30 June 2008

The New Issues, Etc. - A Class Act!

On March 18, 2008, bureaucrats of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod coldly canceled Issues, Etc. and fired Rev. Todd Wilken and Mr. Jeff Schwarz.

Today, June 30, 2008, Wilken, Schwarz, their advocates and their listeners have returned. "The boys are back in town"! And what a class act the first hour has been! (I write this as hour #2 - 4:00-5:00 p.m. CDT gets underway.)

What made hour #1 a "class act"? The reflections on their unexpected yet much appreciated "spring break," thanks to the powers-that-be of the LCMS. (I'm so tempted to write "LCMess," but I will refrain. :-) Not only does the label "spring break" put a most civil light on the past three months, beginning with their unexpected firing and cancellation, but it shows what folks focusing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ can do: put the best construction on things, even when those things personally hurt, even when those things show the full measure of human sin.

Schwarz referred to the pastoral counsel that he had received from Genesis 50, the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers. What an excellent note to strike in this first, back from the dust, retooling - resurrected - hour of Issues, Etc. I hope that note of forgiveness will work to warm the chilly atmosphere that surrounds the LCMS bureaucracy in their lurch away from the confessing, liturgical life of the Church.

Let no one say that Rev. Wilken and Mr. Schwarz are speaking with the flavor of sour grapes in their mouths. Let no one say that any kind of vengeance or bitterness comes through in their words. No, it's back to, well, the issues - theological, ecclesiastical, political, cultural, etc. - and the issues informed and addressed by the worldview of Jesus Christ, His Gospel, His Church, and our life in His forgiveness and salvation.

Well done, Todd and Jeff! Thanks for the lively bump music, for the notes of thanks, for reading the names from the online petition (I guess I'll have to go back and see what number I was so I know when to hear my name on the airwaves. ;-). I especially like the part about "the boys are back in town," though I will put in my plea to lose the one liner about the toilet seats being up. Not quite the picture I wanted in my mind, and the only speck of dust on the otherwise class act of hour #1. (You guys did say you're big boys! :-)

The Lord bless you and keep you.

Homily - St. Peter & St. Paul, Apostles, with Ordination of Michael Bahr

“Flesh and Blood Have Not Revealed This to You”
St. Peter & St. Paul, Apostles –
with Ordination of Rev. Michael Bahr

Matthew 16:13-19 (w/ Galatians 2:1-10)

Trinity Lutheran Church, Bluffs, IL

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Greetings, President Bueltmann and Pastor Eckman. May our gracious God continue to bless you as you serve Him in His Church. Greetings, redeemed saints at Christ, Immanuel, and Trinity congregations. May our Savior continue to comfort, strengthen, feed, and nourish you in His Gospel of sins forgiven, in your Baptism, and with His holy Supper, and may He bless you with love for your new shepherd and with his love for you. And, last but not least, greetings, soon-to-be Reverend Bahr. What a weighty thought! Can you feel the onus of the office starting to press down? May our loving Lord Jesus, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, bless you in your labors of preaching His Gospel and giving out His gifts in Baptism, Absolution, and Supper.

I am both humbled and honored to proclaim God’s message of mercy for you on this momentous day. I also marvel at the timing. An ordination is a joyous, historic event in any congregation, but especially today for the tri-parish – three congregations in one parish – of Christ, Immanuel, and Trinity. Mike, it’s certainly a joyous, life-changing event for you. After all, today you receive the mantle of the Office of the Holy Ministry, the mantle of serving at the bidding of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the mantle of loving your one flock of three congregations. And here’s the marvel. Today we celebrate this joyous event on the very same day that we remember St. Peter and St. Paul for laying down their lives for Christ and His Gospel. Could there be a message here? Yes, I think so. And a great one!

In today’s collect we acknowledged that “Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of [God’s] Son.” Then we prayed for God’s strength to confess His truth “and at all times [to] be ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us.” That, fellow saints in Christ, is what this ordination is all about—laying down one’s life for Him who laid down His life for us. Members of Christ, Immanuel, and Trinity, that is what your pastor will do for you, and what you will do for him. Mike, you will indeed sacrifice yourself—your time and talents, your energy and efforts, your prayers and love—for your flock. No, this laying down of your lives may not take on the form of martyrdom, but it will take on the shape of sacrificing yourselves for one another in Christian love. Let’s hear what this meant for Peter and Paul, and then what it means for you, Mike, and the congregations committed to your care.

St. Peter and St. Paul were both “second-career men.” Peter first worked as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee. Then the Lord Jesus called him to follow Him and promised that he would “catch men alive” by tossing out the net of the Gospel and bringing them into the boat of Jesus’ Church. Sure, Peter had his problems, his bull-in-a-china-shop personality, his sins, and even his infamous three-fold denial. But as we hear in today’s Gospel reading, he also made the good confession. Jesus asked His twelve disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Oh, and did they know that answer for this seminary exam! “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” But then Jesus asked them, point blank: “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” You see, it’s not enough to know the scholarly answers or the answers in current discussions and publications. Jesus wants to know what His disciples truly believe and confess. So, Peter speaks for the whole group: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Well done, Peter!

Then Jesus gives the real punch line of the story: “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” No, human wisdom did not lead Peter to confess Christ. No, human insights did not serve as the foundation for Jesus’ Church then, nor do they now. Rather, Peter confesses the Truth who comes down from the Father—the Truth-in-the-flesh named Jesus, the Truth who laid down His life on a cross to restore us to life with God.

Then there was St. Paul. His first “career” was being a zealous Pharisee, so zealous that he wanted to hunt down, arrest, and even kill off every pesky little Christian he could find. But, once again, the Lord Jesus got the last word. Our Lord confronted Saul on the road to Damascus and enlisted him—ordained him—to preach the Gospel that he formerly tried to extinguish. In our Epistle reading, St. Paul tells us of his reception by the other Apostles. He “went up because of revelation and set before them the gospel that [he proclaimed] among the Gentiles.” And what Gospel was that? Hear what he says a few verses later: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Paul confessed the same Jesus as did Peter—the Son of the living God, the Christ who saves us, who gives His life for us, and who lives His life in us. For both Peter and Paul, this one confession would consume and shape the rest of their lives. Both Peter and Paul would proclaim this one confession of Jesus the Christ, the Savior of sinners to any and all who would hear it, and even to many who would reject it. Peter and Paul would lay down their very lives for this same confession of Christ crucified and risen. As tradition has it, they both suffered martyrdom in A.D. 67—Peter by being crucified, and upside down at his own request, after all, he didn’t want to be crucified the same way His Lord did; and Paul by being beheaded, after all, he was a Roman citizen. You see, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, came into our flesh, suffered and died for us, and rose again to forgive all our sins and give us life with God. This Jesus and His message of life and mercy were not revealed by flesh and blood, but by our Father in heaven. This Jesus enabled both Peter and Paul to devote their lives to proclaiming the Gospel and to lay down their lives in confessing the Faith.

Mike, this is the very confession and message of Christ for which you lay down your life, figuratively speaking, here today. You see, flesh and blood have not put you here at the tri-parish of Christ, Immanuel, and Trinity, but your Father who is in heaven, and your Savior who laid down His life for you. Very shortly, you will stand before God and His redeemed people and make some solemn promises. Before you make your ordination vows, pay special attention to these words of introduction: “God gathers His Church by and around His Holy Gospel and thereby also grants it growth and increase according to His good pleasure” (LSB Agenda, 165). God Himself gathers you and His people around the confession of Christ, the Son of the living God. That’s the foundation of His Church—not your brilliant personality, not your diligent sermon preparation, not your wowing Bible class presentations, but the confession of Christ crucified and risen for us sinners. God Himself grants growth to His Church—not by means of well-crafted mission statements, not by strategies modeled after the business world, not even by ginning up some blazing zeal to get people excited about missions. No, God grants growth to His Church at His good pleasure and on the foundation of Christ Jesus, the Son of the Living God. Proclaim Him, confess Him, teach Him, comfort your people with Him and His forgiving mercy, and you will do what your Lord sets you apart to do here today.

Redeemed saints of Christ, Immanuel, and Trinity, I urge you to remember one thing from today. Flesh and blood did not put Pastor Bahr here among you, but your Father who is in heaven, and your Savior who laid down His life for you. Sure, you went through the proper channels of contacting your District President and requesting Vicar Bahr from the seminary, and then calling him to be your pastor. But always remember that it was your Savior who loves you who now puts Pastor Bahr here to serve and love you. After Pastor Bahr makes his solemn promises, you will be asked: “Will you, the faithful, according to the Church’s public confession, and speaking for the whole Church, receive [him] as a servant of Christ and minister of Word and Sacrament?” (LSB Agenda, 167). That applies not only to today’s joyous event of ordination, but it also applies to each and every day for as long as our Lord keeps Pastor Bahr here. No doubt there will be times when you just don’t want to listen to him, especially when he confronts you with your sins. No doubt there will be times when Pastor Bahr makes his mistakes in words and deeds. After all, we pastors are chiefs of sinners, you know. But your heavenly Father and your Savior have still put him here to love you by giving you the good confession of Christ, the Son of the living God. So, pray for him, support him and his family, listen to his Christ-centered teaching, and be comforted by the message of sins forgiven and life with God. I am confident that Pastor Bahr will feed and nourish you with the very Bread of Life who is Jesus Christ Himself.

So, today we join with St. Peter and St. Paul in laying down our lives for the Truth who is the Son of the living God, the Truth who is Christ who loves us and gave Himself for us. After the Ordination Rite, our Lord will again come to us in His Body and Blood, the same Body and Blood that was broken and shed on the cross, the same Body and Blood that sustained Peter and Paul to lay down their lives in martyrdom. May this Body and Blood forgive us and give us the life of Christ here and now. May this Body and Blood strengthen us to lay down our lives to confess Jesus Christ in our day. May this Body and Blood strengthen you, Pastor Bahr, and you, dear saints at Christ, Immanuel, and Trinity in the forgiveness and life of Jesus. May this Body and Blood of our crucified and risen Savior be the focal point and the beating heart of your life together for many years to come. After all, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Amen.

29 June 2008

St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

From today's "Weekly News" page of our bulletin at Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, MO:

Today, June 29, we observe the minor festival of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. The observance of this day began early in the 300s, and this day is probably the most ancient of all of the Apostles’ days. One tradition says that St. Peter and St. Paul both suffered martyrdom on the same day, June 29, in A.D. 67, but other sources give February 22, in A.D. 68, as the date of their martyrdom. It is more likely that June 29 marks the day when the bodies of both St. Peter and St. Paul were removed to the catacombs in the year 258 and that this date became the date for the feast. Since both Apostles were martyred for the faith, the color for today is red.

As we celebrate the day of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles, we get to hear excellent Bible readings that we do not often hear in the course of the Church Year. Acts 15 tells us of the first great Church council in Jerusalem, which St. Peter and St. Paul both attended and advised. The council had to decide if Gentile converts to Christianity should be circumcised before being welcomed into the Church. The council rightly decided that even Gentiles become Christians by God’s grace. In Galatians 2 St. Paul tells us about his welcome by the other Apostles. In Matthew 16 St. Peter makes the good confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living
God,” the confession on which the Church is built and stands to this day.

Of course, we thank God for giving St. Peter and St. Paul as Apostles who proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Peter was considered the “Apostle to the Jews,” and Paul was considered the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (XXI:4-6) says this about honoring saints such as Peter and Paul: “Our Confession approves honoring the saints in three ways. The first is thanksgiving. We should thank God because He has shown examples of mercy, because He wishes to save people, and because He has given teachers and other gifts to the Church…. The second service is the strengthening of our faith…. The third honor is the imitation, first of faith, then of other virtues. Everyone should imitate the saints according to his calling.”

Collect of the Day
Merciful and eternal God, Your holy Apostles Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son. Strengthen us by Your Holy Spirit that we may confess Your truth and at all times be ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Hymn Verse
We praise You for Saint Peter;
We praise You for Saint Paul;
They taught both Jew and Gentile
That Christ is all in all.
To cross and sword they yielded
And saw Your kingdom come;
O God, these two apostles
Reached life through martyrdom. (LSB 518:19)

28 June 2008

IE minus 2 days

Less than two days until the new incarnation of Issues, Etc. hits the airwaves on Internet and radio. Check out the new website - www.issuesetc.org - for all the details.

25 June 2008

Homily - Trinity 5 Midweek

Confessing Christ Before Men
Trinity 5 Midweek (A-Proper 7)
Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Let’s begin tonight with a little story. According to Snopes.com, it’s only an urban legend, but it still serves as a good parable to go with our Gospel reading.

The story is told of a university philosophy professor who was a deeply committed atheist. For one required philosophy class this professor would spend the entire semester trying to prove that God could not exist. He used impeccable logic, and so all the students were afraid to argue with him. In the twenty years that he taught this introductory class, no one really had the courage to challenge him. Sure, now and again students would debate him in class on this point or that, but none really challenged him or questioned his presuppositions. After all, this professor had a reputation.

On the last day of every semester the professor would tell his students: “If there is anyone who still believes in Jesus, stand up.” In twenty years, no one had ever stood up. Everyone knew what he would do next. He would say, “Because anyone who believes in God is a fool. If God did exist,” the professor would say, “He could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that He is God, and He can’t do it.” Every year the professor would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom, and it would shatter into pieces. The students would only stare in silence.

Most students were convinced that God could not exist. Sure, some Christians undoubtedly slipped through, but for 20 years no one had mustered the courage to stand up.

Then, as the story goes, one year, one devout Christian freshman enrolled in the class. He had heard the stories about this professor. For the whole semester he prayed for courage to stand up at the end of class and truly challenge the professor. Finally, the day came. The professor gave his end-of-semester challenge to stand up. So this freshman stood up in the back of the class. The professor and the rest of the class were quite surprised.

The professor shouted, “You FOOL! If God truly existed, He could stop this chalk from shattering into tiny bits.” The professor proceeded to drop the chalk, but this time it slipped from his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleats of his pants, down his leg, and off his shoe. As the chalk softly hit the floor, it simply rolled away, unbroken. As the story goes, the professor left the room, and the young freshman took the opportunity to talk with other students about Jesus Christ.

Yes, an urban legend; but also a good illustration for what we hear from our Lord tonight: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Our Lord Jesus sent out His Twelve Apostles to confess Him to the world. He also sends us, His Christians, to make the same confession in our day.

What do you say when someone asks you about Jesus Christ, or asks you why you’re a Christian or why you go to church? What would you say to someone who might challenge your faith in Christ by saying that He does not exist, or that God cannot possibly be good or love all people? How would you confess Jesus Christ and His forgiveness, life, and salvation if it were illegal to do so and you could be fined or imprisoned?

No doubt, the Twelve Apostles must have asked similar questions. And Jesus knew that their confession and witness would be met with resistance and rejection. Everyone from authorities to family members would reject confessing Christians and even persecute them. After all, they did it to Jesus; they would also do it to His disciples. As Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master…. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

So, tonight we hear some comforting and encouraging words from our Lord. Basically, He says, “Confess, bear witness, and don’t be afraid of what other people say or do to you.” It was good encouragement for the Apostles then; it’s good encouragement for us now. After all, it comes from our Savior who Himself was betrayed, beaten, and crucified to forgive our sins and restore us to life with God.

Our Lord encourages and comforts us in our confession of Him in three ways. First, He says, “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known.” Don’t worry if people talk about you behind your back just because you’re a practicing Christian. Let them utter their secret slanders and covert comments. Such insidious things will be exposed on the Last Day. Our task as Christians is boldly to tell what Jesus has said and done.

Second, Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Yes, death is a frightful thing. After all, it separates body and soul, and that’s not how God created us to survive and live. But as Christians, we need not worry if we are punished, or even martyred, for Christ and His life-giving Gospel. Our gracious and loving God still takes care of us. What we should rightly fear is being separated from Him, which happens only if we deny Him. Even the worst things that persecutors can do to us Christians cannot separate us from God and His love in Christ Jesus.

And the third way in which our Lord comforts and encourages us is this: “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Now, before you scratch your heads, ponder this. Jesus says that two sparrows are “sold for a penny.” The Greek term used here might be better translated as the pay for about a half hour of work. With the current minimum wage, that’s about $3.30, for two sparrows. And yet your heavenly Father takes great care for each and every little sparrow on the face of the planet. Now, don’t you think that He’ll take care of you? After all, you are much more valuable than sparrows that go for just over a buck and a half apiece. You are bought with the blood of Christ Jesus. You are cleansed with that blood in your Baptism and nourished on it in the Eucharist. Of course, your heavenly Father will care for you in time of rejection or persecution for confessing Him.

So take courage in your lifelong confession of Jesus. He gives you a most soul-strengthening promise: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven.” Remember that you confess Jesus Christ every time you come to His house on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings. You confess Him as you attentively hear His words proclaimed for your forgiveness and life, every time you gather around His Table to eat and drink His Body and Blood. You confess Him every time you read, pray, and sing His words together in your families. You confess Him when you faithfully and honestly do the work of your different jobs and callings in life. And, yes, you confess Him every time you are asked to give the reason for the hope that you have.

So, be bold, be courageous, and be comforted. Your Lord Jesus gives you the opportunities to confess Him before other people. And when you confess Him, He is with you and gives you the words to say. In fact, you might even want to keep in mind the words of King David in Psalm 27(:1): “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Amen.

24 June 2008

Fatherly Wisdom-Honoring John the Baptist

Bede (The Venerable) (673-735) gives this explanation for celebrating the Nativity of John the Baptist:
Quite rightly does the universal Church, which celebrates the many triumphs by which the holy martyrs gained entry into heaven, honor also the birth of Saint John the Baptist and his alone, apart from that of our Lord. We may be certain that this custom did not arise without the support of the gospel. On the contrary, we should treasure in our hearts the fact that as an angel appeared to the shepherds when our Lord was born and said: Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day a savior, who is Christ the Lord, so also an angel told Zechariah that John would be born, adding: You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. With good reason is the birth of each celebrated with joy and devotion, but in the one case joy is proclaimed to all peoples at the birth of Christ the Lord, the Savior of the world, the Son of almighty God, the Sun of Righteousness, while in the other case it is recounted that many will rejoice at the appearance of the Lord's forerunner, his mighty servant, a blazing and radiant lamp.

John went ahead in the spirit and power of Elijah to teach the Lord's people to be perfect, baptizing them with water so that they would be able to accept Christ when he appeared. Christ came after John in the spirit and power of God the Father to make it possible for them to be perfect, baptizing them with the Holy Spirit and with fire so that they would be able to see the face of the Father (Homily II, 20; quoted in For All the Saints, vol. 4, p. 1314, emphasis original).

Nativity of John the Baptist

Today the Church celebrates the Nativity of John the Baptist and gives thanks to God for His forerunner who announced the coming of the Coming One, our Lord Jesus Christ. Based on Luke 1:36, we know that John was six months older than Jesus. Thus we celebrate John's birth on this day, six months prior to Christmas. Today's feast, then, properly begins to prepare us for the coming celebration of our Lord's Incarnation and Birth--a subtle six-month Advent season, if you will.

Not only does the Church calendar begin to prepare us for our Lord's Incarnation and Birth, but the cosmos also joins in proclaiming the relationship between John and Jesus. As others have noted, the feast of John's birth comes at the beginning of summer, just after 21 June, when the amount of the day's light is at its peak. From this point on the daylight will decrease each day until the winter solstice on 21 December. However, come winter and the time when we celebrate our Lord's Nativity, the light will again begin to increase with each day. What a marvelous cosmological tool to echo John's own words: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30). It also reminds us that our true light is not John, but Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.

Lutheran Service Book appoints Isaiah 40:1-5 as today's Old Testament reading. John, of course, fulfills the prophecy of a voice crying, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." It was most fitting that our Lord would send His forerunner ahead of Him to prepare people, because our Lord Jesus would bring the truly life-saving and life-giving message: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins." John was given the honorable vocation of directing the people's attention to the Christ who would bring such comfort.

Acts 13:13-26 serves as the Epistle reading. While in Pisidian Antioch St. Paul is asked to proclaim "any word of exhortation for the people" and proceeds to recount how God had saved His people from Egypt, led them through the wilderness, and brought them into Canaan. He also spoke of the prophet Samuel and of kings Saul and David. As he then spoke of Jesus, St. Paul said, "Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.'" St. Paul teaches us how to honor and remember John the Baptist--as one who prepared the way for the Savior by preaching a baptism of repentance.

The appointed Gospel reading is Luke 1:57-80, the Nativity of John the Baptist. Since Zechariah, John's father, could not speak (see Lk. 1:20), Elizabeth had to give the unexpected name "John." When Zechariah confirmed this name by writing on a tablet, he was able to speak. Then, led by the Holy Spirit, Zechariah sang of John's vocation and purpose in life. John would be "called the prophet of the Most High" and he would "go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins." Not only would John preach a baptism of repentance, but he would also direct the people to their God-given Savior who would forgive their sins.

Therefore, when we celebrate the Nativity of John the Baptist, we end up celebrating the things of most importance: our Lord's Incarnation and Birth and our Lord's comfort and salvation in repentance and baptism, that is, in the forgiveness of sins.

Collect of the Day
Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation. Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Hymn Verse
We praise You for the Baptist,
Forerunner of the Word,
Our true Elijah, making
A highway for the Lord.
The last and greatest prophet,
He saw the dawning ray
Of light that grows in splendor
Until the perfect day. (LSB 518:18)

Fatherly Wisdom-Where Christians Live

Another pearl Bishop Bo Giertz:
As Christians we live in the kingdom of forgiveness, where retaliation and the common order of justice no longer apply. Living as followers of Jesus often means being strangers in the world, something people find absurd, provocative, unrealistic, or ridiculous. At the same time we bear witness to Christ and open the eyes of those who are "of the truth" ("Tuesday after Fifth Sunday after Trinity," To Live with Christ, p. 456).

23 June 2008

Fatherly Wisdom-Babes in Christ

This gem comes from Bo Giertz (1905-1998), a former Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Sweden, and is a portion of his meditation written for the Monday after Fifth Sunday after Trinity based on 1 Corinthians 3:1-23.
From the beginning a Christian can be a babe in Christ. Babies need milk. They can't handle solid food. that's also the way it can be with those whoa re babes in Christ. They don't understanding the deepest wisdoms in the Gospel. For example, people who have become disciples and really want to be Christians may still not be in the right state of mind to understand the speech about righteousness from God It's obvious to them that in order to be children of God, they have to stop sinning and be born again. It's also obvious to them that the improvement consists of being better and doing better. Their hearts want to follow Jesus. They haven't understood, however, that there is only one possible path to salvation, namely, to accept what Jesus has done for them, despite everything. They can understand it from a purely theological perspective, but they haven't understood it in their hearts. Giving them such milk to drink could mean allowing them to take in as much as they can understand. They do their best by improving themselves and living according to Jesus' admonitions. That's when they discover how inadequate they are and what Jesus really means. God is the one who works in the field and builds His Church (To Live with Christ, CPH, 2008, p. 454).

21 June 2008

Issues, Etc. Comment Line Now Open

From Mollie over at Augsburg 1530:

The new Issues, Etc. Listener Comment Line is now open.

The number is (618)223-8384.

Listeners can call and leave any comment –positive, negative, good, bad, ugly, it’s all welcome.

Even though the show doesn’t air until June 30, people can still call. They’ll be using some of the comments on the air after next Monday.

20 June 2008

If Moses and the Israelites...

...lived in the 21st century American church scene, do you think this might have happened?

(This was sent to me by a member of my congregation, and I just couldn't resist posting it. :-)

UPDATE: Yes, I should give credit where credit is due. No, I don't want to steal intellectual property; I'm just passing on good stuff when I receive it or happen upon it. This comic comes from The Flying McCoys. You can find this comic here. Also, check out their comics each day at http://www.gocomics.com/theflyingmccoys/

19 June 2008

"Traditionalism" vs. "Legalism"

Check out Fr. Hollywood's blog for a great post, and equally great comments, on deflecting the charges of legalism when discussing the traditions and rubrics of the liturgy.

Here's a snippet to whet your appetite:
Sadly, people seem to forget that these "rubrics" (specific instructions about worship) are ancient, appear in Lutheran hymnals and/or liturgical guidebooks, are nowhere taught as meritorious for salvation and are never touted as such today by any Lutherans, and simply give direction about how to do things.

They are, in short, etiquette.
And here's the comment I just posted there:
Great post and a great discussion going on here! Thank you for some good, sanctified common sense (that, sadly, may not be so "common" for self-styled "Confessional Lutherans").

The Piepkorn quote mentioned above also reminds me of another way of approaching things liturgical: "noble simplicity." We conduct the liturgy with a view to both things--the nobility of being in the Lord's presence and the simplicity of acting both courteously and naturally. In fact, I would argue that the attention to rubrical details does indeed free us up to focus on what's really happening. After all, if one has constantly to worry about where to stand, which way to face, and if those things change from week to week or every so often, then such matters distract from serving the Kingly Lord in His house.

I'm also reminded of Dr. Korby's way of looking at "Christian freedom." We live in a time in which it's common to spout "Christian freedom" as "I don't gotta do that!" However, I like to turn it around. "Christian freedom" most certainly means that we can and do conduct the liturgy with the utmost in courtesy and reverence, nobility and simplicity.

Thanks again for a great post!

Fatherly Wisdom-Living with Christ

Make yourselves gentle, and be born again in the faith which is the body of the Lord and in the love which is the blood of Jesus Christ. No one must bear a grudge against a neighbor. Never give the pagans the slightest pretext, so that the great majority who serve god will not be mocked because of the folly of a few. "Woe to the one on account of whose folly my name is blasphemed."

So turn a deaf ear to the talk of anyone whose language has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Descended from David, he was truly born of Mary, he really ate and drank, He was really persecuted under Pontius Pilate, and truly died by crucifixion, while heavenly and earthly beings and those under the earth looked on. He truly rose from the dead, being raised by His Father. Those who believe in him ill be raise like him by the Father. We shall rise again in Christ without whom we do not have true life.

Avoid, then, those poisonous growths that bear deadly fruit; the mere taste of them is sudden death. Such growths are not of the Father's planting; if they were they would be recognized as branches of the cross, their fruit would be imperishable. The cross of Christ's passion is his invitation to you who are the members of his body. The head cannot come to life without the members, since God, the very ground of unity, has foretold such a union. (from Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Trallians, chap. 8-9; as cited in Wright, Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, p. 277)

18 June 2008

Evangelism is "Easy" and "Fun"?!

Over at Augsburg 1530, Mollie says:
I go to a church that is a member of the Southeastern District. We’re Ablaze!

An Ablazing Event!
The congregation of St. John’s, Farmville VA has received a firetruck and repurposed it to be a witness tool in the community. They will be dedicating it for mission on Sunday, June 29 at the 10:00 A.M. service. Pastor Joel Giese says: “The idea is simple. People, children especially, like fire trucks. They will come to see the truck and we have the opportunity to speak about Jesus. As the vehicle moves to and from events, it acts like a rolling billboard. I believe it will spark interest. The best part is that it is easy and fun. Who knew that easy and fun could be used to describe Evangelism?!”

Evangelism as "easy" and "fun"? Who would have thunk it?

Now I will admit that I also try to take the fear - the undue fear, that is - out of the evangelism task. After all, many years of training from Kennedy's "Evangelism Explosion," or the LCMS knock off called "Dialog Evangelism," did, I think, leave many people in the pew thinking that evangelism is a task only for those who are super-spiritual, or at least super-trained. I mean who really wants to memorize outlines for an evangelism presentation that ends in that key, confrontational question, "If you were to die tonight, do you know that you would go to heaven?" And then to press the issue with, "How do you know?" Who really enjoys and wants to go into the homes of complete strangers and talk the serious stuff of God and Jesus, sin and death, forgiveness and eternal life, especially with such canned questions?

No, the evangelism task should be more like the young lady who was just asked to get married and thus sports a glimmering engagement ring. No one has to tell her, "Go and show your family and friends." She just does it, quite naturally and quite gladly so. Why? For the sheer joy that her guy wants to spend the rest of his life together with her and a wedding is now in the making.

That's the Christian's evangelism task - to speak of the Bridegroom who has sacrificed Himself to show His eternal and boundless love for all humanity; to show off the "ring" of His forgiveness of sins won on the cross and given in the Gospel proclaimed, the water poured over us in Baptism, and the Supper that gives us His "forgiveness, life, and salvation." Yes, He wants to spend the rest of His unending, eternal life with us. Yes, there's a wedding in the making. We get a foretaste of it every time we gather at the Altar and feast on His Body and Blood. We get to look forward to the sheer joy of eternally feasting on life with our holy Triune God and growing in love for Him and for one another for all eternity.

But now to trumpet evangelism as "easy" and "fun"? What has a firetruck to do with the Kingdom of God? What does providing a large, fiery red vehicle for children to use as a jungle gym have to do with our wretched sinful state and God's unfathomable love and mercy in Christ Jesus crucified and risen? Sorry, I'm just not "getting it" ... and I hope I never do.

Perhaps someone should have told the Apostles that Jesus was just bluffing when He sent them on their first "evangelism journey" and told them: "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Mt 10:16). That's far from "easy" or "fun" while playing on a fire truck! Perhaps someone with bold, blazing evangelism zeal should have told Jesus that He just didn't have a "love for the lost" when He said, "Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues" (Mt. 10:16), or "They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God" (Jn. 16:2). Perhaps someone should have warned the Apostles Peter and John that the fiery tongues of Pentecost would quickly lead to them being thrown into jail simply for preaching Jesus Christ (Acts 3-4). I could go on, but that would be neither "easy" nor "fun."

No, evangelism is not "easy" or "fun," because evangelism involves confronting people with their sin and toppling the idols that they make for themselves - even idols such as "easy" and "fun." While evangelism should have the simplicity and joy of a bride-to-be showing off her engagement ring, that joy also entails the hard work of preparing for the great wedding and staying faithful to the Bridegroom who has graciously asked for our hand in His eternal "marriage."

Now, don't get me wrong. Of course we want people who do not yet know and love the Bridegroom to join the festivities, both now and for all eternity. That's a given. That's what runs through my mind every time I step into the pulpit or consecrate the sacred Meal or visit one of my sick or shut-in members or discuss matters religious and churchly with someone who is not yet a member of the church. I'd like to think that my ordinary, every day, run of the mill pastoral work - as well as the day by day work of my parishioners in their various vocations - is indeed the "evangelism task." And it can be carried out as simply as asking an acquaintance, a friend, or a loved one simply to come to church, where they will hear of the Bridegroom.

However, that simple task can also be a difficult task. No, I'm not talking about the needlessly onerous (and obnoxious) reminders of church bureaucrats who try to spur on the evangelism (a.k.a. missions) task by means of snapping fingers and reminding us of how many people are going to hell if we don't rush in to save their day. Instead, I'm talking about how people may or may not receive the great Good News of Bridegroom Jesus loving and forgiving them. After all, Jesus did say, "For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Mt. 7:13-14).

So I think it needs to be said that the evangelism task is, yes, a joy, but it also carries its burden. Because of this simple little fact - that not everyone wants to hear about their sin or the Savior's unending love shown by dying and rising for them - we really do need to take our evangelism task more seriously. No, I don't mean be dour. Rather, just be honest, speaking the Truth of Jesus Christ in the cross-shown love that He gives us. Entertainment strategies called "evangelism" (they seem to be multiplying like rabbits these days!), such as offering a rolling "jungle gym" called a firetruck, really do diminish the Evangel.

In fact, such "strategies," with their new thinking and new methods, just may be tantamount to replacing the bride-to-be's genuine gold and diamond engagement ring with a cheap gold-plated ring that sports, not a real diamond, but an inexpensive piece of cubic zirconium.

So, let's leave the fire trucks to the fire departments, and let's do what the Church does best. Let's boast and rave about our eternal Bridegroom who has already pledged Himself to us for all eternity. Let's tell everyone around us, like the joyous yet dedicated bride-to-be, that He is the greatest, especially as He comes to visit us in His Gospel and Sacraments, all the while preparing us for the eternal wedding feast. It may not be as "easy" and "fun" as a fire truck, but, hey, it's sure a lot more meaningful and joyful for all eternity.

Homily - Trinity 4 Midweek

Jesus Extends His Compassion
Matthew 9:35-10:8

In Matthew, chapter 4(:23), we read that Jesus “went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” That came shortly after His Baptism as He began His public ministry. Now, in tonight’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus tell His twelve apostles to do the very same things. As He sends them out to preach to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He tells them, “Proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” In other words, Jesus sends His apostles out to carry on His own work. In fact, Jesus extends His very own work when He sends them out. Jesus extends His compassion through those whom He sends to preach the life-giving, soul-healing Gospel.

But let’s back up for just a moment. Earlier in our reading, Jesus saw the crowds coming to Him. When He saw this mass of people approaching, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Sounds a bit like us, don’t you think? We too are harassed and helpless. We can think of the recent rains and the flooding that now vexes our part of the country. Talk about helpless! We can think of all kinds of harassment from kids teasing kids in school to the dreaded “sexual harassment” that makes news headlines to the mockery we Christians face for simply believing in and confessing Jesus Christ, let alone funny looks we may get for passing up evening activities to come to Divine Service. Yes, we too are harassed.

But we are harassed and helpless in a more profound way. We are harassed and helpless in the face of our sin, in the face of our own mortality, and by the devil himself, who puts so many doubts and unsavory thoughts in our heads and hearts. We know that we do not love God as we should. In fact, during these summer months we probably give Him as little time and thought as possible. After all, we’re so busy with yard work, or recreation fun, or traveling on vacation. And what can we say about loving our neighbor? How easy it is to neglect our neighbor in need or get upset if our neighbor gets on our nerves. Yes, our sins harass us and make us helpless.

So we really need this Shepherd, Jesus the Christ, who has compassion on us, the crowds who flock to Him. When the Bible talks about compassion, it’s a very visual word. “Compassion” means to open one’s inner parts for someone else. We can even say that Jesus shows compassion for us who are harassed and helpless by “spilling His guts” for us. No, not “spilling His guts” in the way of telling someone else of all His troubles. Rather, Jesus “spills His guts” by showing the eternal and boundless love of God the Father. He shows this compassion by healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons, and proclaiming that God’s kingdom is here, bursting forth into our harassed and helpless world.

And just how did our Lord Jesus show His great compassion? First by becoming one of us in His Incarnation, then by helping and healing people, by showing mercy and forgiveness, ultimately by suffering at the hands of humans harassed and helpless in their sinful pride and dying on the cross, and, finally, by rising victorious from the grave to show that death is defeated, sins are forgiven, and we have healing and life in Him. As He said, just before He went to the cross: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn. 15:13). Now that’s compassion!

And yet, dear friends, that compassion did not end there, at Jesus’ death and resurrection. No, Jesus extends His compassion by sending out His Apostles to serve and minister just as He did. Tonight we hear the list of those Twelve whom Jesus first sent out: Simon, called Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the rest. They too would go out to proclaim that God’s kingdom of compassion and mercy and forgiveness had come in Jesus. They too would go out to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out the demons. The solid rock of Jesus’ compassion would splash in the pond of this world, and it would ripple outward through these Apostles and those who follow in their office.

Yes, the Church continues the ministry of compassion that Jesus gave. In all of her work, especially through her ministers, Jesus still extends His compassion—for you, for me, for everyone who comes into her ranks. In the Church we hear and taste and see that “we [are] reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” We learn to believe that “now that we are reconciled, [we shall] be saved by His life.” You see, our compassionate Lord still lives out His compassion through His Church. And, as St. Paul also says in our second reading, “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Now as your pastor I may not be able to give physical healing to the sick or raise the dead. But I can give you the greater healing for the soul. I can give you the life of Jesus’ compassion, shown on the cross and delivered in the Eucharist. And that healing and life give such great comfort in the face of all things harassing and helpless in the world. Even as we endure things such as flooding rivers or scornful responses for confessing Christ, we still have His compassion, even now, to sustain and strengthen us.

So, just as Jesus sent out His Twelve Apostles to extend His compassion, He still sends Christians out to extend it in our day. Amen.

Brief Articles on Classical Education

We now have a couple of my brief newsletter articles on Classical Education posted at my congregation's website. Each of these was written with a view toward introducing the folks here at Hope to the notion of Classical Education. While much work continues to be done in striving to be "classical," we are making strides.

You can find the articles at these links:

Excellence in Christ-Centered Education (2004)

"Classical Education" - What Is It? (2006)

17 June 2008

Issues Studio in the Making

Here are some more pics of the new Issues, Etc. studio in the making. (The first batch was posted over at Augsburg 1530 in several posts on June 11.)

The new sound board arrives.
(But where's the hired help to carry it in? I sure hope their health plan covers this stress and strain. :-)

Sound proofing is going up.
(Moving boxes for sound proofing? ;-)

The equipment is unpacked.
(Makes me salivate just thinking about assembling electronic gadgets! :-)

This just in...

...from Pr. Wilken himself:

"FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION: Things are progressing well. We've signed a contract with KSIV-AM 1320 in St. Louis. All of our studio equipment is in and connected except the board, which arrives later this week. Then it's furious testing, testing, testing until we open the mic on June 30."

Wilken Interview & Issues Debut

You've heard about and most likely read Pr. Wilken's article in the new Issues, Etc. Journal, "Playing the Pharisee Card." Now listen to an interview with Pr. Wilken on that article here. He is interviewed by the folks over at Table Talk Radio. (Be sure to turn up the volume to hear Pr. Wilken - the audio is a bit low due to the phone connection.)

Also note in the interview that the new Issues, Etc. is scheduled to begin Monday, June 30. The new incarnation of the show will be broadcast on KSIV-AM 1320 (Bott Radio Network) in St. Louis from 4:00-5:00 p.m. It will also be broadcast online from 3:00-5:00 p.m. via Pirate Christian Radio. (BTW, listen for Pr. Wilken's explanation about "Pirate Christian Radio" in the interview. Sorry, no swords or eye patches or steel hooks for Wilken and Schwarz! :-) (Please note the change of the station number on the radio dial. I was properly and kindly corrected that the show will be aired on the AM side of KSIV.)

16 June 2008

Fatherly Wisdom-Praying with Modesty

From Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise on the Lord's Prayer, 4-6:

4. But let our speech and petition when we pray be under discipline, observing quietness and modesty. Let us consider that we are standing in God’s sight. We must please the divine eyes both with the habit of body and with the measure of voice. For as it is characteristic of a shameless man to be noisy with his cries, so, on the other hand, it is fitting to the modest man to pray with moderated petitions. Moreover, in His teaching the Lord has bidden us to pray in secret—in hidden and remote places, in our very bed-chambers—which is best suited to faith, that we may know that God is everywhere present, and hears and sees all, and in the plenitude of His majesty penetrates even into hidden and secret places, as it is written, “I am a God at hand, and not a God afar off. If a man shall hide himself in secret places, shall I not then see him? Do not I fill heaven and earth?” And again: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” And when we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God’s priest, we ought to be mindful of modesty and discipline—not to throw abroad our prayers indiscriminately, with unsubdued voices, nor to cast to God with tumultuous wordiness a petition that ought to be commended to God by modesty; for God is the hearer, not of the voice, but of the heart. Nor need He be clamorously reminded, since He sees men’s thoughts, as the Lord proves to us when He says, “Why think ye evil in your hearts?” And in another place: “And all the churches shall know that I am He that searcheth the hearts and reins.”

5. And this Hannah in the first book of Kings, who was a type of the Church, maintains and observes, in that she prayed to God not with clamorous petition, but silently and modestly, within the very recesses of her heart. She spoke with hidden prayer, but with manifest faith. She spoke not with her voice, but with her heart, because she knew that thus God hears; and she effectually obtained what she sought, because she asked it with belief. Divine Scripture asserts this, when it says, “She spake in her heart, and her lips moved, and her voice was not heard; and God did hear her.” We read also in the Psalms, “Speak in your hearts, and in your beds, and be ye pierced.” The Holy Spirit, moreover, suggests these same things by Jeremiah, and teaches, saying, “But in the heart ought God to be adored by thee.” Or, “In the heart, O God, ought we to worship Thee.”

6. And let not the worshipper, beloved brethren, be ignorant in what manner the publican prayed with the Pharisee in the temple. Not with eyes lifted up boldly to heaven, nor with hands proudly raised; but beating his breast, and testifying to the sins shut up within, he implored the help of the divine mercy. And while the Pharisee was pleased with himself, this man who thus asked, the rather deserved to be sanctified, since he placed the hope of salvation not in the confidence of his innocence, because there is none who is innocent; but confessing his sinfulness he humbly prayed, and He who pardons the humble heard the petitioner. And these things the Lord records in His Gospel, saying, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood, and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, unjust, extortioners, adulterers, even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. But the publican stood afar off, and would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and whosoever humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Homily - Trinity 4

“In All Godly Quietness”
Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 12:14-21; Luke 6:36-42

In today’s Collect we prayed that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by God’s governance that His Church would joyfully serve Him – and here’s the phrase we want to ponder this morning – “in all godly quietness.”

What is this “godly quietness” for which we pray? It’s the peace of heart, the quiet and calm that can rule in our hearts even in the midst of the most difficult and trying times. It is the peace that passes understanding. It is the peace that does not fret and get all worked up, but instead entrusts itself into the hands of God. Godly quietness of heart is one of the fruits of faith.

To get a handle on it, remember today’s Old Testament reading. Here we meet Joseph, a 17 year old young man. He had those dreams of everyone bowing down to him and honoring him. God had told him that’s what would happen. And what came next? He was betrayed by his brothers, sold as a slave, and made an exile in a foreign land. Then he was falsely accused, and, because he would not compromise with wickedness, he was tossed into jail. Once in jail, he was promptly forgotten by those for whom he did nothing but good.

During this 20-year journey, I wonder if he struggled to hold on to the promises that God had made so many years earlier. Did God really mean them? Why then was He allowing such awful things to befall Joseph time and time again? But despite the roadblocks and setbacks, Joseph held on to God and His promises with “godly quietness.” He held on in true worship. According to our Confessions, true worship is “the exercises of faith struggling with despair,” (Treatise 44). Joseph clung to the promises, and in peace of heart, in godly quietness, he sought to serve in whatever new predicament he found himself.

Scripture says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6). Just think of how Joseph lived the truth of those words! He humbled himself and in godly quietness cast all his cares and anxieties on the Lord. And look at what happened! The day finally came when he went from being Pharaoh’s lowly, forgotten prisoner to serving as the Prime Minister of all Egypt. And he continued serving the Lord, saving the lives of countless Egyptians, and yes, of his own family, who did indeed come and kneel before him as his servants.

Godly quiet may have reigned in Joseph’s heart, but fear reigned in the hearts of his brothers who had treated him so poorly. “What if he pays us back?” they wondered, when they saw that their father Jacob had died. “What if Joseph decides to get even now?” How little they understood their brother’s heart! So they came and pleaded with him for forgiveness one more time.

Joseph spoke those astonishing words: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” He spoke out of the godly quiet of his heart. He did not excuse their sins, but he did invite them to behold the miracle of God’s forgiveness. Yes, our Lord knows how to take the evil and sin we suffer at the hands of others, and even the evil and sin we do ourselves, and in sheer grace, He turns it into blessing for us and for others.

Joseph, of course, is a type, a foretaste, a preview, of our Lord. This same “godly quietness” for which we pray reigned in Jesus’ divine-human heart. His trust in His Father was unshakeable, and so He urges us to “be merciful, even as [our] Father is merciful.” He trusted in His Father to vindicate Him, and so He also exhorts us: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you.” Yes, all of this will be given to you, more than you ask or desire or deserve, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.” Your Lord Jesus invites you to live the very life that He lived. He holds it out to you to be your life as well. It’s a life in which the godly quietness of heart trusts the Father’s plan, knows that He is the master of turning ill into good. It’s a life that trusts that God Himself redirects evil and hatred to serve the designs of His gracious kingdom.

Consider the Cross. Our Lord Jesus was also betrayed by His brothers, sold as a slave, wrongfully arrested, and then condemned to die—all of this even though He was completely innocent. He willingly accepted all of this in utter godly quietness of heart – the quietness of heart that comes from submission to the will of the Father. After all, He had prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). And then in peace He went forth to drink the cup His Father prepared for Him. Then, as happened with Joseph, a grand reversal took place. Through the very act of His betrayal, suffering, and death, our new Joseph was raised from death in an incorruptible and immortal body. And He does not rule some measly piece of earthly real estate, but He reigns over the whole universe. Instead of hating us for what we sinful human beings did to Him, He uses His suffering and cross to forgive us and love us. He also says: “Do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.”

Joseph gave them grain. Jesus gives us the living bread of heaven, His very Body and Blood – the same Body and Blood that hung on the cross for us, crying out for our forgiveness for all of the times that we have shamefully treated one another, betrayed each other, hated each other, and wished each other ill. His Body and Blood still cry out for our forgiveness, even now, from this very altar. They tell us the glorious and unfathomable truth that despite our wretchedness and sin, we are God’s beloved in His Son. They tell us that His will for us is to share with Him a life that never ends, the life of forgiveness and mercy.

So here in the Eucharist we receive our Lord’s gift of godly quietness. It soothes us with forgiveness; it frees us to live in Jesus’ own divine-human godly quietness. Like our Lord, we don’t need to avenge ourselves; we don’t even need to worry about looking out for ourselves. That is God’s job.

Instead, we get to live in the joy of today’s Epistle. St. Paul exhorts us: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all…. Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In other words, we can say and pray it this way: “O Lord, grant us to serve You joyfully in godly quietness, to trust that our lives are governed by You and that all things do indeed work together to bring us blessing, especially when we are called to suffer for Your name.” Then we are utterly free in our Lord Jesus to love and bless, to forgive and give to all who mistreat us, to all who hate and seek our ruin. In our Lord Jesus, by the strength of His Holy Spirit, we are set free to love them and to seek God’s richest blessing on their lives.

“Give us, O Lord, this godly quietness of heart to trust in You at all times and in all places, for You are merciful and You love Your whole creation, and we Your creatures glorify You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Amen.

14 June 2008

Mystery Dinner Mania

So have you ever partaken of a "Mystery Dinner"? No, I don't mean the kind of dinner in which you take part in a murder mystery story while you dine. That's a "mystery dinner theater," or something by that name. I'm talking about a dinner in which *the food* is the mystery (and, yes, much different than the "mystery meats" you may fondly remember from the school cafeteria ;-).

In a "mystery dinner" the food, drinks, and utensils are all given different names--code names, if you will--in an attempt to keep the guests guessing about what they order and then eat. The dinner is divided into several courses. Each person at the table peruses the menu of "code names" and selects various menu items for each course. For example, a fork may be called "Perfect Pitch," and the French onion soup may be called "Cry Me a River." But when you see only those names, with only the context of a list of other items, you have no idea what they mean!

When dinner is served, the guests receive only what they ordered, nothing more, nothing less. Then, after each course, the table is cleared in preparation for the next course. Yes, all items, food, drink, and utensils, are removed!

Now this can present quite the dilemma as well as some great laughs. You see, it is quite possible and very likely that one person may get dessert for the first course, while another person gets their soup without a spoon to use for eating it. In fact, it's quite possible and altogether probable that someone will get their main course in the first course, their salad in the second course, and then their utensils in the last course. Great fun! (Especially if you're the kitchen service staff and you get to serve and observe! :-)

Well, the "Asburry Mystery Restaurant" opened its doors once again last night. We learned about this form of dining entertainment some years ago, and we have put on such mystery dinners in other congregations where I served. This time we offered a "Mystery Dinner" as part of my congregation's recent Dinner Auction. The highest bidder and some friends would receive a full-service mystery dinner compliments of Pr. Asburry and family.

So the Henricksons (highest bidder), the Viekers, and the Nielsens were treated to a royal and and fun(ny) meal. Here are some shots of the gala event.

Guests peruse the menu and receive instructions (from good looking restaurant staff, I might add!) for ordering the menu items:

1. Good Exercise
2. Latin Deluxe
3. Autumn Leaves
4. Wedding Bouquet
5. Chicken in a Basket
6. Cozy Blanket
7. Pine Forest
8. Puff ‘n’ Stuff
9. Herman’s Delight
10. Steamed Glacier
11. Cat’s Eyes
12. Mountain Treat
13. Cry Me a River
14. Perfect Pitch
15. Jack’s Surprise
16. Golf Club
17. Soaker
18. Hay Maker
19. Degreaser
20. Hot Slurpie

Then the guests make the tough decisions about what food, drink, and utensil(s) they may (or may) not receive for each course.

"What on earth is 'Herman's Delight'?"

I have no idea why these folks thought of some "independent newspaper editor" well known in LCMS circles! I mean, how did they get that from "Delight"? (BTW, Hermann, MO, is known for its wineries, if that's a clue ... one that the guests happened to miss! ;-)

Then, with the assistance of the loyal kitchen staff, the guests receive their meals, one course at a time, and only those items (food, or drink, or utensils) that they themselves selected.

"What this?" "C'mon, Charlie, that's a 'Golf Club.'"

Notice how everyone tries to figure out how the real items match up to the menu names as they eat.

Then, the guests enjoy their meal, if possible. Sometimes guests receive - and I repeat, by their own independent, free-will-driven selection process - only utensils for a particular course.

"Sure, *now* I receive my fork, knife, and spoon! I already ate my soup, salad, and main course!"

(BTW, those are, from L to R, the "Hot Slurpie," the "Hay Maker," and the "Jack's Surprise.")

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen...

Between serving courses and removing menu items, some kitchen help will try to sneak a bite of the tasty food for themselves. Aren't they suppose to wait until after the guests have finished? (No, I did not actually take that bite ... it was simply for the camera ... really! :-)

And, of course, we all know that dessert is supposed to be the last course.

(Left) "Mmm! Deviled eggs ("Chicken in a Basket") for dessert!"

(Center) "What kind of a restaurant serves pepper rolls ("Good Exercise") for dessert? I may have reconsider how will I tip."

(Right) "Finally, I get my main course! I guess dessert must have come earlier. Hey, what do I use to eat this with?"

Thanks, Henricksons, Viekers, and Nielsens for a wonderful evening! (We couldn't have done it without you. :-) It was lots of fun and lots of laughs - and we trust some good food to go along with everything else. Now, we'll have to see who next year's "highest bidder" will be. (Will any of these couples dare to bid again? ;-)

Oh, and of course, Porthos and Gimli got to enjoy the "Mystery Dinner" and our company as well.

No, they didn't eat the fine cuisine of the Asburry Mystery Restaurant! (Their regular dinner was served before the guests arrived.) But they did get to come out of their kennel to enjoy the attention of our our guests before plopping down for a post-dinner rest.

Christians as Pirates?

Have you been wondering why the upcoming reincarnation of Issues, Etc. calls its website "Pirate Christian Radio"? I admit it: I have. After all, what do pirates have to do with Christians? Can/Should Christians consider themselves pirates?

I must also admit that my first thought was along the lines of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It's an odd thing to watch a movie and root for *the pirates* as "the good guys," but in those movies Captain Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and company are indeed "the good guys" (okay, protagonists) even though they are pirates. After all, they do have to "fight" against not only the bad pirates (Davey Jones, et. al.), but also against the tyrannical British imperialists in the movies.

Could something like that be in the minds of "the pirates" behind the new Issues, Etc.? Well, we'll just have to wait and listen and hope they explain such fine points of Christian doctrine. :-)

In the meantime, though, here's another possible, and speculative, explanation offered by Pr. Joel Brondos as he looks to St. Augustine for clues.

12 June 2008

Check out

...the new pictures of the new Issues, Etc. studio and office space in the making over at Augsburg 1530. Cool stuff to see the beginnings of the "Issues, Etc. Arising." (BTW, don't for a minute believe that Schwarz' desk will stay that neat and clean, especially when the real work of producing a radio program resumes! :-)

11 June 2008

Homily - St. Barnabas, Apostle

(This homily uses and expands upon my previous post for this day of remembering St. Barnabas.)

Son of Encouragement
Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3 & Mark 6:7-13

Today the Church remembers and thanks God for St. Barnabas, Apostle. His name means “son of encouragement” or “son of consolation,” and the Biblical witness gives ample testimony that he lived up to his name.

In our Gospel reading this evening, we hear how Jesus sent the Twelve out two by two to proclaim Him and His kingdom. While Barnabas was not in that group of sent ones, he most likely was in another group, the Seventy that Jesus later sent out (see Luke 10:1-20). To those seventy sent ones, our Lord gave the commission: “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Lk. 10:8-9). Barnabas learned from our Lord to encourage and console by proclaiming the Savior and His kingdom.

We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4. St. Luke, the author of Acts, says that the early Christians “were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). In our day, when diversity is trumpeted and even Christians seem to revel in how different they can be from one another, such a comment from St. Luke is quite the encouragement. Yes, there can indeed be something better. The unity of Christians in faith and life is indeed an encouragement and consolation.

We can certainly learn a lot from the early Church of Acts, and from Barnabas himself. As we are told of the early Christians selling their own property—perhaps the equivalent of “vacation homes” and extra property—we meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36: “Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” What a great example of Christian charity! Barnabas saw the opportunity to use his wealth to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen and to extend the kingdom of God. What great encouragement our Lord gives when His people give generously so that the Gospel may be proclaimed and His kingdom promoted.

The next time we encounter this Apostle of encouragement, he comes to the rescue, humanly speaking, of the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 gives us the conversion of St. Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians. With good reason many in the early Church were quite nervous about this man who had previously hunted down and killed their brothers and sisters in the true faith. However, “Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27). What great encouragement Barnabas gave to St. Paul that someone would defend him and his name as a fellow Christian. What great consolation he gave to the other apostles that St. Paul was “the real deal” for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Then we meet Barnabas again in our second reading for tonight. Barnabas and Paul have become companions and coworkers in proclaiming Christ Jesus. In fact, they travel and preach and teach together for several chapters in the book of Acts. When Barnabas was sent to Antioch, he saw how the grace of God had taken hold there. So, true to his name, he encouraged the Antiochian Christians “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 11:23). Yes, we all need such encouragement. Everyone from lifelong Christians to those new to the faith need the constant encouragement in God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness in His Son Jesus Christ.

After Paul later joined Barnabas in Antioch, the two apostles taught the Christians there for a whole year. The encouragement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ bore great fruit in Antioch, and that’s where believers “were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26).

The preaching continued, the missionary travels multiplied, and Barnabas kept encouraging. We even hear tonight how Barnabas joined Paul in gathering and delivering monies for famine relief for Christians in Judea. What a great testimony to the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. His love for us sinners, shown on the cross and given in the Eucharist, leads His people to care for and help one another in every need. Of course, the greatest need is to hear, trust, and spread the message of Christ crucified for sinners. But Christians also encourage and console one another in other needs, such as disaster relief. As Barnabas shows us, it’s just what the people of Christ do.

What makes St. Barnabas worthy of our remembrance is that he draws our attention to the true and eternal “Son of Encouragement.” Yes, our Lord Jesus Christ is the true source of encouragement and consolation. In His death on the cross He has forgiven the sins that easily discourage. In His glorious resurrection He gives ample and eternal consolation that we have life with our holy, Triune God. Such encouragement in forgiveness and consolation in the life of Christ free us to follow the good example of St. Barnabas.

So on this day we thank God for St. Barnabas, for his selfless, generous charity, and for his defense of St. Paul's reputation as a bona fide apostle to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Let us pray that God will lead us also to be generous with our wealth so that the Gospel may be proclaimed and the kingdom of Christ may expand. Let us pray that God will give us the good courage to defend and support our pastors as they proclaim the mercies and life of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

St. Barnabas, Apostle

Today the Church remembers and thanks God for St. Barnabas, Apostle. His name means "son of encouragement, consolation," and the Biblical witness gives ample testimony that he lived up to his name.

We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4 when St. Luke, the author of Acts, says that the early Christians "were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common" (Acts 4:32). In our day, when diversity is trumpeted and even Christians seem to revel in how different they can be from one another, such a comment from St. Luke is quite the encouragement that there can indeed be something better. The unity of Christians in faith and life is indeed an encouragement and consolation.

We can indeed learn a lot from the early Church of Acts, and from Barnabas himself. As we are told of the early Christians selling their own property - perhaps the equivalent of "vacation homes" and extra land - we meet Barnabas in Acts 4:36: "Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet." What a great example of Christian charity! Barnabas saw the opportunity to use his wealth to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen and to extend the kingdom of God. What great encouragement our Lord gives when His people give generously so that the Gospel may be proclaimed and His kingdom promoted.

The next time we encounter this Apostle of encouragement he comes to the rescue, humanly speaking, of the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 gives us the conversion of St. Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians. With good reason many in the early Church were quite nervous about this man who had previously hunted down and killed their brothers and sisters in the true faith. However, "Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus" (Acts 9:27). What great encouragement Barnabas gave to St. Paul that someone would defend him and his name as a fellow Christian. What great consolation he gave to the other apostles that St. Paul was "the real deal" for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So on this day we thank God for St. Barnabas, for his selfless, generous charity, and for his defense of St. Paul's reputation as a bona fide apostle to proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Let us pray that God will lead us also to be generous with our wealth so that the Gospel may be proclaimed and the kingdom of Christ may expand. Let us pray that God will give us the good courage to defend and support our pastors as they proclaim the mercies and life of Jesus Christ our Savior.

Collect of the Day (LSB)
Almighty God, Your faithful servant Barnabas sought not his own renown but gave generously of his life and substance for the encouragement of the apostles and their ministry. Grant that we may follow his example in lives given to charity and the proclamation of the Gospel; through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings for the Day (LSB)
Isaiah 42:5-12
Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3
Mark 6:7-13

Hymn Verse
For Barnabas we praise You,
Who kept Your law of love
And, leaving earthly treasures,
Sought riches from above.
O Christ, our Lord and Savior,
Let gifts of grace descend,
That Your true consolation
May through the world extend. (LSB 518:17)

08 June 2008

Homily - Trinity 3

Heaven’s Lost and Found
Luke 15:1-10

For the third straight week we hear our Lord teach us by means of a parable. Two weeks ago we heard the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Church—the community of Christians—lives by hearing the Word who is Jesus and trusting Him above all things. Last week we hear the Parable of the Great Supper. Despite our weak and rotten human excuses, God still wants to fill His banquet hall with people who enjoy His feast of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Today we get to hear parables on “heaven’s lost and found.” We all know what it’s like to lose something valuable. It might be the car keys, a wallet, or a precious family heirloom. When we lose it, we are beside ourselves. And since it’s something very valuable, we give our time and attention to searching for it. Today our Lord teaches us about something He has lost and by no fault of His own. Jesus also shows us how He seeks and finds that which is lost—us sinners. And in “heaven’s lost and found” there is much rejoicing!

Once again Jesus finds Himself standing toe-to-toe with His archrivals, the Pharisees. They were very religious. They wore the right clothes. They went to church every week. They kept all of the rules and lived stellar lives. They gave their whole lives to serving their church. So, it did not sit well at all that this Jesus would eat and drink with sinners. It just wasn’t right that Jesus would welcome tax collectors and prostitutes. You see, as the Pharisees looked at life, they were the found ones; the tax collectors and sinners were the lost ones.

Now before we condemn the Pharisees, let’s remember that there’s a “little Pharisee” in each of us. Each of us here today has that little voice inside that says, “I’m religious. I wear the right clothes. I go to church. I keep the rules. I live a good life.” In fact, when we look down our noses at the Pharisees, we are being Pharisees ourselves!

What’s even more deplorable is that we treat Jesus and His message of mercy the same way that the Pharisees did: we don’t want to hear it and learn it. We want to stay religious, but we don’t want Jesus to show us our sin. We want to look religious to other people around us, but we don’t want to admit that we are truly lost. We don’t want to rely on Jesus’ Gospel and Sacraments for the life of the Church. Instead, we want to implement our modern, man-made techniques and strategies to “grow the church.” We don’t want to rely on Jesus’ forgiveness to stay strong in faith; we want to rummage around in the moldy, musty attic of our hearts for some kind of spiritual high.

Yes, Jesus’ parables are for us today! The Pharisees had to learn how to be lost. We too must learn how to be lost—how to admit that we are lost. It’s much like the husband and wife driving in an unfamiliar part of town as they go to a friend’s house. You know how it goes. The husband is driving. They are lost. But he doesn’t want to admit it. And he certainly does not want to stop and ask for directions! ☺ Well, that’s each of us before God. We are lost, but we don’t want to admit it. Even as Christians, we don’t like to admit our “lostness” in sin. But we really must admit it. After all, when we admit we are lost, then we are truly found.

Jesus tells a trilogy of parables—Heaven’s Lost and Found Trilogy. First comes the Parable of the Lost Sheep. One sheep wanders away. When it is lost, no doubt fear seizes the sheep. Perhaps it gets caught in a bramble bush. Perhaps it just grazes in a strange pasture. But it’s lost and it cannot return on its own. The shepherd must leave the other 99 sheep. Sounds strange, if you’re a shepherd. Why leave the 99? In real life shepherding, there would have been a team of shepherds tending the flock. But in Jesus’ story, He makes another point. He, the Shepherd, does not come for those who think they have found themselves. No, Jesus comes for those who admit that they are lost.

Shepherd Jesus goes all out until He finds His lost sheep—certainly a reminder of sacrificing Himself on the cross. And when Shepherd Jesus finds His lone lost sheep, He rejoices. He tenderly and gently picks it up and puts it on His shoulders and carries it home. He does all the work.

The sheep does not find itself, not does it wander back to the fold either by choice or by accident. And Shepherd Jesus does not rejoice by Himself. He gathers a whole community—in heaven and on earth—to rejoice with Him. After all, rejoicing is best done with others! And that rejoicing is a heavenly reality even when it happens here on earth. There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Then comes part 2 of Jesus’ Lost and Found Trilogy—the Parable of the Lost Coin. A woman has ten valuable coins. She loses one. Now, a coin cannot find itself. A coin cannot even call out and say, “Here I am!” Yet that one coin is so valuable to the woman that she lights a lamp and scours the house. When she finds the coin, she rejoices. And she rejoices with other people—community rejoicing. Who’s the woman? One writer suggests that the woman may refer to the Church. After all, the Church does the same thing Shepherd Jesus does. As the Bride of Christ, the Church seeks and finds the lost ones. She also rejoices with the heavenly angels over one sinner who repents.

But let’s be clear about how the Church finds the lost. The woman lights a lamp. The Church must light a lamp too. She is not called to use modern marketing strategies, nor the ways of pop-culture entertainment. No, she is called to use the light of God’s Word. As Psalm 119(:105) says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” After all, the best way to find something is to turn on the light. Jesus knew this too. That’s why He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).

It’s also no coincidence that once Jesus identifies Himself as the Light of the world, He immediately starts talking about going to His death on the cross. As the darkness covered the earth, and as Jesus went to the darkness of death, He shines brightly for you, giving you life with God. As Jesus Himself was lost and forsaken by God on the cross, He found you and brings you out of your “lostness.” That’s heaven’s lost and found. That’s the Shepherd’s joy. That’s the Church’s joy.

And then comes part three of Jesus’ Lost and Found Trilogy—the Lost Son and the Merciful Father. You know this one. A son demands his share of the inheritance. He goes off to squander it in loose living. But when he returns in true repentance—that is, admitting that he is in fact lost—his father welcomes him. And rejoices! And restores him. And throws a party with lots of people in attendance. Community rejoicing!

What’s the point of Jesus’ Lost and Found Trilogy? What does all this mean for the Church and for us? We are the lost ones. We get to spend all our lives learning to admit it. “Yes, Lord, I am lost in my sin. I keep trying to find myself without You.” But it also means that we get to spend all our life being found by Shepherd Jesus. We get to spend all our life rejoicing in Jesus’ Church. Here we are taught and comforted by His never-ending love and mercy. Here, in the Church, our Lord lifts us up and puts us on His shoulders. And here, when we admit our “lostness,” when we confess our sins and live by His forgiveness, all of heaven goes crazy. All the angels whoop it up. Even God Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—does a dance of joy over us. He finds us in forgiving us.

Here’s one more thing that Jesus tells us. In His eyes, one sinner is valuable. Too often we get fixated on grand, massive numbers and quick fixes that suddenly fill pews. But Jesus turns our eyes to the one sinner who repents. It may be a family member—a mom, a dad, or a child. It may be a co-worker or friend. Whoever it is, let’s learn to search for and find our fellow lost ones one sinner at a time. That’s what heaven rejoices in: not massive numbers, but sinners who repent and are found by Shepherd Jesus.

Here’s how Dr. Arthur Just summed up these parables: “Jesus the shepherd restores the sheep back to the fold, where there is rejoicing that the lost sheep has been found. But after restoration to the church has taken place, the church must continue to catechize so that Christ continues to be found in the ongoing life of the church” (Luke 9:51-24:33, p. 591). Amen.