Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Some thoughts about Lord of the Rings

Pastor Petersen asks who your favorite character from Lord of the Rings is. This is, to me, a bizarre question because I tend to think of my favorite scenes or phrases from Lord of the Rings.

So, that is the question I will ask here - what is your favorite scene or favorite line from Lord of the Rings?

I will give two scenes. My favorite scene is the confrontation between Eowyn, Merry, and the Lord of the Nazgul. Just a fantastic scene with Macbethean twist - the fact that the majority of the point of view is if anything from Merry's perspective. Just, such a well written scene.

Theologically, my favorite scene is from the Two Towers when Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas run into Gandalf again. They say to Gandalf that they thought he was Saruman - and Gandalf replies, "Indeed, I am Saruman, one moght say, Saruman as he should have been." The simple fact that suddenly there is an explanation of Recapitulation - Old Adam/New Adam right in the middle of the Two Towers.

In terms of phrase - both come from "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

- "So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs, work of Westernesse. But glad would have have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago in the North-kingdom when the Dunedain were young, and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king. No other blade, though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will."

- "These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was upon him: and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people."

Read Tolkien and you will have a better command of the English language.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What I needed to learn at the Sem

Pastor Dahling has requested a post on what Seminary didn't quite prepare me for as regards life in the parish. So here I go.

Because my father went through the Sem and was a pastor, because all through High School I hung out and talked with Pastors - I knew, or at least saw, the frustrations of the parish. I don't think the Seminary prepares people for that well - it's mentioned in passing - we are warned that people won't be that great theologians - Scaer will tell us that our congregations will probably be methodist - but you'll handle and deal with it.

It's that dealing with it that is hard. It's that dealing with it that results in so many pastors leaving the parish after a few years. And here is the root of the problem.

At the Seminary, we are trained to be theologians. We are trained to think and approach things from a theological angle. We see things as theological, spiritual problems, and we are trained to give theological and spiritual answers. This is good and right - it's what we should be doing.

The problem is. . . nine times out of ten that's not what people want. Yes, you can teach a fine bible study - but what do you do when 90% of your congregation could care less? Yes, we know that we walk by faith - but what do you do when the majority of the people are looking simply at the bottom line?

What do we need more of at the Seminary? How about this - how to teach and instruct people on the importance of theology - how to teach people to think theologically. That's the hardest thing, I find - trying to get people to look at problems not from a worldly perspective but from a theological perspective.

Don't just tell me about the joys of preaching - the joys of being in God's Word. It is joyful - just as people not caring about that is painful. How do I teach, what are the apologetics I need to use, not for unbelievers, but for people who need to grow in the faith?

That's I think the great weakness of the Sem - that is what gets summed up in the times when it is called an "ivory tower" where the profs forget what it is like out there. How do we handle indifference? What do we do with those who are neither hot or cold but lukewarm?

That's the discussion I'd love to have had for a good week in a class at the Seminary.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trinity 10 sermon

Trinity 10 – Luke 19:41-48 – July 27th, 2008

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
So, was Jesus just in a bad mood for this text this morning? Was He just grouchy, or sad for some reason. Was there something else in His life that was getting Him down, where He would be so dour as regards Jerusalem, as regards the temple. Nope – at least it shouldn’t be – because this is Luke 19 – and when we hear, and when He drew near we ought to remember, to know that these are Words which He spoke while mounted on a donkey, these are the Words our Lord Jesus speaks on Palm Sunday, amidst all the praise and palms and cloaks strewn about the ground. No, Jesus wasn’t in a bad mood, it wasn’t anything like that – rather, as our Lord enters Jerusalem that Palm Sunday, He looks upon it, considers it, and He weeps. Listen to what our Lord says while He weeps.

Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you because you did not know the time of your visitation. So, what does this mean? Our Lord looks upon Jerusalem, and He gazes into the future. In 70 AD, it would be destroyed. It would be destroyed again around 60 years after that. Fire and destruction and chaos – and why? Because the Jewish people again and again kept revolting against Rome. The Jewish people kept looking for a political Christ, a military messiah to lead them to independence. They did not recognize Christ Jesus, they didn’t recognize that God was in His loving kindness visiting them then and there. They did not want the peace that Christ brings, peace with God, peace with their fellow man. Instead, the Jewish people by in large craved military power, a kingdom to rival their kingdom of old – even though it had been gone for 400 years, even though David was gone almost 1000 years. Their plans were better than God’s, and Christ was ignored, and doom came.

Jesus knew. He knew that if, just if the people of Jerusalem had their minds upon the things of God, had their minds upon God’s peace, then the disaster wouldn’t come. No thoughts of an earthly kingdom means no rebellion, no rebellion means no destruction. But no such luck for the people of Israel, who once again are determined to wander from God – and Christ is left to weep.

I wonder what Christ would weep over concerning this congregation. I wonder if He would behold us and lament that we don’t know the things that count for peace. What think you? If Christ were to walk through those doors – would He rejoice over how we live at peace with each other? Would He rejoice over how ready we are to show love to one another? Or would He see the grudges of our hearts and weep over them? Or before He even had a chance to speak, would we shower Him with a laundry list of complaints against our fellow members – ancient histories full of past transgressions, or even simple commentary on how someone else is doing something that I don’t like? Jesus, so and so does this – make them stop. Jesus, so and so did this, and I don’t like it! Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! Would that peace be our focus, would that we would daily beat down the old Adam within that pushes us towards anger – and instead would that we simply delight in the peace that surpasses all human understanding, the peace knowing that our sin, knowing that the sin of our neighbor is well and thoroughly forgiven!

But Lord not only weeps in this text. Perhaps even more frightening is that our Lord displays His righteous anger. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” It had gotten quite rough in the temple in Christ’s day. There were sacrifices, so animals were bought and sold. People came from far away to do this, so there were money exchangers and the like, just to help things along. It had become mere business, people focused more on cashing in on religion, on balance sheets and profits than they were about prayer and worship. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus actually breaks out a cord whip and starts whipping the folks over this. A righteous anger, which is scary to behold.

Of course, we see this same pattern happen over and over. The Church becomes less and less focused on God and more and more on power and wealth and what we have. The 900s were a horrible time for it – it was horrid and wicked in Luther’s time, with the indulgences and all. It happens quite often that the Church loses its focus, becomes more concerned with what it has, doing business, than being concerned with prayer and worship.

Again, I wonder if Christ would be angry with this congregation. We can worry, we can be worried an awful lot about cash. We can be wringing our hands over what we’ll do 10 years from now, or 20, when we’re all older, and some of us are gone – what will we do then? It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer. Do we remember that? Do we remember that first and foremost this place is God’s House, not ours? Do we remember that it is God’s House, that He has established it to be His House of prayer, His House of Worship – that whether this place stands or falls is solely up to Christ and the support which He provides? Or do we fret and frit and worry? When you look and see pews not nearly as full as they were 20, 40, 60 years ago, do you worry about this organization – how it will survive, or do you lament that there are so many people at home who could and ought to be joining with us in prayer? Do we worry more about business, or are we simply eager and glad and thankful that God has provided us with this place for worship and prayer?

Would Christ weep over us like He wept over Jerusalem, would He be angered and think us just like those money changers in the temple, think us just like a little Rome out in northwest Oklahoma? Perhaps – and He’d be right to weep, He’d be right to have a bit of that Divine Anger. We ourselves should lament our actions, we should be disgusted with the times when our focus has shifted off of Christ and we have let fear and worry rule the day. But rather than wondering if Christ would weep, or if He would demonstrate His anger – let’s look at what He does. Listen.

And He was teaching daily in the temple. It’s a simple verse. We see in the beginning of our Gospel lesson all sorts of people doing foolhardy things – and Christ none too happy with that. Yet, something remains constant. Christ continually teaches and preaches in His temple. Is this not what Christ has done, what He has continued to do for you here? Is not Christ faithful to you? Does not Christ always desire that You hear His Word of life and forgiveness, is not His death upon the Cross for your sake always proclaimed here? I suppose that if Christ were to walk through those doors, there would be some Law that would smack us upside the head – we need that – but I do know that He would preach to us about forgiveness – I know that He would proclaim His peace to us, I know that He would have us pray for forgiveness and give it to us richly Himself. Because that is what He wants, and that is what He desires – that we know and hear and receive His forgiveness. Indeed, that is what He has done here as long as this Church has been here!

You see, dear friends, the Christian faith is simple. It is deep, there is always more to see and delight in, but it is simple. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. The Christian faith is that whereas we lack, we sin, we fall short – God in His love and mercy comes to us, brings us forgiveness and life and salvation. Period. Simple and wondrous as that. That on account of Christ’s death and resurrection you have indeed been reconciled to God and are being prepared for life eternal. This is the truth that is foundational, that shapes everything we say here, everything that we are as Christians – all of it, shaped by Christ the Crucified, who while we were yet sinners died for us. And yet, we let so many things distract us from this – fears and doubts and angers and worries – our focus slides from it, and we wander. So what does our Lord do? He calls out again, He restores the wandering and erring, He calls us back to His House and makes it a House of prayer again, He calls us here and makes us to know His peace again – He teaches us from the Word so that we might always know the things that make for Peace – His Word, His Baptism, His Supper – that we might be determined to know these, to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified for us. And that is what Christ has always done. No matter how many times our actions might make Him weep, how many times our actions might be worth receiving the wrath of God – Christ always is here proclaiming His Peace, proclaiming His Gospel, proclaiming that He has accomplished your salvation.

Christ is always in action for your benefit, always striving to bring to you the fruits of His crucifixion, bringing you His forgiveness. Keep your eyes focused there, and gladly receive what the Lord gives to you – for indeed, He knows what you need, and He gives it to you freely and gladly. He loves you, and He will support and sustain you by His Word. It’s as simple as that – and would that we remember that when Satan comes in and tempts us to fear and doubt and anger and all the others ways He tempts us. Know this – Christ always will come to His Church and teach her. God grant that we remain those who hear His Word and rejoice in receiving His forgiveness. Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More targets than just Rome

I think one of the ways in which being in America has skewed Lutheranism is that we view everything in terms of "Lutheran versus Roman Catholic". In fact, that's the way we view the whole Lutheran Reformation - it was Luther telling Rome where to stuff it. And so, when we look at the Confessions, we think of them as being primarily Anti-Roman Catholic.

That's not the way in which they should be read. And no, I'm not going to go on some "we only ought to read the Confessions for what they say positively about the truth and ignore what they condemn" rant. Nope. Confessing the truth means shooting down errors. And here's the thing.

In the Confessions, there are more targets than just Rome.

Now, perhaps this has been made more clear to me by 4 years in the Bible Belt where the nearest town to the west is "Meno" - as in Menno Simons - or the fact that I am tired of when people freak out over "Romantist" tendencies in worship but have nothing to say about "Evangelical style" or hip-Baptist style worship.

Sit. Read the Augsburg Confession. Read who it condemns. The AC is fundamentally an Anti-Anabaptist document - presented before a Roman Catholic Emperor to convince him that we weren't crazy Anabaptists.

Now, are there parts of Roman Catholic theology that are challenged there - sure - mainly in terms of practice, and that is done in a manner of defending places where Lutherans had broken with recent traditional practice.. But the full broadsides are aimed at the Anabaptists - they are getting condemned all over the place.

This has shaped my reading of AC XIV, for example. The idea being condemned is the idea of a person suddenly taking up the responsibility of preaching without having been called in one of the usual ways by a separate authority. It's condemning enthusiast preachers. That's why Missouri's "Lay ministry" doesn't violate it - because these "lay ministers" are called according to the custom - and while we might debate whether that custom is wise or foolish or "Good Lord, this is horrible, preserve us" foolish -- it still is a matter of men being placed and instructed to serve. It's not what we were confessing against at Augsburg.

Remember this when reading the Confessions. Remember this when reading the Small Catechism - they don't deal just with the errors of Rome - but also with the errors that are still present in your Baptist and Methodist neighbors.

Lutherans shouldn't just be opposed to Roman Catholic false doctrine - we are opposed to all false doctrine - and Lord knows that there's a lot of it in the Bible Belt!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

There is no such thing as a lay minister

Over on Weedon's Blog he asks the question if the LCMS will end up ordaining women. In the comments, this moved briefly to a discussion of Augustana XIV - that we do not allow anyone to preach or teach unless they are "rite vocatus" - ritely called, called according to the rites and customs of the Church.

There are many folks who are dubious of "lay ministers" and worry greatly as to whether or not this violates Augustana XIV. This is what I am going to write about. As a note and a caveat - read through this entirely, jump not to conclusions.

There is no such thing as a lay minister.

And by this I don't mean that if you are a so-called "lay minister" that you aren't really a minister. Rather this - if you are a "lay minister" one of two things has happened -

1. You have been called to preach and administer the sacraments at a congregation - even if only as a back-up plan.
2. You have been called to assist in educational and organizational affairs at a congregation while someone else preaches and administers the sacrament.

If it is option 1 - you are no longer "lay". You are a pastor. Period. There is nothing lay about it. If the town sheriff decides he needs extra help and makes me his deputy, I am an officer of the law. Period. All the duties and responsibilities of that office are now mine and I am to act in accordance with it. Period.

If it is option 2 - you are not a "minister" in the classic, traditional sense of belonging to the Pastorate. You might be a teacher, or a DC_, or even a Deaconess - and that's what you are supposed to do - but you aren't a minister. You don't have the responsibility of administering the Sacraments - hence, not a "minister" - cause that's what that refers to, in the classic sense.

So, why do we use the term "lay minister" when the person is question is either no longer lay or no longer a minister? Probably because we want to make a distinction between those who have received formal education at a Seminary or Synodical College and those who haven't - who are (for lack of a better term) deputized into their office.

I'm not defined by my Seminary education. That isn't what makes me a pastor. I am a pastor because I have been called and ordained - and ordination isn't just a rite or a title - it is having the Church at large acknowledge that I am supposed to be in the office I am in. You can call it "consecrating" a "lay" minister if you want - but you are still placing them under orders.

No, why do we have it? I don't know. Maybe it's because we simply don't want to pay some folks a pastor's wage, so we can skirt around it if we call them "lay". If they are "lay" we don't feel bad if they have to have another job to make ends meet. Maybe it's a matter of we don't want larger congregations to in any way help or support their smaller sister congregations - so instead of helping a small congregation to have a pastor with a Seminary training, we tell them to just go with this. Maybe smaller congregations are tired of guys who are there for 2 years and then move off to "bigger and better" things - so they get one of their own to be their pastor. Maybe there are pastors who want to create a two-tiered system of clergy so they can feel superior to other folks.

Whatever the reason - and whether or not it is wise to lower educational standards for church workers (both pastors and the commissioned) - we should be honest with our terminology and not treat these people as anything less than they are. Some of them are pastors - some are DCEs or Deaconnesses - and whatever they are, they have less training that others who are thrust into their position. Keep them in your prayers, offer your guidance when you can, invite them to studies which you lead.

P.S. What about Augustana XIV? This doesn't violate it - why? Because, they don't assume this mantle (eh, see, reference to Elisha taking up Elijah's cloak, or mantle) themselves. AC XIV is speaking primarily against the Anabaptists and the like where one simply decides that he will be a preacher now. "Lay ministers" don't do that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Oh, I will now take requests if there is any topic that you would like me to write on.

The breadth of Scripture

So, last night in the History Study here we just finished up looking at Luther's Genesis commentary. We did so in a neat way - I wanted to give folks a sample of what it would have been like to hear Luther lecture, so I asked them to give me 2 stories from Genesis that they wanted to know about - and then I would pick out a few (okay, quite a few) quotes from Luther's lectures on them.

So, we spent probably 6 hours going over snippets of Luther's commentary on Babel and on Sodom. And, of course, as reading Luther always is, it was fun. But the thing I wanted to point out, and that I think was demonstrated, was just how interconnected Scripture is - and Luther is the expert on that!

We tend to think of the parts of the bible as discreet stories - maybe joined chronologically. Go read Luther on Babel - it connects to everything and everywhere! It connects to Noah, it connects to today. Ditto with Sodom - but not just in the "Oh, look, homosexuality is bad" shortcut we take so often today. When Luther teaches you see how he understands that all Scripture connects together - that it is truly One unified whole - the Word of God, given by God out of love for our benefit.

I think this can sadly be contrasted with modern Exegetical theology. Exegetical theology, the study of the Scriptural texts, is often contrasted with Systematic theology, the study of doctrines. Exegetics will focus in on the specific points of a part of scripture (it's depth, really dig in and get into the text) - Systematics will focus on a bunch of verses that refer to a specific topic (it's system, or unity).

Luther, on the other hand, delights in the breadth of Scripture. Babel explains modern political tensions, Sodom shows God's patience with hesitant Lot. And of course, it always ties and points to Christ. It is as though Luther would view Scripture as a net - or a web - like he was a hypertexter before his time. It all meshes together.

We tend not to see that as much today. We either focus on one specific point (Exegetics) or maybe a strand (Systematics) - but we don't simply see the beauty of the whole of the Word.

Maybe that is part of the reason why there's more interest in RC and EO today from some Lutherans - if you are interested in points - well, tradition has points. If you are interested in threads, well, there are threads that spread on out into tradition (a hammock has to get tied to a tree somehow!). But the breadth - well, some might claim analogy of faith can be thrown onto tradition - and to a certain extent it can - but the amount and richness that is present simply in the Scriptures. . . mind boggling. Even the historian (and lover of watching the development of tradition) that I am will say, for the Faith what more source is necessary?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Trinity 9 Sermon

Trinity 9 – July 20th, 2008 – Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
What a strange story we hear from Christ Jesus our Lord. The hero, if you will, of the story is a dishonest manager. He is cheating his boss, gets caught, and decides to cheat him even more. What a strange tale, what a strange parable. Let’s look at it, ponder what our Lord is trying to teach us.

So, there is a dishonest manager, and this manager is charged with the accusation of wasting his master’s possessions. He’s been lousy, shady in his dealings. And so the rich man who is his boss says to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.” Guy gets fired. He is supposed to go home, gather up the books, turn them in, and get his walking papers. And hearing this judgment against him, he doesn’t pout, he doesn’t get indignant, he doesn’t shake a fist. Rather, he pauses and reflects. “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” This man pauses, takes stock of the situation, without anger, without mindless panic. This man is honest about himself – I’m up the creek without a paddle. And then, he hatches his plan. “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” So he goes to the people who owe his master debts, and while he still has the books, while he still can legally change what they owe – he does. Of note – Then he said to another, “and how much do you owe?” He said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill, and write eighty.” Now, the measure that they are referring to here is equal to a bit over 1000 bushels of wheat. Here – save 20,000 bushels of wheat, that’s my discount to you. It’s a hefty chunk. And the man does this because he figures he can play the great game of I’ve scratched your back, now how about you scratch mine.

And then we get the verse that seems bizarre. The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. Commended, how can one commend a dishonest steward – how can Jesus even try to take anything from this? It focuses on one word. Shrewd.

So, what does it mean to be shrewd? It’s not a word that we use commonly. In fact, I’d be surprised if any of you ended up using the word this past week. To be shrewd generally refers to making solid and intelligent business deals because you see and understand what is going on. T. Boone Pickens is a shrewd businessman – 3 or 4 years ago he was talking about how oil prices were going to explode, and he was right, and he’s made even more money hand over foot because of it. Shrewd. He saw what was coming, and he acted in a way to benefit from what was coming.

The dishonest manager in our Lord’s story was shrewd. He saw what was coming. He knew he was going to get fired. He didn’t pretend, he didn’t live in la-la land, denying the cold, hard truth. He understood what being fired would mean, and understood that he was not prepared as of yet for the consequences. I won’t be able to find another job – I had best do something. He was shrewd – he did something that was a benefit to him. He still had the books – he had legal authority to give discounts. If you are a salesman, you have some authority to slash prices to close a deal. When I worked in customer service at a bank, I had the ability to cancel overdraft charges, if it would help encourage a customer to keep his accounts with us. This ability to cut prices, to cancel debts, is something that this manager would have – and so he uses it while he still has it. What he does is legal, is binding, would stand up in court – and ends up being for his benefit. And even the rich man must say, “Yes, that was shrewd.” This dishonest manager doesn’t operate under delusions – he sees clearly and acts accordingly.

And our Lord ends up lamenting that the sons of this world, the people who aren’t Christian, end up being more shrewd, end up seeing and acting more clearly than the sons of light do. So let’s ponder the question that our Lord presents. Are you shrewd? And we aren’t going to talk about your shrewd or unshrewd business dealings – but rather this. As regards your faith, are you shrewd?

The sons of this world, they are shrewd in dealing with their own generation, dealing with the things of this life. But you, oh child of light, are you shrewd in dealing with the things of your eternal life? That is what Christ is asking. Are shrewd, do you see clearly on matters of faith, on your spiritual health, or are your eyes blinded or focused elsewhere? Are you acting in accordance with who you are in Christ, are you doing what you ought to be doing as a Christian – or are you letting things slide? As regards your faith, are you being shrewd?

Now, Christ will contrast this by saying, “You cannot serve God and money.” So here is the contrast. Is your focus, O Christian, on the things of God, or on money, mammon, the things of this life that the sons of this world are so concerned about? So let’s examine. Do you see your own situation rightly? Guy in the story knew he was in trouble. When you look at your own spirituality, do you see any troubles? Do you look at yourself honestly and see places where you are weak, where you need to improve, where you need to struggle and do better? Or are you smug and content, do you say, eh, I’m a pretty good person? Or, even worse, do you not look at all – are you so concerned with the things of this life that you don’t even pause to examine your spiritual life – are you too busy for God? Do you have to wring your hands over whether or not there is enough time in your busy schedule to let God have even one morning a week on Sunday? Do you conveniently forget all that God has taught when it comes to your dealings with your neighbor during the week?

This is one of the major problems that Christians have, one of the major traps that we can fall into. We stop examining ourselves, and so we don’t recognize what is going on in our lives. We lose our vigilance, we just assume that we’re okay and sin creeps in, and our focus slowly shifts away from the things of God, and matters of faith take more and more of a back seat. Are you as diligent for God as you once were? Do you study as hard as you once did? Or have things just sort of slacked off? That’s not shrewd at all – and that can lead to your faith being shaken. Take time, study yourself, examine the Word – see and understand your need.

And indeed, there is the greater part of a Christian’s shrewdness – recognizing what it is that you need in order to be prepared for the future. The dishonest manager understands his lack, but is prepared to spend the future living off of the generosity of others. You, O Christian, when you understand your lack, when you see how you constantly need to work, to improve, to repent – you will be prepared to live off of the forgiveness of sins generously given to you by Christ. There is no wheddling or tomfoolery that you must pull off to get this – but rather Christ simply calls you to His House to receive His blessings. He calls you here for forgiveness, so that you are prepared for all eventualities, so that you are sure and confident in your future for all eternity, so that you don’t drift away and be lost because of senseless wandering, but are rather kept firmly in the faith all of your days.

Ponder with me, just for a moment, this Supper which our Lord will give to us in just a few moments. Think on what a fantastic gift it is. Christ presents us with His own Body and Blood – says here, share in My life, participate fully in Me and I in you. Receive full forgiveness of sins – and even receive this often, over and over again, so that you always have it, so that you know and see and taste that I am always with you. Do you see how diligent, do you see how shrewd our Lord is? He is constantly making provision for the continued strengthening of your faith! He has laid it all out for you, He has done all the work, He simply gives freely – behold, you have salvation – take and eat, behold you have forgiveness, take and drink. It’s all done. This is God’s wisdom, this is God’s mercy, this is His bounty of love towards you. His generosity and love banish all thoughts of fear – there will not come a time when this Supper is no longer served, at least not until we reach the heavenly feast. Rather this, always, over and over, be forgiven, be forgiven, be united to Christ. Its wondrous – and the sad part is we can get so caught up in things of this life that we can blow by it – or we can even shrug Church and the Lord’s Supper off – when if we actually thought and recognized and understood what happens here, if we were shrewd, we would know that this Supper is the most awesome thing any of get to experience in any given week.

And so our Lord calls out to you today, and He encourages you to be shrewd. Take stock of your own life – see to it that you are not neglecting the study of God’s Word, see to it that you are not overlooking creeping sin which threatens to destroy you. Rather, be shrewd and wise, come gladly to God’s House not only to hear and learn His Word, but to receive Christ’s forgiveness, to partake of His Holy Supper given for you – to have and know that all things are eternally prepared for you. Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Evangelism by PR?

I have been thinking about the common approach to Evangelism that is present among Christianity today. The idea seems to be that we should do nice things and have a neat service, that way there will be good word of mouth that circulates and people will want to come to our Church.

You know, if I owned a restaurant, that would be what I want. I would want a good reputation, I would want people to know that if you come to Che' Brown you could get a fine meal, or if you went to McBrown's you'd get a good meal quickly.

There's only one problem. This approach doesn't work with a church. You see, if I am hungry and want food, I intrinsically know that I should go get food - and then I start to think about all the options for getting food and that PR can work. The thing is, people don't have an intrinsic knowledge or understanding of the need to receive the forgiveness of sins.

This is what we forget. Oh, people might have a sense that they ought to go to Church - but this sense isn't necessarily tied to the Gospel. Well, you ought to go, because you learn good morals. Oh, you ought to go, because it will be uplifting "spiritually". And so, if you have good PR as regards teaching nice moral lessons, people might come. If you have good PR as regards having a fun service, people might come.


The thing is, PR will never replace the proclamation of the Gospel. And this means one other simple thing. We can't just shift off the task of Evangelism onto one person or group at the Church. It's not a matter of if the Pastor has a great ______ or we get a person doing a great _______ that people will flock in. They won't - or if they do, you're probably just pilfering malcontents who will jump ship for the next hip Church.

No, the Church grows by the proclamation of the Word, by people telling other people who are hurting that they are forgiven on account of Christ's death and resurrection, and that they can receive this love freely and often with them at Church. But it will be personal - not just something floating around out there.

That can be a scary truth that we don't like to think about. But even then, we are to remember that this is why we train, this is why we learn - so that we will be prepared to walk in the works that God has set up for us - and this includes speaking His Word to our friends and neighbors.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Song game

Don't you just hate it when you lose a cool post. No time to redo it now. Drat

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Been there, done that

One of the things that is valuable about a Seminary Education is that you end up having to travel to do it. If you go to the Seminary, you move. You are forced to have participated in multiple congregations in different places - you see that there are many different congregations and practices out there.

I have been reflecting on where I've been.

I was baptized and raised through fourth grade at Trinity, Lansing, IL -

When my dad went to the Sem, I went to school for 5th, 6th, and 8th grade at Holy Cross Lutheran in Fort Wayne

Although my dad did his field work at St. John Bingen

His vicarage was at St.Paul, Waco, TX

Then, while I was in high school, he had a dual parish in Nebraska, St Paul Holstein and Zion, Wanda

Then I went to college at OU, and so attended Trinity - Norman

Of course, during one summer in college I also ended up attending University Lutheran in Minneapolis (while now Prof. Pless was there)

My dad also took a call to Redeemer, Deming NM

and then later - St. John, T or C NM

Then I went to the Sem.

For my field work, I was at Grace, Muncie

One summer I lived in Austin, TX, and attended - Trinity

And while I was at the Sem, I ended up visiting my grandma in Toledo, and often went to both Good Shepherd and Holy Cross

Then my vicarage was at Trinity, Palo Alto, CA -

And then, now, here at Zion Lutheran Church in Lahoma

And this is by no means the limits of congregations that I have had dealings with, or pastors whom I know and love and respect.

There is such a breadth that is present, so many congregations. I think one of the things that saddens me is how there is that temptation to be insular, to become so accustomed to our own congregation that we forget our sister congregations or write them off.

Going to the Seminary, you get forced to see that. I was lucky - I road along on my dad's coattails when he went to the Sem, and I also got to see the Gospel preached in many places. It's an astonishing thing - and this isn't even mentioning the pastors whom I know who are scattered across the nation and globe. Sometimes it is quite good to see and remember this. There are things I have learned from each of these places - each of them have helped to shape me and provide me lessons that I have used.

And I could toss in Zion Friedheim and Zion Fort Wayne, and then also my circuit mates here. So much, so many, just blessings all.

Let us not become arrogant or haughty with our own practice or our own congregation - behold just how many there are, and how many we can learn from!

Today's Sermon - Trinity 8

Trinity 8 – July 13th, 2008 – Matthew 7:15-23

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
We live in a depraved society, we live in a culture that is full of wickedness and evil. And woe to anyone who points it out. According to American culture today, the worst thing any of us could to is to say that something is wrong. How dare you judge me, how dare you criticize. If we say that something is wrong, we are mean, spiteful people. But, of course, this is true even of ourselves – think on the times when you have been criticized – is your first thought to think whether the person who is criticizing you is right – or is your first reaction to be offended – to want to lash back against whoever would dare to speak against you? In America, to say that someone is wrong is considered the worst thing that a person can do.

And yet, what does our Lord say to us this morning? Beware of false prophets. False prophets. Jesus says that some people, some so-called preachers, some people who claim to speak for God are false, are wrong – and in fact are something we should be wary of, something we should seek to avoid. How this flies in the face of American culture today! Listen to how people speak, especially on religion. They will say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe something.” “Oh, all roads end up in the same place – Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, what’s the difference?” These are the thoughts that are prevalent in our culture, our society today. That is what you will see when you turn on your TV. That any religion is just fine – and it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe something.

This is not what our Lord teaches. Our Lord proclaims that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no man comes to the Father except by Him. If Christ is the Truth – then those not preaching Christ are false. If Christ is the Way, then there are people who teach not the way to heaven, but rather the way and path to hell. Religion is a serious matter – a matter beyond mere life and death, but rather eternal salvation or eternal damnation. But we live in an age that is by in-large indifferent – oh, just believe something, and whatever you do, don’t tell someone else that they are wrong.

Do you hear how insidious that is? Do you hear Satan trying to pull the wool over your eyes as he has pulled the wool over so many other pairs of eyes? What you believe matters! The Truth matters! And you, O Christian, are to strive to hear and receive God’s truth, to be those who are attached to the truth, to live and receive the pure streams of God’s Word. You are to listen to preachers who are not false, but who are true and teach rightly.

So, how do you know, how do you recognize a false preacher? Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. It’s not mere appearance. It’s not just if they look nice and smile, it’s not just if they have the nice suit and perfect hair and would look great on TV or a billboard and everyone thinks that they are wonderful. A big ole smile doesn’t mean that one comes from God. Any kid who knows the story of Little Red Riding Hood can tell you that – and sometimes those big, teethy smiles ought to let you know that they are planning on devouring you, bilking you, and leading you away from Christ. We cannot judge on appearance, on how one looks or sounds, if a person is dynamic or energetic. Wolves are all those things, too. That will not let you spot a false preacher.

No, our Lord instructs us how to spot a false teacher. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. So, we are to recognize them by their fruit. What fruit do we look for? What is this good fruit? What does it look like? Christ tells us at the end of our Gospel lesson – 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. 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 I will declare to them, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.” The fruit that Christ bids us look for isn’t about power. Look at the power I have – I can cast out demons. So what? I have done many mighty works in Your name? Might? Eh. Not the right fruit. I’ve preached and preached in Your name – but that doesn’t mean you preached rightly. The fruit Christ would have us see from our preachers aren’t works of might, aren’t displays of power. The sign of a good preacher isn’t more wealth or a good harvest or even healings or anything showy like that. Rather this – it is that they do the will of our Father who is in heaven.

So then – what is that will? What is this fruit that a true preacher will bear? We are told by Paul that the fruit of the Spirit is as follows: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. What do all these have in common – what binds all these fruit into one thing? They all describe and flow from one simple thing – forgiveness. That is the will of the Father, that sinners be forgiven. That is the fruit by which you will recognize a true preacher – if the focus is on forgiveness and the fruits that flow from that. Love? For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. Love is all about forgiveness. Joy? Think of the joy of the father in the parable of the prodigal son – and our Lord says that there is more joy in heaven over 1 sinner who repents than 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. Peace? John 20 – My peace I leave with you – now go forgive people and share that peace. Patience? When your focus is on Christ’s forgiveness, can you not bear with more things, are you not more patient? Kindness and goodness? Does not that flow from forgiveness? Gentleness and self-control? Does not a focus on forgiveness teach us to be gentle, teach us to keep our anger under control? The fruit that is born by the Christian isn’t any sign of power, it isn’t thunder and might, it isn’t speaking in tongues or even moving mountains – for you can have all these things and be absolutely nothing – unless you have the love of God. And God shows His love for us in this – that while we were yet sinners Christ, died for us. It’s all about forgiveness.

Spotting a false preacher is as simple as that. Do they preach the forgiveness of sins, or are they trying to sell you something else? Like Paul are they determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified, or do they lead and point to something else? Our Lord says that He will say to the false preachers, “I never knew you.” Does the preacher proclaim Christ the Crucified and desire that you know His forgiveness – that you learn that His forgiveness is the heart and center of your life as a Christian, that it is what shapes you and forms you and makes you who you are to be? If not – if they diminish our Lord’s forgiveness, if they belittle it or cover it under bushel or (puff) it out – they are a false prophet – beware of them.

But lest this be a sermon just on how preachers can mess it up, lest y’all think, “Boy, I hope Pastor Brown is listening to this one” – I am, but the same ideas also apply to you. Now, none of you are called to be preachers, to be those who publicly, up in the pulpit preach. But each of you does teach privately. Each of you does have the opportunity to speak of Christ to your friends, your families, your neighbors. So, apply these words of Christ to yourself, check yourself by them. Does forgiveness rule your life? Does it shape the way in which you deal with others, the ways in which you speak to them? Are the words on your lips, words of Christ’s forgiveness, or are you a noisy gong and clanging cymbal?

You see, we must never forget that Satan is active in this world, and by the false teachers that are out there, Satan is leading people astray, leading them to hell. The reason you, as a Christian, are to be able to spot a false teacher is not simply for your own sake, but also for the sake of your neighbor. If you were in a park and saw a wolf coming, would you not also warn the other people there of it as well? Would you not cry, “Look out”. The same is true of what you ought to do spiritually. Warn people, and lead them to the safety of Christ’s forgiveness here in His Church – defend them against Satan’s attacks with the Word of God, which is sharper than any two edged sword.

Now, this is not as daunting as it sounds. This is what you have been trained for. When you receive Christ’s forgiveness, you are filled with Christ’s love – you simply are to give what you have received. But what if they ask questions – well, that’s why you were supposed to memorize your catechism, which has the answers to the majority of simple questions – and even if you don’t have it memorized word for word, at least you should know what it says. And if it goes beyond what you can answer, point them to one who can – which is part of my duties as the Pastor here. But 98% of the time, it’s not that complicated. The key for this is that your focus is to be on forgiveness, and to invite them here to receive forgiveness with you. When your life is shaped by forgiveness – when your plans for the week are shaped by the fact that, oh yes, Sunday morning, let’s go receive forgiveness – when you are constantly and continually in the Word of God, receiving His forgiveness, when you are made healthy spiritually by Christ – you’ll bear this good fruit, you will be able to speak out forgiveness. Our Lord tells us, A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit – and why? Because it has been made healthy by Christ, and where Christ is present His love and forgiveness will flow. All this comes from Christ, from His forgiveness abounding richly in you, shaping you, and flowing through you. This is what happens and will continue to happen when your life is one of receiving forgiveness.

And so, beware of false prophets – of people who fail to speak of Christ’s forgiveness, people who keep Christ’s love for you for the forgiveness of your sins from being the center of all things. And keep a watch on yourself, lest you too forget that Christ’s forgiveness is the center of your life as well. And in all things, be eager to receive the mercy and love of God, that through His Word He might give you the most precious treasure of all, the forgiveness of your sins and life in His name. Christ has gone to the cross and with His death destroyed your sin. Rejoice in this truth over and against all falsehoods and lies of the devil. Amen.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Out of the mouths of babes. . .

well. . . I'm referring her to Seminarian Hobson's youth. At any rate, Jay Hobson, Zion's illustrious (wait, he might read this) - mangy, flea-bitten, better keep working harder Seminarian has created a new blog.

Jay's Blog

Go, great - mock him mercilessly (actually, it's been quite good so far, but we best not let things get to his head).

And for those of you with an OU History, he is, at my count, the 4th Norman LSFer to head to the Seminary since 2000.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Practice, Practice, Practice

The habits and customs, the ways of doing things in the Church are all referred to "Practice". Do you rise for the Gospel, what's the order you distribute communion, so on and so forth are all called "practices". And one of the things we remember is that in all places not all practices need be alike.

Sometime practices are different for simple logistical reasons. For example - at my congregation, I am the only one who kneels. Why? Um, the pews have no kneelers. Simple as that - so congregational kneeling is not a practice. Sometimes they have just become habits - "the way we do things around here" that no one remembers why. Sometimes they may come even from. . . the tyranny of the dead. If I were to kick the bucket, but have arraigned for my congregation to receive a beautiful altar crucifix they would feel impelled to use it, even though they haven't had a crucifix since around the 40s, I believe.

So, what do we learn from this fact that practices are different? Are we to learn that it doesn't matter what we do? Are we to learn that we are fiercely independent and should have our run of Churchly practices just cause we want to?

Um, no.

Rather, I will submit two things to remember.

1 - Practices are ultimately tied to practicality.
2 - Your practice could always be better.

First - practices are practical. There is no one, ultimate, right way because circumstances are different in every place, and allowances must be made for that. Practices serve the proclamation of Christ and Him Crucified, and somethings which are nice and neat may simply not fit in a particular place. That's fine - as long as Christ and Him Crucified is proclaimed.

Note that this is a minimizing concept. Not all the bells and whistles have to be in every place. Not that I am a minimalist, for next comes this!

Second - Your practice could always be better. Sometimes, when we think of the fact that things are done differently in different places, we simply view that with an, "Oh, that's interesting," or an "oh well, this is just how we do it." That shouldn't be the point. We should be thinking thusly - is our practice as good as it can be - are we in our services doing the most possible to illuminate the Gospel of Christ? Are we showing the most reverence we can to the presence of God?

See, just because we've done something for years doesn't mean it is the best way to do it. As a secular example, yes, your family may have fried your chicken this way for year, but if you see a better recipe that is just as simple and easy to do - wouldn't your family adapt its recipe? If so, you have wonderful chicken. If not, you are more concerned about glorifying Aunt Olga's memory than having wonderful chicken.

Likewise - if there is a place to improve practice - don't cast it aside simply because something is the way you've always done it. Now, be careful, check and see that the new "practice" is actually something beneficial, good, right, and salutary that actually better points to Christ and isn't the eqivelent of skipping dinner and eating nothing but cotton candy and ice cream.

But when it comes to practice - remember this. Be not ashamed of what you can't do, and be not to proud of what you have been doing. Practice is not to impress folks, but it can always be improved.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What does Christ say?

One of the things that I hold to as a theologian, perhaps more doggedly than some, is that where the Word is silent, we must be silent, and where the Word is clear, we must be clear. Theology is simple - it is simply what God has declared to us. Now, things may be derived, some logical conclusions followed - but again, simple things.

A debate has been going on over the "leftovers" (note how I use the technical term - which actually is "reliquae" or something akin to that - my Latin spelling is bad - and it simply means leftovers or remains, so might as well type that!) of the Lord's Supper. Does it remain Christ's Body and Blood, and if so, in what cases? What ought we do with it?

First, let me sum the positions:

1 - Hardcore receptionist - It's nothing, because the Supper isn't Christ's Body until someone eats it and isn't His blood until someone drinks it. This position is now quite rare in Lutheran Circles (and rightfully so!)

2 - "Servicist" (which is am coining as a term, because I don't know of an accurate one for this really common position. This holds that the elements are no longer the Body and Blood of Christ after the service is over (some would say after the distribution is over, some might lengthen it to the Benediction, but after the service being the key) - but yet they should be treated with respect because they once were indeed Christ's Body and Blood. The safest treatment is to simply consume them, that way there is no lingering doubt as to what they are or chance that they will be handled disrespectfully or idolatrously. Also, the remains may be used for shuts ins but they must be reconsecrated.

3 - I will call this the "Practical Reservationists" - The leftovers may indeed remain as Christ's Body and Blood if they are set aside for consumption at a later date. Normally this may be simple consumption afterwards (where those consuming are indeed receiving Christ's Body and Blood). However, it is conceivable that the remains, as the Lord's Body and Blood, may be taken and rightly distributed to the sick or shut-ins as such. For a later distribution most would also have the Words of Institution respoken so that the later communicant would know what he or she is receiving - although some would say that this is not necessary, if the reservation is done for the precise act of distributing. The other predominate position in modern Lutheranism.

4 - "Reservationists" - Your typical Roman Catholic position. Christ is Body present in His Supper, and it is respectful to keep that which is consecrated in a tabernacle within the Church for the purpose of adoration. Generally eschewed by Lutherans.

5 - What I will call "Hyper-Reservationists" - the folks who are convinced that church mice who have somehow found crumbs of the supper will be amongst the highest beings in heaven. Okay - this one is sort of made up, but there are some reservationists out there that make Roman Catholics blush - but thankfully not many.

So, what do we do with this? I say - let's be simple and look at our Lord's Words.

"Take and Eat, this is My Body. . . Take and Drink, this is My Blood."

This eliminates 1, 4, and 5 as right positions. It eliminates 4 and 5 because the purpose of the Supper is to be eaten and drank. To avoid this is a violation of what Christ instituted - and we don't have the power to use God's Word against Him for our own purposes. It eliminates 1 because Christ declares the Bread to be His Body before it is eaten, the wine in the chalice to be His Blood before it is drank. Besides, 1 goes against the passive grain in Lutheran Theology - for it puts the focus on the action of man as being definitive rather than the Word of Christ.

So, that leaves us with 2 or 3. Which fits better with the Lord's Words? Both affirm that the Supper is the Supper because Christ says it is. The question is - how long does the Supper last?

On the basis, simply of Scripture, I believe three is the stronger position - because our Lord does not say "Take and eat this very moment, because for the next 15 minutes this will be My Body". I would probably be even more hardcore on three than most, arguing that it would be a fine, salutary practice if the pastor and elders of the congregation divided the shut-ins and ill amongst themselves, took bulletins, church materials, and the Supper to them, and distributed Christ's Body and Blood to them. I have a few old people in the back who don't walk forward, the Elder and I walk back to them. Not much difference rather than it's not practical to stop the service and do home delivery with folks sitting in the pews. I think it would be a wonderful practice to do it that way.

However -- and don't you love howevers -- that's not how it is practiced here, and I doubt it ever will be. We practice a low number 2 - where the leftovers are held aside. I don't even consume anything here - because I'm in the bible belt and drinking that much alcohol weirds people out.

So I will use the remains for shut-in visits, or the first to be used next communion on Sunday - but they are consecrated (not reconsecrated).

So, how can this be? How can I believe 3 but practice 2? Because 2 also follows our Lord's Words of "Take and eat, this is My Body." They are not reserved for the purpose of distribution - so I would not claim them to be Christ's Body any longer apart from this proper usage. Christ is where He has promised to be FOR OUR BENEFIT. Think of the emphasis Luther puts on the Words "FOR YOU" - and rightly so. Without the intent of bringing Christ's Body and Blood to the sick and shut-in - whom is that Christ's Body and Blood for?

So while I think we cannot speak out against a Practical Reservationist position, and indeed, ought to considering using it (even though it would mean more work for me on Sunday afternoons when my mind is typically worn out from service), I do not think holding to a ceasation of the Presence does damage either to the Lord's intent or His Words.

As long as we are working towards giving Christ's Body and Blood to His people as He instructed, that is fine. But don't make rules that are in Scripture, nor reach above what your people know and cause doubt in their minds.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A sermon

Trinity 7 – July 6th 2008 – Mark 9:1-8

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The word “how” is one of the most dangerous words that there is. It can be cold, it can be cruel, it can be full of doubt and despair. Listen to the disciples use it in a dangerous way. How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place? Does that seem like a dangerous question to you? It is – spiritually it is one of the most dangerous questions the disciples have ever asked. How – how can Jesus do anything here?

So, here is the situation. Jesus has been preaching out in the wilderness, and He has been preaching for three whole days. That is an ordeal. That’s not only a long time to preach, but it is a long time to listen, to pay attention. The people are worn out mentally. They also didn’t bring a ton of food – most weren’t expecting such a long of a time of preaching – so they are hungry, they are worn out physically. And Jesus sees this, and so He turns to the disciples and says, “I have compassion upon the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some have come from far away.” This is the problem that Jesus poses to the disciples. I want to feed these people.

And then the disciples ask their dangerous question. How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place? Do you hear the danger in that question? It’s full of doubt, it’s full of disbelief. Oh sure, it’s nice that you have compassion on the crowd, Jesus, but a fat lot of good that’s gonna do! They need bread, they need food – and just how do You think that You are going to do anything for them in that department? How? A question of doubt, of disbelief, a question of a lack of trust.

Jesus hears this question. Hears the disciple’s skepticism. So Jesus asks how many loaves they have. Only 7. Even the disciples were running low themselves – and they were used to wandering and traveling around with Jesus. Maybe the disciples own hungry bellies rumbled their way into making them more skeptically. Be that as it may, we know what Jesus does. He takes the bread, blesses it, has the disciples hand it out – and all are fed. 4000 people. And there are leftovers. 7 loaves of bread feed 4000 with 7 baskets full of leftovers. The snide question of “just how are You going to pull this one off, Jesus” has yielded to simple amazement. Jesus feeds the people, and then, He sends them away. I’ve had My compassion upon you, now you can head back to what you need to do.

This is our Gospel lesson. So, what do we learn from it today? Well, how often have you found yourself in the position of the people from the lesson today? I don’t mean that literally – I don’t expect that any of you have gone and listened to a three day sermon; in fact, I firmly expect that if I were to go over even an hour you probably would start chucking hymnals up here at me. No, I mean this. Have you ever gone where the LORD has led you, have you ever struggled to follow Him, to do His will – and been worn out in the process? Worn out mentally, worn out physically, worn out emotionally? Have you struggled to do what is right, and gotten to your wit’s end? That’s where the people, that’s where the disciples are in today’s text. They’ve been following Christ – and they are plumb tuckered out. It’s been hard upon them. Being a Christian, living as you ought, beating down your sinful flesh and showing love to your neighbor is a hard, wearing thing. The Christian life is not Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It is hard, wearing labor sometimes, is it not? It is easy to get worn down.

And here is where the danger pops in. Here is when Satan attacks. When you are worn and weary and worried and full of concern and fatigue – Satan will whisper a word of worry into your ear. How? How am I going to get through this? How am I going to be able to go on? How will we get through this?

Think about how we end up using the word “how”. All too often, it isn’t a word of confidence – I know that God will see me through this, I’m just wondering what He will do – how He will do it! No, so often it becomes a word of doubt. How is this possible? How can this be? I’m at the end of my rope and there’s nothing that can be done – how will I ever get through this? Doubt, fear, forgetfulness.

Yes, forgetfulness – because when we are tired and worn, we are quick to forget, quick to forget the many ways in which God has supported and sustained us in the past. The disciples in the text had seen miracles before – but they forgot them, and they worried, they doubted, they feared. You, dear friends, every one of you, looking back on your life can see countless times where God has upheld you and supported you through all sorts of trials – financial, mental, emotional – how many things has He seen your through? And yet, what is the danger? When we get in the moment – “Alright God, HOW are you ever going to be able to get me out of this one?”

There is a truth that we must remember. Our Lord says, “I have compassion.” Compassion. Do you know what Christ is saying to you when He says that He has compassion? He says, “I share in your sufferings, I share in yours burdens, I know them, and I desire to support you through them.” That is what compassion is – to suffer with, to suffer alongside of. And this is the attitude that God has towards you. And if we only remembered this, if our eyes were continually focused upon Christ’s compassion, how much pain and doubt would we be spared? Doesn’t mean that our trials are any less sore – but we would remember how they all end – with our Lord having compassion upon us – with our Lord doing what is necessary to support and relieve us – to give us our daily bread, to give us strength to forgive others just as He has forgiven us – to make us lay down in His green pastures. This is what the Lord does for us, in all trials, in the face of all problems that we encounter in this life. When we remember what Christ has done, when we see His promises, our doubts about His care drift away, and we can take heart and courage even in the midst of the struggles we face, the difficulties and challenges we face. We can slug through them. We know that God has compassion upon us.

There is another aspect of this text that we should ponder, another application. Can we be tested, can we be tried, can we be worn out Spiritually? We are not just bodies, not just hunks of meat running around in the world, but we are also beings with a Soul, with a Spirit. Can you get worn out Spiritually as well? Quite often the more stressed we are bodily, the more stressed we are in the world, the more stressed we can be as regards our faith. Times are tight and tough, and we can forget God’s love. People are rough, and all thoughts of forgiveness, including God’s forgiveness towards us, can go out the window. Mentally we get beat down – and the promises of God don’t seem all they are cracked up to be. And we can begin to doubt – not just about how God will get us through life – but we can actually start to doubt God’s Word. Oh, it doesn’t start off that bold or brash – but just in little bits and pieces, doubt chipping away at faith.

What you need to remember, at all times, is that God has compassion upon you, and that the highest form of His compassion rests in the forgiveness of your sins, won for you upon the Cross. His forgiveness for you is something that God never wants you to doubt. But we live in a day and age of doubt. God gives us tangible promises, tangible signs of His forgiveness and love, and people in the world try to tear them down. He has given you the gift of your Baptism – attached the promise of forgiveness to water, washed you in it. Yet how many people will say, “How can that do you any good – especially if you are a kid.” Doubting the promise of God. Or the Lord’s Supper – Christ’s Body and Blood, given to you under bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins – a great and wonderful gift. And what’s the question that goes up? Well, how can that be? Again, doubting the promise of God. Even with the spoken Word of God, people want to bring in doubt. In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins. Well, how can a simple human pastor do that? We live in a world that is full of doubt about the things of God – where Satan wants to tear down any promise of God.

Listen to the Word of God, and trust in its promises. Baptism now saves you. This is My Body, given for you. This is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Peace be with you – as the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you. And when He had said this He breathed upon them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. All of this, the very Word of God – all of it, designed and intended to make sure that you always receive forgiveness and know that you are forgiven – all of it designed to make sure that you know that just as Christ supports your body and life, He protects and nourishes your faith. Do not doubt His Word, but believe. Hear again what He has declared to you, receive again the forgiveness that He gives to you.

Because, dear friends – that is what the true cure for doubt is. Hearing God’s Word of compassion – His love and His care for you in both Body and Soul. The Lord provides you what you need for this life, and He will sustain you and see you through any trial you encounter, just has He has already seen you through the trials of your past. And more than that – He will also grant you rich and sweet forgiveness, washing away your sins and also alleving your doubts, giving you strength to face the trials of life, giving you strength to show the love that you ought. God grant that He always draw you unto Himself by the power of His life giving Word of forgiveness. Amen.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Punk and the Art of Preaching

Do you wish to become a better preacher? Listen to some Punk music (or maybe Grunge, or even some Outlaw Country).

This probably doesn't seem like an obvious idea. What would the Devil's music have to do with preaching the Word? Popular music is made for different reasons. Some music styles glorify a lifestyle, some are romantic and sappy (or even designed to seduce). Punk is a music of complaint (as is Grunge). Punk complains about life.

That's why it is useful to study. Punk describes what is wrong with the world - and more importantly, what people are seeing as wrong with the world. If you listen to the music of complaint about the world, you will have plenty of ammo for any "Mirror of existence" preaching that you might want to do. If a song of complaint is popular, it's an excellent view to what is viewed as collapsing in the world.

You don't think so? Go read Ecclesiastes (and then maybe listen to Train in Vain by the Clash). Go read Lamentations. These "punk" books of the bible could almost be sung to three chords. They show what is wrong, what is empty, what is vacant (we're so pretty, oh so pretty... vacant).

Or if music isn't your thing - maybe watch a good Satire. The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy come to mind - shows that skewer modern American living. But. . . but. . . but those shows are. . . vile. To an extent - yes. But so is the world we live in. And popular satire will let your put your finger on the pulse of the world - and when you know what that pulse is doing, you can make precise diagnosis and treatment, your preaching will be sharp.

I suppose if you are more sappy and tender - you could listen to 60s folk. . . pansy. But be aware of popular modes of complaint - they are beneficial to your task of preaching, and help keep you from being ivory tower. Folks are down in the dirt, you need to let them know in the preaching that you know what the dirt looks like.