Saturday, May 31, 2008

If you want something done right. . .

We know how the adage goes. One waits for someone else to do something they ought to be doing, and over and over again, they mess it up, or abandon it. Eventually, you just end up doing it yourself.

Like Pirate Christian Radio - where Issues Etc is going to be rebroadcasting on their own.

Or Lutheran Heritage Foundation which does mission work all over the world.

Or Higher Things doing youth conferences.

It's just interesting to note how things like this develop, and that's probably for the best.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Implication, not Application

So, this past Sunday my Seminarian, Jay Hobson, preached. It was his first public sermon - and this morning we were discussing in and the whole field of homiletics. He had a good observation based on our discussion. I had been talking about the importance of having implications in your sermon. Jay points out that he likes the idea of implication rather than application.

What does this mean? I was pointing out that importance of implication in writing a sermon. The idea that is that when you say something, it will lead to another idea, it will imply something else - that there will something that will be led to.

This includes how things hit us. If the Gospel text shows that a person knows God via Scriptures, this *implies* that we know God via the Scripture. We are "implicit" - we are involve, that truth which is preached is something we are part of.

This is opposed to application - where something is applied, laid on a person. How about we add this part to your life. That's the typical image, but we aren't preaching about applications - we are preaching about what our life in Christ actually is - what the implications are - whether or not we are aware of them. Indeed, we are seeking to learn more of what Christ has done.

I think this works well. We don't have to ask how things work - rather, just the old Lutheran Question - what does this mean, how does this impact me?

Why is Church a Burden?

Here is the great question that is at the heart of so many problems we have in Missouri. Why is Church a burden? Why is it sometimes so hard to just get up in the morning and go to Church? Why do we have so many delinquents who would rather just sleep in?

There are many "solutions" to this problem. Let's make Church more relevant - let's make it more entertaining. A new worship style, a new band, 40 days of better oo-laa-laa at home if you listen to the sermon, a new way to pray to get you more stuff.

Do you know what these all remind me of? I have in my head the picture of a board of directors of a bank sitting around in a large purple room, and one says, "We aren't getting as many customers as we ought. What can we do?" On person suggests, "The free toaster we give away isn't working - let's try a better toaster!" Another person says, "For get the toaster, how about we give away a portable radio!" And then the group starts muttering, "Radio - good idea - progressive thinking - harumph, harumph."

All the solutions listened above (in both examples) get things backwards. Instead of examining why people don't come - let's just give them something new so that they will come. In business, this is folly. In religion, this leads to false doctrine and damnation.

Yes, yes, I know that some people will say, "but we asked people, and they said they didn't like ________ so we changed it!" That's not the point here. Rather this - why do people not come, why is church a burden? Not because it is boring, not because it's not their cup of tea. Simply this.

We forget what goes on at Church. We think of it in earthly terms - not in terms of the forgiveness of sins. Or if we do - we become smug, self-righteous, don't worry about skipping because we were okay for this week.

Why is Church a burden - because our sinful nature despises the law and ignores its application to itself, because our sinful nature rebells against the Gospel and does not want to believe.

Thus - what is the solution, the true and proper solution? The proper application of Law and Gospel accompanied with instruction on what benefits the our Lord gives us in His Service.

And the thing is - this may or may not make a visible difference. Holy Spirit works when and where He wills via the Word. May spend decades preaching to deaf ears. Oh well - nothing other than preaching will do - no new program, no new this or that. And when we forget this, when we try to find solutions of our own devising - well, that's when trouble boils over.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Don't say tradition, say heirloom, say heritage

Pastor Hall has gotten me thinking about tradition. Granted, he doesn't use the word itself, but I think he is basically describing the fact that we have received many traditions in the Church, and it is arrogant to just blow them off.

Thing is, tradition can be seen as a dirty word. A tradition is almost understood sometimes as a specific, local, quirk. Something quaint. Something hokey. How can we teach the importance of tradition? I say by using the image of an heirloom.

Let us say your grandmother comes to visit one day, and she brings with her a small jewelry box. She says, "This box belonged to *my* grandmother. She brought it with her on the boat from Germany. It had been carved by her father as a going away gift. I think it is time to pass it on to you." Now, that box might not be your particular style in fashion, it may not be hip and cool - but would you not graciously accept it? In fact, would it not just destroy your grandmother to say, "Eh, I don't want that, it's an old piece of junk"? No, you take it, even if it isn't profound to you. And as time goes by, you appreciate what you have received more and more (I write this looking at the 30s radio my grandmother sent with me 4 years ago that I hadn't really, really, wanted. Now I can't imagine my front room without it, or at least have a hard time doing so).

The Liturgy of the Church is something we have received - not just from our grandmother, not just from our great-great-grandmother - but from dozens of generations back in the Church. We say the same Creed, pray the same prayers in the collects as Walther did, as Luther did, as Augustine and Ambrose did. That's a profound heirloom.

But what of reintroducing things that had been lost or ignored? Another story. Let us say you are at your parents' one day, and you see an old, carved jewelery box tossed in a box in a closet, and you pull it out and ask your mother what it is. And she says, "Oh, it's just a piece of junk that I got that from my grandmother. It had been her grandmother's - her dad or something had made it." Could you not ask that for your own, treat it properly, and rejoice in recovering your heritage?

Over time we learn (apparently unless we are baby boomers - sorry, I had to throw that in there) that we are part of a world much larger and long-lived than ourselves, that we are here for a brief time and prepare and preserve things for those who come after us. We see this even in the world - why should we not understand it with the Church?

A summation of all fears

I stumbled on to this site here by the Rebellious Pastor's Wife, and it does a fine job of summing up the various things about Synod that she is concerned about. Some of these I haven't confirmed personally, but I have heard these things from a lot of people. Some of these I know to be true, especially the missionaries in Latin America. I know the only 1 we have left in Venezuela - and there aren't many elsewhere.

But be that as it may, it shows what many people are worried about. It's a good summation of the complaints and fears that are floating around.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A sermon for this day

Trinity Sunday – May 18th, 2008 – John 3:1-15

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
So which are you? Are you a person of the world, a person who looks out and sees money to be made, deals to be brokered, a life to be lived here and now – or are you a person of God’s Spirit, who sees a world full of sin, but hopes in a world to come? Are you a child of darkness or a child of God? Are you content to strive for your best life now, what you want, what you desire – or do you understand that God is your Father and do you strive to be ever more like Him, showing love to all, even and especially those who don’t deserve it?

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him.” Nicodemus was a man of the world. He was a ruler, a well respected man. People looked up to him – and so he comes to Jesus at night, when no one can see. He comes to Jesus not when our Lord teaches in the clear light of day, but Nicodemus creeps in after the sun has set, when no one can see. He comes not merely as an individual, but he comes with the pomp he has as a ruler of the Jews. We know – we do, and I now speak for my people, even though I am too scared of what they might think to speak in front of them. With fear of the worldly implications, Nicodemus comes up to Christ Jesus expecting nothing more than a wise teacher – just another man – maybe someone with insight that Nicodemus can use to have more power, more authority here in this life. Teach me, give me divine principals so that I can act and live here, that I can rule and lead here with power.

This, dear friends, is why Christ Jesus gives Nicodemus such a seemingly harsh and caustic answer. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Seems a harsh answer. Seems as though Jesus blows Nicodemus off. We know that you are from God! Nick, you wouldn’t know what is from God if it smacked you upside the head. You can’t. It is impossible for you – you haven’t been born again. You won’t recognize God.

Nicodemus proves our Lord’s point by his response. Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” A worldly answer at best – a disgusting one at worst. Nicodemus doesn’t see yet – his eyes are fixed solely on the world. His eyes are checking only the angles he can play, his thoughts on what He must do. Oh Nicodemus – Christ tells you that you must be born, and you start making foolish plans of your own. Did you even choose your worldly birth? How then would you choose a second birth, if the first wasn’t of you? But Nicodemus is too worldly – he sees things only in terms of what he does, what he brings about, how his plans go. He blows right past the part about seeing the Kingdom of God – no, what shall I do to be born again, what’s up to me, what’s my part, how can I make this work?

Christ our Lord responds again. “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” Oh Nicodemus – it’s not about flesh, it’s not about life here. I am dealing with the mysteries of God and eternity. I am speaking to eternal life with God in paradise restored, not this life here where your bones continue to creak more and more. This is not an earthly thing – it is spiritual. You need to receive a Spiritual life.

Christ here speaks of Baptism – of the way in which most of us in this room came to know and understand Christ – of water and the Word of God united, of the Holy Spirit attaching His power to waters and placing it upon a squirming infant, granting faith in Christ Jesus and remission of sins. Of giving new life, of being born of the Spirit, of being born again. Do you not see and understand, dear friends? In your life, in your life as a Christian all things must begin with God, God at work for you and upon you and in you. Behold what God does. He reaches out to you and gives you Spiritual life, makes you His own child. He takes that which is physical, earthly – water – and to this water He attaches His Word, attaches His Spirit, and thus you are given new life, new ears to hear, new eyes to see God’s Kingdom. By Baptism you see and understand who God is. He is the God who would suffer in this sinful world upon the Cross so that He might pull you out of your sin for all eternity. He is the God who comes to you now so that He might bring you to be with Him where He is in heaven forever. God acts, God works, and then and only then do you see and understand what goes on. The key is that God acts, God comes to you, and you are given new life.

“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Do you see, Nicodemus? It’s not about your control, your power. You can’t control God any more than you can control the wind. And yet, as God provides the wind to cool you on a hot day, behold what God does – He gives out His Spirit to cool and protect you from the fires of hell. God acts when and where He wills, and we are brought to life in Him. Do you see Nicodemus?

Not quite yet. Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” The classic error, the error that has dogged people on earth since the fall. God speaks, and we wonder, “How can this be? It doesn’t make sense to me – my little human mind doesn’t wrap around it – it’s not the way I’d do things.” Dear friends, if God has said it – how can it not be? If God almighty, who speaks and creates the world, says something, how can it not come to pass? Behold the heritage of Adam’s sin – behold your sinful nature at work in Nicodemus’ words here. Sinful man always doubts God. Sinful man always thinks that God can’t follow through on His promises, that His Word doesn’t stick. That is the temptation we face even to this day, here in this place. The temptation to doubt the Word of God. To hear of Christ’s forgiveness and ask, “How can this be?” We see the person who has hurt us, and our blood runs hot, we are angered – and we hear God’s Word of forgiveness spoken, and we think, “How could God forgive him – doesn’t God know what He did?” We sit in the dark, guilt swirling around, thoughts of past wrongs refusing to leave us, and we think, “How can God forgive me – doesn’t He know what I’ve done.” Always the thought goes to us – what is done to us, what we have done.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. Do you hear what Christ calls out? Repent – and listen to what God has done – listen to what Christ Jesus has done. Believe what He says, believe what He does here on earth. He went to the Cross, He suffered and died, and sin is destroyed, sin is forgiven. He destroyed the sins done against you, He suffered in your stead to remove the guilt of your sin. Behold the simple earthly act – Christ dies upon the Cross – and know the heavenly, the Spiritual significance – that your sin is blotted out, and you are welcomed into the joys of heaven. See the physical which God provides you to grasp on to, and be taken into the heavenly and the eternal. Christ descends, He comes down to you, so that He may take you with Him unto heaven.

This is the pattern. You cannot work your way to God. As Paul says, there is no gift that you can give Him that would somehow repay Him. Rather this – God Himself takes simple earthly things that we are familiar with, and by them, He gives us life and new birth and forgiveness, so that we might be with Him. This is the beauty of the Trinity. We cannot approach the Father on our own on account of our sin – so He sends His Son to die for us. He sends the Holy Spirit so that we might believe in the Son and have eternal life. And how is this done? We hear the Word, and the Spirit accompanies that Word and produces faith – and we are brought into the presence of God. The Word of God is attached to Water, and the Spirit uses that Baptism to give us new life – and we are made part of God’s family. God takes bread and wine, declares to us that this is now the Body and Blood of His Son – says, “behold, this has touched your lips, your sin is atoned for” – and we enter into the presence of God now on earth, we enter into the presence of God for all eternity. The Son and the Spirit work here on earth with earthly things – Words, water, bread and wine – and we see and believe these earthly things, and so we see and understand the heavenly things that God gives to us through them.

God comes to you – God gives you all that is His, life and salvation and peace – all so that you might be with Him. God sends His Son to you – God pours out His Spirit upon you – so that your eyes might not be set simply on the earthly things of this life, so that your concerns might be more than food and clothing and reputation – but that you might see and understand God and be with Him for eternity. Understand what God has done for you. He has called you by the Gospel and washed you in the Waters of Holy Baptism – so you are born again. He has invited you to His Supper – so you are forgiven and brought into the presence of God, to be in Communion with Him forever. You are more than just a person slugging through life – you are a child of God, brought by Him into eternal life. Cling to God, cling to that which He gives to you, that you might enjoy all that He gives you forever and ever. Amen

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How do missions work?

I am left to wonder that sometimes. I am left to wonder if we put more importance upon our plans and how we want things to be than we do on simply speaking the Gospel.

One of our LCMS Missionaries was recalled. He had raised over a quarter of a million dollars in 2 years. The synod didn't have to pay anything for him. And he was recalled. You can see why here .

I don't know what to say. What is there to say? Pastor, don't do bible studies? Pastor, don't baptize those who desire baptism? Don't let people stay in your house? Don't seek to support your family?

The Synod was formed to send out missionaries - how does this describe the sending out of a missionary at all?

Sin or Sinners

In discussing Ignatius of Antioch last night, one of the points which was discussed is the concept of life - how the Christian is filled with the life of Christ. There is a fullness that Ignatius seems to describe - a fullness that is somewhat astonishing to the typical modern Christian.

I think a lot of this has to do with a focus we have in America spinning out of the Western Church. Over the course of time, the West became focused on specific sins. First, it was the sin of the lapsii, those who crumbled under the threat of persecution. Then it was those violating the rule of the monastic order. Then it spread to where each sin had to be thought about and analyzed and confessed individually.

Our focus shifted to our sin - and we moved away from focusing on the idea that we are sinners. Granted, this is something that Luther would emphasize - that whole simul justus et peccator idea - sinner and saint at the same time. However, the Lutheran strain is a small one in the Western Church - both Rome and the Protestants kept a strong focus on sin -- in fact, most would like to deny that we are actually sinners.

I've been fighting a cold. I've been coughing up flem. It's been in my head, my throat, my chest. I could describe that flem in different ways. I counter it in different ways (coughing, blowing my nose, sitting up instead of laying down) - but no cough will handle the root problem. I have a cold, and until that cold is cured, the flem is always going to show up.

Theologically, focusing on discrete sins is like focusing on the flem of a cold. Yes, it needs to be done (there are times you just need to blow your nose) - but that doesn't bring about the cure. The bigger issue is that we are sinners, that we are beings who sin - and that is what Christ deals with through forgiveness and peace - that's what we couldn't deal with, no matter how strict we are with how we live.

Luther ties this nicely - wherever there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation - there is being made just, there is that whole problem of being a sinner dealt with. But the temptation, especially in America is to ignore the root of sin, the cause of sin - my sinful flesh. The fact that apart from Christ I have no life.

Christ Jesus died for sinners. This is the heart of our faith. We focus neither on sin nor on works - they simply come and happen. We are sinners who have been forgiven and joined to Christ - and that is the wonder.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Political Update Tracking and unforseen consequences

It is amazing the amount of political balleyhoo that goes on in our Synod. I can't comment on it - I'd get all depressed and my sermons would be nothing but law. Instead, Augsburg 1530 has lots of updates on the like. It literally seems to have become a watchdog blog.

As such, some things should be taken with a grain of salt - just as the newspaper that always tries to break the story needs to be taken with a grain of salt - but you'll be a head of whatever goes on.

Like the accidental posting on the LMCS web site of KFUO looking for a new full-time radio host, which was removed because it wasn't supposed to be there.

You know, this makes me think about something. Last summer, the convention elections went horribly, in my opinion, for the conservative stream of the LCMS. Many folks where happy about this. However, I'm wondering now if they are. . . because so many people who are now out of office seem to be watching the Synod like hawks and reporting on everything. Unforseen consequences are always interesting.

The joys of teaching

Starting next week, I will be doing 5 classes a week. There will be Genesis on Sunday morning. There will be a reading class on the Church Fathers on Tuesday night. There will be an adult refresher on Wednesday mornings and an Adult instruction on Wednesday nights. There will be my Church History Study where we are at the later stages of Luther's life on Thursday night. Then there are the monthly classes - our women's book of the bible in one hour class and then the monthly youth group.

And I am tickled pink.

There is a wonderful joy of teaching - the prep required puts on back into Scripture, back into wonderful books, presents the wonders of God and the Christian faith to one again. The work of collating information and forming it in a presentable way. The act of teaching with it's adrenaline rush and movement. Getting feedback and answers to questions in class, so seeing things from an angle you wouldn't have taken, bringing more into your own understanding.

There is a joy that comes with teaching. There is a joy that comes with preaching, with proclaiming the Gospel, but there is another joy that comes from the interaction one gets in teaching. I'm excited at any rate.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost Day 2008, May 11th, 2008

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
I wish, dear friends, that they had decided to put Mother’s Day on a day other than Sunday. If it were on Saturday I would gladly have a special service every year in celebration – there would be plenty of texts from Scripture to chose from. But here is what happens instead. Every year Mother’s day rolls around, and I sit in my office the Monday morning before, and I look at the Gospel text for the upcoming week, and I think to myself – Mothers are wonderful and important, but look at this text – I just have to preach about this. And this is especially true this year as today is Pentecost – a High Holy Day. So ladies, do know that I respect Mothers, I give thanks for all that my mother went through to get me here today – but today, this morning, it’s Pentecost, and so we need to spend some time pondering the Holy Spirit. I know that on occasion when I was misbehaving as a child my mother would say, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out” – but today we need to look at the true LORD and Giver of Life – the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is an interesting day – although we tend to take something different from it today than the folks at the first Pentecost did. When we think of Pentecost, we think of the rush of the Holy Spirit, of tongues of fire atop the heads of the Apostles, the mighty gift of speaking in tongues. I remember myself, one Pentecost when I was in kindergarten or 1st grade, we had children’s sermons and I had answered some questions, and after the service one dear old lady said to me, “Why, I could almost see a tongue of fire on your head while you were answering those questions.” OoooOOooo, neat! That’s the kind of thing we like to focus on. But it wasn’t the focus of that first Pentecost day. It wasn’t the focus when the temple was full of Jews from all over the Empire returning to celebrate the old Jewish Holy-day of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover. It wasn’t the focus when all these Jewish folks, most of whom no longer spoke Hebrew, but rather the languages of the various nations they called home. Listen to their response – “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” How is it we hear? The miracle, the wonder, isn’t the tongues of fire, isn’t even speaking in tongues. It is that the Word is heard. Even Peter, in His mighty sermon on Pentecost which takes up the rest of Chapter 2, he only mentions all that is going on in passing to start off. No, we aren’t drunk – this is what Joel told you was going to happen – the Holy Spirit would be poured out. And why? – And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. And then Peter proceeds to preach Christ and Him Crucified – and by the power of the Holy Spirit 3000 believe and are baptized that day.

The beauty of Pentecost isn’t tongues of fire or speaking in tongues – it’s not some chaotic frenzy one might expect at a rock concert – the beauty of Pentecost is this. The Holy Spirit gets to work. The Holy Spirit accompanies the Word that Peter and the other Apostles speak so that all who are there can hear it. The Holy Spirit brings about and creates faith – and how? By the proclamation of Christ the Crucified. And this is for all people – as Peter will say the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off which even includes you English speakers here, which even included the German speakers whom the Holy Spirit brought the Word auf Deutsch 100 years ago. So many languages, so many people – yet the same thing. The Holy Spirit calling people by the Gospel, creating faith in Christ Jesus, and bringing the forgiveness of sins.

This is what Christ tells us in today’s Gospel lesson. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. The Holy Spirit will come, and by the Word of God, in the Name of Christ Jesus He will teach you, He will bring to remembrance all that Christ has said. Fantastic stuff. The Holy Spirit is a Teacher – He teaches, He brings understanding. We are not left on our own, dear friends, to puzzle out the Mysteries of God – because if we were, we’d be in trouble. But no, the Holy Spirit comes and by the Word of God teaches us the truth of what God has done for us through Christ Jesus. It is because of this teaching of the Holy Spirit that we my say that Jesus is Lord, that we may call upon the Holy Spirit, and it is only because of His teaching that we can do so. The Holy Spirit teaches all that we need for faith and life here and now even unto eternity.

But also, the Holy Spirit will bring to your remembrance all that Christ has preached. Today, we English speakers don’t get the full impact of this. We don’t realize what a great blessing Christ Jesus is promising us. See, when we think of the Word remember, we think of going back into the past and looking wistfully back at the good old days. That’s not the main usage in Scripture – that’s not what “remembrance” refers to. Rather this – often the call is raised up for God to “remember” His covenant, to remember the promises He made to His servant Abraham. That isn’t a call for God to be wistful, but rather to make real now, to make good on now that promise. To remember isn’t to simply look to the past but rather to make something a present reality. To remember has a present impact. If you remember to take out trash it means you take out the trash right now. It becomes a present reality.

And we hear that the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance all that I have said to you. The Spirit will make them a present reality for you. The Holy Spirit will take all that Christ has done, all the love that He has shown, all the forgiveness He has won – and the Spirit will, by the power of the Word, make that a present reality in your life. The Christian faith, dear friends, is not just a wistful nostalgia of what Christ did a long, long time ago in a country far, far away – but rather it is a participation in Christ’s Life and Death and resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit who brings to us all that Christ Jesus is, all that He has done. We aren’t left simply to ponder a cross long ago – rather Christ and Him Crucified is preached to us today. We aren’t left to just contemplate the abstract idea of forgiveness – rather we are Baptized, we are joined to God, we are buried with Christ and raised to New life with Him. We don’t simply think about the days when Jesus ran around on Earth – but Christ Jesus comes to us Bodily in His Supper – and all by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word for us this day. That is how He is our helper.

And this, dear friends, is why Christ Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My Peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” We know how the world gives. The world gives only what it can take back. The world is full of wretched, wicked folk. How perverse is the world? We need to be reminded by a holiday to show love to our mothers – and if it weren’t for the fact that Hallmark cards could make money off of it, there probably wouldn’t be a Mother’s Day. That’s how the world gives – what’s in it for me. That’s how we can be tempted to give, when our sinful flesh gets in the way. What will I get out of it? You scratch my back and then and only then will I scratch yours.

But that’s not how Christ gives. When Christ Jesus gives us His peace – that is, when He gives us forgiveness, when He establishes peace, when He puts a stop to the rebellion of our sin, not by destroying us sinful rebels, but rather by destroying sin itself by going to the Cross – this is given freely. Christ gives simply to have us receive, to have the Holy Spirit bring this gift to us so that we can rejoice in His salvation for all eternity. And this is a free gift, it is a free peace. There will be no reparations that Christ Jesus demands, rather He simply has His Spirit give to us all the love and forgiveness that we could ever need. Nor does He need a yearly reminder to do this – but it is offered all the time. He says to us, Come – gather, 2 or 3 of you in My Name, and there I will be with you – there I will be to have forgiveness proclaimed to you, there My Spirit will be active creating and restoring and building up your faith. This is His love for you – and the Holy Spirit will see that Christ’s love and salvation and forgiveness is always proclaimed, in every land, in every tongue.

This dear friends, is the joy of this Pentecost day. We know that God is active – that the Holy Spirit is active, using God’s Word to bring to us that peace that the world cannot give – peace with God, peace with each other as fellow forgiven sinners who are justified by Christ Jesus. We know that God is active here, giving us life in Christ Jesus, so that we might face the trials and struggles of this life secure in Him. Pentecost is the proof, the sign, the evidence that the Holy Spirit has gone out and is working. Dear friends, know that He continues to work the same gifts He did then in you here and now, so that by His power you might call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved. Amen.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

What do we need a Synod for?

No, don't worry, this isn't a call for everyone to just go independent or something like this. It's a simple question - what do we need a Synod for? What is it that a Synod should be doing? I can look at the bloated beast that the LCMS is, or in fact ELCA or what have you is, and I am left to wonder if that is what a Synod is really for. What is the purpose of having a Synod? What should a congregation want from a Synod? What should a Pastor want from a Synod?

First, how about what a congregation would want.

1 - Educate Church Workers. A congregation should expect its Synod to be able to provide a pool of educated Pastors and other professional Church workers (i.e. teachers, deaconesses, etc). Also, these folks should be up to theological snuff.
2 - Organize joint projects like mission work. The Synod should be able to organize joint projects that congregations can support.
3 - Provide theologically solid materials for worship and bible study.

That's really it. You might add programs. . . but how many people are eager to get the new program at their congregation? And why would those programs need to come from the Synod - not all programs will work at each place. Let the local places do up things and share.

Now, how about from what a Pastor should want from his Synod. We don't normally think about things in this way - but here is what I'd like.

1 - Congregational Consistency. If I end up going to a congregation, I want to know that they are going to roughly want a Lutheran Pastor. A pastor shouldn't have to worry (too often) about being theologically blindsided by a congregation.
2 - Theological Support and Study. In the parish, I set up stuff, I study, I prepare the sermons. From the Synod, I want to be on the receiving end. I want opportunities for myself to hear the Gospel myself. A Synod should be able to organize this - provide for my spiritual care.

I have one that I'm torn on. Financial backing. I think I'd almost like a central clearing house for pastoral funds. Smaller congregations shouldn't have to worry about losing pastors richer congregations. I shouldn't have to worry about watering down the Gospel or not being able to support my family. Of course, that would mean that there would be Synodical hoops to jump through. Who knows.

What do you all think. What should a Synod do, what services should it provide?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Law without Repentance

So I saw looking around on-line a super-duper contemporary Church, which, in advertising its hip service pointed out that amongst it's rock style music you would hear and learn "biblical principals" for living.

Now, I had intellectually understood that your modern, Neo-Evangelical style contemporary place forsook the Gospel to focus on the Law. However, I put something together, which is probably no surprise to many, but I'll put it out here anyway. They end up focusing on a Law without Repentance.

Think it on. Do principals for living deal with repentance, the acknowledgment that you are sinful, that you have sinned, and that you ought to struggle against this? Principals aren't meant to examine the past, they aren't designed for self-reflection, but rather they are focused upon the future - what you'll start doing tomorrow when you put the principals into practice.

It's the classic error redone. How can I find a good guide for living. People like that. But when the preaching of repentance goes out, we stare at the preach like the Pharisees at John the Baptist - what are you doing John? We don't need repentance. We live good lives according to the law.

We don't need principals - we need repentance. We need to repent and receive forgivenesses - and anything else is just. . . well, might as well become a Buddhist if that's the wisdom you want.

The law without repentance really isn't of any religious use. Practical for today - but ultimately vacant and void.

Ascension Transferred Sermon

As we didn't have Ascension day services here, we are observing Ascension day this morning.

Ascension Transferred – May 4th, 2008 – Luke 24:44-53

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
Christ has not only risen, but He has ascended, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, is exercising His divine power on our behalf. This past Thursday was ascension day, 40 days after Easter. This morning, we will look at our Lord’s Ascension, and in particular what Words He speaks to the Disciples in the Gospel of Luke, and we will see what instructions He gives to His Church on earth until He returns again on the last day in Glory. Let us dive in.

Then He said to them, “These are My Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. So, here we are today, almost 2000 years after the Ascension, and I want you to notice, dear friends, that what we end up doing here is exactly the same as what Christ Jesus our Lord and the disciples were doing right in our text. Our eyes are focused upon the Scriptures, and God opens our eyes to understand them. There is a focus that we are to have upon God’s Word – be it the Word of the Old Testament which points forward to Christ, which declares what the Christ would do – or be it the Word of the New Testament, which declares what Christ has done. Whether the text is point to what the coming Messiah would do or whether it declares what Christ Jesus has done, what our Lord says is true – Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. There it is – the point, the entirety of Scripture summed up. What is the point of God’s Word? What is the point of our time spent together in that Word, be it here in worship, or be it in study, be it at home in private devotions? That Christ Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead – and because of this, we have forgiveness.

This is what Christ gives the Apostles – this is what He tells them to say as He sends them out into all the world. So, the question that ought to be asked is as follows? Is this what we proclaim even unto this day? You see dear friends, the Apostles went out and preached, they did come down off the mountain, they stopped staring at the sky, and Christ and Him Crucified was preached throughout the world. Indeed, because Christ and Him Crucified was preached, this congregation came into being, formed by people who wanted to see that Christ and Him Crucified would be rightly preached in Lahoma. Is Christ and Him Crucified still our focus here?

I bring this up because more and more the American idea of Christianity is less and less about what Christ Jesus has done – and certainly not about His death and resurrection. That is the trend, that is the movement in our country – away from talking about Christ the Crucified. And as for the Cross, how many books might you pick up in the Christian book store where it isn’t even mentioned, or perhaps only in passing. Compare this with what St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians – For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jew and Gentile, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. You are around, you see things. What does the world desire more, what does the typical American want – to hear of forgiveness and the mysteries of God, or rather something else? Something wise perhaps– a better way to live, good advice and wisdom for living here on earth, just like the Gentiles of old? The temptation, dear friends, is for the Church to stop preaching Christ and Him Crucified, and rather to want to supply the earthly wisdom the world wants. To shift our focus away from Christ and on to this life now. To forget that Christ has ascended to Heaven, to the Father, to where He will bring us, and rather to focus just on what we can get in the here and now. Many Churches have fallen, and we need to take heed lest we fall, lest we forget what our focus is to be here. We are to be in the Word and focused upon He whom the Word proclaims, even Christ Jesus our Lord.

And Jesus even tells us how He is to be preached and proclaimed. And that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in My Name to all nations. So, let us do that again this morning. Is repentance a part of your life, dear friends? For you, as an individual, as a person, is repentance a part of your life? Do you pause, do you think where you have erred, where you have sinned, and do you strive to turn away from that sin, to repent of that sin? Is repentance a part of your life?

Repentance isn’t popular. Well, actually, it is if we think the preacher is telling other people to repent. It’s quite popular if the preacher rails on the person next to us, or the people out there. But the message that each one of us needs to take a good hard look at our own lives, needs to see where we sin and beat that down – that’s not popular. We don’t want to deal with sin – don’t tell me I have to struggle against sin – rather just give me a few easy, simple things to do that prove that I’m a good person. Thing is – scripture says that we are sinful, sinners through and through, sinners in need of forgiveness. Scripture says that we need to turn away from our sin. Luther says that Baptism should lead to daily contrition and repentance – more thought should be given to your struggle against the sins and temptations that hound you other than just breezing through the general confession at the beginning of service. Our lives are to be ones of repentance.

And there is a reason for this. God isn’t mean, He doesn’t like to brow beat you over the head – rather He wants to give you forgiveness, He wants you to cherish your forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are to be preached in the Name of Christ. We are people who need forgiveness, forgiveness is the cause and the source and the content of faith – and if we stop wanting forgiveness – faith dies. Think about it – in your own life, think on the times when you have been the most smug, the most confident in your own works – the times when your sin was something that you never thought about. Did you look to Christ Jesus? Did you ponder the wonders of the Cross, that God Almighty would die to give you life? The old Lutheran hymn proclaims “faith clings to Jesus Christ alone” – and when you were so sure that you were a good person, were you clinging to Christ, or were your hands busy patting yourself on the back?

This is why there is the need for repentance – for when we do not see our sin we see no need for a Savior. When we do not see our sin, we see no need for the Cross. Give us other things, God – just make things easy here – after all, I’m a good person, don’t I deserve it? Our focus is shifted away from Christ, and we forget who we are. We see no need for Church. Think on what we teach here. Although you are a sinful being, God gives you forgiveness and life and salvation here in His Word. He gives you His Body and Blood for the remission of your sin. God is active for you here. Would there be anything that we would see as more important? And yet, we all know what happens – the bed seems awfully nice come Sunday morning – or we think that we had better come, not because we need it but rather “what would people say if I’m not there”. Bad reasons to skip, self-serving reasons to come. And we forget our need.

That is why Christ and Him Crucified is preached. We see our need for a Savior, and then our Savior is proclaimed to us. That is the pattern, that is what we have done as the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. And they worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Why? Why the continual blessing? Why the continual thanksgiving? Because their eyes were focused on Christ and not only what He has done in the past, but what He continues to do, what He continued to give to them each day in His Word and Sacraments.

We must not think, as some Churches teach, that with the Ascension our Lord leaves us behind. He has said that He is with us until the end of the age. And He is. He is present in His Word. He is present in His Supper. He has bound Himself to you at your Baptism. The reality of the Christian faith is that God Himself is present. He wants this truth preached – but we are to remember another thing – and this is the particular joy of the Ascension. Christ desires that He be preached so that we know that He is with us – that He gives us forgiveness and salvation – that He is indeed by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and spirit. That is true. That is the truest thing in your life. Christ is with you – and you are with Christ. As Christ has ascended, as Christ has risen to heaven – where will you be, O Christian, who is forgiven and attached to Him? You will be where He is. The fact that God is here for you now on earth is the proof that God desires you to be with Him for all eternity. As we just sang “For where the Head is, there as well, I know His member are to dwell, when Christ will come and call them.” And God desires that nothing distract you from this truth. Throughout our days on earth our eyes are pulled away from the earthly, the mundane, the nice worldly advice, and rather placed upon Christ Jesus who has died, risen, and ascended – so that we might be sure of our salvation, that we might be sure of our eternal home.

This is what we see Christ Jesus doing in our Gospel. He anchors the Church, He ties the Church to His Word, so that we might always know His forgiveness and be tied to Him – so that for eternity we might be with Him as well. This is why the disciples departed in joy, this is the same joy which we proclaim to this day as well. Christ has ascended to the Father, and so too shall you, for Christ has claimed you as His own and given you His forgiveness. Cling to Him, rejoice in His forgiveness, and know that as He is in Heaven so shall you be as well. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed – Alleluia.