Divine Flat Tax. . . what do I have to give, just spell it out in black and white so I can do it and forget about it.  That’s not the most amazing thing in the passage, though.  It’s not about “you give.”  Render unto God the things that are. . . whose?  It doesn’t say render unto God the things that are yours. . . it says render unto God the things that are God’s.

          Caesar minted those coins – let him have his tax that pays for the roads you like.  Those coins are Caesar’s ballpark, let him play there.  Now, what is God’s.  What is it that God has provided for you?  How about we sum it up in a simple phrase – daily bread.  Pastor, what do you mean precisely by daily bread?  Let us let Luther answer us from the catechism – Daily Bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.  My favorite part of that list is the last part – “and the like.”  And the like?  What did he leave out of the list?  I think he pretty much nailed everything there – everything that there is.  He listed off my stuff, my family, my health, the world around me.  What has God provided for you – everything.
          And I bring up daily bread because we all know where that phrase comes from.  What do we pray in the Lord’s Prayer?  Do we pray, “I thank you God that I have earned my daily bread today”?  Do we vow, “Lord, I’ll give you a slice of my daily bread that I worked for”?  No, it is much simpler, much more accurate.  Give, give us this day our daily bread. You realize what this means? Render unto God what is God’s – everything that you have, all that you are, that is what is God’s.  When you pray the Lord’s Prayer you aren’t simply asking God for blessings, but you are declaring, you are saying that all that you have indeed comes from God, that all the blessings you have – and indeed, not just the blessings, but your life, your life itself belongs to God.

          This is the truth that should shape your entire life.  This is what Paul means in Romans when he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  What is God’s?  A few hours a week?  What you happen to put in the plate or donate to the Church?  No – as you are entirely God’s you are entirely His.  Too often we get this view Christianity that is limited – that is confined to what do in these four walls and what we give to see that they stand and Word is preached within them.  That’s part, but that’s not it.  You are living sacrifices – and everything that you do, everywhere you go is to be a sacrifice, is to be rendered unto God.  But dear friends, realize the truth – that this is not a burden, oh, I have to do everything for God – but rather a description of who you are.  This is not demanding more service to God but reminding you that everything that you do in faith is in fact a service to God.  Do you work?  Did not God give you the talents that you use to work, and did He not provide you an employer, or fields to work?  Then render your service to God and do your work.  Do you show love to your neighbor?  Did not God put that neighbor into your life?  Then render your service to God and show love to that neighbor.  Do you care for your family?  Did not God give you that family – then render your service to God and care for your family. 

          This really drives at a doctrine that we call “vocation” – the idea that we as individuals have all been called – vocated – to various jobs or callings, that God has put us into the place we are in life – and as we live our lives, trusting in God and His mercy, we live lives of service.  Everything in your life, everything that you do in faith is an act of service to God.  That is what “Christian living” really is – that you with your life do that which He has given you to do.  That’s different for each and every one of us – what God has given us to do, whom we are called to care for and love and in what way.  The blessings He has given each of us are different – and so we live out our lives recognizing this truth and rendering our lives in His service – by living them in faith and showing love.  You are a forgiven child of God, redeemed by Christ Jesus – everything that you are is from God – and God puts you to use in showing mercy and forgiveness to others.
          Render unto God what is God’s.  That dear friends should not be viewed as a burden – that should not fill you with thoughts of all the extra hard things you have to do.  No – that is a reminder of who you are, and to whom you belong.  And indeed, this is not just a matter of stuff, things for this world – but again, in the Catechism what do we say of Christ Jesus – that he has “redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”  You are God’s – for He has created you and given you all blessings and Christ Jesus has redeemed you from all of your sins.  This is the truth that we see everything in our lives through – that life is more than simply what we have to do but rather it is nothing but delighting in and using rightly God’s own blessings which He has given us.  God grant that we be faithful stewards of His blessings.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.   

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Purpose of Vocation

A few weeks ago Dr. Veith wrote an article about why we work. You may find his article here

Of note is his brief summation: The New York Times published an online column arguing that the purpose of work is leisure.  (We work for the sake of the weekend; we have a career so we can retire; we try to amass wealth so we can stop working.)  That is also the view of Aristotle (we need to leisure to fully exercise our intellects) and of medieval Catholicism (the contemplative life is more spiritual than the active life).  Luther’s doctrine of vocation, by contrast, challenged this view, teaching that the purpose of work in all vocations is to love and serve one’s neighbor.  

The point is this -- work is not to be focused on the temporal benefits and blessings it provides, but rather upon the neighbor.  Granted, leisure is a fine thing, even being able to retire and then volunteer or help out with the grandkids - a fantastic blessing.  However, that is not the point of work - the point of work, the point of vocation is to serve the neighbor -- temporal blessings that come are secondary.

Now, let us apply this not to work, but to the vocation of being a parent.  If God makes one a parent, the purpose of that vocation (over and above any temporal blessings it brings) is precisely to serve the children, to be parents to them, to raise them in the fear of the Lord, to care for them.

Now, what have we done if we look at our Children as an economic resource for the future?  While this is true (lots of kids would keep Social Security going longer, we need a bigger work force)... is that the point, or have we suddenly looked not at how we serve our children, but what we can get from them?  If we look at them as the source of economic strength or political strength, are we not focusing on how we want them to serve us rather than how we are called to serve them?

Children are indeed a blessing - but not a blessing as our sinful flesh views blessing.  Our flesh views blessing in terms of what pleasure or benefit we get out of it.  That is not how children are to be thought of as blessings.  Children are blessings because when given, God has given a new person to serve, a new vocation, a new way to take up your own cross and serve God, a new way to pour out your own life as living sacrifices for your neighbor.  They are blessings, even if they drive you to be poor in spirit or mourn, even when their squabbling forces you to play the peacemaker.

Or, to twist around a Kennedy quote - ask not what your children can do for you, but what you can do for your children.

(P.S.  Or another image -- while it may be true that if your congregation had more members there would be more money, the congregation's bottom line is a lousy motivation to start an "Evangelism" project.  Go love your neighbor and serve them -- don't seek new people to serve you.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Having Kids is Good. Duh.

Let me reiterate something so that there is clarity.

1.  Having kids is good.  Seriously - if you have 10 and want more, God bless you.

I mean that with all sincerity.  I have no problem with people who have lots of kids and pray that you raise them to be godly.

2.  What I have a problem with is the idea that not having a ton of kids is *fundamentally* ungodly or immoral.  While there may be very selfish, evil reasons one might use birth control, I do not hold that every use would be thereby immoral.

The above should be old hat, well familiar positions to anyone who has read this blog.

Let me put forth a new contention.

3.  To encourage children, not because they are a blessing, but rather so as to ensure that we acquire political or monetary power is... not a biblical reason to enjoin people towards reproduction.  Indeed, instead of encouraging people to serve their children, it treats children as objects which we will use to our own ends.  It's backwards.

So, in conclusion - if you want to have lots of kids - may God bless you greatly!  Do not let anyone's foolish scorn dissuade you!  However, let us not treat children merely as pawns in political games.

Words of Command, Words of Blessing

We as Lutherans need to read Luther on the Lord's Supper more often.  I think one of the most wondrous things about Luther was that he would not let the Supper become a mere command -- he would not answer the question "how often does a person *have* to go to the Supper" -- he wouldn't answer it.  The closest he came was along the lines of saying that if you don't show up at least 4 times a year, you should wonder if you are still a Christian -- but he would give no mandate, no command.

Why?  Because the Supper is a blessing. 

Now, one could very easily go off on a Law based tangent -- oh, you have to eat this often... one could then invent some man made standard and say, "ah, if you do this, then your use of the Supper is God pleasing."  But that is just ego getting in the way -- the Supper is a blessing for the forgiveness of sins, not a holy hoop to jump through in order to prove to God that you really are loyal to Him.

Sinful man wants to change God's words of blessings into words of command - we want to import a "threat" -- do this... or else!  Which again, is totally backwards.  Luther didn't merely use the terms "Law and Gospel" - he also used "threats and promises" -- that there are the times where God uses Law, where he threatens punishment for disobedience -- and then there are the times where God simply gives promises and blessings and all that is good.

So -- what does it say if you take a Promise of God... and then import a threat?

What if God promises forgiveness... and you add an "or else"?

What if God says He will bless you... and you decide to add an "or else"?

What has happened is you have radically confused Law and Gospel -- and you've taken comfort and turn it into self-serving pride and self-love.

Let God's promises remain His promises, free and full of His love to you.

(And yes, Rev. Bill Cwirla pointing out in the previous post that "Be fruitful and multiply" is a blessing and not a commandment got me thinking this way...)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Unpopular, Gadflyish Post

When I started this blog, I said that I would be a Gadfly buzzing around the ears of Confessional Lutheranism.  That I would say things that are unpopular and cut against the grain.  Time for another one.

There is something of an air of idolatry about some of the the whole recent focus on "be fruitful and multiply" kick. The question I ask is... why? Why the push? Is it so that you might abound in love? Is it so that you might have children to love and care for, and indeed let your children have siblings to rejoice with?

No. It's so that we can have political power. It's so that the Institutional Church will look bigger.

How is this not idolatry? How is this not fearing the world around us, loving ourselves, and trusting in the power of our sperm and wombs rather than God?
 There are many things wrong with how American Culture views children.  Abortion is so widespread because we do view children with fear, as a curse, not a blessing.  And it's one thing if you want to argue against this.  It's another thing if you argue against that so hard that you turn blessings from God into a law that you MUST strive for (I'd contend that's bad, legalistic theology, but hey, swinging into a bit of legalism in opposition to people abusing freedom, that's totally understandable).  But then to go beyond that and start promoting kids... not because they are blessings, not even because you think God's Law DEMANDS it... but to outnumber and coerce folks?  To bring in more funds for the Church down the line?
 So, instead of talking patiently and lovingly with our neighbor, the plan is just out breed them?
"Well, Eric, we are just dealing with Demographic realities here!"  Well, ponder this.  Wasn't David just trying to deal with "Demographic" realities when he did his census - you know, the one that ticked off God?  Why does it tick off God?  Because it puts trust in our own strength or our own plans rather than in God.
 You remember all that rhetoric you used against the "Church Growth Crowd" -- Apply it to yourself now.
This is what sinful man does.  He does not let God's blessings be blessings for his neighbor.  Instead, he wishes to use them to control and berate the neighbor.  Lord have mercy upon us -- and upon us 25 years from now when we have a generation of Lutheran Jerks who think its their god-given task to bully people to salvation and moral living.
 Hopefully that "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him..." section of the Catechism will sink in with them a bit better than it has with our generation!

A Theological-Historical Lesson

Again, for those of you who are lamenting how terrible elections were for the Church, consider:

~2000 B.C.  Abraham is a stranger in Cannan where his closest "allies" are Sodom and Gamorrah.

~1650-1450 B.C.  Israel is enslaved in Egypt.

1450-1000 B.C.  Every two generations or so, Israel morally and theologically collapses into vice and pagan worship and is repeatedly conquered.

900-586 B.C.  Horrid political division, a majority of wicked kings, prophets are killed.

586-538 B.C.  Exile.

~330 B.C.  Conquered by Alexander and consigned to Greek interferences.

170s B.C.  Go read Maccabees.

63 BC - Conquered by Rome

~30 AD - Jesus put to death.

30-100 AD - Church attacked and scattered.  Turned to torches in Rome.

100-300 AD - Intermittent persecution all the time.

300-400 AD - Christianity is legalized... and heretics constantly hound the faithful, even with the writing of the Nicene Creed.

410-450 AD - Barbarians sack and then destroy Rome, gutting civil order and the population of the West for hundreds of years.

500-1000 AD - Constant fights against pagans -- collapse of Asia Christian communities. 

600+ AD - Rise of Islam - Christianity in Palestine, North Africa, and eventually Asia Minor is almost wiped out.  The cradle of Christianity is gone.

1000-1500 AD - Division of the Church into East and West, Brutal fights with Islam, brutal internal fights.

1500-1650 AD - Reformation and Inter-Christian Warfare all over Europe.

1650+ AD - Increased Missionwork throughout the world, with constant persecution.

1800 + AD - the Decline of Christianity in Europe begins in earnest.

Today - Thousands are killed for the faith in Africa and Asia. 

Today in the US - We have freedom of religion, do not get killed.  We only get mocked a little on the TV and are surrounded by not-so-moral law.  And have been for 200 years. 

Historically speaking - relax American Christians, you have nothing to complain about.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Law vs. Morals

(Finally I think I am over the stomach bug -- and me bride and me son might be too)

So this morning I see much hand wringing and lamenting.  I see people decrying the decline of civilization, the fall of democracy, the end of all that is good, the impending chastisement of God upon our nation (or even that President Obama *is* the chastisement from God upon our nation). 

Politically speaking -- this annoys me, because nationally speaking... nothing really changed.  Split Congress, Democrat President.  The last 2 years will be the next 2 years -- we endured, and we will endure.  There were some interesting things on the state level -- two states legalized marijuana, two (or three - although I think the third ratified what was already done) added gay marriage.  Those are bigger social/moral issues.  (Although no one notes that Oklahoma overturned Affirmative Action)

But let's consider this from a theological angle.  What does any election ever really change for the Christian.  An election took place -- is Christ no longer raised from the dead?  A law was passed -- am I consigned to hell now?  No - Christ is still risen from the dead, and so shall you.

"But, but, but" cries the moralist, "they are going to destroy morality with their passing of the abortion laws and the gay marriage!"

No.  They aren't.  Bad law does not destroy morals.  Oh, they might undermine them, they might make it easier for others to ignore them... but if say, gay marriage is legal in a state... how does that really impact morality?  How does that impact a Christian who wishes to live according to the commands of God?

It doesn't. 

We've had abortion on demand for almost 40 years now -- it hasn't destroyed right and wrong.  Show forth love.

We give too much credence to the government (and place too much fear, love, and trust there) - and I think a lot of it is because we, as sinful human beings want to be in charge.  We want to be able to tell other people what to do -- and if we are bossing them around to make them do something "good" then our ego trips must be God pleasing.  No.  Not really.

The task before you this morning is the same as it has been every morning - You are forgiven, O Sinner - now strive to beat down your sinful flesh and show love to God and to neighbor.  Confess and receive gifts from God.

Will political choices impact our lives - sure.  But they do not impact God, nor His promises to us.  We have not heard the death knell of morality - maybe our culture (but I think that's jumping the gun a bit... or well behind the curve and we should place that back at the New Deal).  Life in this fallen world for redeemed sinners goes on, all thanks be to God who loves us!