Thursday, September 29, 2011

Independence is a sickness

Pastor Esget nails one about the dangers of going independent and being a law unto one's own self.

It's a good reminder - read it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The First Comes Around

(I have decided to repost my very first post on this blog, as I think it still holds true now - I've made a grammatical insertion by adding an "it" into the second to last sentence. Variata!)

Greetings to all. So, what pray tell is the purpose of this blog? Well, I wanted a place where I could be simply and unabashedly theological in my postings. This isn't about my personal life or thoughts on random events in my life - I've got a livejournal for that. This isn't anything that is official for me as pastor of my current congregation - there is a blog off of that website (that really has fallen into disuse). No, this is for talking about theology. Generally I will make a statement and then ramble about it. Let's get started, shall we?

Observation on Confessional Lutheranism #1 - We eat our own.

If it weren't for beards, manly voices (or at least word usage), and the topics discussed, one might easily confuse a bunch of Confessional Lutherans discussing theology for a high school girl's locker room during a cat-fight. Lots of scratching, clawing, hair pulling. It gets sort of nasty.

This is the great tragedy - because as those of us who try to be dedicated Confessional pastors know - there is enough nasty out there without people who ought to be your allies slapping you around on the side. I'm sure every pastor can tell you tales of woe that have hit him or someone close to him in the ministry. And yet it seems that when there is something to discuss, we pile onto each other. So why is that?

Here is my thought for the day - It is a matter of Conviction vs. Freedom. Let's face it, if you are a Confessional Lutheran Minister, you tend to have a lot of conviction. You've had as much schooling as a Lawyer and probably get paid worse than a local teacher (whom we know are underpaid). You chose a job with long hours where demands can be made upon you at any time, where you deal with the sick and the dying, where you have to instruct and correct people who may not wish to be instructed or corrected -- and all this with the Gospel. We are servants of the Word - and we cannot use force as the world uses force. I can't threaten to send a member who is being a putz to the principal's office. I can't fire a bad member. I can't choose not to take their case. In fact, I am expressly called to show more care for these weak brethren. To do this calls for a lot of conviction.

The problem is -- sometimes with conviction one begins to forget the idea of Freedom. Have you ever wondered why Luther was so unique amongst theologians, what set him apart, what made him different? He had both conviction and an understanding of Freedom. Read Freedom of a Christian - it is fantastic. Luther is the one who says ceremonies can vary in place to place as long as the Gospel is not threatened - shoot, Luther would even have let the Pope keep all his blasted titles - if only the Pope served as a true Spiritual Father and preached the Gospel. There is freedom there - that many of the things we could otherwise get hung up on are completely secondary to the Gospel.

And that's where the rubber meets the road for so many Confessional Lutherans. We have conviction, we have our ideas of how to be Confessional - and if someone doesn't agree with us on every little aspect of phraseology or practice - then they are evil. And we should recognize this for what it is - it's battle scars. The Lutheran Church has been through a lot and is going through a lot. Many have been taking the idea of "freedom" and substituting "license" for it. And thus we have learned to distrust freedom. And thus, we like to cut off other people's freedom, even Confessional Lutherans.

This is tragic. Lutherans give up too many things. This Sunday we will confess the Athanasian Creed - and the word "catholic" will sound strange to how many ears? We are no longer called Evangelicals - other took that name from us. Reformed? Gone as well. All through the 20th Century, how much of our liturgical heritage did we surrender until we drew the line at Scripture? We are only now reclaiming that heritage.

We need to reclaim the idea of Freedom. As Confessional Lutherans, we need to remember that if something is not forbidden or commanded, it is fundamentally a matter of freedom. Now, it may not be wise, it may not be the best - but it is Free. We need to remember that our brothers who have - and I won't even say different practice - but different rites and customs are not to be denigraded for this - but rather their Freedom is to be defended and safe guarded. Then that discussion about what is best can take place - but only in the context of Freedom.

We need to demonstrate what Christian Freedom is. Otherwise, the liberals take it and turn it into Lawlessness - and we by abandoning it fall into legalism. And when this has happened, we will stop eating our own.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I would have no problem if we had bishops in the LCMS - provided they actually are bishops -- men who attend to a pulpit and an altar weekly in addition to their administrative duties, not simply desk riders who presume to pontificate to men who hold the true Office which they have abandoned in order to be a functionary.

If no laymen can point to a bishop and say, "He is my pastor, he visits me when I am ill, he preaches to me and he gives me the Sacrament" than that bishop is one in name only.

Sasse - Office, Congregation... and now

In 1949 Herman Sasse wrote a letter to Lutheran Pastors about Church and Ministry. This can be found in the book "We Confess The Church" - and the following quote is found on pages 78 and 79.

"Of all the Lutheran churches there can hardly be another in which the office of the ministry is so highly honored as in the Missouri Synod, where the congregation is so much the center of churchly thinking and activity. Office and congregation are piped together. The life of the one is also the life of the other. If the office falters, so does the congregation. If the congregation falters, so does the office." (Italics mine)

So - what has changed?

In 1949 did we think that the work of the church was based or dependent upon the District or the Synod - or were our district presidents and heads of committees all living and breathing the life of a parish, not some corporate board room?

In 1949 did our congregations wait for a new program to accomplish a goal - or did they do so and simply share with others what they themselves had done?

In 1949 did our congregations assert their own independence in all things, or were fairly certain that TLH would be the order of the day wherever you showed your head?

Missouri has in her pride and arrogance turned away from her first love - that is simply being a collection of congregations and pastors, faithful to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, desiring to walk together in love and peace as each congregation and pastor worked the place that was given to them.

Let us make our pastors once again pastors in congregations, and not simply idea men or paper pushers in some cubicle where they think up abstract theologies for the "greater good." Let them be where true theology of the best sort happens - in the pulpit and sanctuary, in the classroom, at the hospital bed, at the shut-in's side, at the congregational pantry...

O foolish Missouri, how we were so bewitched by ideas of power and might? Whatever made us think that this pot of red lentil stew that we now have would be so tasty?

(Addendum - Sasse notes at the end of the article on page 82: "How unimportant then becomes all that has grown onto this office through the modern overorganization of the church; one has only to think of the church politics with which modern bishops kill their own time and that of others. Each sermon then becomes more important than all those sessions which spend their time discussing big church resolutions regard the Bonn constitution, the atom bomb, or Goethe's 200th Birthday." Is this any less true of the politics and wrangling of our day?)

Monday, September 26, 2011

What is falling away?

I am going to share a quote that got me thinking.

"My former priest taught we that, I have been saved, I am being saved, and to have faith that I will be saved because I might fall away- which lays the foundation of cooperation in salvation- because I might fall away from Him."

I don't know the person who said it - it just got me thinking.

Rome, the East, and Protestants all eventually end up focusing on works, on what we do, because they are worried about what "might" happen - that they might fall away. Works are seen as the safeguard against this - if I just keep doing good things, if I keep living the holy life, if I keep doing acts of love and charity, then I know that I won't fall away.

Here is the problem. Outward acts of righteousness guarantee nothing. How many athiests and pagans are kind to people? They have works that seem appealing to the world - are they thereby saved? I can find Buddhists who show compassion - are they then "anonymous Christians" who by their works show that they are really Christians in spite of what they believe?

I'd say no.

The thing we so often fail to acknowledge is that our works do not cause or maintain faith... no more than an atheist who is moved to pity by seeing something pathetic is thereby moved to faith. Falling away from the faith is not primarily an lack of action on our part.

It is a lack of reception. To fall away from the faith comes about by ignoring the Word, by falling to hear either (or both) Law and Gospel - to despise the Commands of God or to ignore His promises. And then faith dies. This often will impact our works - a cold heart can be a sign of this -- indeed, if you see that your heart is cold, repent.

Repent - this is not primarily a call to "do more" - but it is a call to be turned once again to Christ Jesus and His life giving Word.

Rome, the East, and Protestants all end up focusing on cooperation because they live in the fear that they might fall away. Because of that dreaded "might" they focus on their own works and efforts, rather than simply focusing upon the true might of Christ Jesus and what He has done for them. Period. We live in Christ - it's as simple as that, as deep and wondrous as that.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Trinity 14 Sermon

Trinity 14 – Luke 17:11-19 – September 25th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
If you will today, let me pull back the curtain a bit, explain some things that often pastors don’t talk about, because this text, although we generally think of it as being the great text on thankfulness – which is what we will focus on when we hear it again come Thanksgiving time – this text also describes a sad reality that we don’t like to face – and that is indifference, indifference to God, indifference in the Church. The simple fact is that so often people just seem not to care. Let’s look at our text and see what we mean.

“On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by 10 lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” Now note – and this is important. All ten of these lepers know who Jesus is, know that He can, if He desires, heal them. They call alike cry out for mercy. And then what do we hear? “When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” And again, this is one of the most humbling passages in the Scriptures. Jesus doesn’t just heal them right then and there – He doesn’t rub dirt on their skin and wash it off and then bam, they are healed. They don’t dip in the Jordan River and come up clean – no, Jesus tells them to go to the priest and it is only after they start walking, while they are going there, that they are cleansed. They start walking before they are healed – they hear Christ speak, and at His Word they believe, they go. They trust His Word and off they go. We can’t look at the 9 lepers as bad people who didn’t know any better – they had faith, they trusted Christ – faith and trust that puts us to shame.

Yet what happens? “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks. Now, he was a Samaritan.” 1 comes back. Just one. 10%. And even Jesus notes this as odd – “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” It doesn’t add up right. Here you had 10 people, 10 people who knew who Christ was, who trusted His Word, who received His blessings… and then, only 1 returns. Where are the 9? They are simply off and about now going on with their lives.

Here is the frustration that is often seen in the Church. People seem so often not to care. How many people aren’t here today – people who know who Christ Jesus is, people who know that Jesus has died for them, people who know that the Word of God gives forgiveness and life… and... they just aren’t here. Or bible study – 4 days in a row there is opportunity for study – and we have room still. Or what about when it comes to organizing something, trying to get something done – and meh, people just don’t. We get surprised half the time if a decent crowd shows up. I’m not exonerating myself from this – this isn’t Pastor Brown’s gripe session time – I even see and feel the times when I have opportunities for thanks and praise and service and care and I go “meh.” And then you add on top of that District and Synod wanting numbers and stats for stuff, and it’s frustrating. Half the time I think Church officials today would have lectured Jesus and told Him He was doing a lousy job because a 10% thankfulnessiosity stat just isn’t good enough. When we look at the state of the world, the state of the Church, we can all get frustrated and depressed and even upset because half the time it seems no one seems to care - I’m sure we all here understand that.

But here’s the thing. So often when we look at this text we want to assume that we are the thankful one that comes back, that we are the proper one and that we are okay, when often we are more like the nine. So often God’s blessings are met by us with indifference, and that’s simply because we are so, so blessed. In the Small Catechism, we note that God has given us our bodies, our minds, our house and home, food and clothing, protection and safety – and the thing is, unless something is threatened, we almost forget what a blessing all this is. It’s as though our blessings blind us to the One who has given them to us – that we are so blessed, we have so much, we have so many opportunities for fun and enjoyment and the use of our blessings that we sort of push God into a corner. While I was in college, Pastor Nehrenz down in Norman would often say that Church on Sunday Morning should be a two hour commitment, one for Church and one Sunday School – think about this for a second. In Acts 2 we hear “and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” Daily in the temple – and we think it’s wonderful if we spend two hours a week instead of one, or one hour instead of none – and heaven help the pastor who doesn’t keep the service to 1 hour. We have so much that we think we need to do, that we think we should be doing instead, that we so rarely take time for worship and praise, we rarely take time to be still and know that God is the Lord, to meditate and receive His gifts to us. So often we are indifferent.

And the other side of this coin is that so often we in the Church will try to come up with our own man-made ways of breaking through this indifference. Sometimes people will try laws and rules – if you don’t jump through hoops X and Y, well then you are a bad Christian and we will mock you. The Law doesn’t give life – it kills, it shows guilt and wrong… but it doesn’t *do* - it doesn’t create. Or we try other things to whip up enthusiasm. There are entire denominations whose entire basis for existence is the idea that if people just “felt” God being active, felt the Spirit moving, then they wouldn’t be indifferent – so let’s try to speak in tongues, let’s have this or that. You know what – I look at this text and Christ Jesus Himself healed 10, they felt God heal them, and even He was left to say, “where are the nine.” No, getting into some sort of making a better experience one-upsmanship doesn’t work. You’ll get some, but then they’ll bound off to the other Church down the line when it comes up with the new latest and greatest experience. We’ll get programs and this and that all designed to get people to do and do and do more and more, to make them be involved, to wrest their time away from other things, to make the church be a more entertaining option than whatever else is going on. But that just ends up being a never ending cycle of attempts to reinvent the wheel, attempts to undo our almost limitless capacity for boredom – it encourages people to treat Jesus and His Church like some sort of cheap magician where we stand and say, “Well, go on, give us another one, do another new and amazing trick.”

So what is our solution? Let us watch Christ Jesus. In our text, Jesus notes that the 9 aren’t there, but then his attention shifts to this the Samaritan, the one who was least likely to give thanks. And then He says to this Samaritan – “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Jesus talks to this one man who has returned, and do you see what Jesus does? He explains what has happened. Your faith was in the right place, your faith was in Me, and thus you have been blessed and healed. Go your way. Go on with your life – but as you go, remember what I have given you and am indeed still giving you. So often, when we think of indifference, we start thinking about how we can get other people to do more – but Jesus doesn’t tell this man, “Go whip those 9 back into shape”. Rather, Jesus has the man focus and understand his own relationship to Christ, the benefits and blessings he himself has received from God – and then go live your life.

What it really boils down to is this - too often we in the Church can end up focusing on how we can fix our neighbor, how we can force or manipulate them to behave in a certain way – how we can force them to at least go through the motions. That’s not what Jesus does here. He deals with the one who has come back – here – see, know what is going on so that you yourself do not become indifferent. See, know, remember what I have done for you, that way when you are out there going about your life you will remain in the faith and be ready to give a defense of that faith, a reason for the hope and joy that is within you. We ourselves need to stop assuming that we are good, and rather we need to be focused on how we ourselves need to grow, need to be ever more focused upon Christ Jesus – and this growth happens when we are in His Word and receive His Supper.

Therefore, today I ask you to pause, to ponder the wonder of what Christ Jesus gives you. There are earthly blessings beyond compare that all of us in this room have – and we know that these earthly blessings pale in comparison to the gifts of life and salvation we have in Christ Jesus. Even as moth and rust destroy things in this world, we are given the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s death and resurrection, we are promised that we will stride out of our own graves in perfected and resurrected bodies. This Church isn’t just a place where we give thanks, it is a place of gift and healing. Here Christ says, “You are forgiven, you have life and salvation.” Christ Jesus does true wonders in your life. When our focus is on this, when we remember this truth, when we receive these gifts often, we will be prepared by God to resist the temptations of indifference that hound us – we will be prepared in simple love and kindness to give right thanks to Christ Jesus rather than simply making idols out of His blessings whenever we come across them. We will learn to see ever more Christ Jesus in all things – we won’t simply put Him in a box for a few hours on Sunday morning and tend to forget Him the rest of the time. By the power of His life giving Word and most Blessed Sacraments, given to us in His Church, Christ Jesus makes us to see and understand the depth of His love for us, shapes us, makes us to be aware and able to handle and rightly use His blessings. God grant that He make us to see this more and more, so that we may grow in wisdom and trust and love both to Him and to our neighbor. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost +

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Never Ending Cycle of Placation

For the past 50 years or so, the LCMS has given into what will become a never ending cycle of placation. Every generation, we tinker with things to appeal to the youth, we try to cater the Church to them... and you know what? Youth trends change as new generations come... so our placations have to change.

But here's the thing. Those kids from the 60s, they still want their Folk Masses. And the ones from later on, they still want their singer-songwriter services, or their soft-rock services - or their grunge and extreme services. So we have all this age based worship variation based on what was cool when you were a kid.

We do not need to cater the Church to any one group of people. Rather, we need to bring people of all sorts - from whatever background, and incorporate them into the culture of the Church where they will receive Christ and His gifts.

Incorporation, not placation. Placation will always only divide and fragment the Church.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Bored Districts and Pastors Do

My former member and now colleague writes about the Conference for New Pastors in Kansas that he got to go to.

This is why I dislike full-time districts. They become nothing but hotbeds for artificial trendiness and the abandonment of what was good.

Lord have mercy upon us.

The Death of the New?

We live in a culture where everything must be new, new, new. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.

Yet, what I have seen this week? People railing against Netflix and its changes. People railing against Facebook and its changes. And, of course, I've switched back to the old Blogger dashboard after just one day.

Sometimes we think that if we just make change after change after change it will *do* something, it will accomplish something.

Change isn't creative - change won't bring or do more. Change needs to be responsive -- if situation has changed, then you change in response.

We have forgotten this in the Church. Too many want to use change as a way to manipulate things, to bring about changes that they would want -- in other words, to control. Proper change is simply a matter of service, and it happens slowly.

I had another change this week. I had started a bible study at the vacancy I am serving - 7 pm on Wednesday night. It was starting to finish after dark, and a few of the folks attending were nervous about driving after dark. So, we moved it to Monday at 1:30. Not to draw more people - not to prove that we are dynamic and growing... but because it was a simply need that could be simply addressed, and everyone else could make it at 1:30.

If you are tempted to change something, to bring about a change - ask yourself why. Why are you making this change? Is it for something you *want*? Or to make people do something, to manipulate? If so - it's not a good change. I don't care if it is the most brilliant thing ever - it's not a good change.

When it is something that everyone says, "yes, this is a good and fine idea" - then it's a good change.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Where Does Your Contentment Find Its Foundation

Contentment is a double-edged sword for the Christian. Do not missunderstand what I will be saying here - contentment in and of itself is not a bad thing... but it can be a deadly and dangerous thing to the Christian if the Christian bases his contentment upon the wrong thing.

When I consider Christ Jesus and His love for me, I am content. When I behold His Cross and see that His blood was shed for me, I am content. My salvation is secure - indeed, I have life and salvation. I can even look at the blessings which God has given me and be content, because these are the ones that God has given to me.

However, if I look at myself, my own efforts, my own thoughts and plans and dreams... I cannot be content. There, I will see sin. There I will see where I have fallen short and ought to strive for more. There I will see pride and arrogance and coldness of heart.

Some might say, "But you are good" -- good compared to whom? Not compared to God and His standards. Some might say, "You have done enough" -- enough for what? If you mean as much as I can do in my fraility, sure - but there is always more and more that remains to be done.

We want to placate ourselves, we want to lessen the Law and its impact upon us, we want to pat ourselves upon the back and feel a sense of spiritual accomplishment for all our growth.

But if we are honest, when we look at ourselves, we would not be content (especially if we looked at ourselves with that critical eye we cast upon our neighbor).

So - what does this mean? Do I think that my life should be one where I am miserable and never content? No - I think my life and my efforts shouldn't be the focus of my existence. Let me be focused upon Christ, let me see all things in view of Him and through His love. Let me see His mercy given to me without merit or worthiness in me - let me see my neighbor as His own brother, indeed, as my own brother whom He has given to me as a gift, a gift for me to care for in love.

It is only when we see Christ, when we view all things in Him and Through Him that we can have true, honest contentment. The false contentment of this world is a lie, covering greed and shame and endless hunger to consume which always ends in death.

Contentment in Christ is seeing that truth which leads to life everlasting.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sermon for Trinity 13

Trinity 13 – Luke 10:23-37 – September 18th, 2011

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

The Christian faith is this – that while we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. It is the truth that we in and of ourselves are fallen and wretched and deserve death, but God in His mercy sent His Son to give us life. “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” We see Christ and Him Crucified for us, we see how God’s plan of salvation happened, we see because we have been baptized into Christ, declared to be children of God, we hear Him preached to us, we see Him come to us in His most Holy Supper. The Christian faith is centered around the love that Christ shows us, love which then spills out into our neighbor’s life through us.

But some do not see – some do not see Christ but rather would look at themselves and their own work. “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” Just pause for a moment – don’t rush by this question. What shall I do to inherit eternal life. I do – to inherit. I don’t do anything to inherit. An inheritance isn’t a wage, isn’t about what hoops I jump through – it is about what someone leaves me, gives to me. It would be horrible if someone left me an inheritance, and instead of thinking about their love and generosity and how much they cared for me, I instead thought, “Well, I must have done something right.” How horrible is that? And to think that of God? As though God is some stingy miser, who won’t give out His gifts unless you *do* a bunch of stuff to impress Him? But you see what the switch is – this lawyer wants to look at his own works rather than see the love and generosity of God. This is a common temptation for us as well – we love looking at our own works, it’s the danger, the temptation Satan lays out for us.

So, Jesus asks this lawyer what is written in the Law. You’ve asked a Law question, a question about what you need to do – what does God’s Law say, how does He instruct you? And the lawyer answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And then Jesus says, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” Now, what’s the problem? The Lawyer can’t do this – and this is something that should be obvious. Why? Even back in Genesis, looking at the Geneaologies, they all end, “and he died.” Adam. Died. Abraham. Died. Jacob. Died. Moses. Died. So unless you are going to claim that you are better than these – guess what, you are going to die. Jesus speaks truthfully, if we had so sin, we would not die – the wages of sin is death. And if we consider the Law – consider that we are to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength and mind – we find that we are lacking. We don’t love God with our whole hearts – because in our hearts, quite often we still desire bad things. We don’t love him with all our soul or strength, and often our minds are anywhere but upon God. We don’t fulfill this law – and so we deserve death. But as Christians we see another truth that is more wondrous. Does Jesus love His Father with His whole heart and mind and soul and strength? Indeed He does. And more to the point – does Jesus love you perfectly? Yes – which is why He suffered and died in your place, took up the wages of your sin and gave you His life everlasting. This is our focus, this is what we see – we see what the world ignores – and thus we know that we have life in Christ.

The Lawyer still doesn’t see it – he still doesn’t see Christ – he is still looking at himself. “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Desiring to… justify himself. This lawyer doesn’t want to be saved, he wants to do salvation on his own – he wants to justify himself – so if I have to love my neighbor, who are these neighbors I have to love. But note what this is – it’s a minimizing question. It’s a question that strives to make the Law of God easier. Well, who actually is my neighbor – because if that person over there doesn’t count as my neighbor, then I don’t have to love them. Do you see – he wants to do things himself, but then he wants them to be easy. And so he asks a question hoping that the Law of God will be relaxed, will be something simple. And we know that it isn’t – God’s law demands perfection… and indeed, we are to strive after perfection, but we know we aren’t going to get there. And so our Lord teaches this man just how far love goes.

We then hear the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. Before we go over this again – consider this truth. As Christians, we see differently than the rest of the world. The world disdains Christ and the things of God – but we see and delight in them. Everything in this story is backwards to what the world would expect. Listen. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” This is a horrible thing. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho would wind through the hills, and so there were plenty of places for robbers to hide, and they beat this man almost to death, take all that he has, and leave him half-dead on the side of the road. Not a good situation.

And then we hear, “Now by chance a priest was going down the road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” Now to get the impact of this story – in the Jewish culture, the best, the top of the tops of society were the Priests and the Levites. These are the good people – the ones whom everyone wanted to be like. Yet, they just pass on by. Why? Well, if there’s robbers about, do you want to dilly-dally? More over – what if the man is already dead… they don’t get close to him – you weren’t supposed to touch a dead body, it defiled you. So, this priest and this Levite, thinking about themselves, hurriedly pass on by and move on down the road, seeking to take care of themselves.

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was…” Now, again, we have a hard time getting the full impact of this parable, because when we hear the word “Samaritan” we sort of automatically put “good” in front of it. This is the Good Samaritan, after all. Do you know who the Samaritans were? They were the rebellious, idolatrous children of the Northern Kingdom who rejected David’s grandson. These were the people who refused to worship in the Temple. These were half-breeds, traitors. They were hated by the Jews, and pretty much vice versa. So think in your mind about whom you hate, what sort of person if you see walking by makes you want to lock your car door – that’s the attitude that these people listening would have had towards this Samaritan. And then, in an utterly shocking turn of events, what do we see? “and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took two denarri and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” The Samaritan, the despised one – stops and helps. He cares for the fellow. He puts the man on his own animal – so not only will this Samaritan have to walk… but if the robbers return, he won’t be able to flee. And he puts the fellow up in an inn with instructions to be cared for – basically foots his hospital bill. Do you see how unexpected this would be?

The world, dear friends, loves power and strength and might. The world despises weakness and frailty. The world loves people who look good and seem nice and wise – but we are told by Paul “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.” By all earthly standards, what this Samaritan does is utter foolishness. Why spend your money on someone who probably hates you, why risk your own life for someone who is passed out and may even never know who helped him? But the Samaritan does it, because it shows love to his neighbor. Likewise, we too are called to show love, show love in ways that the world thinks is stupid. We are called to show kindness to those who hate us – to even pray for our enemies. We are called to serve those who would never be able to pay us back. Even in the midsts of hard times, we are called upon to be generous. This is the ideal.

And to be blunt – we fall short of that ideal. Suppose we were to talk honestly about what our life looked like, what our walk looked like. You know what it would look like – like that man beaten and left half dead on the side of the road. Sin and the world and our own sinful flesh and desires kick the tar out of us. How often are you beaten and battered in this world – how often is care and compassion the exception, rather than the rule. How often does laying down to bed bring with it the thoughts of “I should have done this today, but I didn’t”? Sin has smacked us all around and left us half dead. And the thing is – all the things the world loves – power, respect, wealth, fame – these slide right on by and do nothing to help us. But then comes Christ. Christ Jesus is the one who loves us as the Good Samaritan showed love. Christ Jesus was despised and looked down upon by the world – His own people say to Him in John 8 “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” The world calls out for Him to be crucified, and mocks as He suffers. He is despised – and yet, what does He do? He sees you hounded by sin, and He has compassion upon you. He binds up your wounds, forgives you. The Good Samaritan used oil and wine –oil was used to clean – it would grab the dirt and then be scraped off. Wine was used to disinfect. Christ Jesus cleansed you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and then He gives you His own Body, His own Blood in His Supper to forgive you and strengthen you. The Good Samaritan carried the wounded man to the inn – Christ brings you to His Church, where your sin and its wounds are to be continually tended to – and how? By what He provides. The innkeeper receives all that he needs from the Samaritan and the promise that if more is needed, he will provide. Likewise, Christ gives His Church all that she needs to show forth love and care. And this is not your doing, it isn’t your strength – it is Christ Jesus blessing you and working through you to accomplish the love that He would have shown. Again – Christ Jesus takes care of it all for you.

The world may despise Christ, the world may want to cling to works and wealth and power and might, but you see what Christ has done for you. And again, this is done not because of any merit and worth in you, but simply out of His great love and compassion. You have done nothing to inherit this – but God has claimed you in Holy Baptism and made you His child, promised that you would inherit eternal life through Christ Jesus. You of yourself do not show love to God or neighbor like you ought – but Christ Jesus comes and forgives you and heals you – and indeed, when you are healed by Him you will show love. Never perfectly in this life, never completely in this life, but He will use you to care for others – He will give you His own gifts and put you to work tending others. Why? For He has come down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary, and now He is your neighbor, and He is determined to truly love you and give you all that you need for this life and for the life of the world to come, and praise and glory be to God alone. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wait... that's not how it goes

Love your enemies -- unless they have done something that really offends you and hurts the Church -- then revile away.

Wait... I don't think that is how it goes.

While there should be many prayers rightfully going up for ULC... I'd note that we are to pray for those who persecute the Church.

Just saying.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm Just Not Outraged

I have fond memories of my 3 months at University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. It's very easy for me to envision in my mind the sanctuary, the basement where there would be dinner and bible study, the side room where bible study would happen. It was a rich, full summer, and quite formative for me.

I bring this up to say that I am not distant from this whole fiasco - while I'm not an alum of ULC (I claim Trinity, Norman and OU), it was my home for a summer when I was a young 19 year old who had just decided to head to the Seminary.

But I'm just not outraged. I'm not incensed. I'm not ready to lambaste the folks who made this foolish decision - I can't declare them to be enemies of the Gospel or villains. I can't pound my fist in anger.

To be fair - I do feel frustration. I brought this up in our Psalms study when we came to Psalm 119:!4 - "In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches."

But the thing is - I just have a really hard time seeing the specific event, the specific place. I see something that is totally emblematic of what has been going on in our Church and our Country for the past 40 or 50 years.

It seems as though everyone in the LCMS has been trying to give our Synod and Districts more and more power. Why? Because we think that if we just win the vote (like we did in '69 or '7*) that then we can use our power to *fix* things.

Don't we realize that power will always be abused? Don't we realize that power will always drive after money?

How do I get incensed over this when I knew guys at the Sem who were missionaries overseas but had been called back for lack of funding, even as the bureaucracy spends more and more money? Or when I have seen small congregations ignored by districts because they don't give enough cash to matter? Or faithful men cast aside because of the threats of congregations dropping financial support to the district? Or men not receiving calls because of power plays, or blackballing (on both sides)? Or people forming their own mission societies (West Coast, East Coast, and Overseas) or youth programs because "funding" just isn't there even though there's enough to build office building after office building (new temples to the idol of self-importance)?

I can't be outraged by something that, while sad and tragic, is typical. It's like being outraged that someone who smokes gets lung cancer... it's terrible, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone... but can we be surprised? Can we be outraged?

I just don't have it in me to be outraged. And you know what - I'm sort of glad. Rage is rarely healthy. Rage rarely goes hand in hand with compassion.

And you know what - it's the poor saps who think that selling ULC is wise who actually *need* our compassion (God will tend to Pr. Kind and his flock, and probably in a way of wonder that we can't anticipate). Think about how vapid and poor and dour your life, your approach to the idea of "Church" where you'd think you need to trade a vital congregation for mere cash.

It's as though there is no more delighting in the testimonies, in the declarations of what God has done for His people. Selling ULC is the act of people who have no real hope - just desperation and vain efforts to try to keep their heads above water and maintain some modicum of control. And anyone drowning in that mire and muck, even if they hurt or wound us, needs our compassion.

God grant us all repentance, that we might once again delight in the mercies He shows us everyday in spite of and over and against our stupidity, our greed, our lust for power, and our hard-heartedness.

Outta the Park

Pastor Hall from Enid nails one out of the park with his post on Church personalities. There is no one ideal congregation... just saying.

The problems of the "National" Church

I am the pastor of a small congregation in a small town.

Very small. We get around 50 a Sunday, and our town is struggling to stay at 500. Kids move away, and most of them don't come back. In my first 4 years I did 12 adult instructions - and ever single one of them moved away to get a better job. Of the kids I've taken through confirmation, not a one still lives here anymore.

By all accounts, what I do here, on the "big" picture wouldn't seem to matter much. Wouldn't my talents be better used, maybe as a district planner. Why, I could be paid by some bureaucracy to plan an event - just think, what if I planned an event this year that got 500 people to show up for a day - wouldn't that be great.

No. It would be a step down.

Okay, I may only get 50 people on average -- but that's not 1 day, that's 52 Sundays. That's 2600.

I teach various bible studies, and I see on the average week around 20 different people (we'll keep the numbers round). 1040 people.

If you throw out the shut-ins, the personal consultations, things like that -- we'll toss in at least another 1000. Conservatively. This isn't counting blogs or my weekly e-mail devotional.

That's 4640 times directly giving the Gospel, teaching, shaping people. And this is at my incredibly small parish.

Let's multiply that by 3 for three years. 13920. We taut the national youth gathering for getting so many people, almost 2-3 times that... fair enough. But you know what - I serve, more efficiently, even in my own little parish, just being a pastor.

The problem is this - if you want "effective" ministry - you don't need programs or goals or visions - you simply need pastors out there preaching and teaching. Simple as that.

Just saying.

Thoughts upon the impending sale of ULC in Minneapolis

Well, if you look here you will see that this morning Pastor Kind at University Lutheran in Minneapolis - where I attended for a summer back in 1997 - is facing serious difficulties. Although it is an independent congregation and healthy... the Minnesota South District has decided to sell their property (for $3.2 million) by the end of the year. No plans for the congregation have been made quite yet.

This is a sad and foolish decision. But that is all it is. I don't think it is safe to cast aspersions or things like this. But it points out something that we would be wise to remember.

This was a business decision -- which makes sense because fundamentally the LCMS and the Districts are not "Church" - they are businesses. They are organizations of the kingdom of the left designed to funnel money around to various goals and projects. This used to be funneling money to Seminarians to train pastors and to the direct support of missionaries.

Now - well, I think one can certainly argue that the way funds are being shifted are foolish - even horrid. But these are business decisions. These are not "churchly" decisions made by churchmen, but business decisions made by people who have bureaucratic bills to pay.

+ + + + + + + + + +

This is part of the reason why I love the Oklahoma District. We have very little bureaucracy. We have 1 full-time staff member, I think -- our secretary (and actually, I think she might be part time). Virtually all our positions are volunteer positions. There is no beast to feed.

If you want change, if you don't want things like this to happen again in the future, the solution isn't electing good "guys" to the spots -- they will still be in positions where they have to make business decisions.

Here's the solution. Let there be 100 districts, each consisting of no more than 100 congregations and/or 12 circuits. Let all the district offices be part time, volunteer positions, as is done in Oklahoma. The the District President be someone serving full-time as the pastor of a parish.

This would undercut the business aspect of our districts. This would undercut the politics of our districts, because if you have a full time parish to take care of, you simply don't have time to muck around in someone else's congregation.

Until we change our system, until we eliminate the "power" of the districts - this is the sort of thing that will happen over and over, especially as the districts strive to pay their bills and come up with new stupidity to justify their existence.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Such a Focus on Christ

So, my congregation has suggested that once we finish Genesis on Sunday morning (2 more chapters) we move on to Hebrews. This means I've started to read Hebrews (new midget should be born in around 6 weeks... work ahead!) and something stands out - as it does in pretty much every epistle.

There is such a focus on Christ.

But especially with Hebrews: the thrust is that Jesus is better than these things of the Old Covenant. Jesus tops everything and everyone.

I wish people would just be more content to talk and focus on Christ and then let the chips fall where they may. You know - live by faith.

Oh well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Never Gauge a Congregation by Complaints

Never judge a congregation (or anything) simply by the complaints you hear. There's a simple reason for this. You will listen to the complaints that complain about things you dislike while you will automatically excuse the complaints that hit close to home.

We will listen and give great credence to the person who complains about the horrid contemporary music... but we'll brush off the fellow who complains about the horrid chanting... the second guy just doesn't get it, we assume.

This is human nature -- if a complaint hits too close to home, we brush it aside, we ignore it, we pretend it is totally unfounded. But if its something that we too would complain about - oh, you are so right.

This is easily observed in on-line political discussions. Watch a bunch of Republicans complain and then watch a bunch of Democrats complain. Some complaints are viewed as valid, and others as spurious... and what do you know, these mesh right up with party lines.

Rather this - listen to what people speak well of and then *why* they speak well of things. Ask them why they thing something is done well. Then you can actually learn something.

And if they can't find anything to praise or speak well of - ignore them. Seriously. Even St. Paul could say that the pagans were zealous... we should be well practiced at putting the best construction on things. If not -- go find another place to listen to.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I Don't Want to Make You Feel

I don't want to make you feel anything in particular with my sermons.

I don't want to make you relive that fateful day. I don't want to make you feel sorrow, or terror, or even relieve or joy.

You know what they call it when someone other than a preacher makes you feel something so you end up acting in a specific way? They call it "Manipulation".

I will preach the Word of God - the Law in its sternness, the Gospel in its sweetness. If you happen to feel something -- consider your own reactions. But I'm not aiming for any one emotion. I want to you know Christ's love for you -- the flavor or shade of emotional reaction... well, not what I get to control.

Just saying. Oh, and if you aren't as emotional as someone thinks you should be... tell them to stuff it.

(Favorite joke on this... Carlos Mencia tells of how he is roped into going to a showing of the Passion of the Christ at his Church, and when he isn't crying during the film, one lady accosts him, "Why aren't you crying?" His response. "Because I read the book. He comes back, it's okay." Let no one judge you on the meat you eat, or your holy days, or your emotions.)

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – September 11th, 2011 – Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
It is easy for us to speak of Jesus’ power, especially when it comes to the miracles that we see Him perform. And we are right to note His power, to praise Him for it, to be amazed by it. But here’s the thing. In the Scriptures, it’s rarely meant to be surprising when Jesus demonstrates His power. Of course He has power – He’s God. What were you expecting? Of course God has power. No, in the Scriptures the thing about Jesus that has the larger focus is His humility – that this Almighty God would let Himself be born of a virgin, grow as a helpless infant – that God Almighty would let Himself be scourged and crucified. No, the fact that Jesus humbles Himself is much more astonishing. And then we have our Gospel this morning. And we see Jesus using the power, the authority He has – but note how Jesus uses it. Dear friends, even in His use of His power, Jesus is Humble. Watch and see His humility, watch and see how He doesn’t seek His own glory here, but rather He shows love to this deaf man. Christ Jesus our Lord acts with humility and love, humility and love that we are to emulate, and humility and love that we benefit from.

Then [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “ephphatha,” that is, “be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Such an interesting miracle. There Jesus is – and by this point in His earthly ministry He is well recognized as a great healer, a miracle worker. And Jesus comes into this area, and they bring Him a deaf man who can’t speak well, and they ask Him to heal this man. And here, Jesus does some things that are seemingly strange. He takes the man aside, and pokes the guy’s ears, and grabs his tongue. No, dear friends, these are not strange, but they are humility and love. Behold what Jesus does. He comes upon a man who is suffering – and the crowds wish to see a great miracle – want to see just how good this Healer is. But Jesus will not make a spectacle of this deaf man – Jesus deals with Him privately. The first thing which this deaf man hears will not be the roar of a crowd, but simply Christ. And note how carefully Jesus handles this man. Right here, your ears that don’t work – I will take care of them. This, your tongue which doesn’t work, I will take care of it. And then, the beautiful part – Jesus sighs. While the deaf man is watching Him, Jesus takes a big, deep breath, and looking up to heaven, He sighs. See, I am praying to God – see and understand what I am doing. And then, only when this deaf man can understand what is happening, does Jesus speak. And speak He does. Ephphatha! Be opened! And the man hears – hears this healing Word from Christ. And the man is healed.

Then we have something else that is interesting. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Jesus tells them not to talk about it, not to go and tell everyone about it. It seems strange, doesn’t it? Aren’t we supposed to talk about Christ? Well, yes. Indeed we are to speak about Christ. But let’s look at this miracle in particular for a moment. Christ’s concern throughout this text isn’t demonstrating that He is in fact God – He’s not out to prove anything. Christ’s focus with this miracle isn’t upon the crowd, but rather is simply upon the deaf man. Everything Christ does, He does for this deaf man – indeed, that this deaf man may hear the Word of God. Christ here isn’t seeking adulation, Christ isn’t looking for pats on the back. He is humble, and He seeks at this moment only to show love and to serve – and so He lavishes care upon this deaf man, treats him with love and respect and dignity. The love that Christ shows – He shows it not for accolades or praise, but because He is Jesus Christ, the One who created all things, and the One who restores His creation – the humble Lamb of God.

In this, dear friends, let Christ Jesus be your example – for here He is the ultimate and most perfect example of love and humility. When you act, when you show love – show love as Christ shows love here. Do not draw attention to yourself, do not seek praise or pats on the back. Don’t trumpet your deeds before everyone as the Pharisee did last week. Rather this – show love to people. Show love to them as individuals – as people who are in need of care and compassion. Handle them gently, in ways that they can understand – just as Christ dealt with this man in a way he could understand. Your ears, your tongue, that’s what I will heal. Likewise, when you show love, when you show care, deal with the person you are helping – and let that be that. Your service isn’t about you and what you want, but about them, and how they are hurting, what they need – so in love and mercy tend to them, and don’t worry about yourself at all.

This is something that is hard for us humans to do – for we love praise, we love recognition – and we are tempted to act in ways where we draw attention to ourselves – where we pander to the crowd. We all too often want to bask in the praise of others – rather than doing the simple, quiet work that God gives us to do. No one praises the mother for changing the child’s diapers (except perhaps for the husband who then doesn’t have to change them) – you don’t win awards for simply going out to the fields – trumpets don’t blare and banners don’t drop sound at the kind words spoken to a friend. Yet these, dear friends – these simple acts of love – these simple tasks that fill our days – service to family, service to friends and neighbors, simply work and care – these are the tasks that Christ lays before us – and these are what we are to do – in quiet humility out of love towards God, and love towards our neighbor.

And how often that humility goes out the window on our part. How often we seek praise, and if we don’t get praised, we ignore what we ought to do. How often we worry more about what others will think rather than what others need? How often we shy from showing love to another – because what will people say if they see me talking to THAT person. How often our own ears are deaf to the pleas and cries of those in need. How often our own lips are impeded, how often we fail to speak words of compassion and love like we ought. While we are supposed to be like Jesus, the simple fact is that far, far too often, we are more like the deaf and mute man. And thus we remember that Jesus Christ is not simply an example – He is not simply a guide that we follow. No – in addition Jesus Christ is our Savior – He is the One who in humility and love came down from heaven and went to the Cross to suffer and die for our sins, and we can never forget this, we can never delude ourselves into thinking that in this life we no longer need His healing. Whereas we lack humility – Christ humbles Himself unto death. Whereas we lack love – Christ demonstrates His love for us in this – that while we were yet sinners, He died for us. Christ Jesus works for your forgiveness, and He lavishes this upon you.

And note how Jesus gives you forgiveness. Just as Jesus took the deaf man aside and dealt with Him individually – Christ takes you and brings you His forgiveness individually. Think on your baptism. You were baptized by name, as a specific individual – God pulled you aside and dealt with you personally. Think on the Supper. Christ’s Body and Blood is placed upon Your lips, upon Your tongue, for the forgiveness of Your sin. Christ deals with you individually. You aren’t part of just some faceless mob, you aren’t name on a register – but God desires to come to you individually. Indeed, should you ever want it, knock on my door and I will, as part of my duties as pastor, give you Christ’s forgiveness to you personally as well. Should you want the Supper – ask. Should you feel the weight or a particular sin, I will forgive it and never speak a word of it to anyone. Christ wants you to know that He forgives you. Christ is intimate in how He deals with you – He never wants you to be lost in the crowd, He never wants you to be isolated and alone – He never wants you to think as though you are not worth His time. He loves you in the same way in which He showed love to this deaf man – personally. He loves you, and He opens your ears so that you might hear His Word, that you might see clearly in the Scripture His love for you. All that Christ does, He does so that you yourself might know and understand that He is the God who has purchased and redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature – that He has done away with your sin and opened the gates of heaven unto you and that He is indeed with you, now and through eternity.

This is how Christ shows love. He shows love with great humility, with His focus being simply upon care and service. In our text, we see His care and service to a deaf man. This does teach us how we should strive to live, how we too should strive to care for each other. But it also teaches us that this is how He shows love to each of us. In our own lives, we see His care and service to each one of us – as He has claimed us as His own in Baptism, as He speaks His Word to each of us, as He gives His blessed Sacrament to each of us. Behold how God loves you, know how He takes His almighty power and then in love towards you and in perfect Humility, He makes His power to be power and strength for you, with ears opened by Him, rest secure in the salvation He has won for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Don't We Read? A Tale of Fear

There are times when I simply wonder about us... about Lutherans. About men who I know should know better. I mean... I see people befuddled by concepts that I would expect my confirmands to have nailed down. You mean Lutherans *aren't* opposed to Good Works, but rather simply understand that Good Works flow from justification, never lead to justification?

What does such baptizing with water signify?--Answer.

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

+ + + + +

What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?

That is shown us in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

I mean... in each of the two sections on the Sacrament, this is an idea that is taught. Forgivenesss leads to and shapes life... or I could go all third article, the the Holy Spirit calls by the Gospel... then enlightens and sanctifies.

Shoot, if we don't get that part and parcel of the Lutheran understanding of a Sacrament is that it gives forgiveness, which always leads to Sanctification, maybe this is why we have folks running around debating whether Ordination is a "Sacrament", I mean, sheesh.

But lest you think this is just me being cranky - this is actually a post of fear. In the span of History I have noticed a common and simple pattern. Things go wrong theologically when people simply assume they know the faith and then get bored. Things go bad when instead of focusing on the simple truth of the Gospel, we end up focusing on other things.

This is what happened back in the 40s in the LCMS... just saying.

Those of you who would be faithful - actually go and ponder your catechism - pay attention - go read through Chemnitz's Enchridion. And quit trying to be so different.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

St. Paul Thinks You Are Nuts

So, do you think you need to do something to make yourself ready for God? Do you think you need to make a decision for Jesus? Do you want to taut the powers of the free will of man, or talk about how you need to really give your assent to Jesus before anything works?

"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." - 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Yeah. Um, about that - St. Paul basically says here that you are nuts. I mean, shoot, it's even God who makes Paul competent.

If you think you are the one who is making yourself competent... chances are you are actually incompetent.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Analogy Number Two

Let us say that you are a general facing overwhelming odds. The Enemy is entrenched, heavily fortified, and they out number you. Then, God reveals to you through His prophets that if you march around the town and blow trumpets for 7 days, the walls will fall. And so, this is the plan, you march, the walls fall on the 7th day, and then in the mass destruction and confusion the city is defeated.

Afterwords, you are asked, "How did you get this victory?"

If you say, "The Lord has given me this victory - He is my strength and my shield" then you are thinking Scripturally and like a Lutheran.

If you say, "I have this victory because I actively assented to do that which is good, demonstrating my faithfulness and my growth as a believer in God" then you have two main options. If you don't like the liturgy, become a Metho-baptist-pentecostal. If you do like the liturgy, go East.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sermon for Trinity 11

Trinity 11 – September 4th, 2011 – Luke 18:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
I’ll admit it, this is probably my favorite parable. It’s the first one I remember at least. And it’s one that I think should be both a constant warning and a constant comfort to us in the Christian Church. With this teaching, our Lord shows sincere Christians what their greatest danger is, how Satan will try to attack their faith. Satan has two main ways of destroying faith – one is gross and vile sin. Just stop caring about right or wrong, do whatever feels good. This happens. We know it, we see it around us, and by the Grace of God we know that it is wrong and empty and void. And so with us, Satan will pull out a second weapon, a second tactic to get us to abandon the faith – and that is pride and self-righteousness.

“[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” Note – this is a parable for the Church, for people who know who God is, who know that there is a right and a wrong, for people who actually care about doing good. But what is the problem? Two problems are noted here – when we think we are righteous in ourselves, and when we treat others with contempt. The very image of this is the Pharisee in the parable. “Two men went up to the temple to pray; one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” Now, first and foremost, remember – Pharisee in Jesus’ day didn’t mean “bad”. So often we will think of the Pharisees as villains, as the bad folks, as jerks. No. That’s not how we should think of the Pharisees… lest we too start looking upon others with contempt. No, a Pharisee was a devoted laymen. A Pharisee was someone who was respected, someone whom the people of the town knew was serious about doing good things. If we took someone from Jesus’ day and dropped him here and said, “find me a Pharisee” – he’d see some member who faithfully attended Church and bible study, someone who volunteered, who was generous – that’s who he’d say the Pharisee was. The good person. You *wanted* to be like the Pharisees back in the day – just like today people want to be nice Christians.

And what do we hear? “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’” The problem is not what the Pharisee does. The Pharisee does many good, many nice things. Isn’t it good not to extort people? Isn’t it good to be fair? Isn’t it good not to commit adultery? And he’s generous – he fasts twice a week… and part of the idea of fasting is that you would take the money you would have spent on food that day and give it to the poor so that they could eat. He is basically taking the food off of his own plate twice a week and giving it to someone else. That’s pretty cool. And of course, tithes of all that he gets. If we were to compare works, compare how devoted our lives were – chances are the Pharisee would win. In fact – if we are just talking about works... be more like the Pharisee. Be more generous. Be more fair, exercise more self-control. If you are not doing these things, try harder. But the problem isn’t simply what the Pharisee does… it’s how he thinks of himself.

I thank You that I am not like other men. Not like other men. That’s the problem. The Pharisee thinks that he is fundamentally different, fundamentally better than other people. They sin, I don’t, not really, oh, what a good boy am I. Pride has devoured him, and corrupted him. Indeed, it’s tainted all his works – so that even though they seem good… even though they are proper things to do, they are done for the wrong reason. Does he fast to provide for another simply out of love and concern – knowing that he himself might have been there but for the Grace of God? Nope – he’s just showing how wonderful he is. Or even the Tithing – is that from love – or is that proving how great he is?

See, this is where the rubber so often meets the road in the life of a Christian. As a Christian, you are to strive to do good. You are to strive to be better today than you were yesterday. You are to strive to serve your neighbor, show forth love. But here is the problem. Our sinful flesh loves to look at our Good works and say, “See how good I am.” Our sinful flesh loves to compare - “I do more than so and so, see how good I am.” And do you see the shift – instead of simply focusing upon the neighbor in love and care – instead of our works being truly good and for the benefit of our neighbor, we twist them, we turn our works into things that just stroke our Ego and enflame our pride.

And what happens then? We forget who we are. I thank You that I am not like other people. What was he really saying? I thank You that I’m not a sinner – I thank you that I am awesome and wonderful and not a bad person. And if you note, in this fallen Pharisee’s prayer… there was no need for God. In his prayer, did this Pharisee need God anymore, God’s mercy, God’s strength, God’s guidance? No – rather, see all that I do for God. He might have admitted that God made him that way – but does he *need* God right now? He doesn’t think so. He doesn’t see his sin, he only sees the sin of his neighbor – when he looks at himself he only sees the good he wants to see – and so he is lost.

Compare this with what the Tax Collector, the most hated person, prays: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” The tax collector shows humility. The tax collector confesses his sins. We don’t know the works of this tax collector – he too was in the temple to pray, just like the Pharisee. Who knows if he was generous with what he had, who knows if he was outwardly faithful? That’s not his concern at the moment. His concern is his sin. He is aware of it, and in His humility, He confesses it.

And our Lord says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” He confesses his sin, and he is forgiven. He confesses his sin, and he is declared to be righteous before God – not on his works, but because he desires mercy and forgiveness from God. This is why, dear friends, even as you strive to do good, to show love, to show care and compassion, you must always remember that you are a sinner. You will never grow in the Christian faith to where you do not need God. You will never gain enough holiness in this life to where your first and foremost thought will no longer need to be that you need mercy for your sin. Even should God work great and wondrous things through you now – as long as you still draw breath in this body, you will remain a sinner – and by that I don’t mean just that you will do “bad” things – but everything you do will be tainted. Every act, every thought, every word we speak is tainted with sin. Right now, as I preach, as you hear, we are tainted and twisted with sin. There’s that sinful part of me that thinks, “boy, I hope they like this.” Or perhaps you’ve had those thoughts come up about so and so needing to hear this, or this is dull, or this is stuff I surely already know why do we go over it again? Whatever. Our sinful flesh always wants to glorify and praise itself, always wants us to be the mighty hero of the story. But over and against this, hearing the Word of God we confess our sins, we show humility.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” If we listen to our sinful flesh on this, if we give into pride and glorify the self, we begin to ignore God – to not have a real use for Him – and our faith becomes cold and withers and dies… and we shrug, because we’re good people, we didn’t need it anyway. That is the way of death and damnation. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That is the key – to be humble, to confess our sins – and not in an arrogant way – don’t go around trying to prove that you’re more humble than the next guy – but rather this. Consider your own sins, your own shortcomings, the times where you are not whom you know you should be – and confess them. Struggle against them. Ask God for forgiveness and strength to fight against them. And you will receive forgiveness, and you will receive strength to beat them down… not that you’ll ever have them totally beaten down, but you will learn to strive against them better.

This is the purpose, you realize, of the Supper. When our Lord gives us His own Body and Blood in the Supper, this is the particular gift that it brings. It brings the forgiveness of sins so that we leave this place justified before God, but it also gives and brings strength – it gives us Christ so that He strengthens us in our struggles against sin. After the Supper we will pray as follows: “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You of Your mercy that you would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another, through Jesus Christ...” Do you hear what that prayer teaches? The Supper refreshes us, it forgives the sins and cleanses us – but not only that, it makes our focus to be ever more upon God and His love for us, so that we abandon pride. It makes us to be ever more focused upon our neighbor, so that the neighbor is better served and loved. It joins us to Christ, so that all that we do is actually what He brings about in us and through us.

Indeed, it is Christ Jesus Himself who is the One who humbled Himself to be born of a Virgin, who came down from heaven for us and for our salvation, He is the one who, though He knew no sin became sin for us and went to the Cross – and He is the One whom was raised on the 3rd day. And this same Jesus, who humbled Himself even unto the point of death upon the Cross, gives Himself to you to teach you Humility, and this same Jesus who was exulted as He rose gloriously from the tomb gives you new life now and has promised you your own glorious resurrection. So the, as a Christian, as one who is in Christ, strive to do better, but beware of your pride. Beware of contempt towards others that would make you forget your own sin. Rather, confess your sins, and on account of Chrsit Jesus, God will forgive you and strengthen you – God will be merciful to you and through you show love to others. Rejoice and delight in Christ Jesus, for He is your life and your salvation - In the Name of the Father…. +

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sasse, The Church, and the Creative Word

As the Word founded the church - "I have given them Thy Word" - so the Word of Christ preserves the church. Not the most brilliant of human organizing, not the most splendid liturgy, not the wisest of men, not the most splendid church buildings preserve the church. It is done by the Word alone, by the plain Word of the Gospel as the saving message of the forgiveness of sins. "Fruitful ethics can be found also in Confucianism, a resplendent hierarchy also with the Dalai Lama, scientific theology also in the synagogue, a battle against alcohol also among the Turks, and a youth movement also in Moscow - forgiveness of sins alone with Jesus Christ." - Herman Sasse, We Confess the Church, pg 16

Sasse is a joy to read. Why? Because everything is Christ, everything is accomplished by Christ through the Word. Why is there a Church? The Word. The Word of the Gospel creates; God's Word does what it says.

Do we not realize that when God declares us forgiven -- we are? Do we not realize that when God declares us righteous in Christ... we become more and more like Christ, showing righteousness not because of our strength or efforts but because His Word declares it so?

The great heresy and error in the Church has ever been this - we do not trust the Word. We ignore what the Word says, and we do not believe that the Word does what it says. We substitute our own rules thinking they can replace the Word of God (or even improve thereupon - filling in the things God in His 'foolishness' left out); we substitute the plans of our minds thinking that we can create something where God has not.

Just saying, just thinking. Proclaim this truth - you are forgiven on account of Christ Jesus' death and resurrection. Here is life, here is salvation, here is the Church.