Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent 1 - 2010

Advent 1 – November 28th, 2010 – Matthew 21:1-11

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior is coming. And by this I do not simply mean that our Christmastime preparations this Advent are now in full swing, I do not simply mean that once a long, long time ago Jesus came – while that is true, the season of Advent is bigger than just that. Advent is the time when we meditate upon our Lord’s Coming – we see how our Lord prepared people for His Birth, for His death and resurrection – and from this we see how we prepare for our Lord’s Second coming. In the Old Testament they waited for the Messiah to be born, and even while we prepare to celebrate the Messiah’s birth, His first coming, we await His second coming. And it is true, Christ Jesus your Lord and Savior is coming.

Our text for this morning is the triumphal entry, is Palm Sunday. There, of course, is a wonderful example of our Lord coming – it is Christ Jesus coming into Jerusalem in order to win us salvation with His death and resurrection upon the Cross. However, there are two main things that I would like to draw out of the text this morning, one that should be very familiar, and one that isn’t always one we think about. So let’s begin. Before Jesus enters the city, He takes two disciples and says, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” Why all this? “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’’” This is of course a very familiar passage – when we see our Lord enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He enters the city humbly. That’s the first thing, that’s what we should all know – Christ Jesus comes humbly. In fact, we are going to see humility all throughout the next two months. When He is born – humbly, in a manger. And whom is His mother? Mary, a lowly, humble virgin. Who proclaims His coming? John, a humble man. Jesus will humbly go into the water to be Baptized. There is humility all over the place the next two months. So why, why does Jesus come so humbly?

Jesus comes humbly for one simple reason. If Jesus hadn’t come humbly, hadn’t come in humility, none of the disciples, none of the sinful people there could have withstood being in His presence. Consider the Old Testament – after the fall can any sinful man bear to look at God? Adam and Eve, they hide. Moses on the mountain – just a flash of God’s backside. Elijah, can’t bear it. Or if they do see God, they are like Isaiah, who only sees a vision of God and yet cries out woe is me, I am going to die. Even the disciples, Peter, James, and John, at the transfiguration, when the voice of the Father echoes from the cloud, they all hit the dirt. Sinful man cannot be in the unbridled presence of God – it’s too much for us. And so, Christ Jesus comes humbly – He comes humbly to be with man, to come down to our level, to live with us, to teach to, and ultimately, to enter Jerusalem humbly, to ride on unto his own death and resurrection for our sake. This is what your Lord does – out of His love for you, He came humbly, so that He could accomplish your Salvation by taking up your sin and destroying it with His death and resurrection. He is always focused upon Salvation.

But there is something else, in addition to our Lord’s Humility, that I would like to point out. We often can skim over the fact that Jesus sends the disciples on to get the donkey and colt, that Jesus does this to fulfill scriptures. We kind of want to get to the scenes with the crowds and the palms – on Palm Sunday morning we’ll have our kids waving palm branches, that’s the part we like. We aren’t going to have them lead two donkeys around – and no, this is not me trying to give you ideas, we aren’t going to have them lead two donkeys around the Church. But think about this section – Jesus sends the disciples, get the animals you find there, here’s what you say to anyone who asks you what you are doing. And so, our Lord fulfills Scripture. This lesson teaches us a simple truth that we all know but can often forget or over look. Jesus knows what He is doing. It’s not as though Jesus just randomly says, “Boy, my feet are tired, go find me a donkey or something.” No – this is no accident, Jesus does what He does in order to fulfill the Scriptures, in order to make clear and plain that He comes to save us, to win us salvation. This really is a great, wonderful comfort for us. So often our lives are filled with doubt and insecurity – so often we don’t know what is going on. In fact, isn’t this really the source of much of our fear? When a loved one is having surgery, and the procedure is taking a bit longer than you expected, what’s the question in your mind? What’s going on? And not knowing what is happening can terrify us. The simple fact is that often we do not know what is going on, what is happening, and we simply have to make our best guesses, make decisions and hope for the best. Christ Jesus does know what is going on, and He always acts for your good, even if you do not see it or understand it. Jesus isn’t just groping in the dark blindly – He is the Lord God, and He knows what He is doing. His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey wasn’t an accident, it was intentional, to fulfill Scriptures, so you might recognize that He is the promised Savior.

Now, just as Christ Jesus came humbly and intentionally, knowing what He was doing then, so too, Christ Jesus your Lord comes to you humbly and intentionally today. So let’s consider these two ideas – first, that Jesus comes to us quite humbly. We confess, we know, we teach that God Himself is present here for us – that in the preaching of His Word, Jesus is with us and gives us life, that in His Supper Christ Jesus comes to be with us physically in a most wondrous and mind-boggling way. Do you ever just think about that for a bit? Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, all the folks of the Old Testament, they would have given their eye teeth to be in the presence of God like we are – they couldn’t before the Crucifixion – that was all behind the curtain stuff. Once a year one priest could enter the holy of holies – that was it. But for us, what does our Lord say? Wherever two or three of you are gathered in My name, wherever two or three of the Baptized worship together, there I will be. I will be in the Word that is preached and taught in your midst. I will be in the Supper whenever you celebrate it. He comes to us in such humble, simple, common ways. We aren’t required to go on pilgrimages to see God, we don’t have to jump through hoops, lay down lavish amounts of money. Nope, God comes to us through simple means – whenever His Word is proclaimed, wherever we can find simple bread and wine.

He set this up this intentionally, you know. This plan, this idea of gathering us, gathering His baptized brothers and sisters together around the preaching of the Word and around His Supper, this wasn’t an accident. This isn’t just something we here thought up, it is what He gave to us. And why? Because He knows you and loves you. Jesus knows your life, He knows what struggles you face, what sins tempt you, what sins you’ve given into. You never have to play pretend with Jesus, you never have to pretend that your life is perfect with Him – He knows its not. And nevertheless, He loves you, so He gives you a place where you can be gathered together with other people who are struggling and slugging it out in this world, and you can receive His forgiveness, His strength, His love, hear it preached to you, have it poured into you, over and over and again. Christ Jesus doesn’t want it to be hard for you to receive forgiveness, hard for you to hear His love for you shouted unto you again. And so, He Himself comes to His own house, and He calls you here to be with Him, and this He shall do until the Last Day.

And then, on the Last day, we will see our Lord come. Now, what will that day be? Well, when Jesus comes, it will be intentionally. The Last Day isn’t going to be an accident, it’s not as though Jesus will be walking around in heaven, trip, start falling from the sky and say, “Oh, um, yeah, um, I meant to do that, behold, I come again.” No, when the time is right, when through His Word He has called all our brothers and sisters to faith, when the time is right, our Lord will come again. That is His plan, always has been and always will be until that day. That’s in His hands – let us simply leave the when for that to Him. However, we should note a contrast. When Christ Jesus comes again, when Your Lord returns, it will not be “humbly”. It will not be on a donkey, but it will be accompanied with all the hosts of heaven. It will not be hidden away in a lowly manger, but it will be brilliant and obvious for all to see. So why, why will Christ Jesus be able to come in glory, why will He no longer need to come humbly? In past, even now, Christ Jesus comes humbly to us who are humbled, who are laid low by our sin. On the Last Day, Christ Jesus comes in Glory to glorify you, to perfect you. On the Last Day, when Christ Jesus comes in Glory He will make you to be Glorious, He will give you your own resurrection, and you will be like Him, without sin and righteous and perfect. There won’t be any need for anything but glory and wonder on that day.

We aren’t there yet. God in His wisdom and in His love has held off that day for our sake, for the sake of all those whom He loves. So, in the meantime, until then, we are focused upon how our Lord once came and indeed how He even comes to us today. He comes humbly, He comes to be with us, to forgive us, to strengthen us so that we might share in, that we might participate in all the benefits of His death and resurrection now, until the day we see them fully shine forth. This Advent, our eyes are focused once again on the goodness and love of our Lord God, who came for us, who comes unto us this day in His Word and Sacraments, and who will come again. Thus our prayer until that day is and will remain, Thy Kingdom Come. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Wedding Party

So, I was up in Wisconsin to do a wedding. It was not strictly a churchly wedding - it was in a barn, and I was there simply to officiate. It was not the worship service of a congregation (note to those who would wed in the Church - if you get married in the Sanctuary, it ain't YOUR service, it's the congregation's service - and therefore it meets the congregation's standards of behaviors and decorum), but still, rather nicely done. Two solos, which is a little long, but well done. Still, 25 minutes, went through the Agenda service, it was nice.

However, there was a small disaster. My friends got married on a Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving. Dinner was to be a catered Thanksgiving dinner (really sort of a neat idea). As the wedding wraps up, people are greeting the bride and groom, the bartender comes to me and says, "Okay, um, the caterers aren't here - they had thought the wedding was tomorrow. We're running to the store to get some party trays, and then we'll see what we can do." What we can do ended up being a whole bunch of pizzas.

And you know what - it was just fine. The Wedding Party's Attitude - ah well, we're hitched, our friends are celebrating with us, crackers, fruit, cheese, and pizza will do just fine. They also had apples and caramel and nuts - which I thought was quite spiffy.

When it comes to weddings - don't sweat the details. No, I didn't turn empty plates into a thanksgiving feast (which would have been highly Christological - but I'm only in His Office, not Him) - but difficulties arose, they were dealt with, life and joy still continued on, and folks enjoyed what they had.

What better example of how to endure life and enjoy the blessings God gives can there be?

And I got to make the Baptist Bride's eyes bulge a bit when I blessed the rings, making the sign of the cross. You thought going Lutheran as a compromise with your Roman Catholic Husband was leaning in your favor, especially as he comes from Oklahoma. Sucker! =o) Yeah, I'm blessing the both of you at "But Deliver Us From Evil" - if I'm gonna hitch you, I'm hitching you right =o)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An excellent read

I would highly recommend that everyone read Pastor Mason Beecroft's Article in the Last Issue of the Issues, Etc Journal. It tells of his move from random American pap to the Missouri Synod.

Of particular note and love to me was this:

"One thing I heard often in evangelicalism was the full weight of the Law. In
evangelical circles, the Gospel is mostly assumed. The proclamation of Christ and
Him Crucified for the forgiveness of sins and salvation is reserved for non-believers,
sinners who have not yet made a decision for Jesus. Now when a person has
walked down the aisle, raised their hand, or signed the card, then they are “saved.”
Once saved, then you are always saved. The emphasis of the Christian life is then one of obedience. The evangelical congregation is exhorted, commanded, manipulated and instructed toward more prayer, more giving, more faith, more love, and more holiness. The sermon is intended to convict people and direct them to greater piety. Well, as a student required to attend chapel four days a week and local church on Sunday, I heard on a weekly basis some 15-20 things I should be doing as a good Christian. This constant preaching of the Law results in either self- righteousness or self-loathing, both problematic to true faith. The self-righteous, in their delusional mind, suppose they are fairly good at keeping God’s demands, at least better than most. Thus, there is little need for Christ. This was not my problem. Instead, I was burdened by the weight of my sins and my inability to be faithful. No matter how hard I tried, I could not meet the expectations of God’s Law or those rules, regulations, and principles preached from the pulpit. So when I finally kneeled for confession and absolution in a Lutheran Divine Service, I was struck by the proclamation that my sins were forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ. I was comforted to hear the Gospel applied to me."

It is not about rules, it is not about works, it is not about increasing piety - it must always be about bring sinners the Gospel (and if they don't know they are sinners, well, afflict the comforted, but only so that they might receive the true comfort of the Gospel).

Lucky 777

(This is the 777th post on this blog, the Lucky post, the Jackpot, the big winner)

There are two things that I love about being Lutheran. One is how deep, how profound, and how simple the Law is.

Consider what Paul writes in Romans 10:8-10, the Epistle for the 1st Sunday in Advent. "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."

But Paul... we need more specific guidance, give us more and more. No, actually we don't. Love your neighbor. Do not harm him. Simple as that. And deep as that. When you ignore your neighbor, you ain't loving him. When you cover the Truth of the word so as to avoid upsetting him, you ain't loving him. When you try to run his life by giving instructions you've no place to give, you ain't loving him.

To say "love your neighbor" is not the mamby-pamby cop-out that liberal jackwagons (I love that commercial, by the by) try to make it out to be. It is simple, clear - and hard as hell because my sinful flesh wants to love me and me alone.

I am to love my neighbor. And in this, I fail utterly. Even when I do show some kindness, something that might be called love, my sinful, greedy flesh wants praise and glory and payback for it.

And thus we hit jackpot number two - and this is the big winner.

Jesus Christ is the One who loves you, His neigbhor, and does so perfectly. Everything you see Christ do, that is for you. Every act, every healing -> that's for you. But not just that - every theophany of the Old Testament -> that's for you. Every Word written so that you might see His love for you, know His forgiveness, be pointed in all things to His Death and Resurrection.

In His great love for you, even He has deigned to make me a new creature, create good works for me that I will walk in without even noticing, simply so you can be loved... any love that comes from me is actually His. Everything always drives back to His love for you, over and over.

You are loved by Christ, you are sustained by Christ, you are forgiven by Christ, you are redeemed by Christ, you are restored by Christ, and you will be raised by Christ.

Why? Because He became man and made you His neighbor, and Jesus loves His neighbors. Simple as that.

Everything is just an unpacking of love - that our failures to love do not trump God's love, and that His love and mercy endure forever.

Ain't nothing better than that.

Lutherans in the Hands of an Angry Pastor

So, I am doing prep for my History Study, and we are going to go over the 1st Great Awakening. Hence, I'm writing on Jonathan Edwards - going to quote a bit from "Sinners in the hands of an Angry God." It will be fun.

However, I saw (I admit it, on Wikipedia) this rather telling and accurate summation of Edwards.

""Edwards could take for granted...that a New England audience knew well the Gospel remedy. The problem was getting them to seek it." - by George Mardsen.

Is that what you assume, oh Lutheran? Or is it a matter of the fact that in our sinfulness our eyes are already curved in on themselves and need to be focused upon Christ and the Gospel?

Just something to think about. The Americanization of Lutheranism is a frightening thing.

Mike Baker Knocks it out of the Park

Over on his blog, Mike Baker is knocking it out of the Park when dealing with how pervasive the Law has become in American Christianity.

In a series of three posts he talks about how the following terms are nothing but law:

1 - Encouragement and Practical

2 - Principal, step, purpose, and love

3 - Have to, ought to, etc.

And, if this weren't enough, Geography Class, Islam, and the Gospel explains precisely why a Law centered religion ceases to be Christianity. (Todd and Jeff, if you are reading, this post by Mike ought to be a blog of the week - seriously - get it out there for people to see)

Wonderful, wonderful stuff, spot on and insightful, told by one who has experienced life in the belly of the beast.

This is why the wise listen to converts.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A story to clarify

A food critic walks into a restaurant and order his meal and he eats it. The chef then comes out and asks the critic what he thought of the meal. And the critic says, "It was too salty."

What does this mean? Does it mean that the Critic hates salt and thinks salt should never be used? No - that would be more akin to "there were onions, and I hate onions".

Does it mean that the Critic just doesn't understand the chef's brilliant use of salt? No - it means that the chef's brilliant use of salt isn't really that brilliant.

Does it mean that the Critic wants people to have food without taste, for that is the purpose of salt, to give food better taste? No - it means the critic thinks the salt overpowers and destroys the taste of the food because there is too much there.

Likewise, when I say that in general, in American today, that we can put too much of a focus on the Law, too much of a focus on trying to tell people what to do, this does not mean:

A. That I hate the Law, or even the 3rd Use of the Law.
B. That I simply don't understand how much people need the Law.
C. That I think the Law is pointless and useless.

No, it means this. The Law is to be a servant, it is a pedagogue to prepare us for the Gospel. The focus of the Church is not to make "good people", it is to give Christ to poor, miserable sinners, and He will make them good.

Too much law obscures the Gospel, it overpowers it. Too much of a focus on works makes one to think that being a Christian is defined by what I do and how I do it, rather than being defined by what Christ does.

Do we always need Law? Yes. But we need to take care that the Law that we preach is God's Law, not our own wisdom for how best people should live. We need to see that this Law does no predominate, but rather prepares folks to hear the Gospel.

Simple as that.

But, but, but - that's law right there! Eh, I suppose so. Again - I don't hate the Law, I don't think it should be avoided. But in your preaching, it must always yield to the Gospel, and more over, it must be God's Law, what He says, not what any particular preacher happens to think about the way things ought to be (we are servants of Christ, not our own miniature Popes or Rush Limbaughs).

Because, when it boils down to it - people don't need you, they don't even need the a lonely Law hanging out by itself. They need Christ.

Salt isn't the meal - the meal is. If your focus is the salt, the meal will be diminished.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Last Sunday Sermon

Last Sunday of the Church Year – Matthew 25:1-13 – Nov. 21st, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Who doesn’t like a wedding? This week, I myself will be going to and performing a wedding for a friend in Wisconsin the day after thanksgiving, and even though it means I’m going to have to fly into O’Hare Airport in Chicago on Thanksgiving day and deal with that madhouse, even though I’m going to have drive a strange rental car through who knows what sort of weather in Wisconsin, even though I’ll probably end up having fast food on Thursday while you guys can enjoy Turkey and pie here that I cooked – still looking forward to it. Weddings are a good thing, they are the biblical image of joy and celebration and love and hope. And what do we see in today Gospel lesson? We see the return of Christ Jesus, we see the Last Day compared to a wedding.

With this comparison, our Lord reminds us of something simple. His return, His 2nd Coming is a good thing, it is something that we should with all eagerness look forward to – it something we should view like high school girls getting ready to go to prom, or kids on Christmas morning. And yet, so often the thoughts of Christ’s Return, of the end of the world treat it like a day of dread. For you who are here, right now, for you who come to this place to hear the Word of God proclaimed, to have your sins forgiven, to partake of our Lord’s Body and Blood in His Supper – the end will not be a day of dread, but rather of joy and wonderment. That is what our Lord teaches you with this parable today.

“Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” So, our Lord describes for us an old fashioned, 1st Century Fancy Jewish wedding. And the people, out side of the bride and groom, who would be most eager for the wedding would be the virgins – the young women who were now considered old enough to go to an adult function, who were now grown up, and perhaps ready for a wedding of their own, and would be in a place where they might draw the eye of a nice single man. And what would happen is as the wedding began, the young women would flank the groom, because the groom is the one who did the processing back in the day, and they would carry the lamps, the lights, and all eyes would turn to the groom, and the single guys would see the young gals. Do you see why this would be something to look forward to?

“Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish ones took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” However, our ten virgins do not all prepare for the wedding and festivity properly. While they all know that they are going to carry lamps, that they are going to be providing light, alas, only 5 are wise and prepared. The other 5 are “foolish”. I laugh every time I read this in Greek, because the Greek word for foolish here is “moron”. And wherever you see “foolish” or “foolish ones” – it reads, “the morons.” Sometimes I think we should have used that word. What they do is utterly foolish, utterly moronic. It would be like planning to go on a road trip, but not having any gas. It would be like hosting a dinner but not buying any food. If your job, your reason to come into the wedding is to bring light, you need fuel for your lamp. It’s almost like asking someone to borrow a flashlight and they bring you one without any batteries – what are you thinking! But, that’s the point, they aren’t really. And it’s going to come back to bite them.

“As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.” Now, we aren’t making a comparison here between the foolish and the perfect – they all fall asleep. Wise and foolish alike – they are brimming with teenaged nervous energy, bouncing all over the place – and then, things slow down a bit, and they all fall asleep. Completely understandable. But then we hear this: “But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.” And then it is go time – the groom is coming, he’s on his way, we are going to get this show on the road – and so the gals all wake up and get their lamps ready. But – “the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’” So, are the wise virgins just being mean here? No – they are being wise. This is a party that will last through the night, and I have to have enough oil to last through the night. If I give you oil, we’ll both cut out early, and that will be highly embarrassing for both of us. Go get your oil like you were supposed to in the first place. So the moronic virgins run off in a huff, and then – “And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” And while the moronic virgins are off running to buy, the groom shows up, the party starts, and they are locked out. They miss the boat. And they don’t get in.

So, what does this mean? In this parable, there is really only one point of separation between the wise and the foolish. They both have lamps – they both know that there is a bridegroom coming. They all fall asleep, wise and foolish alike. They all know how lamps work – the foolish know that they need oil, they even ask for some at the end. But the thing that really separates the wise from the foolish here is one thing and one thing only – the wise make sure that they have oil, and the foolish don’t care until it is too late.

Now, consider yourself. You know who the Bridegroom is – You know Christ Jesus. You know the salvation that He has won, you can all tell me what happened on Good Friday, what happened on Easter. You’ve got your lamp. You even have a tendency to be drowsy, to not always be as eager for doing good as you ought. This really becomes a question of preparation – of your oil.

What is it that keeps you as a Christian focused upon Christ, ready for His return, prepared to face Judgment Day and the life of the world to come? What is this oil that fuels your faith, that keeps your eyes upon Christ Jesus? It is the Word of God, it is the preaching of God’s Word, it is our Lord’s Most Holy Supper, it is being given Christ’s own forgiveness over and over and over so that you are always full, always ready for His return. As Lutherans we have a catch phrase for this – “Word and Sacrament” – that these are the means by which you receive Grace, receive forgiveness, by which you are constantly forgiven and renewed and kept strong in your faith, that it is a living faith, overflowing with Christ’s love, that it is vibrant and shines even in the darkness night. You enter heaven by virtue of forgiveness, won by Christ upon the Cross.

And what can happen? In our foolish, moronic love of the world, we can be tempted to say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about that Jesus stuff,” and blow Christ off. Put Him and His forgiveness to the side. And we dry up, and our faith dissipates. Faith isn’t simply knowing of Jesus, faith isn’t book knowledge, but it is a trust and love of Him, a trust in His salvation. And if you ignore Him, if you constantly blow off Church or Bible study, blow off our Lord Himself by ignoring Him when He physically comes to you in His Supper – what do you think is going to happen to your faith? If you stop eating and drinking, you die. If you put no gas in your car, it runs out. If you cut yourself off from the Word of God, from the Communion of Saints, what do you think will happen to you?

Now, today also happens to be our Stewardship Sunday, and you may have noticed that the pledges this year are different. They don’t mention cash at all. You know, we have this famous phrase about stewardship being the wise management of our time, our talents, and our treasure. That’s a good grouping – but most of the time we jump right to treasure, or maybe to talent if we need some stuff done – by the by, my thanks to all who helped with the cleaning last week – I have appreciated it greatly this week. This Sunday – look at time. Are you being wise with your time? And I’m not going to lay some guilt trip on you – I can if you really want me too, but I don’t like that. Rather, be wise, and with wisdom examine yourself. How much of your time to do dedicate to being gathered together with other Christians and being built up in your faith? We have service every Sunday – it shouldn’t surprise any of you, in fact a full quarter of the year we have some midweek service, be it Thanksgiving, or Lent, or Advent. We have them the next 6 weeks, in fact. We have at least 3 different bible studies each week – Sunday morning, Tuesday night, Wednesday morning – once a month on Thursday afternoon – and if we need another one, let me know, I’ll be glad to teach. You have ample opportunity to be in God’s Word – and I urge you not to let this go to waste. So, in your pledge card, after considering this, you will get to say how much time a week you will spend at Church, not working, not doing this or that, but simply being gathered with other Christians around the Word of God so that your faith might be built up and strengthened. And I would encourage each of you to set as a goal at least 2 hours a week. That’s not that much time – hit Church, hit one of the bible studies. And it’s less time than you probably spend with your favorite two or three TV shows. Or if you have been lax in attendance, if you’ve been a once a monther in attendance – try and get it up to 2 or 3 times a month at least – increase, improve, be in the Word more.

And again, I urge this not because if you come more you’ll be a better and nicer person. You might, I certainly hope so – but that’s not my main concern. My concern is this. You live your life in a world that is harsh, that is rough, that is demanding – and it is a world that will try to convince you to be harsh, rough, and demanding as well. It is a world that will try to destroy your faith. And in contrast to the world, in this place you will hear something entirely different. You will hear God’s Word speaking forgiveness and salvation to you, You will hear Christ Jesus say to you, “Take and Eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My Blood” so that you might be filled with forgiveness and love and thus strengthened and enabled to be prepared for our Lord’s Coming. God does not want your faith to wither and die, and so He has given you His Church so that you might come and be filled with Him, with His Love, with His Forgiveness – that you might be made wise unto salvation and life everlasting. Until He comes again on the Last Day, come to this place, and often, so that you will be found ready to meet Him, so that you never forget His love for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Contraception New Flash

A breakthrough on contraception!

Now, while Rome still will claim that a husband and wife who use a condom are sinning, the Pope has said that the use of condoms can be justified... if you are a male prostitute.


Good to know. Now, I'm wondering how many male prostitutes worry about whether or not the pope approves of their usage of condoms, but that's neither here nor there.

What fixes people and "Don't be a theological TSA agent"

What fixes people? What makes them better? What gives growth?

Is it the Law or the Gospel?

Now, I know, I know, people are going to complain - "Well, you have to have both!" Yes - I understand. Gospel without Law is ignored, Law without Gospel simply kills faith.

Which of these two, though, causes growth? Which brings forth life?

Is it the Law or the Gospel?
Is it the Moses or Jesus?
Is it the Letter or the Spirit?

When the Scriptures say, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" is this knowledge simply saying if they knew the Law of Moses they wouldn't be destroyed, or is it that they no longer know the covenant made to Abraham and its promises of life?

Yes, dropping the Law will lead to dropping the Gospel - but which gives life - which fixes people?

We are people of the Gospel - that is where our focus must be. In fact, above all things it is this idea that the Gospel, that Justification by Grace through faith - that being made right, that being fixed (for sanctification flows from Justification) is the working of the Gospel, this is the heart of Lutheranism, it is what drips from and is the heart of every page of our confessions.

Confession is retained not because of the wonderful examination of the Law it provides, but for the sake of the Absolution, for the sake of the Gospel.

The Church is not identified as the place where the Law is rightly proclaimed (although it is rightly proclaimed) but as where the Gospel is preached and the Sacraments rightly administered.

Luther says he would gladly submit again to the Pope if only the Pope would allow the preaching of, not the Law, but the Gospel.

And why? Because as Lutherans know, it is the Gospel that works, that brings growth, that changes people and makes them better, that is efficacious and gives life. "Be ye perfect" never made anyone perfect. For that, we must hear the Gospel, we must fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and... Perfector of our Faith.

+ + + + + + + + + + + +

To give an analogy from a modern cue that hopefully will go away quickly.

I am going to fly to Wisconsin (God willing) next week. That is the goal - the prize, the joy - ah, to attend the wedding. To fly there, I must pass through security. I must be examined, poked, and prodded, humiliated, cast down and treated like meat.

Then, I will enter the plane, and there I will sit, I will rest, and I will be carried with all joy to my destination.

The Law is like the TSA screening - poking, prodding, making sure everything is just right. Some security is necessary, as some Law is necessary, but if you overdo it, all you do is make some people uncomfortable, give others a false sense of security, and generally waste everyone's time.

Now, a preacher should be like a pilot - providing the sweet Gospel which brings people Jesus and life everlasting. We hear the Gospel and we are given life - just as passengers sit on a plane and are brought to their destination.

DON'T BE A THEOLOGICAL TSA AGENT, mentally and verbally molesting your parishoners in order to keep them "safe" when what they really need is the Gospel.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fear and Love and the Law

"Fear will keep the systems in line, Fear of this Battle Station" - Governor Tarkin

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." - 1 John 4:18

As a Christian, as a Saint, I need no threats of the Law. The third use of the Law speaks to the New Man - and there are no threats, no punishments, no "or elses" attached.

As a fallen man, as a Sinner, I need to be warned, I need the threats and warning to curb me from being the slob that I would be if left to my own sinful druthers. The first use of the law speaks to this.

If you are attaching punishments, threats, or consequences, you are no longer speaking the 3rd use of the Law, even if you are speaking to Christians.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Listen to the Converts

First, let me address two realities here:

1. Lutherans will never live in isolation. We will always be surrounded by culture, by other theologies, and these will impact us - and in many ways we will want them to impact us, we will want to emulate them.
2. The Law of Unintended Consequences applies to things theological. Even though you see something that X does well, if you just try to adopt it, while you might have the result you want, there will always be unintended consequences.

So, what does this mean? We can be very frustrated with the state of the Church, with the state of the people there in. And, instead of simply seeking to preach the Word of God faithfully, of applying Law and Gospel to the people in our care, we can be tempted to "fix" things - and we can see what other denominations do, and want to adopt their practices and adapt them to Lutheranism.

This happens with adopting Evangelical worship styles (or even high liturgical styles), or with trying to engage social issues and make good Christians like the Evangelicals, or to express more freedom like the mainline folks - adopting a new polity (because having bishops would fix things, or going even more congregational).

Before you go with your scheme to fix the Church, pause, and do something very simple.

Talk to a convert from that religion you want Lutheranism to look more like and see what they think of your plans.

Seriously - you want to have happy, awesome worship - talk to a convert (and not an "Well, my wife was Lutheran so I had to come here" convert, but a legit person who has for simple reasons of faith converted) and see what they think. And then, you may see the unintended consequences of the changes you want to make.

I am told of what one of my dear widow's husband used to say when he was alive (before my time). He would routinely lambaste people when tomfoolery was suggested, saying, "You Lutherans don't know what you have." Listen to the people who know what you have - lest you exchange the Baby for your neighbors bathwater which you happen to think is cleaner than yours.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Little Bit More on the 3rd Use

Here are the thoughts I have at the moment on the third use. When one is preaching (as opposed to giving specific advice and counsel to a specific individual in a specific situation), what does the third use of the Law look like? Is it a command to do X, or does it present a pattern that one should seek to emulate?

I do think that the easiest example of third use that we have as Lutherans are the positive parts of the explanations to the commandments. As an example, the third commandment - we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. The bold is 3rd use - you are describing what a Christian ought to do.

How do we teach this? Do we teach specific ways one can hear the Word? Should we say, "As a Christian, you need to listen to Rev. Fisk's Worldview Everlasting," or, do we instead say, "You have so many opportunities to be in the Word, to study and learn more about God, be it some good blogs, or something like Rev. Fisk's Worldview Everlasting. See the chances that God gives you to be in His Word, and take advantage of them"?

Or to think of it this way - often we think of the third use as a guide. What's a guide? Well, a guide book for a tourist says, "You should see X, Y, and Z" - that's how we often think of it. Or like a cookbook - if you want to make a Good Christian life, do this, add this here, and then you will have a completed dish. We can think of this guide as being very, very specific.

My vicarage Supervisor used the image of a trellis - that the Law provides a pattern, a foundation upon which to grow. Instead of a tour book that says, "You need to stay at this hotel", one that says, "This is how you can tell if a hotel is going to be a good one for you." Instead of a simple cook book, think of Good Eats - where in addition to specific recipes you learn techniques that can be applied to other things as you see fit - ah, this isn't just a recipe for gravy, this is how you make a pan sauce, and I can apply this technique to all sorts of pan sauces.

I really think this later aspect is what we need to emphasize more on the third use. When Luther explains the commandments, he doesn't say, "but go to Church once on Sunday and on every day of obligation." He says, "Hold the Word Sacred and gladly hear and learn it." Is it good to go to Church when it is offered - yes. But there is more to this pattern of hearing the Word of God gladly - whenever and wherever.

Now, can we and ought we highlight specific things? Of course. But when we teach examples that fulfill the third use, we must always teach them so that the Christian understands that this is not the divine checklist of "do this and you are a good Christian" - but rather, "These are the types of things you should see in your life."

Or to put it this way. Teaching the third use is not just teaching that X is good. It is teaching a person to be able to look at something you've never mentioned and determine whether it is good or bad. Before the boy knows to refuse the evil and choose the good. . . that is the goal - to lead people into growth and wisdom - not simply that they can repeat, but that they can apply.

The 3rd use isn't about doing something specific - it is about learning to apply the examples we have from Scripture in our own lives - not simple emulation, for I will never be in the situation that the cloud of witnesses before me were in - but I can strive to act "like" they would have in the situations I find myself in. The 3rd use should encourage this.

(or think of it this way - not just "clean this thing" but rather, "go clean things, like perhaps this, or whatever else needs to be cleaned".

Monday, November 15, 2010

Can and Should

I have come to dread the word "can". Christians would do well to remove the word "Can" from their vocabularies, at least regarding permission. "Can I do this" is almost always the wrong question. Rather, ask yourself "Should I do this". Is this something you should do - does it show love to God and neighbor? Does it make you violate other duties you have?

Stop thinking about whether or not you *can* do thing - and don't use the fact that you *can* as an excuse. I could make my church office hours from 9pm - 5am, but you know what, it would be stupid.

Think about what is good to do, what you should do. And go from there.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trinity 24 Sermon

Trinity 24 – November 14th, 2010 – Matthew 9:18-26

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Before we actually look at the text, I want to make clear this morning how we are going to approach it. We are approaching the end of the Church Year, and the End of the Church Year can be sometimes viewed as a dour time. We often talk about the End of the World, and we can get kind of uncomfortable and grumbly. The great joy of this text is that it shows us why we shouldn’t be apprehensive or nervous about end times talk, but it will also shine some light on why it is so easy for us to be nervous. You see, this is the thing – there is the simple, plain, blunt, worldly reality that we see all around us – and this is often dour and depressing and frightening. But as a Christian, you have been shown a reality that is greater, that is more wondrous than just the fallen, dank world – you have been shown Christ Jesus and His life. You have been shown a hope that does not fade, that the world cannot conquer. We’re going to see two examples of this in our Scripture lesson today – and then we are going to take these examples and see how they teach us, how they apply to our lives here and now. We are going to see movement from horrid realities here and now to joy and growth and restoration in Christ – and that same pattern in the text is the pattern of your life. Let’s dive in.

“While He was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before Him saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” So, this is the first set up. This man sees a horrid, horrid reality. Death seems to be pretty high up there on things to fear or dread in this life – and the death of a child. When we hear things about “reality setting in” or the “truth hits everybody” we are talking about these harsh, harsh things. That is what this man sees. His daughter is dead. However, he sees another reality – while it is true that his daughter is dead, if Jesus touches her, lays His hand upon her – she will live. Two realities there – one reality overwhelmed by death; the other focused on hope in Christ. And so our Lord agrees to follow this man, to come with Him to lay His hands upon this man’s daughter and heal her.

Now, we are going to come back to the woman whom our Lord deals with on the way, but for now, let’s see what happens when Jesus arrives at this man’s house. “And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and crowd making a commotion, He said, ‘Go away, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping,’ And they laughed at Him.” Jesus arrives at the house, and the mourning is on. We tend to think of a flute as a happy instrument – it was often used for somber songs of mourning in Christ’s day. The crowds are there, and they are all mourning together – weeping, wailing, dirges. That’s reality. We understand this – we ourselves mourn together – and this is by no means a bad thing. There is the harsh reality of death. But then Jesus speaks – not dead, she’s asleep. So why can Jesus say this? Isn’t the girl really dead – is this not a miracle, did these people just think the gal was dead? No – she’s dead. That’s reality – but Christ Jesus sees something bigger. She’s not dead like you people are expecting – she’s not dead as though that’s it, it’s over, that’s all she wrote, kaput. Jesus knows that He is going to walk in that house, touch that girl, bring her to life, and she’s going to walk right out again with Him. Yeah, she’s dead, but truly, it’s closer to what you folks are used to dealing with the idea of sleep – because she’s going to rise from that bed where she lays.

And they all laugh. They laugh at Jesus. Look at this stupid Fellow, He thinks the girl is just asleep. In the middle of their mourning, they pause to mock Christ and His promise of life. Do I need to draw parallels to your own life, where I’m sure that you all have had people mock you and your faith in Christ – where the meanest, gruffest people will pause and laugh at you and make fun of you for being a Christian. It shouldn’t be surprising. Happens to Christ. Yet what happens in our text – “But when the crowd had been put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.” Precisely what Jesus said would happen. Exactly what the girl’s father knew would happen. The daughter, healed by Christ lives – death is undone, death overturned. There is a reality stronger than death – Christ Jesus Himself.

Now, let’s backtrack a bit in the text – as Jesus is walking to this house to raise this girl to life, there is an interesting occurrence. “And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His garment, for she thought, ‘If I only touch His garment, I will be made well.’” We see another example – perhaps even more poignant, worse than simple death. We see the woman with the discharge of blood. Okay, Pastor, we know you are a squeamish sort of fellow, when you say that her situation is worse than death, are you just being grossed out? Nope. Think like a Jew for a moment. According to the Jewish law, when a women is menstruating, she would be considered unclean. You didn’t really hang around with her – it was a time of more or less isolation for purification. But for this woman, it’s not a few days – something is drastically wrong, and for 12 years she has been living in isolation, cut off from society, from events, from people. Do you see how in the text she sneaks up behind Christ? She doesn’t just walk up to Him and say, “Would you heal me” – she feels compelled to creep up, quietly, while He’s moving and won’t notice – if I just touch His garment I’ll be healed – and only His garment, because a good Jewish man wouldn’t touch a woman with a flow of blood. That fear, that isolation, that shame – that is this woman’s reality.

And yet, in the middle of that reality, in the middle of seeing that – and I can’t even imagine what it would be like – she sees another. Christ Jesus can heal me. And so she creeps closer and closer, and then we hear this – “Jesus turned, and seeing her He said, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.” Jesus sees her, and He loves her, shows compassion on her – treats this woman who had been cut off for so long as His own family – calls her daughter. Her view of reality, her understanding of the truth that Christ brings healing, her trust in Christ – her faith – it is proven true.

In both these examples – the ruler with his dead daughter, the woman with her flow of blood, there is the common, simple reality that the world can see. A dead child. A woman forced away from society, despised and forsaken. Neither of these realities are pretty. And these people both know it. The ruler – he doesn’t pretend that his daughter isn’t dead. The woman, she doesn’t pretend that she isn’t an outcast. But they see a higher reality, they have their eyes fixed upon Christ Jesus – they live by faith – faith is the hope of things yet unseen. And as their faith is in Christ, as Christ Jesus knows them and loves them and cares for them, as their faith sees the higher and greater reality, they rejoice.

What does this mean for you? First, do not be afraid to admit, to confront, to deal with sorrow and pain and suffering in your life. You don’t have to pretend it isn’t there. Being a Christian isn’t pretending or expecting that everything in life will go your way – in reality this world is full of pain and death and suffering – and as a Christian in the world, you’re going to see all that in spades. Don’t pretend it’s not there, don’t ignore that reality. Rather, pay attention to the higher, the greater reality, Christ Jesus and His love for you.

Our Lord and Savior didn’t pretend that everything in this world was alright, He didn’t bury His head in the sand saying that everything was hunky dory. Instead, He came down from heaven and went to the Cross, and was buried until the third day in His tomb. The Cross is the ultimate statement of reality in this world – the world is a fallen, wretch place – where even Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, perfect, holy, loving, where even this Christ Jesus is put to death. Nothing shows us the pain and sorrow of this world more than the Cross. And we aren’t to pretend that this suffering isn’t there – we aren’t to deny the cross. Rather, what does our Lord say. Take up your Cross – take up the suffering you face in this life – acknowledge it, bear it, fight against it. Indeed, take up your neighbor’s burdens as well – and what? Follow Me. Keep your eyes upon Christ Jesus. Why?

“Because if we follow Jesus then, gosh darnit, we’ll just be such nice people.” No! That’s not the point. Follow Christ because He gives and He brings to you a reality that trumps and conquers and gives victory over every sorrow this world can dish at you. The reality of the Cross yields, gives way to the reality of the empty tomb. That’s where we follow Christ to, that’s where our Lord leads you to. Jesus knows what you face in this life – so what does He do? He takes water and the Word and baptizes you – calls you daughter, calls you son, and washes you clean of all of your sin and impurity and restores you to you family, the family of God. He sees you dying, and into your hands He puts His own Body, says, “Take and eat” – now may this true Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ keep and preserve you unto… life, life everlasting. One of the Church fathers was fond of calling the Lord’s Supper the medicine of immortality – that’s a beautiful way of putting it. You will live forever, for Christ touches you and gives you life in His Name. While you do live in a world full of just wicked, horrible stuff, things that impact you – by Christ Jesus, by His Word of forgiveness, by His sacraments you are shown, you are made to see a higher reality – you have life and forgiveness and salvation in Him.

And this truth, this life, this reality of salvation that is yours in Christ, this is applied to the entirety of your life. In our text, we saw two examples of how the world can come crashing down. Isolation and death. Both are real – but Christ is bigger and conquers. Now, this week to come, I don’t know what the world is going to throw at you. I know that it will throw stuff at you – that’s the way this world works until Christ comes. But whatever it is, remember the higher reality. You are a baptized child of God, you are part of His Body and indeed have communed with Him, He is yours, and thus life everlasting is yours – even though the world mocks and ignores this – even though you are attacked sorely – you have life in Christ Jesus, and you have it even until He comes again, where we will all see this wondrous reality face to face. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More Proof that I'm Really a Bishop

So I saw this article on exorcism in Rome which noted that while any priest can perform an exorcism, he needs permission from his bishop so to do.

I, on the other hand, am the Lutheran Bishop of Lahoma. I do my own exorcisms by virtue of my office, without needing permission from anyone.

Gentlemen - if you are a Lutheran Parish Pastor, you are a bishop. Own it.

An Example from Cleaning

Today, we are having a cleaning day at the Church. At first, it was being met with much trepidation, because no one could remember precisely who suggested the cleaning day or what specifically we were supposed to do at this cleaning day. And there was concern, who is going to be in charge, I don't want to tell people what to do, oh no, is nothing doing to get done?

It's an hour later. Cleaning is going wondrously. Some had wanted me to tell people what to do - I begged off. Now things are being cleaned that I would have never thought of. Why are these things being cleaned? Not because I guided them to these things, but simply because in their going around, people saw things to clean.

This is why I think the 3rd Use of the Law is highly, highly over-rated.

Do I need to tell people what to clean? Well, I suggested that it would be good to polish the pews - that is something that stood out as a good thing to me. And the pews will get cleaned -- but my encouragement to clean the pews isn't the fullness of cleaning, it doesn't provide a full framework for how cleaning goes. And I didn't need to provide the people here a full framework - they understood they were here to clean, and things are being cleaned.

Oh, I suppose I give a little guidance. One lady hit the Sacristy. Oh, I'll put that thing back here, and that there - oh, and if you would, leave those there (my sermons from the year, which I will file in 9 days - the Monday after the Last Sunday - it's a quirk of mine - helps me shift to Advent. Don't ask). But I didn't need to say, "This is what you need to do and how you need to do it" -- they know and they work.

This is how it is with the Christian life. We don't need to give people 8 principals for this, or micromanaging guidelines for that - we don't need to set up fences so they know how to approach every single issue. They are Christians. Teach them to think like Christians - to be focused on love, care, service, forgiveness. Then you know what? They will go find ways to show love, care, service, and forgiveness that you couldn't have anticipated.

In fact, if you try to teach them what being a real Christian is - you're really only teaching them what "you" are - teaching them to be like you - rather than teaching them to walk around in the good works that God has made them to walk in.

Let people go to work. If something is ill - cut that off. If there is a question about a specific thing - advise. But let people live - and quit worrying so much. If they are living horribly - preach stern Law - 2nd usage. Slay their bad habits. Then preach Christ, and in humility let Christ give them life as He sees fit.

The Cleaning is getting done. The Good Works God wills will get done. And not because I am so smart and wondrous that I can tell people what they need to do.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Much of growth is simply about perspective. Much of what we lack is perspective.

Consider - when you are a child, how much are you aware of? Little, if nothing at all. Simply content to be. Then you become a teen, and you start to become aware of yourself, your wants and desires more sharply. Then, perhaps, you grow into an adult (many people remain teens all their lives), and you begin to see others whom you have responsibility towards. And then, you grow more and more, and you see more and more connections, and realize more and more that what you are to do has ever less and less with your wants and more and more with the needs of those around you.

This is what I mean by perspective.

Our sinfulness would destroy this. Our greed, our passion, our selfishness would have us turn our eyes away from our neighbor and on to ourselves. And this is a constant threat, a constant danger - that we loose our perspective and become focused only upon ourselves, curved in on ourselves by sin.

Keep your perspective - and the way to do that is to have your eyes focused firmly upon the Cross of Christ Jesus. The whole world, all its weight, its burdens, its sin, all of it is firmly held there and borne by our Lord... when we see that, we can see the needs, the flaws, even the sins of our neighbors, not with anger, not with scorn, but with love and compassion.

By being focused upon our Lord upon the Cross, we grow in a perspective that lets us not only see but understand and have compassion upon the whole world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hebrews 6 in other words

When we think of repentance, we think in terms of the continual turning to God, away from our sins, for our salvation.

Hebrews is speaking of differing ways, differing places to which a person might turn. If one rejects the true repentance that we have in and to Christ -- none of these other ways, these other repentances will give you anything but the wrath of God.

Hebrews: Wrath, Sin, Sacrifice, the East and Luther

In reading Hebrews I encounter two things that stand out - how it teaches things that the East would seem to have some problem with (wrath), and how Luther was highly concerned with how repentance seemed to be downplayed in a place like Hebrews 6.

This can all be rightly understood when look and see how Hebrews moves through the ideas of wrath, sin, and sacrifice.

Hebrews is clear, over and over, that God exercises wrath. It cites the Old Testament in 3:11 - "As I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.'" God's wrath desabathizes man. Chapter 4 builds on this quote, and it lingers throughout the first 10 chapters - we are told that Vengeance belongs to the Lord, that there is punishment for sin, to the point where Chapter 10:31 can read, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

This is not some Eastern "Oh, if we don't love God, we just don't handle His presence well" - that is far, too far, an anthropocentric approach - one that is quite foreign to Hebrews.

What we see in Hebrews is this. Sin = wrath. Wherever there is sin, there God will be wrathful. Period. End of story. Don't try to soft peddle this - People sin, they get wrath. They don't know the ways of God - they get wrath.

However, there is another idea that is strongly attached to sin in Hebrews. Sacrifice. Sin is sacrificed for. And that sacrifice (and I say one, for the point is that all sacrifices point to the one Sacrifice of Good Friday where Christ is the propitiation for our Sin) does away with sin -- and where there is no sin there is no wrath.

If sin - then wrath. If no sin - then no wrath. There can only be no sin in Christ. The only place where there can be no wrath is in the sacrifice of Christ which takes the fullness of all wrath for sin -> it is only in this sacrifice that sin is remembered no more and that wrath is stilled. Wrath exists - it exists upon sin, the sin that He who knew no sin bore for us to the Cross.

But then, what of Luther's worry about 6:4ff? No repentance? I'd pair this with 10:26 - for if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

To reject Christ is to reject His sacrifice for the propitation of sin. It is to say, "I do not want Christ to have my sin" - it is to claim it away from Christ unto yourself. So be it. Take your sin - but where there is sin, there is wrath, and you will have it in spades.

And there is no other repentance, no other place we can turn to. Hebrews 6:1 -- Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith towards God.... for it is impossible to restore again to repentance... This is a statement not of the unforgivablity of sin, but that there is no other sort of repentance by which man can live - and if one rejects the faith of Christ - they make the death of Christ as nothing, they crucify Him to their own harm because His crucifixion becomes not the death of their sin but something else, something less.

If you look other than to the death of Christ Jesus for your forgiveness and deliverance from the wrath of God, you will find neither. There is no other turning to which you can turn, no other penting towards which you can repent yourself.

Thus, Hebrews 11 - come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector (the "It is finished"-er) of our faith. Thus do not forsake the gathering together (in Christ) as some of you have become accustomed to.

The entire book of Hebrews is really an explanation of the fact that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life - that no man comes to the Father but by Him, by His atoning sacrifice upon the Cross, and that apart from Christ there remains only for the sinner wrath. Thanks be to God, we have been made to Christ Jesus our Savior!

Who Wrote Hebrews?

Alright everybody - who wrote Hebrews? I know that we can't know for certain, but I was wondering what you folks thought. (I'm teaching a class on it tomorrow, 1 session, 1 hour, and I need to get my own speculation out so I don't clog up class).

Some say Apollos, some say Paul, there are a few other opinions, including my own. In the comments, say who you think, if you will.

As for me - I'm saying it's Mark after he leaves Rome at Peter's death and heads to Alexandria. Indeed, I think it might be one of his first sermons, right around 66 or 67 AD. Why do I think Mark?

Well, I don't think it's Paul, because the Greek is too good - however, the author has as much experience with Judaism as Paul does. That's also why I don't think it is Apollos... He'd probably be too Greek. Also, I think you have some Petrine interests - how so much of the Old Testament is focused upon (again, much more of a Peter thing than a Paul thing).

And who is the one person who has lots of experience with both Peter and Paul, who would be familiar both with Jewish culture and even a high style of Greek, having lived amongst the scholars of both Rome and Alexandria, home of the great library? Who would need to appeal to people to not rely upon the temple (for remember, Egypt to Jerusalem is the common, common pattern of the Old Testament and easily done) if not the first Bishop of Alexandria - Mark.

Why is this right by the Pauline Epistles, then, in most early copies. Because I'd argue it's the first book circulated after the death of Paul. And Paul would have approved greatly of the task of showing his Jewish brothers the same faith which he so zealously proclaimed to the Gentiles.

So - what do you thin - who wrote Hebrews.

... and invisible

There are two words in the Nicene Creed that are incredibly misunderstood, neglected, and just not appreciated by modern man. I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And invisible. No other word of the Creed does more damage to the way in which we in the West tend to think today than this - invisible. We are taught, we are trained, we are raised to be happy little scientific thinkers whose grasp on reality is limited to merely what we can see, touch, measure, quantify, or experiment upon - and our understanding of the world revolves almost solely around our theories about these visible things, and our experiments to study them, and even our wild theories about how to manipulate them.

We are obsessed with the visible things of the world, to the neglect of the invisible. And why? Because we think we can be masters of the visible. Whether this is true or not, the idea is that we can progress, that through technology and advancement we can master the physical, visible world around us. Better living through technology, medicine, chemistry, and the like.

Now, far be it from me to say that all this is bad. Much of it is good - the open heart surgery for one of my members yesterday - good. TV that lets me watch sports from miles away - good. The transportation grid that brings me foods from around the world so that even Caesar would be jealous - good. The laptop upon which I type this. . . good. However, we neglect things.

First, we can forget that the visible falls apart. That very laptop that I said was good -- well, it is falling apart. 3.5 years old -- the battery is sort of shot, the plastic casing hasn't endured well, sometimes the hard drive is more noisy than it should be. . . it is not long for this world. Even though it is good, it is a blessing -- it, like everything else in this world, is also... bad. Falling apart. To be slightly overdramatic . . . it is DOOMED.

Now, this is a visible reality, that things all fall apart, which we like to ignore in our scientific splendor (or at least pretend we can fix... oooOOOooo, if I get a shiny new Mac Laptop with a metal case, it will live longer. . . Longer ain't forever). This itself shows a failing our of our modern approach.

But it's more than that. And invisible. So often we do not even consider the realities of the spiritual - the things that we do not see with the eye, the things that we cannot judge. I think it's interesting that Jesus tells us not to judge our neighbor -- this isn't just a matter of Him saying, "be nice" - He's telling us this because it is impossible. I can weigh a bag of rice - do I weigh the goodness or wickedness of my neighbor's heart. While I may see results, do I see the thoughts that led to the actions which came. Am I in any position to judge, to evaluate that which I cannot see? Of course not.

We ourselves are partially invisible - we are beings of both Body and Spirit - and we forget this. And we have been trained to ignore the spiritual - to neglect it, to not think of it as real. And of course, dealing with things that are totally spiritual - angels, demons, all the host of heaven joining in our song - these things aren't even considered. Often, even in the Church.

I can't *see* forgiveness (well, actually, since Christ knows you like to see, He does give you pastors whom you can hear and see forgive you, and He does give you His Supper, which is forgiveness that you can see, feel, taste, smell) - and so often in many "Churches" it is neglected - ignored so that we might find more toys, more "blessings" that simply fade and decay and are forgotten.

We neglect the spiritual - because we are trained by our society to forget the spiritual. But you, O Christian, have been called out of the darkness of the world, and to you it has been given to see all of reality, visible and invisible, by the Light of the World, Christ Jesus, who makes you to see your sin and your Savior, who makes you aware of not only this life, but the life of the world to come. Rejoice and delight in these things that though invisible, you now know, confess - that you who were blind now see.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Turn the Question around.

In the comments of the previous post, the question was turned on its ear. What of people who say that they get nothing out of Contemporary Worship - how would I respond to them. What follows is my response.

Well - if you say you get "nothing" out of the service and the Scriptures are read and the True Body and Blood of our Lord are distributed to you - what have you called these gifts? Are they not more than the vessel in which they are contained.

I think a better critique of contemporary services are not that they bring us nothing... but that they bring us so much less than they could - that they are often misfocused, misguided, and frustratingly inefficient at delivering God's gifts - for why should those gifts resound only at the reading of Scripture, at the distribution when if we simply used the historic liturgy things would be so much more Christ centered.

So, I suppose to one who thinks that there is nothing in a contemporary worship service (note - service, not just the concept and approach underlying CW), I would advise that person to actually be focused on where Christ is, and not just where He isn't and could be.

Otherwise - we fall into the same trap that the supporters of CW do. Are we basing our statements on the reality of what is said or our own thoughts and judgments of what we like? Is what I get out of the liturgy based on the fact that it gives me Christ... or I like its setting.

I love a chanted Divine Service. That is not the custom at my church. Am I getting less than I could -- while some would say yes or perhaps, I will say no. I receive Christ, just not with the dignity I would prefer - oh well, the Church is not based upon my preference. However, if I were to say I get nothing out of it. . . then there would be serious error and problems on my part.

But, an excellent question -- and one that needs to be asked. Often we who are "conservative" do not like to be measured by the very same measure we measure it out.

This does strike home with one of the things I have noted, and where I can often stand out from many whom I respect. The liturgy is important not for its own sake, but because it gives Christ. As for its dignity, worth - I am not bothered by that. The question I must ask is does it provide Christ. Therefore, I can conceive of historic forms being abandoned.

I just can't see how practically speaking that would be done properly. Although freedom allows for it -- why would freedom call for it? Why would something of such foundational identity be abandoned so whimsicially, especially for such selfish reasons as "I don't like it, it doesn't speak to me"

The historic liturgy is not adiaphora, it is not indifferent - but nor is it a mandatum, a sine non qua. It is what it is, a wondrous tool and treasure - and we would be wise to follow the advice of our fathers - we retain what may safely be retained - we retain what does no violence to the Gospel.

My qualms with contemporary worship is never that you "can't" - just that it is so often utterly foolish too. But I also worry that in our zeal against those acting the fool that we do not make a false idol, a mandatum non verum of the liturgy.

Of course, I think whenever there is an abuse, we tend to idolize it's opposite. Today, children are aborted, and many make idols of their children. Motherhood is despized, and thus we make an idol of motherhood (ora pro nobis, nunc et. . .).

I suppose in the early I would say many sought to avoid persecution, and the martyrs were made idols.

We are the middle way, the narrow path, eschewing the broad road on either side. Be wary of you might slip either way.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ask them what is wrong with them?

I am going to posit a hypothetical situation that pastors know is all too plausible. A young man walks in and says to his pastor, "I'm just not getting anything out of our service."

How do pastors respond? We often make ready our defenses - because more than not what is coming is an appeal for change, that we need this or that in the service, that my own sermons need to be more X, things like this. These defenses we all have, we can all make them.

And I don't wonder if they don't miss the target.

If someone says "I don't get anything out of the service", I don't need to defend the liturgy. It is what it is, and it is not diminished in the slightest by this person's observances. I don't need to consider and examine the worship service.

I need to find out what is wrong with the person talking to me.

Have we thought about responding to "I'm not getting anything from the service", especially from someone who should know better, with the simple question - "what then is wrong with you? If you know that this is Christ Jesus being present for you, then what has bewitched you that you could think this was 'nothing'?"

Of course, I don't think this is a new idea. Isn't this was Luther does with his 20 Christian Questions at the end of the Catechism? But what if I feel no hunger for the Sacrament - then consider who you are and what the Scriptures say of you.

Why don't you get anything out of it? Don't you know what it is? If it is what it is, what are these thoughts that you are having?

We say it, but we so often forget it. I have sinned against You in thought... thought, word, and deed.

Perhaps we do need to think a bit more about our thoughts being evil - and talk about this more, so people are aware of it.

All Saints' Day Sermon

All Saints’ Observed – November 7th, 2010 – Matthew 5:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Today, as we observe All Saints’ Day, as we give thanks to God for the love He has shown to those who have died in the faith and now rest in His Presence in heaven, awaiting the resurrection to come on the Last Day, we must, hearing out Gospel lesson, as ourselves a question. What does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean to be bless’ed? Nine times our Lord uses this word – in fact, it is sort of the key word for this text. So then, what does it mean to be blessed – what is blessing for a Christian.

If I were to simply ask you what some of the blessings in your life are, you’d probably end up saying things like life, health, house and home, family and friends, having nice things. Now, these are blessings – in fact, the next few weeks in our Catechism lessons we will be going over a lot of these as we look at the First Article of the Creed. God has made me and all creatures – my body and soul. These are indeed blessing – but this physical stuff, this stuff for life here and now is not the summation of God’s blessings to you – nor are they really the highest. There are times when we Christians need to think beyond just this world, this stuff. As Christians we are to be in the world, but not of the world – we are to recognize these temporal and temporary blessings, but understand that there is much more in store – that while we enjoy things here, we are in a fallen world, and these blessings will fade – but that this is fine and okay, for Christ gives us much, much more than these.

Listen to what our Lord says. “Blessed are the poor in the Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is one of the most profound things you will hear. Consider those who are poor in spirit – those who feel heartache and pain, those who know their mistakes, who see how they have hurt others and sorrow over it. The poor in Spirit are those who confess with us what we confessed in our confession – I a poor, miserable sinner. What does our Lord say? Poor, miserable sinners are blessed because Christ Jesus comes to them and gives them the Kingdom of heaven. Do you see how this is a spiritual truth, a spiritual blessing? When you are sorrowful, when you repent of your sin, you are blessed, because Christ Jesus is quick to bring you forgiveness. Even in your sorrow and suffering, when you are at your lowest, you are blessed with a blessing that lasts to all eternity. And this is a present reality – for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven. Right now, you are forgiven by God on account of Christ – and that is a blessing that will never fade.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Again, this idea of mourning is bigger than just sorrow over a specific death. It’s blessed are those who mourn, who are sorrowful, who look around in this world and see things just absolutely not as they should be – who see thing after thing falling apart, who see the rack and ruin of sin everywhere. To be a Christian is to mourn – because we know that this world is not what it should be, not what it was made to be – that we live in a fallen world where everything, where we could have been and should have been so much more. You will be comforted – because you will see the new Heavens and the New Earth. Do you not think that our dearly departed brothers and sisters aren’t comforted now in Christ’s presence in heaven – do you not know that we will all rejoice in the New Heavens and the New Earth together? This is a true blessing that you have promised to you from God.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meek here doesn’t mean shy, it doesn’t mean bashful. It means those who are lacking, who aren’t rich, who are lowly and meek and at the bottom of the rung, who get trampled on by those in power, who have no power or strength of theirs to fight or take anything in this life. The oppressed, the downtrodden – these are the meek – those who do not have earthly power, or who refuse to use their power for their own selfish gain, who refuse to play the dog eat dog game. This is what you as a Christian are. And you are blessed, for you shall inherit – what? We have “earth” here – but that doesn’t quite hit the point well. It’s Tein Gein in Greek, in Hebrew it would be “Ha Aratz” – the Land. . . the promised Land. Are you worn down here – are you treated as a despised stranger in this life, foreign and away from its power and might – you shall be part of the promised land – be a stranger here – heaven is your home. That’s the point here – when you see things here go against you – you are blessed, because you shall inherit the new heavens and the new earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” And here is the key, here is the center. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – blessed are those who look at their own life and say, “I am not righteous, I am not perfect, I am a miserable sinner.” Why is that a blessing? Because to you who know your sin, who know that you lack righteousness, Christ Jesus our Lord pours out His own perfect, complete, total righteousness upon you, washes you in it, even literally feeds it to you – so that you might be satisfied – that your lack might be done away with, so that you might have all that you need in Christ Jesus and in Him alone. When you desire Christ, He always gives Himself to you, gives you His love and His forgiveness.

Now what comes next in the Beatitudes here is a shift – we have seen that we are blessed even when things look their worst, when we see pain and suffering and sin. Christ tells us we will be satisfied – that we will have His forgiveness and have it abundantly. And this makes us into new people, into a new creation. This is why Jesus then says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Are you focused on forgiveness –then you have been made to be merciful – and this will not be taken away from you. There is not going to come a point where Christ decides to change His mind about His love for you, where He decides to revoke your forgiveness – He has filled you with mercy, and He shall always give you mercy as long as you desire it – His forgiveness to you makes you merciful, and He keeps giving mercy more and more.

We also hear, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” What do we sing in a few moments – create in me a clean heart, O God. And will God ever cast out of His presence those whose hearts He has cleansed, whose hearts He has purified by His Gospel? By no means – for you who are forgiven by Christ, whose hearts have been cleansed of sin shall see God. And this is the wonder of this day, of All Saints Day. Our loved ones who have died in the faith – this is them right now – there hearts are now pure, sin no longer touches them at all, and they see God this moment. This is an awe inspiring thing.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” This is one of my favorite verses – that word “peacemakers” – it is those who do, who make peace real. Those who give out Christ’s peace, who say, “Peace be with you”, who forgive sins, whether someone happens to forgive sins in public on Sunday morning or whether one forgives sins at home with the family, with their friends, with the neighbor, with the stranger. This is about forgiveness. And what do we hear? You shall be called sons of God. So let’s ponder this – you have Christ Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God, go to the Cross to win salvation, who from the Cross cries out for forgiveness, who from the Cross proclaims that all the work of salvation is done – He is the Peacemaker. And then what happens? He takes you, brings you to the font, baptizes you, joins you to God’s family, says, “You now too are a child of God, and you too now shall be a peacemaker – you shall give out the very same peace and forgiveness that you have received – you will be an agent of love and peace in this world that doesn’t know it – and I myself will work through you to bring eternal blessings to people.” This is a wondrous thing – and again, the highest blessing we have is never simply 1st article, never just about this life – but about forgiveness and salvation which gives us the life to come.

But of course, in this fallen world, the peacemakers, the sons of God will be rejected and despised. What happens to Christ will happen to you. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” When you focus on Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness, when you point to Christ alone, when you are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – the world won’t like it. People will rant and rave against you, they will lie about you, they will spread horrid rumors about you, they will mock you. They will see you as weak and try to take advantage of you. They will do everything in their power to make your life here miserable. Here in the US, that ends up being mere annoyances – in Iraq where the terrorists break into a church service and slaughter worshipers on Sunday morning – a little more direct. Doesn’t matter – you are blessed, indeed rejoice and be glad even in this – because yours is the Kingdom of God. How could it not be yours, for you are forgiven. You have been drawn to Christ, focused beyond the glitz and glamour of this world, and you shall have the joys of all eternity, the joys of perfection, the joys of the resurrection on the Last Day, the joy of you yourself being like Christ, seeing Him as He is. And this is a blessing no one can ever take away.

Do not forget, ever, my friends, just how blessed you are in Christ. The world will seek to wave baubles and trinkets and bling before your eyes – but that is not your true blessing. Your true blessing is salvation, and life, and forgiveness, which you have abundantly in Christ. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Random East Deconstructing Thought

I know that the East despises and flat out likes to ignore the forensic aspects of Scripture (yes, I just gave my bias there in spades). As they tend to, my thoughts moved to the question of why? Why, when I see forensic language all over the place, especially in the Old Testament, do they not.

And that is when I think I made a useful observation, that, if I were so inclined in more fully analyzing the East, I would research (though it would be long and hard research).

Is the anti-forensic position of the East a child of their struggles with Judaism?

Historically speaking the conflicts between Jews and Christians are much more severe in the Greek speaking communities - for Greek was the diaspora language of both. In the West, however, you end up not getting nearly as much of a focus on Judaism, especially with the transition to Latin. Different languages, more separation, less antagonism.

Jewish themes tend to be highly forensic, and more over their appeals to Law often brought dire consequences for the Christians. One would think then that naturally Greek foci would move away from this Jewish approach.

Just as I tend to shy away from Baptist themes being in Oklahoma, the East with the strongly Jewish idea of forensic and judicial language.

Thoughts? Ideas?

(Apart from "No, we are right and you are wrong about everything in the Scriptures")

Blog of the Week

So, my post No Angst was selected as Jeff's Blog of the Week This is I believe the 4th or 5th time that Jeff has picked my blog, for which I am grateful.

However, in all this time, Todd has never picked one - it seems odd to have such a sharp distinction.

The only explanation that I can think of is that given Todd's former life as a London Barber, I don't make enough meat pie references. I'm also forced to assume that there must have been a giant meat pie recipe swap on the internet before I started blogging.

While this is completely unsubstantiated by any semblance of fact, I still do thank both of the Issues folk, not merely for their plugs of my blog, but for the excellent work they do.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thoughts on an Orthodox Evening

Having just driven home from Tulsa, the adrenaline won't let me sleep, so I figured I would just write about my evening.

Tonight I heard Jonah Paffhausen, Orthodox Archibishop of Washington and Metropolitan of Canada and the US, speak on Orthodox approaches to spirituality - the main thrust being, "Do not react, Do not resent, Keep inner stillness."

The basic, quick and dirty summation is as follows:

1. You can think of your mind as having two parts - the lower, which is the Ego, which deals with so much rational concerns, and the Nous - the mind/heart/spiritual aspect, which comprehends spiritual matters.

2. Spiritual growth in part entails the stilling of the Ego and its worries and fears so that one can have "consciousness" of God in your Nous.

3. Discipline is important for it enables one to beat down the thoughts of the Ego that would distract, distort, and entrap in sin - including the reactionary, vengeful thoughts.

4. This is hard.

Now, for those of you who are familiar with Eastern thought at all, this is roughly familiar. What I thought I would do is just give the comments I noted (I know, I reacted, oh wretch of the Western Rite that I am!) and use them as entry points for my comments.

Masks of God This is a more positive note I had. One of the points the Archbishop made is that when we let go of our poor reactions, we will see other people as what they are - people whom God loves. I think this ties in very nicely with Luther's "Masks of God" - that when we see our neighbor, we are simply seeing a mask that God is wearing. When our neighbor does good, it is truly God who is blessing us. When we serve and love the neighbor, we are truly serving and loving God. This plays into the next idea...

Seeing Reality I do appreciate the idea that the Archbishop was driving at with his focus on the "nous" as opposed to the cold, rational Ego. We have been trained to think that what exists is only what we can measure, add, subtract, experiment upon -- that our Ego can interact with. On the contrary - we do not see all of reality - God is the Creator of all things, visible and... invisible. To be a Christian is to begin to see and understand spiritual realities, things that aren't obvious. The world sees a lousy sinner, I see one for whom Christ has died (slightly more Western focus there, as we will see). We go to the Supper - the world sees a bit of bread and wine, I see the very Body and Blood of Christ given to me. The world sees a small congregation with only a few folks there - I see angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

We are not always aware of this reality at the moment - we confess it, we believe it, and when we ponder, we understand now in part - but then it will be clear. When the Archbishop touched on these aspects, I thought he spoke very well, and that idea of "nous" - especially with repentance being "metanoia" - changing of the nous - works rather well.

+ + + + + + + + + + +

Then of course, the big thing was synergism, which all the following comments sort of play into somehow.

One of the early points was about synergism, how we cooperate with God, we work along with Him. I actually thought his discussion on synergism was a touch weak, lacking many wonderful scriptural insights -- a proper discussion of synergism, rightly speaking, can be summed up with the prayer, "Thy Will be Done" -- work through me and in me, Oh Lord, according to Thy Will, for I am Thine workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the works that Thou dost wish!

Sadly, it didn't flow that well. Here are the comments I noted:

Greek is Active -> Passive.
I am Passive -> Active A lot of his focus was upon the work that I must do as regards repentance and struggle against my Ego in order to still myself to where I could be more fully aware of God. There was a lot of focus on my activity in order to achieve the passive state where I would be more aware of God.

I tend to reverse that order. I begin passive - I am called to God's house to hear His Word proclaimed, to receive His Supper. I am passive, I am receptive - He calls me out of the world and makes me to be still, to receive His gifts -- and then from this, out of this, His love which I have received wells up and out and through me in spiritual activity, which is the love of the neighbor.

I don't know if this is more that he was focusing on internal purification (for he would not deny works towards the neighbor as part of a spiritual life) specifically, but his approach ended up seeming a little flat. Who cares what my experience of God is - if it is more wondrous and deep, if I see the 7th heaven, that's nice and all, but I was put here love my neighbor, to be a right and proper steward. That is my spirituality -- expressed and realized in service to the neighbor. And then...

Synergism, but all me, little Theos Although the claim was made that this was synergism, that it was my working with God, there was very, very little God involved, at least in a causitive, energistic way. God was more of a goal - that I could condition myself to see Him and be aware of Him more... and that if anything His grace to me was almost a matter of, "well, of course you've received God's grace - now how are you going to discipline yourself to see more of it?"

Again, this strikes me as somewhat spiritually shallow (as well as dangerous). Where is the energy for this spiritual growth - is it me working with God, with the energy that He has given unto me by His Word and Spirit, or is it me trying to find God and mesh with him. The Archbishop even sort of used the image of his fists passing by, not quite connecting, to describe the hardship of learning to do this. This just removed God from things, from my work. So suddenly it is no longer true synergism, where my work is in actuality God's Work, but almost as though I am totally independent from God and left to my own devices to get into line with him.

The Egocentric Abandonment of Ego This really sums up my thoughts. For as much as the focus was upon abandoning of ones passions, desires, resentments - of being still that one might know the Lord (he never quoted, "Be still and know that I am the Lord" -- I think that's what he was driving at, but never quoted it), it was very EGO-centric. Over and over it was a matter of what I do. And then, even though the Ego is the rational thing that demands rational explanations, and this is what we strive to silence, he used some very rational explanations. He trashed scholasticism and its incessant categorization, but then spoke often in terms of resentment objectifying people. It was very odd.

But the saddest part is that it makes things needlessly hard. I will concur that the Ego must be kept in check (this is Luther's ministerial use of reason - where it is a servant at our beck and call, not our master). I will concur that I should beat down my desires . . .but how, and why?

The words of John the Baptist (not spoken tonight) come to mind - "I must decrease, that He may increase." And this sums up what I found so lacking. There was no focus on the increase of Christ - of Christ being more and more the center, the focus, the heart of all things. I heard much about "God", and knowing "God" -- but I didn't hear much of Christ Jesus - of being focused and meditating upon His love for us - of our Lord being the only way to the Father, of the way in which we can know the Father (for He is the Icon of the invisible Father. . . hhhmmm, knowing that which we can't see -- should be right up this alley). In fact, I think he spoke more about Mary than he did Mary's Son. Again, it was almost like Jesus was assumed, a mere thing that we all knew about and then could get onto the real work.

So in other words, while there was some nice discussion and imagery of spirituality - I found it lacking, lacking Christ - and therefore woefully inadequate. Now, I will say that I hear wonderful Law - really, really neat and engaging Law. The Archbishop spoke very well of what I must do, and in an interesting way. But the Gospel. . . eh, well... not so much, which leads to my final observation:

What and Who, but Why is missing This is my ultimate critique of Eastern Theology. They understand that Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, died for us upon the Cross -- but they don't seem to know why. I heard that God is love - that God is not angry. So then, why does Christ die upon the cross? As far as I can tell it really is just a humiliation thing - a descending fully into the depths of what humanity suffers so that He might pull all of fallen humanity through the grace unto His resurrection. A valid point - but not the fullness.

There was no atonement. There was no propitiation. And this really came out in how they talked. When you are simply trying to experience the love of a God who already loves you, there is no need for a focus on Christ. The idea of forgiveness was merely overlooking sin - God overlooks it - He isn't just, because we couldn't stand up to His justice (he actually said along the lines, "Thank God that He isn't just").

While the pious idea is that if we received God's Justice we couldn't not stand... well, that's right - and that's why Jesus Christ, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven. It's as though we weren't really saved from anything. . . just. . . able to be awakened?

Now, I know you have wonderful points in the Greek Liturgy that point to Christ as the Savior. The Archbishop encouraged everyone to go to Confession so that God's grace could work upon you (especially when you have found that stubborn point of Ego that won't go away) -- but that emphasis, that focus wasn't there. And as such, there was no Gospel, no good news for me -- just works and efforts that I must undertake.

It just seemed so sad that there was so little focus on how God creates - how He makes new, how He makes me new in His Son, how He renews my mind.

It was a good evening - I benefited, I was drawn to ponder many things. And while I am very glad that I know folks who are Orthodox, while I consider the East to be higher than the typical Protestant (for they are sacramental), I was reminded why I am not going East.

1. Not enough Christ for me.
2. All the wondrous things in their spirituality, I have already in Luther and Lutheran spirituality, and more properly done, for in Luther it is always done in light of Christ, clearly in the light of Christ.

I think Grace taped this - if they post it I will have to link it.

And now the adrenaline leaves, and my bed summons me. Good night all.