Tuesday, July 31, 2007
But when I examine so much of the rhetoric, it isn't about efficiency, or what is best for the family - the rhetoric is about self-fulfillment, about being allowed to reach one's potential. And it struck me what gets me about that. It's a lack of understanding that you are part of something bigger than yourself (and the fact that most feminist arguments seem to stem from a socialist stripe of analysis, viewing money as the only real power, hence completely and innaccurately downplaying the influence a stay at home parent (mom or dad) has upon the family).
Life isn't about reaching your full potential. Life isn't about finding fulfillment. Life is about living for the sake of your neighbor - indeed, realizing that you are part of something bigger than yourself. I am going to be getting hitched. I will be part of a new family. That family is bigger, is more important than me as an individual.
Of course, it's not just the feminists who forget this. They are a reaction - and the horror tales they point to are merely examples of men who have forgotten that they belong to something bigger than themselves. Of course, that's what all sin ultimately is - incurvatus se - sin claiming it's all about me. And thus, no one does his or her duty - or to make it sound more scriptural, and everyone does what is right in their own eyes. Woe is us, woe is us.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Be prepared for one of two things. Over the course of the week, either I will present something here that is profound and earth shattering, or I will do things that are of no point or consequence.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
There are some sermons that are quite easy to write – where the words just flow, and the text seems so open and clear. And then there are some sermons that are hard to write, where it is a struggle, and if you happened upon me while I was working on it, you would find me quite grumpy. And then, then today, this sermon is one I wish I didn’t have to write. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” I wish I didn’t have to preach a sermon on this topic – I wish as your pastor that I didn’t have to worry about false prophets, that I never had to contend with false teachers – I wish I could send you out those doors into the world without a thought about what vile, faith destroying junk you will hear out there, for I know that you all have enough on your plate. But my wishes, my desires do not create reality – and our old Satanic foe still, even now, means deadly woe. I’m sad to say it, but I guess even you yourselves have seen him at work – have seen people fall, seduced away by false preachers who leave them shattered and broken. So this text must be preached – beware of false prophets.
So, how do we know a false prophet? Would that it would be easy – that we could simply listen to see if the name of Jesus is mentioned – but our Lord says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Just because someone claims to be teaching or preaching about Christ doesn’t mean he is. There are false, false prophets out there, who blaspheme our Lord’s holy name and lead people astray. So, how are we to know? Hear what our Lord says. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? We will know them by their fruits – we will see, we will hear what they produce, and that is how we will know if they are false or not.
So what does this mean? Do we listen to the people who seem nice, do nice things? Do we listen to the preacher who has the biggest smile, who has the best handshake? No, for hear how our Lord describes what He will say to these accursed false prophets on the final day! “On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and do many mighty works in Your Name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” When our Lord talks about knowing a tree by its fruit, He isn’t just talking about things that look nice. Jesus isn’t talking about things that seem impressive to the eye. Look at the wonders we’ve done, we’ve even cast out demons in Your name – still a false prophet. How are we to know then, by what fruit will we tell a false teacher? How do we discern?
Did you hear the last phrase of our Lord? “you workers of lawlessness.” Lawlessness. Working against the Law. Lawlessness – those who are not justified. And now, dear friends, we see what it is that we need to be wary of. Now we can see and understand what it is we are to watch for. Simple works, they don’t cut it. Being nice doesn’t cut it. What makes a Christian a Christian is that as Christians we are no longer lawless –that we are Justified by Christ Jesus, that we have been declared righteous by God, and that we delight in the fact that Jesus Christ is the one who fulfilled the Law in our place. And so now dear friends, listen, and hear how you mark out false prophets, how to know if their tongues are forked or not. Listen, dear friends, to how they preach the Law and how they preach the Gospel – and if either is erring or lacking, stop up your ears and flee from them.
False prophets misuse the Law of God. When we speak about the Law, dear friends, this refers to anything that has to do with what we do. If it’s about what you do, what you ought to do, what you should do – it’s Law. The Law deals with our behavior, what humans do. And the Law always, always condemns us. There is never a time when we can say, “Finally, I have done what God commands in His Law – finally I am a good Christian.” We cannot be like the young man in Scripture who looks at the commandments and boasts, “All these I have done from my youth.” We know that we sin, we know that we fall short, we know that we err. The Christian life is to be one of constant and continual repentance, where we constantly and repeatedly confess our sins and also struggle against our sinful nature which desires more and more to sin.
Dear friends, if you hear preaching or teaching in the world, if you hear the radio or tv preacher, if you read the so-called Christian book that doesn’t treat God’s law in this way – avoid it. The point of the Law isn’t that you are better than your neighbor. The point of the Law isn’t that if you follow these 8 easy steps you can ensure God’s blessings. The point of the Law isn’t your best life now. Is the Law of God good and wise? Yes – I even have been known to make you sing the old hymn with that title. If we live our life in accord with God’s law, will our lives be smoother? To a certain extent, yes – if I don’t lie, I don’t have to clean up the messes that come from lying. But Christianity is not simply a set of rules to follow, not a moral code to a good time on earth. The Christian faith is about life and salvation – and understanding that we of our own strength have no life and salvation. The Law, when it is preached, must always hit you, hit you right here (on the chest, on the heart) – the Law must convict you of your own sin. Otherwise it is not being preached rightly. And if it’s not being preached rightly, it is being preached falsely, to sell you something, to make God simply a giant goodie dispenser in the sky, to make you confident in yourself and what you do – and that’s the path to hell. Listen to how people preach the Law – and if it doesn’t condemn you, be wary of what they will be preaching.
Also, dear friends, false prophets misuse the Gospel. Actually, they fail to preach the Gospel, that’s a more accurate way to say it – and instead of preaching Christ and Him Crucified, they give something else, they say Lord, Lord, but give nothing. The Gospel is this – that Christ died for you. Given and shed, for you. The Gospel is this – that Christ Jesus does what is necessary for your salvation, and then gives this salvation to you freely, freely forgiving your sins, freely gifting you with faith, freely giving you all that you need to be with Him for eternity in heaven. Anything, any teaching which undermines this Gospel, is of Satan. If that sounds harsh, let me read what Paul writes to the Galatians, who had been listening to false prophets: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Let him be accursed. Anathema in the Greek. Let him be consigned to hell, let him be damned. This is serious, a serious matter – for Satan seeks to lead you astray. Listen to what is preached, and if it is not Christ and Him Crucified, then have nothing to do with it – for false doctrine kills, and is not to be tolerated.
And this is why, dear friends, why the Lutheran Church has put such a focus on teaching. This is why we have confirmation class – it’s not just a hoop to jump through before communing but that we might learn what true doctrine is so that we can avoid the bad. That’s why I harp on the Small Catechism, so that when you are out in the world and hear false prophets, you will know and remember the truth. That’s why you are to teach your children. That’s why we confess the Apostles or Nicene Creed each week – so we are reminded of what we are to be listening for. In all things, we are to see that we avoid false prophets.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” This is the will of Your Father who is heaven – that you repent of your sin and seek Christ’s forgiveness. That you cry out to Him, create in me a clean heart, O God. That you delight in the salvation which He sets forth before all people – the light of the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel – that in all times and in all places and in all things, we repent of our sin and cling to Christ Crucified, that we be determined to know nothing other than Christ and Him Crucified. This faith God gives to you by the working of His Word and the power of His Holy Spirit. Hold fast to Christ, be strengthened by the preaching of His Pure Word and His Sacraments given to you, and by His might, flee false prophets and all who would lead you astray. Amen.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Of all the titles for the Office of the Public Ministry, I like "Pastor" the best - for I believe it is the most accurate. Father? Well, not quite. I've never had the right to bend a parishoner over my knee, or ground them. Fathers have a lot of kingdom of the left power that I don't. Reverend? Well, that's how I officially sign stuff - but is my relationship to my people defined by the fact that I am revered? That I ought to be revered on the basis of my office? There are better titles. Preacher? Well, that's not too bad. . . and preaching is the main thing I do - but what about teaching? Rabbi would be more accurate than preacher. Or baptizing? Preacher just doesn't cover it.
But Pastor - Pastor does. "Shepherd" is a great word - it describes in a figurative way everything that I am to do. I stand in the place and stead of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and my job is to lead the people he places into my care. I am to see that they are fed on good food, I am to see that they lay down where they ought. I am to protect them against false prophets who would snatch them away. So far, so good.
But here is where the term Pastor is most appropriate. What about when the sheep. . . aren't that wonderful to me. As a Father, my job is to discipline an erring child (I'll give you something to cry about). As a Reverend, my job is to see that my respect is upheld. As a Preacher, my job is to. . . well, preach. . . or start a new church on the corner. But as a Pastor - that hits the nail. I am not to take offense - for this is what happens with sheep. Indeed, I am to go after the wandering sheep and try my best to return it to the fold.
"Pastor" is a great image for what we do. Maybe we should abandon the Latin and just start calling ourselves "Shepherds" - of course, that's just the Firefly fan in me (huh, must be Sci-Fi Friday - hmmm. . . no, saying we are Wookies to Jesus' Han doesn't work) - just because no one knows what Pastor means. It sounds smarmy, and I used to laugh when people said it - but our job really is to love our people - and not bear grudges against them. Now, it isn't love as the world loves - but it is selfless and self-giving -- as a Shepherd cares for the sheep and leads them gently, even when they go astray, so the Pastor.
Who are you? You are a Pastor.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
What we as Pastors must remember is that the same problem holds true in the Church. I'm sure we could speak quickly to times when desire causes ruffles in the church - be it the stereotypical argument over the color of the carpet, people constantly wanting their own way with minutia - all the things that tend to make the Pastoral Office seem like it is actually the Complaint Office.
However, let us remember that the bug of desire pricks us as well. How often are we ourselves unsatisfied with this little thing or that little point about our congregation? How often do we want to make changes that we say are "better" when we really mean things that we prefer and understand - irregardless of what our people know or understand? How many brothers do you know who seem to be simply waiting for their next, "better" call? Indeed, we can lust after the perfect liturgical service, the perfect congregation, even the perfect synod - and put a pious shine to our desires that would have made the Pharisees blush.
Beat down your own desire, oh preacher! Every action you make in your office, every word you speak is to be for the benefit of the sheep you serve! Your desires confuse that, for desires are always seeking to serve the self, are the definition of incurvatus se. The same advice you give your people, take yourself. You are where God has placed you to serve - and He has indeed placed you there to serve His sheep, not yourself. Desire is indeed one of the worst things in the world.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
In the Name of Christ Jesus +
In our Gospel text, Jesus shows, Jesus demonstrates one of the great virtutes, one of the wonderful feelings a Christian ought to have, our Lord indeed demonstrates how we as Christians ought to think, for we are told in verse two that Jesus says, “I have compassion upon the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” There Jesus is, He teaches, He preaches, and as He looks out over the crowd, He sees them, worn and tired from the work of listening, from the work of learning of God and His Word and His Will, and Jesus has compassion upon these people.
Dear friends, I would sumbit for your consideration this morning, that Compassion is a virtue that is sadly all too lacking in the world today. Compassion, to have passion with, to feel what another is feeling, to share in their burdens. Our world can be a rather indifferent place, where neighbor cares not for what happens to neighbor, where rather than living in unity we live only for ourselves. Indeed, how hard do any of you have to think to find an example where not only was compassion not shown to a neighbor, but one person steals and cheats and robs another neighbor blind. I was down in Houston this past week – how many dastardly, unloving things were reported even in the Enid newspaper while I was gone? There is a lack of compassion.
Dear friends, we see from Christ Jesus our Lord that we are to have compassion – that our thoughts and feelings and actions are to be focused upon the benefit of our neighbor. We human beings are meant, were created to work together and for each other's benefit. That is how we were created to be in the Garden, Adam to care for Eve and Eve to be a helpmeet for Adam. Think of how often Scripture praises relationships where people aid one another – the friendship of David and Jonathan, the missionary team of Paul and Barnabas, the trio of Peter and James and John – all working together, all caring for each other, all paying attention to the other's need. In other words, all having compassion upon each other. How wonderful it is when brothers dwell together in peace. Indeed, that is when compassion is there.
And this morning we have the highest example of compassion set before us – Christ Jesus our Lord. Unlike Eve who gave the fruit of death to Adam, or Adam who blamed Eve to try to save his own skin, Jesus shows true compassion. And so, in seeing our Lord's Compassion, seeing the importance which Jesus places upon compassion, let us examine ourselves. In many ways you do well here when dealing with compassion. In my three years we have seen quite a few disasters – and when I have asked that you provide aid, for Katrina, for Tsunamis, for Greensburg – you have, and I commend you. When asked to provide for new programs, you have. Our Rock program continues – and so I commend you. When asked for your help, volunteers arrive – and so I commend you. But, for a moment, let us compare ourselves to Christ – compare ourselves to the love and compassion which He shows, and examine ourselves in light of Him.
Why does Jesus show compassion? Is it because He is asked? Does Jesus desire to feed those people because one of them stands up and says, “Come on Jesus, we are hungry here!” No, Jesus sees them and has compassion. His thoughts are upon their needs. Jesus' compassion is not simply a reaction, not a response to a question that is asked Him – but rather Jesus seeks out ways in which to show love, His thoughts are upon how He can show love to His neighbor. Indeed, dear friends, that is what compassion is. And this compassion, the compassion that looks upon one's neighbor, whoever this neighbor might be, compassion that seeks the neighbor’s good – how often is that lacking? When we compare our compassion to the compassion that Christ shows, we see that ours falls short, falls short of His glory, for indeed we are sinful beings. Suppose you see someone speaking Spanish. Do you marvel at how hard and difficult it must be to move and try to support your family in a place where a strange language is spoken – or do you think, “Well, why don't they learn English?” When your neighbor suffers some misfortune – rather than desiring to share in their sufferings and aid them, do you not sometimes think, “Well, I would have planned better, I wouldn't have done that!” When there are disagreements, do you spend more time trying to have compassion and understanding why the other person does what they do, wants what they want, or do your thoughts jump to your own desires and what you like?
Dear friends – the heart, the essence of compassion – is putting the desires and wants and needs of your neighbor above your own. And that is where we are lacking. That is where we will always be lacking, to a certain extent, for our flesh has not those pure desires the spirit of the Law requires, and lost is our condition. That is what it is to sin! All too often when we think of sin we think simply of doing bad things – we pay attention to the mere actions – where as God would have us tend to the corrupt heart that desires and brings forth sin. Create in me a clean heart – a heart that is clean, a heart that has compassion and feels my neighbor's suffering, that sees their condition without spite or hatred but only love and pity. When you do something wrong – that's just a symptom, a symptom of a heart in need of cleansing – a heart that doesn't show compassion like it should. Our every thought before we act should be, “How can I best show love to my neighbor,” for that is the command that we have from Christ.
“I have compassion upon the crowd.” In our text, we see Jesus have compassion. And so He acts. And so Jesus feeds them. By means of a mighty miracle, by means of Christ Jesus using His Almighty power, He provides for the people there. And so we see, we are reminded that Jesus is indeed God Almighty – that He and the Father are One – that when we speak of Jesus we speak not of just some guy, but of God Himself. Remember this, dear friends, when you are talking to friends and neighbors who don't believe or whose faith may be weak – point them to Christ's miracles – see what He does – He is indeed God. When you hear the idea that Jesus isn't really God, point to this miracle and the others like it.
But this morning, I'm not going to go into detail examining the fact that Jesus feeds these 4000 thousand people. It was wonderful – but rather than looking at the wonders that those people experienced then, this morning, ponder with me the wonder that you receive today. Dear friends, do you not know that Christ has compassion upon you. In our text, Christ beheld the hungry crowds, crowds with empty bellies, and He had compassion. Christ beholds you, sees your heart that is empty of the love that it should have, and is rather tainted and encrusted with sin – and He has compassion. He has always had compassion upon you. But God beheld my wretched state before the world's foundation, and mindful of his mercies great, He planned for my salvation. Indeed, that is why we exist – that is why God has gathered us together in His House – because He has compassion upon us. He sees us in our sin, our sin which is against Him – and His thoughts are upon what He can do to show us love. So He took upon Himself human flesh and went to the cross to win us forgiveness. He sees that we fail each other – so Christ Jesus says, “I will become Man, I will be not simply some God high above, but I will come down and be these people's Brother – and indeed I will rise again, and I will raise them to heaven be like me!”
It is not just in the past that Christ had compassion upon it – it was not just some 2000 years ago upon a Cross outside Jerusalem that Christ turned His heart to you. He does so today, He does so right now. He does so in His Word. This past week I got to see many of my friends and classmates from the Seminary. Some I hadn't seen in over 5 years. We have been scattered to all parts of the globe, scattered and sent and called for one simple reason – to preach the Word of God and to administer Christ's sacraments. Scattered to Iowa or Ohio or Alaska, scattered to New Orleans, or Russia, or Africa, people I know scattered to the four corners of the world, including here in little Lahoma, for one purpose. That Christ Jesus might be preached, preached even here in this place – so that our Lord, having compassion upon you, might give you the forgiveness of your sin, might see that your children are Baptized, might see that you receive that very Body and Blood that was crucified for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
And that's always been His plan. We receive the far greater miracle than just a earthly meal, than bread for the belly, and fish to fill the stomach. For today our Lord sends into His Church men who take bread, and giving thanks for it give it to His disciples today to eat – not to satisfy hunger, but to distribute forgiveness and life itself. Indeed, even as Jesus teaches the crowd, He is training His disciples so that there will be people to hand out Communion, to preach to all the world – and even today He calls people to be His servants to preach the Word, to continue to show His compassion. Is that not awesome – is that not beyond what our mind can hold – that God has such compassion that for over a hundred years He has sent men even here to little Lahoma so that countless sinners might be forgiven – just as He sent Peter to Antioch and Rome, and Paul to Epheseus and Galatia and Athens – just as He sent Luther to Wittenburg and Walther to Missouri – God sent Rosell and Hanusch, and Wuerfulman, all the men on that wall in the parish hall, to see that you in Lahoma are fed on His Word and have life. This is His compassion to you – that your sin is richly forgiven over and over in His House!
Dear friends, learn from Christ's compassion. Learn how you are to struggle and strive to shape your own compassion. And in the midst of your struggles to tame your sinful heart – remember, indeed receive from the hand and the mouth of Christ's own servant here, receive the forgiveness which cleanses that heart, and gives you life eternal and heaven itself. Christ Jesus has won you forgiveness upon the Cross, and He gives that forgiveness to you now, so that you might share in His resurrection for all eternity. Amen
Thursday, July 19, 2007
It looks like we all will be back together in 2009 for a Constitutional Convetion to redo the by-laws and constituion of Synod. I'm volunteering to be on whatever committees will have me. But in reality, I know that I will not make that much of a difference. This is being run and there is an agenda that is being advanced -- the exact extent I am not privy to, because I only am seeing the initial posturing now - so there can be "reasonable" retreat to an idea that would have seen horrid if merely introduced. Very skilled, and the sons of Light should learn to be so shrewd.
I saw many folks that I like and respect - I saw many with concern for what might happen to the Synod - I saw some. . . simply waiting. And over the course of it all, I remembered Luther's Hymn - "And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won, the kingdom ours remaineth."
I'm still alive. My reputation is as good as it was. I'm still getting hitched in 16 days. Even the threats I have been trained to expect and endure since my youth haven't come. I guess it was a pretty good convention.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Just another observation. I am so, so, so incredibly glad we have a congregational polity - because this way the bureacracy doesn't have to directly impact my day-to-day life in the Congregation. The Lord gives many blessings that we often overlook.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Perhaps next convention we need to get a by-law passed that declares Petersen to be "the sole, unshakable by-law changer of lutheranism."
Of note - I submitted an amendment to a floor committee on 5-01a. . . basically that would cease admissions into district lay ministry programs once SMPP goes in effect. It tightens it up. . . I'll find out if anything was done with it today.
My good friend Eric Stinnett made two good comments from the floor yesterday - one on Stem Cell Research, and a second dealing with. . . math. Yes, if there are 6 names on the ballot, and we elect up to four each, every single person can be elected by more than 50% of the people there. Well, now to go get ready.
Monday, July 16, 2007
1. Why in the world do I have to go to the McDonald's down the street for free wifi when I am staying at the Hyatt?
2. Whoever thought that the "confessionals" should do delaying tactics made a huge error. Why? You bore delegates. That ticks them off. Moreover, it wears them out, so that when you do make salient points, well, they are either too tired to pay attention or figure you are just stalling. Bored delegates simply default to the chair. Folly, absolute folly.
3. Heartening sign - as I am a positive sort of guy - The praise band rendition of "Lift High the Cross" was the quietest (in terms of congregational singing) that I had ever heard.
4. Our new 3rd VP will be a lonely man.
5. Our President, for all his faults, does run a nice meeting - and is by in large fair and not too snide (only when he gets his own time, like presidential address, not in running the meeting).
6. Life in my church goes on. So does life in your church. Carry on, teach rightly, worship rightly - and be calm. We haven't become the ALC circa 1977 yet.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Conventions do not make or break the Church. They might break a synod, but not the Church. And not my congregation. I will go and do my duty - and enjoy seeing many old friends. But this will be just one part of the long road for Lutheranism that lies ahead of us in this country.
This isn't quite a fatalist view - but rather an attempt at being moderated in terms of emotions - neither too high nor too low. Oh well, I best go off to my week long voters meeting. I think Hall was one of the ones who suggested me for this - maybe I'll beat him on my way out. And beat him three years from now if I get elected again (which I probably wouldn't mind).
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Historically - when Missouri has faced a theological disagreement, what has Missouri's solution been. You are with us or against us. Now, on many things this must be what happens - there is importance to doctrinal unity. However - our first action shouldn't be to kick out those who are wrong - but should be to teach, and teach dilligently and patiently. And in fact, if it is a matter of some weakness - to bear with it.
We didn't in the 1840s (as Rev. Cwirla reminded me) with Grabau and Loehe. You were with us, hook, line, and sinker on polity, or you were against us. There was no room for manuevering, and you were to be expelled.
We didn't in the 1880s with Ohio. Either you said Election unto faith (which is techinically more correct), or, if you refused to abandon the phrase "election in view of faith" (which not only had a long established history of usage in Lutheran Orthodoxy, but one might argue is appropriate when taking an anthropological approach to election - of course, that's perhaps not the best approach to take, but it does counter some of the errors in extreme Calvinism). If you bucked what we said, there is no room - you are gone.
This has been Missouri's approach - rather than reconcile, it is exile, rather than teaching it is castigation. In fact, if you listen to most of the Conservative folks, the idea seems to be that if we just get the right people elected things will be better - cause then they can smack down those bad people and kick them out.
I am a preacher and a teacher. Indeed, I am one of the Church's teachers - and so my first response to false doctrine shouldn't be "You stupid idiot, leave!" It should be, "How can I best teach this person a better way?" I head to convention tomorrow. No matter who gets elected on Sunday to whatever offices - there are still a lot of Pastors who have shaky theology in our synod. There are still a lot of pastors who do foolish things without thinking. There are still a lot of congregations that have suffered under a lack of teaching for many years.
No election, no resolution, no by-law will change that. It will only come about by teaching, teaching that will take time and effort. There are more of us who wish to teach - who see our job not as vanquishing the foes of the Gospel, but to convert them with patience.
It all goes back to an adage I made at the Seminary - "Confessional" is not Latin for "rectum" -- and we need to remember that. We need to abandon legalistic hopes of swift victories making a "pure" synod - and rather do what we Pastors have been called to do - preach and teach - and do so for the long term.
If my arm were damaged - I would have no problem seeing a doctor about it. No one would think I was weak - or very few. In a few years when my knees get replaced - that won't be a matter of shame. Then why is it such a matter of shame to have work done on the head?
Especially as Lutherans we ought to see no shame in this - for more than anyone we understand that our value does not reside in our own strength or power - we aren't defined by our actions but by the fact that we are Baptized into Christ. I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength. . . . And yet, the stigma remains. Tis very frustrating.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
The Law should be clear - there should be no question of "what did I do" or "so why is X so bad." Clarity comes from one place - the clear Word of God. In fact, imho the Law is best when delivered impersonally and dispassionately - Well, this is what God's Word clearly states - and you aren't doing it, are you?
Preaching the Law is hard - because when properly preaching the Law we can't take shortcuts. We can't rely on the authority of our office, or "because I said so." The Law must be clear from the Word - and we have to spell it out step by step. Why? Because it is the Law that crushes - not we ourselves, not our authority, not our strength. When we preach the Law we must be sure of two things - first, that we get out of the way, drawing no attention to ourselves but rather placing it all upon the Word. Second, that we are sure we are actually speaking LAW, and not our own desires - and showing from Scripture is a safe guard against this. If we remember this, our use of the Law will be clear and proper - otherwise we are just spouting off.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
I'm sure everyone of us can speak to problems or difficulties that have arisen at the congregations we are at where decent Christian folks have done downright stupid things. Sure, the specific occurance might be surprising - but the fact that something goes wrongs shouldn't surprise any of us. We are sinners in a sinful world - this is what happens.
Likewise, with Synod. There will never be a perfect synod. There will never be a time where there aren't any pastors doing stupid things and congregations doing stupid things. This would be true if your "synod" only had one church in it - for witness your own congregation.
So what do we do? I guess we focus on the Confessions. If we still hold quia to the confessions, the synod is acceptable. If not, we must go. And note - this deals with what we claim. Do we publicly hold to the confessions - not are their impure folks in our midst, not do we have a dumb paper-pusher doing dumb things - but what is the ideal that the members are supposed to hold to - that is the question. People fail - but what do we claim to strive for.
That's what I'll be looking for at this convention. As long as in theory the LCMS strives for what I strive for, I may remain. I think I can remain now. I expect to be able to remain 2 weeks from now. But we will see.
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Trinity 5 – July 8th, 2007 – Luke 5:1-11
In the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord +
Now, I suppose it would be nice if on the basis of this text, I could make a simple pronouncement about farming – cut your wheat at 2 in the morning – and suddenly everyone here would be getting 70 bushels an acre. But we know that temporal gain isn't the point of this text. Even though we sometimes call this text the miraculous catch of fish – the point isn't the fish – the point is the power of God's Word, and the fact that God gives this Word to us men, not for our temporal life, but for our eternal life. This we see in the text.
Now on one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the Word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat. Now, Simon Peter, at this moment, isn't a disciple yet. Jesus hasn't called him to follow him yet – and what do we see Peter doing? He was cleaning his nets – that means it was at the end of a long, hard night of work – as we find out a frustrating night where they didn't catch anything. And what does Simon Peter do? When Jesus asks – he takes the boat back into the water. He sacrifices, he labors more and more so that others might hear the Word. One of the things that frustrates me is the idea that only Pastors go about the work of God. Peter, before he is called, shows us otherwise. He's a worker, he's a fisherman – he's not a pastor or learning to be one yet - and even though he is tired, he spends, he gives of his own time so that others might hear the word of God. You, dear friends, likewise give of yourself for the service of God. And here, I'm not speaking primarily of your tithes and offerings – although that is a part it. I'm speaking of your time and strength and effort. That's one of the reasons I love VBS – not only for what it does for the kids, but for what it does for the adults – it gives us a chance to have that focus of giving of our time and talents so that others might hear the Word of God – and if we've forgotten that focus – well, it makes it clear to us again. It's the same thing you do when you pray before meals or have family devotions – when you take that time out of your busy life – even when the business of that life isn't going well, and be in the Word, and see that others are in the Word. This is the duty of every Christian – and I encourage you to remember this throughout the weeks and months to come. The Word of God is important, and not only are to we see that we as individuals spend time in the Word, but we are to help others to be in the Word as well.
And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and caught nothing! But at Your Word, I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. Never think, dear friends, that being a Christian is easy. Quite often the life of a Christian is full of toil – only to be followed with your being asked to give more. Now, Jesus isn't going to show up and ask you to work overtime – but think on this. We are called to love our neighbors – and not only when it is convenient, not only when it is easy, but at all times and in all places. Sometimes our neighbor needs love when we are tired, when we are spent, when we are worn and just don't want to do it. At this point, our response is the same as Simon Peter – I have toiled all night – but at Your Word, I will show love to the neighbor. That's what we do, we live under God's Word – our lives are spent striving more and more to follow what God says, to be who God instructs us to be. And even this – this doesn't come from us. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him. When it comes to loving our neighbor, to living out our Christian life – it's not about our strength or our toil. It's about what Christ does through us. If only we remembered what we thought was so important to teach our children – little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. When we talk about strength – that always comes from Christ. Indeed, it is His strength, the power of the life giving Word of God that brings the catch in, that loves the neighbor, that does what needs to be done. Don't you hear that in the blessing at the end of service? When we leave this place of the Word, when we walk out these doors to face the trials and struggles of the week, what words are echoing in our ears – the LORD bless you, and keep you, the Lord be gracious unto you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon You and give you peace. God blesses, and keeps, and is gracious, the Lord looks upon you and gives you peace. That's how we approach our lives – we live not by our own strength – for that fails – not by our own endurance, for we can become weak and heavy laden – not by our own power – for with might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected. At all times we remember that for us fights the valiant One whom God Himself elected. We live by the Word – we live by the strength that God gives us.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken. Once again Simon Peter reminds us again of what we need to remember. Even as we live in the midst of God's blessings, even as we can look back on our lives and see so clearly places where we endured only because of His goodness and kindness to us – we must never be led to think that it is about us. Again, it is an amazing thing in Scripture – when people see God at work – when faithful people behold Jesus – they confess their sins. I am not worthy Lord to have Your blessings showered upon me. All too often we have a sense of entitlement – this idea that the world owes us something. It's a side effect from living in a land that has been richly blessed that we simply come to expect good things and take them for granted. But note what Simon Peter does. He does not think, “I must be doing something right, look at what God has given me!” Nor does he boast – rather – Lord, I am a sinful man and deserve none of what you give me.
Sometimes I feel a bit bad, harping on sin as I am wont to do. Sometimes I think that perhaps I make too big of a deal of sin, that I should cut some slack. And then I see Simon Peter here – or Elijah, or Isaiah in the Temple, or Zechariah, or David in Psalm 51, or Moses at the burning bush – and what sets these people apart is that they confess their sin. They don't slough it off – they don't pretend it isn't there, they don't ignore it. Sin is a big deal – it's not who we are supposed to be – and if there is any sin there, it is too much. We are to strive against it – and when we fail we are to fall upon our knees before God – like we do in our worship service – and confess our sins, and say that we deserve nothing good from God. Simon Peter hits the nail on the head – even when we see blessings from God, even when we understand what He gives us – we can't get to thinking that this comes because of who we are lest we become self-righteous and loose the faith.
And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” There's two big ideas here – so let's look at each in turn. First, do not be afraid. This is what God says to you each time He speaks His Gospel to you, each time you hear His forgiveness, each time He calls you to His altar to receive His Body and Blood in His Supper. Indeed, this is what He said to you at your Baptism – that He would be your God and do away with your sin. This is the only way we can approach God, this is the only way that we can have a relationship with Him – that He comes to us and tells us not to be afraid – that He seeks us out and gives us the forgiveness which He won upon the Cross by His death. Our relationship with God isn't about us – it's about what God has done for us and continues to do for us – the chief thing being the forgiveness of our sins which restores us to God. These two ideas go hand in hand – that on the one hand we do not become proud in spite of our sin – that we always remain humble and confess our sins. This ties into another truth, the other hand – that God is merciful and just and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. These two, the Law concerning our sin and the Gospel concerning God's forgiveness make up the sum of our faith, everything we teach and confess about God flows from this relationship – indeed, that we are weak in our sins but He is strong to save.
From now on you will be catching men. This is the final thing that Jesus says in our text. And it has a very specific meaning for Simon Peter – it is Peter's call to be a disciple and an apostle, it is Peter's call to preach Christ until he is martyred for it. None of us are called to be an Apostle like Peter – not you, not I. We are not sent to the ends of the earth – but we are all to speak God's Word – the same Word of God which has power. You are to speak this Word individually to your family, to your friends, to your neighbors, so that they too might hear God's Word. I, by virtue of my call to be your pastor, have been given the duty to speak it here from this pulpit publicly as well as to my family and friends. Whatever our situation, whatever our role or duty in the Church is – we are to speak the Word of God – because that is the chief and highest love we can show our neighbor. Everything in our lives are to point to God.
And that is daunting. There are times we don't point to God very well, there are times our lips have not His Word but vile, selfish words. There are times our actions do not point to God but to ourselves. It is here where we remember that we live in God's Word – that we strive to follow it, and that we confess when we don't. That we spend our lives receiving His forgiveness. We simply speak to others what we ourselves have heard – we give what we ourselves have received – we gather together in God's House and are blessed by Him through His Word, and by His Power and His might He makes us to be blessings to others. Marvel dear friends, not at a catch of fish, not at temporal blessings or might – but what you are made a part of. God has come to you by His living giving Word, and that same Word flows through you and brings His life to others – whether it is physical life through the love you show to your neighbor's body, or eternal life that comes from the Gospel. But be strong, remain in the Word at all times, so that you might always have Christ's strength and be who He makes you to be in Him. Amen.
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
As exactly one month to the day I will be hitched, let's look at what I will get with being put into the Office of "Husband". I will gain duties and responsibilities. It will be my duty to love and provide and care for my wife. I will have authority to act as head of the house to carry out these duties - but I get no new abilities or powers that I didn't have before. I don't magically get a pay raise - I have the same resources as before. Pastor Nehrenz isn't going to hand me a box of viagra - no new powers there. Just a new way to use my cash and my time - nothing more added.
Likewise a Pastor. A Pastor is not given any additional "power" or abilities when he is ordained. Ordination is not like getting a Mushroom from Super Mario Brothers - it doesn't make you bigger. Rather - it gives you duties. Go look at your ordination vows - it lists off what you swear to do for these people - things which you had not needed to do before hand. You are granted no power, no special abilities - rather the duty and authority to act in the Office of the Public Ministry.
The power that we exercise is never about us - it's never intrinsic to us. It is simply the power of God's Word. Period. And as Christians, God's Word is our great heritage - not just the sole purview of a few clandestine guys in funny outfits. Rather this - being called as a Pastor gives us a burden and duty - that we are to use this Word not just privately in our own lives with our family and neighbors - but publicly in the lives of others whom we otherwise wouldn't interact with in this way.
An office is always a burden - never a source of power. One might gain additional resources that one can rightly use (come on wife, finish RN school, come on wife, finish RN school!) - but powers and abilities stay the same. Something to remember next time Satan wants you to throw your Office around like a club over people.
Monday, July 2, 2007
But I want to change it - "The Way of the Pastor is to be inconvenienced." Think about it - so much of Pastoral care is at the wrong time, it involves travel in bad weather, dealing with people who don't always treat you the best in rough sitatuions, calls in the middle of the night. Or even planned things. Today, I go visit a member in OKC for surgery. It's his third back surgery. The first was on Friday, my day off. The second was on Maundy Thursday (I could have beatten him with a stick). Today, it's monday - my office cave day where I schedule nothing so I can draft my sermon. Instead - I shall visit and my whole week will be thrown off - when my month is already off with going to National Convention and planning for a wedding at the beginning of August.
Do I begrudge my member the surgery? Not in the slightest. He needs it - and I will gladly be there for him. Why? The way of the Pastor is to be inconvenienced. Tis the burden of the office. And speaking of - the next topic I will write on (other than little snide things) is as follows - "Offices give burdens, not abilities."
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Trinity 4 – July 1st, 2007 – Luke 6:36-42
In the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord +
When our Lord teaches, when He gives us instructions, there is a very good reason for this. This we should know for we see it in all other aspects of our life. If a parent tells something to a child, if a police officer gives an instruction, if your boss tells you to do something, you assume that there is a good reason for it. Likewise, when Jesus instructs us, teaches us to act a certain way and to not act in other ways – there is a reason for it.
This morning, our Lord gives us quite a few instructions – and I would submit that these instructions are not just random bits of advice, they are not hoops we jump through to show that we are good Christians – but rather these instructions cut to the heart of who we are as Christians, who we are in to be in Christ. Two options, two ways of behaving are laid out before us. On the one hand, we can act as an accuser – we can spend our time focusing on and delighting in the faults of others. This is not good – for this is what Satan does, this is why he is called the Accuser. On the other hand, we can act as a confessor, as one who confesses his own sins and dwells in God’s forgiveness. This is the contrast, these are the two manners of living that Jesus holds before us this day. So let us examine what Christ teaches us about how we as Christians are to approach life.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” At first we might look at these words of Jesus as the justification for a self-righteous attitude. What I do determines what I get – it’s about me. Not quite. What does Jesus instruct against? Judging and condemning. Our lives are not to be spent in Judging and condemning our neighbor for his actions. We are called to serve, to show forth love – not to sit in judgment. Even parents who have authority over their children, have the responsibility of disciplining and punishing them – is that what defines your relationship to them? No, punishments are meant to correct and guide – not to condemn, not to belittle, but so that a child might grow rightly.
The problem is, ever since the fall, since we first listened to Satan the vile accuser we tend to like to do things his way. Is it not easy to look down upon your neighbor? Is it not easy to see his faults? Then what do you? How do you react to the neighbor’s sin? Do you judge and condemn – or do you confess your own sin, your own faults, and give the same forgiveness you receive? Do you act like wicked Ham, who when he saw his father Noah drunk and naked pointed out his folly to everyone, gossiped and rejoiced in Noah’s folly, or do you act like Shem and Japheth, who covered their father’s nakedness respectfully, and did not speak or think ill of him? Which way do you wish to live, oh Christian? Shall you sit and judge your neighbor, declaring how much better you are than him – or will you confess your own sin and live in Christ’s forgiveness, forgiveness which spills out onto the neighbor? This is the contrast, these are the two lifestyles Christ sets before you. If you wish to live your live as one who judges, as one who condemns, as one who delights in pointing out the sin in others – Jesus will play that game with you. If your delight is in pointing out sin, Christ will indeed show you your own sin – if your delight is in condemning others, Christ will give you eternal condemnation. But if you confess your sin, if you see your sin and what it deserves and flee to God for forgiveness, He will richly give you forgiveness – a good measure of it, pressed down to cover all your sins, shaken together so there are no pockets of wickedness not covered by Him.
You see, when we accuse others, when we judge, when we condemn them – what we are doing is in fact forgetting who we are. Hear Jesus’ Words – “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Do you see what Jesus says? You are in the same boat with your neighbor? You are as blind as he is, you are as wicked and evil as he is! In fact, perhaps moreso – “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?” Jesus is rather blunt there, isn’t He? That wickedness that you see in your brother, it is as but a speck, a mote, a small trifling thing. But you, you have a log. We can forget that sometimes, can’t we? That our own sin is big and nasty, that our own sin, my sin, is always bigger than my neighbor’s sin? That there is never a time or place where I should think, “I am a better person than this one here.” We so rarely put the shoe on the other foot. We will look down upon what someone else does, we will rant and complain, all the while we continue quite comfortably in our own sin. How would you like it if that hard, cold eye you use to look at your neighbor with were turned upon you? David says in Psalm 51 that his sin is ever before him. Paul says that he is the chief of sinners. Isaiah says that all his righteousness, even the best, most wonderful things that he does are as but filthy rags. Could you stand before that, could you stand before that withering gaze that you so freely cast at your neighbor? There is not one who is righteous, no not one – and if you wish to be an accuser, to be like Satan who delights in pointing out the sin of others, your fate will be the same as Satan, and the fires of hell will be your eternal home.
No, we are called to be confessors – we are called to be those who confess our own sin. Hear again Jesus’ Words – “First, take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” What is our first action, our first task to be? To confess our sin – to act in all things with humility, to admit at all times that we are flawed sinful beings, that we sin in thought, word, and deed, and that we have no righteousness in ourselves. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy – these are not mere words but descriptions of who we are – we are as Christians confessors – we confess our sin, we say to God “We have heard Your Law and know that we have fallen short of what You demand. Have mercy upon us.” We are to call out to God for forgiveness. That is the shape and scope of our life – to confess our sins and to receive forgiveness. When Jesus instructs us to forgive, it’s not as though we earn forgiveness by forgiving – but rather that we are to remember at all times and in all places that we ourselves can only live, can only endure by the forgiveness which He gives. Without this forgiveness, we are lost – and so forgiveness is to be first and foremost on our minds at all times – even when we see our neighbor’s folly, even when we see our neighbor’s sin. When we see our neighbor sin, it should not be a time for gloating or snide comments – it should rather be a time where we remember that we too are sinful beings and that we live only because God is merciful, and that for the sake of the death of Jesus Christ our Lord He gives us forgiveness. We live in Christ’s mercy, otherwise we have no life.
Jesus gives another fantastic insight here into this contrast – do we live as those who seek judgment or those who seek forgiveness? Hear what our Lord says. A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. We are disciples, we are in training to be like our master Christ Jesus. So what is Jesus like? Is His first impulse to condemn us or to give us forgiveness? Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. The simple fact that Jesus is here, speaking to us by His Word, preparing to go to the Cross, shows us the answer of what our Teacher is like. Christ’s goal, Christ’s desire, Christ’s purpose in coming to earth is to see that forgiveness is won. Christ desires not condemnation, but to give forgiveness. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. That’s who Jesus is – and in fact our Lord’s instructions here are simple. Don’t be like Satan – don’t go around accusing others and delighting in their wickedness. Rather, be like Jesus, who desires forgiveness.
We all know this is easier said than done. Not one of us is fully trained yet – and we always find new ways to sin and to struggle in this world. But the day will come when we will be fully trained, when we will be like Christ Jesus our teacher – that is the last day, when we will stand next to Him in our own glorified Bodies, being like Him. But until that day, Jesus calls us to be those who are learning – calls us to confess our sins and receive His forgiveness, that we might be strengthened in the one true faith unto life everlasting. Christ instructs us by His Word that we might repent of our sin and believe in Him, that we might not ignore our sin but receive the forgiveness which He won for us to do away with that sin. Indeed, He teaches us, and by the power of His forgiveness which conquers over our sin, He makes us to be more like Him – until the day where we have this in full. Amen.