30 April 2008
I do have a question that flows from this letter. I am glad to see Pres. Herb Mueller speaking in this forum by signing his name. Will we ever find out what happened at the Council of Presidents meeting last week that led to the "no dissenting votes"? Please add that to the list of questions to which we would like clear, honest answers.
26 April 2008
Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!
Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before His face!
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. (Troparion)
This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Dissensions and divisions have their root in our old Adamic flesh (Gal 5:20; 1 Tim 6:4; Titus 3:9). The old Adam loves to stir up trouble wherever he can find it. Dissensions and divisions in the church arise from false teachings and false teachers who subvert the Gospel (Rom 16:17; Jude 19). Paul's desire for the Corinthian congregation is that it be united, of the same mind and judgment (1 Cor. 1:10). Yet Paul goes on to make this remarkable statement: "It is necessary that there be divisions (Gk: heresies) among you so that those who are proven might be manifest among you" (1 Cor 11:19). In other words, the soundness of a teacher is tested in the face of controversy, and divisions serve the purpose of showing who is proven.
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self--all your wishes and precautions--to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call "ourselves," to keep the personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be "good." We are all trying to let our mind and heart and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short; but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed and re-sown.
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.
We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through. He never talked vague, idealistic gas. When He said, "Be Perfect," He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder--in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining and egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
25 April 2008
It would appear that Pr. Brown has a point very much in line with Luther's Large Catechism:
Next, [the Eighth Commandment] extends very much further, if we are to apply it to spiritual jurisdiction or administration; here it is a common occurrence that every one bears false witness against his neighbor. For wherever there are godly preachers and Christians, they must bear the sentence before the world that they are called heretics, apostates, yea, seditious and desperately wicked miscreants. Besides the Word of God must suffer in the most shameful and malicious manner, being persecuted blasphemed, contradicted, perverted and falsely cited and interpreted. But let this pass; for it is the way of the blind world that she condemns and persecutes the truth and the children of God, and yet esteems it no sin. (Large Commandment I; quoted from http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/catechism/cat-08.txt)Let's also remember what our Lord Jesus said:
"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)
Collect of the Day (LSB)
Almighty God, You have enriched Your Church with the proclamation of the Gospel through the evangelist Mark. Grant that we may firmly believe these glad tidings and daily walk according to Your Word; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For Mark, O Lord, we praise You,
The weak by grace made strong,
Whose labors and whose Gospel
Enrich our triumph song.
May we, in all our weakness,
Reflect Your servant life
And follow in Your footsteps,
Enduring cross and strife (LSB 518:15)
Readings from “For All the Saints: A Prayerbook By and For the Saints”
2 Timothy 4:1-11
The reading from 2 Timothy 4 gives great wisdom, guidance, and even comfort, as it prepares us for the challenges we face today in the Church and as it draws our attention to Jesus and His crown of righteousness. Here are verses 1-8:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
24 April 2008
Just two comments, one solemn and the other with a wink and a nod:
1. The 2010 LCMS Convention is fast approaching, and structural changes are already being considered and planned.
2. Why do I think of the Star Wars saga, especially Episodes I, II, & III, when I read this (and think of its implementation in the LCMS)? :-)
First, I wonder what ever happened to those District Presidents whose pastors passed resolutions in support of Issues, Etc. and asking for its return. I guess it must be expedient to support those lowly pastors in their angst and let them pass resolutions to feel better "back home," but then turn around and toe the party line--via silence, at least--in the presence of their colleagues on the COP?
Second, I really wonder about this paragraph from COP statement:
We are fully aware of pain in our Synod over the discontinuation ofYes, when one member hurts, we all hurt. But what about the member of the body who causes the hurt? What about any correction of the member(s) who willfully inflicted the pain? I guess the devil would not rejoice over that disruption that was caused on March 18, 2008?
the KFUO Radio program “Issues, Etc.” When one member of the Body of
Christ hurts—for whatever reason—we all hurt. We are very concerned
about how this pain has affected the church as it carries Christ’s
gifts to the world. Only the devil would rejoice over this disruption!
Actually, I would hazard a guess that the devil did rejoice and is rejoicing that a faithful voice of proclaiming the Gospel around the world has been silenced!
So, dear "friends" on the COP, please don't put the cause of disruption on the shoulders of those who merely ask "Why?" the disruption was caused in the first place and who want some real answers instead of institutional cover up. Please don't cite the Fourth Commandment as some no doubt did when St. Peter and St. John insisted on proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us sinners. After all, we must obey God rather than men, and, last time I checked, the Third Commandment comes before the Fourth. And please don't rub our noses in the Eighth Commandment (again), for many of us are desperately trying to protect reputations no matter how hard those other persons involved are making that task.
What we desperately need is not rebuke from those in league with others who initially and unilaterally cause disruption. What we desperately need is repentance ... on ALL fronts and from ALL who consider themselves "churchmen."
Here let me comment on portions of the statement. First, I cite from Pres. Kieschnick's statement, then I give my response to that quote.
GK: "A decision to discontinue “Issues, Etc.” on KFUO AM Radio was made March 18, 2008, Tuesday of Holy Week, for fiscal reasons described in statements issued after the decision became public."Yes, Mr. President we are well aware of the officially given reasons thus far, but they're still not making sense and they still lead to more questions, such as:
- Why was one show, with its host and producer, made to suffer the "financial ax" while other, less profitable (if that should even be considered in a radio "ministry") shows continue?
- Why was Issues, Etc. made to be the sacrificial victim at the altar of "fiscal reasons" when KFUO management should have been?
- What about those finances? Just how are they working out between AM and FM sides of the KFUO operation? What *is* the real fiscal picture?
GK: "At the April 21, 2008, meeting of the Council of Presidents (COP) of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, financial details precipitating this decision were discussed in executive session by Mr. David Strand, Executive Director of the LCMS Board for Communication Services (BCS), with specific fiscal information provided by the Vice-President-Finance—Treasurer of the Synod, Dr. Thomas Kuchta."Thanks for sharing, Mr. President, but keeping answers and details "in executive session" will not quell those of us who want real, substantive answers. In fact, keeping the cloak of secrecy only adds to the suspicion of back room deals, especially when dropping names of individuals who are known to be on opposite sides of the issue, their respective official positions notwithstanding.
GK: "Prior to its implementation, Mr. Strand also informed me as president of the Synod of his decision. I regret that I did not counsel Mr. Strand to postpone implementation of the decision until sometime other than Holy Week. It is obvious that the timing and process connected with the discontinuation of the program have contributed to the disappointment expressed by listeners and supporters of “Issues, Etc.” in and beyond the Synod.So, the decision to cancel Issues, Etc. was good, right, and salutary, even approval-worthy, in and of itself? It was just the timing that should have been different? Mr. President, I know that some have made a big deal of the unseemly firing being carried out during Holy Week, but honestly, that's not the biggest issue. It would have been unseemly no matter when it was carried out! No prior notice given so that the employees could prepare? No chance to say goodbye to their listeners on the air? No reasons given at the time of firing? (Isn't that something like termination of employment without cause?)
Yes, I would hope for more from a corporation that claims to be somewhat ecclesiastical. Is this the best kind of answer we can expect? This sounds like drawing our attention more to the wrapping paper than to the contents of the package.
GK: "I am deeply saddened by the anxiety, worry, and consternation experienced in the Synod by those directly and indirectly affected by the decision."With all due respect, this should have been the response *before* the untimely cancellation and the unseemly firings! Also, from a pastoral perspective, it should also have been the cause for reigning in Mr. Strand and saying, "No, don't do it at all. That cancellation and those firings will only cause 'anxiety, worry, and consternation' from people in the Synod."
GK: "Some have interpreted the decision to discontinue “Issues, Etc.” as being theological or political in nature or purpose. Such interpretations have no basis in fact.""Such interpretations" are only natural, Mr. President, when no substantive reasons or explanations to the contrary have been proffered. If I may ask: Who was your favorite guest on Issues, Etc., and what theological topic did you enjoy hearing the most? If "such interpretations have no basis in fact," would you, the head of our church body, mind telling us some of the many good things that Issues, Etc. did to proclaim the Gospel around the world? This single radio program must have had many "critical events" of speaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who hadn't yet heard it!
"Such interpretations" are only natural when the B-string replacement show, "The Afternoon Show," highlights and promotes a mission start such as "The Alley," as I believe it did in the program from Monday, April 21, 2008. (Be sure to click on and check out the "About Us" tab.)
GK: "As president of the Synod, I respectfully request and pastorally encourage all in the Synod to be patient and charitable regarding this matter, putting the best construction on actions and decisions connected therewith."That would be much easier if we could have more satisfactory answers and stories that do not change from week to week or posting to posting.
GK: "I pray for the day when the financial resources of our Synod do not necessitate the reduction in force of radio personnel, the return of missionaries from the foreign mission field, or any other such difficult and painful decisions."Perhaps that would sound more sincere, if the salaries of synodical and district executives were reduced to be more in line with those of parish pastors and Lutheran school teachers, who work where the real "ministry" takes place--in the congregations. Perhaps it would sound more sincere, if real, concrete steps were being taken to minimize airfare, lodging, and dining expenses for various board meetings, commissions' gatherings, conferences and retreats throughout the synod. Perhaps that would sound more sincere, if the synod at large truly knew what might be happening with money that's donated to districts and synod.
GK: "And I pray for peace and harmony in our beloved Synod."I join you in that prayer, Mr. President. However, I must also say that events such as canceling the most popular radio show and the best radio outreach that the synod has offered in some time only undermine such peace and harmony. I too pray for peace and harmony in our synod, and I do so because it is painfully apparent that we have too many vying and competing versions of doctrine and practice within our ranks. I pray that, by God's grace and wisdom, we may one day address these issues in theological and substantive ways.
23 April 2008
And in another post we learn that the website IssuesEtc.org was *not* voluntarily taken down by its proprietors, but that they were ordered to take it down. No surprise there, really, but it does squelch some "spin" that has been floating around, I guess.
I have a couple of questions:
What would happen in a congregation if the pastor were so secretive and did not give clear answers to questions, say, from the voters or the Board of Elders?
Also, conventional wisdom (even uttered from those "higher up" in church circles) says that a pastor should never make changes in the congregation suddenly, willy-nilly, or without due preparations and explanations, that is, teaching. So, why this sudden change comprised of canceling Issues, Etc., firing its host and producer, completely without preparations, and now, after the fact, still without much by way of satisfactory explanation?
I guess it's a good thing that folks who do such things are not placed where the real "ministry" of the Church takes place, that is, in the local congregation!
22 April 2008
GetReligion analyzes how the media cover matters of church and religion, and I'm sure it must be a good feather in Mr. Townsend's cap that he receives a good review there, especially from another reporter who knows her stuff on religion.
BTW, it would appear that even readers over there aren't buying the company line given by LCMS bureaucrats! Sorry, Mr. Strand, you may have the institutional machinery working in your favor, but folks following the story just don't seem to buy it.
At any rate, you can also listen to Pr. Wilken's sermon at these two places:
Website of Peace Lutheran Church
Pr. Wilken's page at Wittenberg Trail.
21 April 2008
It would appear that the Board swallowed Mr. Strand's latest version of the reasons for canceling Issues, Etc. and firing Mr. Jeff Schwarz and Rev. Todd Wilken (a *called* pastor, by the way. See Pr. Preus' reflections on that.) And now Mr. Tom Kuchta, Treasurer, is implicated? With Mollie, I find that quite hard to believe. I also know that Mr. Kuchta has been an ardent supporter of Issues, Etc.
The sadness continues, and the real questions - especially "Why?" - still linger in the air, because the Board apparently passed up a great opportunity to come clean for folks in the LCMS and beyond. Lord, have mercy!
John 16:5-15 (w/ Isaiah 12:1-6 & James 1:16-21)
“Sing praises to the LORD,” Isaiah says, “for He has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.” The Church sings. It’s just what she does because of who she is, and Whose she is. The Church sings. It’s just a glorious fact of life.
Yes, the Church sings, but she does not sing her warm-fuzzy, ooey-gooey emotions. Sure, there are plenty of times when her heart swells with joy and gladness as she sings. But there are plenty of other times – perhaps most times – when her heart feels rather parched and empty. And still she sings. She does not sing just because she feels happy or because life is good. In fact, when we sing with the Church and as the Church, we sing whether we are happy or not. We sing in sadness as well as joy, in grief as well as elation, in disappointment as well as fulfillment. We sing in every emotional state that we human beings experience. The Church sings in and through them all. Why? Because, as Isaiah sings, “the LORD God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.” Yes, “He has done gloriously; let this be made know in all the earth.”
The Church sings. She sings in response to God’s great and mighty acts of salvation. These great and mighty acts of God’s salvation are the content of the Church’s song. The Church sings God’s acts of salvation for us who already know them, so that we won’t forget them. She also sings God’s acts of salvation for those who have not yet heard of them, so that they too may be saved and join with us in songs of thankfulness and praise. To be saved means to join the Church’s song with heart, mind, and voice.
Yes, the LORD has done gloriously. Even though He was angry with us for our sin and rebellion, His anger turned away in His Son, so that He might comfort us with His forgiveness. Believe that, and you’ll sing! It’s just what you do when you realize and trust what great things God has done for you. And if your singing has been a bit half-hearted or lack-luster, you may want to ask yourself, “Have I been focusing on the glorious deeds of the LORD, or have I been focusing on something else – perhaps something as vain and self-absorbed as worrying how I may or may not sound?”
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus gives us much to sing about. He says that He is “going to Him who sent [Him],” – to His Father. Have you ever thought of Jesus’ suffering and dying as “going to the Father”? Jesus did. “For the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). Do you want something to sing about? Try this: our Lord Jesus has transformed our suffering and dying to be like His suffering and dying. We trust that His cross was His “going to the Father” on our behalf and for our benefit. Because of Jesus’ suffering, dying, and rising, our suffering and dying take on new meaning. Our suffering and dying become our going to the Father too. Now that’s something to sing about! And there’s more.
Jesus says that He goes to the Father in order to send the Holy Spirit to us. “For if I do not go away,” He told the disciples, “the Helper will not come to you.” So Jesus goes to the cross, weighed down with our sin. He enters into our death to trample it down. He rises from the grave to bring us His life. He ascends to the Father’s right hand to intercede for us. Our Lord gives all these gifts, but He does not stop there. He also pours out upon us the most precious gift of all: the Holy Spirit Himself.
You see, without the Holy Spirit, you and I could never know what sin is, or what righteousness is, or what judgment is. Without the Holy Spirit, we would think, along with most people, that sin is merely about what we do or don’t do, about following rules and regulations. We would think that righteousness is merely a matter of our right outward behavior, or of not doing something mean and nasty, or of doing all the stuff that God tells us to do—as in standing at attention, clicking our heels, saluting, and saying, “Yes, sir, General God, sir!” Without the Holy Spirit, we would swear up and down that judgment is merely a matter of appearing before Judge God on the Last Day to see what goodies He will hand out for those who tried their best with whatever they had, or what punishments He will dish out to those who are clearly more wicked than we are.
But that’s all a big bunch of balderdash…and the Holy Spirit comes to show us it is. The Spirit shows us the true depth of our sin. Sin is not just a matter of what we do or don’t do, of following certain rules or regulations. The Spirit shows us that all sin flows from unbelief, that contagion that infects us all. He shows us that we do not trust God as we should, that we don’t believe and rely on His promises. We wonder if God really hears our prayers, or if chance governs all things in life, or if our sufferings come our way by pure happenstance. The Holy Spirit, though, unveils the evil that dwells in our hearts. We quickly realize how our sin within sullies and soils everything we do, say, and think. Yes, even our best and noblest deeds are stained and soured. As Isaiah said by the same Spirit many centuries ago, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Is.64:6). Is that something to sing about? Yes! It inspires us to sing: “Create in me a clean heart, O God!”
Then we get to see that the same Holy Spirit rejoices to convince us about righteousness. You see, righteousness is not first about us, what we do or fail to do. Even the best of our deeds is tarnished and infected by our selfishness and unbelief. Instead, the Spirit tells us that this is righteousness: Our Savior Jesus goes to the Father. In His perfect love He carried our unbelief and our sinful actions in Himself. In His perfect obedience He suffered the unspeakable horrors of our sin and death. But then He burst forth from the darkness of death, and He rose again to bring life and immortality to light. And since He has ascended to God’s Right Hand, He is our Advocate before the Father. Now that’s righteousness! HE is righteousness! HE perfectly fulfills the whole will and law of God on our behalf and for our benefit. HE stands before the Father as the Righteous One. And now that we are joined to Him in our Baptism, we also stand before the Father as righteous ones. In fact, in our Baptism the holiness of Jesus clothes us and begins to transform us, now and all the way to the Resurrection on the Last Day. Now THAT is something to sing about! And there’s still more.
God’s Spirit of holiness also reveals that judgment has come on the ruler of this world. Yes, Satan himself has been judged, condemned, and thrown down. The old, evil accuser has been silenced. He can bring no charge against those who are in Christ Jesus. Sure, he may prowl around the world looking for folks to devour, but he’s like a Rottweiler on a leash. His reach and his time are limited. The Holy Spirit, though, keeps guiding us into the Truth of Jesus. He keeps showing us that all that belongs to Jesus is ours as well, and it’s much more than I can fit into one sermon. That’s why we sing and keep on singing the Church’s song.
In today’s Epistle reading, James rejoices in all the goodies that come down to us from the Father of lights who never changes. He is always our great Giver God! He spoke His Gospel, and we became the first fruits of a new creation. Here’s reason to sing: by the gift of our rebirth in Baptism, we get to live the joys of the Age to come already in this world. We get to practice the life of Christ now as we prepare for eternity. That’s why James calls us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. We know that our getting hot and bothered never produces the righteousness that God requires. That comes by humbly hearing and holding on to Jesus and the new life that He gives in His death and resurrection.
And so we sing. We “sing praises to the LORD, for He has done gloriously.” The Church of Jesus Christ sings. She sings the wondrous things God has done and still does in her midst. “Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Let’s go forth with singing as we meet Him at His Holy Table. Amen.
19 April 2008
I thank those who commented, in one way or another. Joe simply said, “Nope,” but I’m not sure if he meant “Nope” to the Pope agreeing or to agreeing with the statement himself. Someone named “Anonymous” said, “Classic B16. So close, and yet so far.” I’m not sure what exactly that’s supposed to mean. Another “Anonymous” made reference to Pres. Kieschnick, but I’m not sure what he really has to do with the real life Pope and this quote.
The more detailed comments intrigue me. Mary said she thought the Pope would agree, but that she would not. She cited the phrases about “the beginning of the free response” and “cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then she posed the question: “can a dead man respond or cooperate?” Good question, and right on, as far as one being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) goes. But I have a follow up question.
Why assume that this statement on Justification, especially in the latter phrases, refers to the “dead man” of the unbelieving sinner responding or cooperating before he/she is converted? What if it refers to the sinner who has been justified and thus converted and brought to life by God’s grace? That would seem to be the actual train of thought in the quote. First comes justification; then comes the “…free response of man, that is, faith in Christ….”
How is this really that much different from what we Lutherans say in Augsburg Confession IV, V, and VI? First, AC IV says, “People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake” (Concordia, 33). Certainly, we would not assume that the “dead man” of the sinner first has faith and then ushers himself/herself into justification! Then AC V says, “Through the Word and Sacraments…the Holy Spirit is given” and “works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake” (Concordia, 33). And, finally, AC VI says, “this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit” (Concordia, 33).
It seems to me that in both the Compendium statement and the Augsburg Confession we have justification taught as: (1) God’s work of love (2) because of Christ (3) effected in the individual by the Holy Spirit, and (4) this divine work enlivens the person to respond in faith and life.
On the matter of the Compendium’s phrase “of cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit,” don’t we Lutherans also say that? Of course, we do not refer to the “dead man” of the sinner cooperating. Instead, we refer to the person who has been justified (a.k.a. converted, forgiven) as cooperating. Is it possible that this is how the Compendium understands it in the given quote as well?
Check out this quote from the Formula of Concord: “as soon as the Holy Spirit has begun His work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and the holy Sacraments, we can and should cooperate through His power, although still in great weakness. This cooperation does not come from our fleshly natural powers, but from the new powers and gifts that the Holy Spirit has begun in us in conversion” (Solid Declaration II:65; Concordia, 532).
Here we Lutherans say, essentially, that once we are converted we do begin cooperating with the Holy Spirit, however imperfectly and weakly it truly is. This seems to be the same thing that the Compendium says: “Justification is the beginning of the free response of man, that is, faith in Christ and of cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
Holy Scripture certainly speaks of “cooperation” too. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” 2 Corinthians 6:1 says, “Working together with him [God], then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (Formula of Concord cites these verses.) And Philippians 2:12-13 says, “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (My addition here.) So, we can indeed speak of cooperating with the Holy Spirit, as long as we are referring to the person justified and enlivened by the Holy Trinity’s work in justification.
Even Franz Pieper could say this: “In conversion man merely experiences the working of God…, but in sanctification the Christian plays an active role; he co-operates” (Christian Dogmatics, vol. III, p. 14).
I also appreciate Pr. May’s comment: “[The Pope’s] quote, ‘Justification is the most excellent work of God’s love’ is a great quote and one that should certainly catch the attention of those who belong to the Church of the Augsburg Confession.” That’s exactly why I posted the quote: it caught my attention, as it does appear to give a clear statement of God’s work—Divine monergism—in Justification.
It also appears that Pr. May would agree with the Compendium’s statement that justification “is given to us in Baptism.” I would also concur. After all, as Titus 3:5, also cited in the Small Catechism on Baptism, says, “he [God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Yes, as Pr. May points out, the Sacraments—especially Baptism in this discussion—actually deliver something: the Holy Trinity’s work in Justification!
In her comments, Anastasia questioned the whole notion of “merit” as mentioned in the Compendium quote. She is exactly right: “Salvation can’t BE merited. Doesn’t need to be. It isn’t for sale in exchange for merit. It’s GIVEN away, rather than sold. Because it’s from God’s radically non-self-seeking love.” That’s exactly the point that the Lutheran Confessions make over and over too.
Pr. May then responded by acknowledging that “merit” is indeed “traditional Western theological language.” The crux of the matter at the time of the Reformation was where to place that “merit.” At the time of the Reformation Rome had wanted to place the “merit” on the shoulders of the believer (via pilgrimages, indulgences, etc.), whereas the Reformers wanted to place it squarely on Christ’s cross-bearing shoulders. Even the new Orthodox Study Bible can say this: “In Western Europe during the sixteenth century and before, however, justifiable concern arose among the Reformers over a prevailing understanding that salvation depended on human works of merit, and not on the grace and mercy of God” (p. 1529).
It sure looks like the Compendium quote places the “merit” of justification on Christ’s shoulders instead of man’s. Although, I wonder if we might be better served to restrain the “merit” language, as “theological language,” that is, and use language such as “because of Christ” or simply justified and saved “by Jesus Christ.”
So, yes, the Pope would certainly agree with what amounts to “his own” statement. I’d also say that his statement at least catches our attention and may even reveal some addressing of concerns that sparked the Reformation.
Stein exposes the irrational prejudice of the scientific community to those scientists (many of them not even religious) who say much of anything about "Intelligent Design." He does this by focusing on freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry, and by using the metaphor of the "Berlin wall" of thought in the scientific community that separates the scientific from the seemingly religious. Many absolutely fear that they might have to admit that some intelligence is behind the causation of the universe.
This movie is an absolute must see, not just for Christians, but for all thinking people. And I would strongly urge seeing it a.s.a.p., because one never knows how long this "child" (Stein's movie) will be allowed to cry out that the emperor has no clothes. (I have heard the words "limited engagement" regarding this film.)
Also, check out http://expelledthemovie.com/ - but be ready to wait, as I have, for I'm sure many others are checking it out too.
Vol. 1 No. 3
On the Firing of a Pastor
The firing of Jeff Schwarz and Rev. Todd Wilken as producer and host of the popular Issues Etc. radio program has provoked a series of accusations and counter accusations throughout the synod. Mollie Hemingway, with no little support from the facts themselves, has asserted in a Wall Street Journal article that the move was theologically or politically motivated. President Kieschnick and other synodical officials have maintained that the show was canceled and the firings took place for programmatic and financial reasons, an assertion argued heatedly in the various blogs and websites in cyberspace. Lost in all the hullabaloo is a deeply troubling theological issue. The reasons and motives of those involved notwithstanding, it is quite apparent that a pastor with a divine call has been deposed without cause or due process.
Let's review our doctrine and practice. The Lutheran church has always asserted the scriptural truth that God appoints pastors. In the case of the apostles God did this directly either by Christ speaking to them or, as in the case of Paul, through a vision. God still calls pastors today, but ever since apostolic times He has done so through the church. So Paul can arrange for the appointment of pastors by the church in Acts 14 (v.23) and later he can tell the pastors in Ephesus to "guard the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers" (Acts 20:28). The church calls and God calls. God calls pastors through the church.
Typically, the congregations of the Missouri Synod have carefully guarded their right to call and appoint their own pastors. At the same time we all know that the pastor, though called by the church, is truly called by God no less than St. Peter or St. Paul. Additionally the collection of churches we call synod has at times seen fit to call men as pastors who teach the word and administer the sacraments on behalf of more than a single congregation. So, collectively the church through various boards or commissions calls men to be seminary teachers, military chaplains, campus pastors, missionaries and other teachers of the church.
Rev. Todd Wilken enjoyed such a call. He was extended a divine call by the Board for Communication Services of the Missouri Synod back in 2000. Since then his pulpit has been his microphone and his growing congregation has been the thousands of people who have come to know Christ or have grown in their faith and understanding through the ministry of Issues Etc. as through the airwaves and internet Rev. Wilken spoke in the stead and by the command of Christ. He is the most noble of missionaries.
An important practice of our churches is drawn from our understanding of the divinity of the call. Just as God is the one to call a pastor through the church, so only God, through the church, can depose a pastor. God ends a ministry often by extending another call to the pastor, or by taking a pastor home to heaven. In some cases an unfaithful pastor is deposed by God but only for very specific reasons; either the pastor is demonstrably guilty of false doctrine or of scandalous life. The congregation then becomes God's instrument in deposal just as the congregation was God's instrument in the initial call. But you cannot simply fire the pastor. His call is from God. You must demonstrate to the church that he is guilty of false doctrine or immoral life and only then can the church function as God's agent and depose a pastor.
Our theologians have something to say about this. C. F. W. Walther quotes Martin Luther extensively in his, Church and Ministry. Luther wrote in reaction to the deposal of a called servant of the word and described those who did so as "moved by the evil spirit . . . and robbers of the church," since they "deposed" a pastor "though he was never accused before any judge or convicted of any wrong, and since they undertook this by their own authority and malice." (Walther, Church and Ministry [St. Louis: CPH 1987) 225] Martin Chemnitz, primary author of the Formula of Concord concurs: "Just as there is a lawful method for calling someone into the ministry of the church, so also there is a lawful method for removing someone . . . In our churches many also do not understand this matter correctly. For just as when one hires a servant he has the power to dismiss when he wishes, so some think that they have authority also to dismiss a preacher though they have no just cause . . . There are two reasons for which God removes an unfaithful minister from their office: (1) because of doctrine when thy teach error . . . (2) because of life, when they act in such a way that the name of the Lord is blasphemed . . . When someone must be removed from the ministry, it is necessary that the church can show with certainty that this is the judgment and this is the will of God." [Martin Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, translated by J.A.O. Preus (St. Louis, CPH 1989) vol. II 703]
The reason for which our fathers in the faith were so adamant in their protection of the pastoral office should be obvious. Pastors often find themselves having to speak against the prevailing doctrines or sins of the culture which may be the beliefs and sins of many people in the church itself. These pastors must, like the prophets and apostles of scripture, be given the security to speak even when such speech may be unpopular. A pastor who is constantly worried about his job security or who is concerned about pleasing people may balk at pleasing God.
Thankfully, no one ever accused Rev Wilken of being afraid to broach controversial topics. Thankfully, Christians were able to listen to his guests as they courageously affirmed the faith in the face of a culture which often disdains the name of Jesus. And anyone who listened knew that Rev. Wilken often spoke almost as much as the guests. But it was always God's Word which he spoke. And hungry souls were fed.
Yet, despite his call from God to teach the church through the ministry of Issues etc., and despite his faithfulness in his ministry, Rev. Wilken was fired the Tuesday before Easter. He was not accused of any false doctrine. He was not accused of any scandalous behavior. He was not given any warning ahead of time that would indicate that God wanted him gone. He was given no opportunity to defend the gospel he had proclaimed for eight years. He was simply removed without cause and without due process.
Many were dismayed so see their main source of Christian nourishment cut off like when your favorite restaurant burns down. Equally disturbing is that the leadership of the LCMS seems to be working with a different understanding of the office of the ministry than is taught by the Bible and our Lutheran fathers.
Rev. Klemet Preus
Glory of Christ Lutheran Church
"There is a definite split between those who favor the megachurch marketing approach to outreach ministry," said Baue, "and those who trust the word of God and the sacraments to do the job of bringing people to the faith."Update from Pr. Todd Wilken: "One correction: Sunday Night Issues, Etc. was nationally syndicated on over 100 stations (almost 125 when it was cancelled)."
Please don't expect Pr. Wilken to say anything about the Issues, Etc. debacle; that's not his "style." Instead, expect him to give you Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
18 April 2008
I felt and heard the rumble and the shaking. What an odd sensation! (Yep, pretty obvious I've never lived in California. :-) And it just went on and on. I thought it must have gone on for about 30 seconds, but official reports say 20 seconds. At first I thought it was a truck passing by on the street, but as the obvious undulation continued, and stronger than a truck would make, it hit me: "So this must be an earthquake. I sure hope the roof doesn't fall on us." (Yes, that's what raced through my head.) When I didn't hear any cracking or crumbling I just lay there for the ride.
After getting up and getting on with the morning routine of Matins, some reading, prayers with the family, and breakfast, I discovered on the news that the quake's epicenter was about 128 miles east of St. Louis, outside a little town called West Salem, Illinois. The original quake registered at 5.2 on the Richter scale and occurred at 4:36 a.m. Now we've had an aftershock that occurred at 10:14 a.m. and measured 4.5.
News reports say that the original quake was felt as far away as Des Moines, Iowa, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Fr. May, did you feel it?), and even Atlanta, Georgia.
Wow! What an amazing experience (for those of us outside of California, that is ;-). Talk about a time to realize just how small we human beings really are. Talk about an experience that reinforces our need for the God who loves us in Jesus Christ! Talk about an opportunity to repent and say, "Lord, have mercy on us!" (See Luke 13:1-5 for the best response to any disaster, natural or otherwise.)
What a great way to learn to pray with Psalm 148:7-8: "Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!" Yes, even earthquakes fulfill God's word that calls us to repent and rely on Him! Thank You, Lord, for reminding us that we need You! Thank You, Lord, for having mercy on us through the quake, keeping it small, and keeping us safe! Thank You, Lord, that no matter what befalls us, You love us with an everlasting love!
17 April 2008
Here's a most interesting insight over at Augsburg 1530.
Mollie reminds us that the synod's Board for Communication Services is meeting today and tomorrow, and certainly one of its agenda items is to hear what happened to Issues, Etc., Pr. Wilken, Mr. Schwarz, and why it happened. We will keep the Board members in our prayers, that they may "do the right thing" and seek the truth of why the show was canceled and why two faithful servants of the church were summarily fired (and not give in to the temptation to politic and cover up the truth). We will pray for Mr. Strand as he will, no doubt, be asked to answer some difficult questions.
Mollie also points out some amazingly laudatory things that David Strand said about Issues, Etc. just last summer at the synodical convention (See some quotes here.). It sure makes one wonder what happened in just those few months to turn Issues, Etc. - in the view of some, at least - from "KFUO-AM’s premier national-radio program" into the one lamb that just had to be sacrificed to somehow, single-handedly (?), save the radio station's faltering (mismanaged?) budget.
I do not envy the position in which Mr. Strand finds himself! This has to be very tough on him, perhaps eating him alive inside. David, I'm praying for you, for God's peace in Christ Jesus to lead, guide, and comfort you, and for God's Truth, Jesus Christ Himself, to lead you into all truth as you deal with the fallout of your decision given on March 18 and as you answer tough questions from the Board to which you report.
16 April 2008
Would the Pope agree with this following statement on Justification, or not?
What is justification?Please explain - and briefly! - your reasons for why you think the Pope would agree, or not, with that statement on Justification. (Source of the quote will be revealed after discussion dies down--you know, so we can focus on the content of the quote, not get sidetracked on who wrote it. ;-)
Justification is the most excellent work of God's love. It is the merciful and freely-given act of God which takes away our sins and makes us just and holy in our whole being. It is brought about by means of the grace of the Holy Spirit which has been merited for us by the passion of Christ and is given to us in Baptism. Justification is the beginning of the free response of man, that is, faith in Christ and of cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
While we're asking, would *you* agree with the above statement on Justification? Why or why not?
Here's a little taste of the article to whet your appetite:
On Friday, April 11, Faith Lutheran Church in Plano, Texas hosted a banquet in honor of “Issues, Etc.,” the live radio call-in show formerly aired on KFUO-AM out of St. Louis, Missouri that was hosted by Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Pastor and Dallas native Todd Wilken.
More than 60 gathered for fellowship and food and to raise funds to support the host/producer duo affected by the cancellation of this show. Aside from money raised at the banquet event, many additional donations were expected to be collected soon afterwards from members of the church and others in the surrounding community. Thrivent Financial for Lutherans’ Care in Communities program agreed to give grant money to a portion of the funds raised in order to provide additional financial support. More than $5,500 was raised through these efforts.
Here's the full article.
In case that link doesn't work, try this one.
What more trustworthy witness of the fact that Moses did attain the perfection which was possible would be found than the divine voice which said to him: I have known you more than all others? It is also shown in the fact that he is named the "friend of God" by God himself, and by preferring to perish with all the rest if the Divine One did not through his good will forgive their errors, he stayed God's wrath against the Israelites. God averted judgment so as not to grieve his friend. All such things are a clear testimony and demonstration of the fact that the life of Moses did ascend the highest mount of perfection.As Jesus said in John 15:15: "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you."
Since the goal of the virtuous way of life was the very thing we have been seeking, and this goal has been found in what we have said, it is time for you, noble friend, to look to that example and, by transferring to your own life what is contemplated through spiritual interpretation of the things spoken literally, to be known by God and to become his friend. This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business-like and contractual arrangement. On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God's friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God's friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire. This, as I have said, is the perfection of life. (The Life of Moses; cited in For All the Saints, vol. III, p. 1162-1163)
15 April 2008
Someone out there has a great sense of humor in pointing out some (much?) of the folly regarding the consumer-driven, seeker-sensitive approach to the Church's mission!
And, forgive me, I just can't resist: this adds a whole new dimension to "Ablaze!" ;-)
I am writing to you because I've noticed your concern in reporting on the Issues, etc. situation.My comments:
I thought it should be known that at the opening of the OK district pastors conference on Monday the 14th, the DP gave a rambling address, in which he said that Issues, etc. is the "New Yankee Stadium". He continued that he expects everyone to remain silent about the situation (other than "I liked the show") and not read what people on the internet have to say. His reason was that the internet contains much "false information" and he cited the 8th Commandment. Only one person was able to comment that the Synod has been silent and asked whether the COP would be discussing it. The DP said they would because of the three District resolutions.
I also thought it was interesting that in the same address he said the COP is trying to find a way to get rid of "unloving pastors" who spend their time writing about issues that "no one else cares about".
It seems suspicion should be aroused once the leaders start trying to control who can speak and what people can read. This is not the Roman Catholic Church, after all. Of course, I must say this anonymously, because I am censored by my Bishop, who would brand me as "unloving".
Please check with other sources that you know.
Brother Martin [evidently a pen name]
- I would not call "trying to control who can speak and what people can read" a "Roman Catholic" problem. Let's be gracious to our brothers and sisters in Rome, please.
- I wonder: what qualifies as "unloving" regarding whatever pastors the speaker has in mind? Is it "unloving" to defend a brother pastor and his layman friend against an unjust and largely unexplained firing? What about defending Pr. Wilken and Mr. Schwarz from the 8th Commandment issues that popped up when people were left only to guess - and many wrongly! - why they had been fired without reason given?
- I also wonder: why compare the Issues, Etc. debacle to the Yankee Stadium affair of several years ago? Is this meant to imply that Pr. Wilken and Mr. Schwarz did something that went against the synod's constitution? Or that they should be treated as innocent victims, as many thought of the Yankee Stadium matter? Or merely that here's yet another event that shows the division within and the schizophrenia of the LCMS?
- I wonder, finally: what is meant by "writing about issues that 'no one cares about'"? I guess 7143 petition signers are "no one"? (What if we had a congregation of that size--would that be considered so insignificant? But I digress.) I suppose the many who merely read the blog posts here and elsewhere amount to "no one"? (BTW, I've noticed the numbers of visits to my blog go through the roof with this Issues, Etc. matter. I quickly had to build a new roof! :-)
Let's just keep our focus on the simple issue of the injustice and keep asking the question "Why?" regarding the cancellation of Issues, Etc. Whatever other matters and information come to light, I pray that wiser folks than I, and folks in proper positions, will see fit to do "the right thing" and expose any sin, shame, and corruption for what it truly is, but also lead us toward genuine Christ-centered forgiveness, humility, reconciliation, and healing.
Kirkwood — About 75 protesters gathered Monday outside the world headquarters of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, many holding signs that asked simply, "Why?"As for how Mr. Townsend quoted me, that's spot on. Thanks for being accurate, Tim.
The question was directed at church leaders who, during Holy Week last month, pulled the plug on a popular radio program on the denomination's KFUO-AM station called "Issues, Etc."
The host, the Rev. Todd Wilken, and producer, Jeff Schwarz, were fired without warning, and all reference to the show was taken off KFUO's website. Fans were left confused and angry.
The following day, a statement went up on the church's website explaining that "Issues, Etc." had been canceled for "programmatic and business" reasons but offered no specifics.
"Issues, Etc." was "a beacon of light" for Bill Eggers, 72, a retired engineer from west St. Louis County who stood outside the denomination's glass offices in Kirkwood. "It gave my own faith a real boost."
The show, which aired locally from 3-6 p.m. weekdays, was syndicated to 11 Midwestern markets and available everywhere by podcast. Topics ranged from bioethics to the role of women in the church, to the theology of God's love.
Since the cancellation, supporters have collected more than 7,000 signatures and raised more than $30,000 in a fund to help the Wilken and Schwarz families.
The former host and producer could not be reached for comment.
On Sunday, 200 "Issues, Etc." supporters gathered at Emmaus Lutheran Church in St. Louis to pray and eat bratwurst.
The chief complaint at Monday's protest was that the present synod leadership has become caught up in marketing, focus groups and statistics in an effort to grow.
"They'd like to be more in the mainstream of American evangelicalism as opposed to distinctly Lutheran," said the Rev. Randy Asburry, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in St. Louis.
"Issues, Etc." battled against that trend in the church, and many of the protesters said they thought that was the real reason the program was canceled.
I do note that the rest of the story contains David Strand's minimizing of this event. I suppose that's one way to deal with it. Strand is quoted as saying:
"We have tried every cost-cutting measure we can think of for a long time," Strand said. "And we've tried every fundraising measure we can think of. ... 'Issues' was the largest and most obvious cut at our disposal."Yep, the ministry of the Gospel has now just been minimized to either a profit-making venture or a cost-cutting necessity! Never mind that Issues, Etc., its host, and its producer, had to raise plenty of their own moneys, unlike any other KFUO program. I guess Issues "was the largest and most obvious cut at [their] disposal precisely because it *was* raising some money and it *was* being listened to?
The article also says that Strand "pointed out that the 7,000 signatures make up one-third of 1 percent of the church body." Thanks for further minimizing us, Mr. Strand! I wonder what percentage of the "church body's" body really counts for being listened to? Should I try this reasoning in my own congregation? When one voice cries out in need, should I simply say that that lone voice is not worth my time?
Perhaps I shouldn't remind Mr. Strand that so many of those signers are actually *outside* of our denomination's little corner of Christendom. Then we petition signers would be an even smaller sub-sub-minority of our own church body, but at least we'd have friends in other places.
Perhaps I shouldn't remind Mr. Strand that the Gospel of proclaiming Christ crucified and risen for sinners is truly a labor of love for a lost and dying world, no matter how many ... or how few ... actually listen to it or are changed by it.
Remember, Mr. Strand, it took only one Person to suffer, die, and rise again for the life of the world, and it took only a motley band of 12 men to spread our Lord's forgiveness and teaching that changed the entire world. Numbers aren't everything, Mr. Strand! (Oops! Don't say that too loudly! Some of our "synodocrats" - synodical bureaucrats, number-crunchers, bean-counters - could be out of a job, if that's true.)
14 April 2008
Pr. Christopher Hall, over at "This Side of the Pulpit" says it this way:
Find yourself growing bored with the liturgy?Thanks, Chris! Well said, indeed.
Is it getting stale, saying the same things week after week?
Does every Sunday service seem the same?
Desire something a little different, you know, to mix it up a little bit?
There is a certain cure for this ennui: pay attention to what you are saying, and what is being said to you.
Thanks to everyone who made this a success! But we’re not done yet, there is still a lot of work to be done.
The Board of Communication Services is meeting on Thursday and Friday of this week, and we have a few members who will be speaking for our side. David Berger is a member of the BCS and he is willing to take our emails and letters to the board. You can send him an email to present to the Board on your behalf at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also need to send snail mail to our respective District Presidents. Snail mail still carries more weight then email (I guess it still is a lot like our Grandfather’s church after all). You should be able to find their contact information at www.lcmsdistricts.org
Finally, our congregations need to start passing resolutions in support of Issues, Etc. and showing disapproval of synod actions. Maybe you can be the one to get your congregation to vote on a resolution?!
Some of us present today were wondering if there has ever been a demonstration like this in front of the "Purple Palace" before. Could this be an historical first?
Pr. Weedon mentioned how much it takes to LUTHERAN to get together and hold signs. At "the event" Pr. Henrickson told the Post-Dispatch reporter that it does indeed take A LOT to get Lutherans to do something like this - so this must be a good-sized issue. I agree with them both! So, a big thanks to all who showed up to ask "Why?" and to call attention to some simple, plain ol' injustice.
In addition to thanking all of the about 80 people who showed up, I'll give a personal, pastoral "Thank you" to the several members of Hope who showed up. Could we have been the congregation most represented? By my count, 14 members of Hope (including myself) were present. No, this is not me being boastful, just proud of those who want to and do support Todd, Jeff, and Issues, Etc.
(BTW, that black arrow "The Wretch" put on the picture pointing me out - let's see how long it takes for it to turn into a nice, neon-red target on my back. But as one member said, "We like it that way. That way we know where to follow!" Thanks ... I think. ;-)
Here's the post:
In three days, KFUO will hold its annual on-air fundraiser called “Sharathon 2008.”
Since the removal of Issues, Etc. from the air on March 18, we have learned some sad facts regarding how business was being done at KFUO.
Here are six questions to consider before this year’s Sharathon:1. Why does KFUO earn an ”F” grade for financial transparency with Ministry Watch, an organization that rates the 400 largest church ministries in the United States? Would you give to any other Christian media ministry that earned an “F”?
2. Why were significant KFUO-FM costs shifted to KFUO-AM as late as 2007?
3. Can you be sure that a check made out to “KFUO” will go to KFUO-AM and not to KFUO-FM?
4. Why does it cost the LCMS Foundation 38.4 cents to raise a dollar for KFUO? Why did the LCMS Foundation charge KFUO $361,604 to raise $941,739 in 2007?
5. Why does the Program/Development Director for KFUO-FM serve on the board of directors for, and raise money for a group that supports embryonic stem cell research?
6. If KFUO management disagreed with the cancellation of Issues, Etc., why haven’t they publicly stated this disagreement?
On April 17, 18 and 19 we would like to encourage you to call (800)730-2727 and ask them to share the answers to these questions with you.
13 April 2008
In this morning’s Epistle, Peter writes,
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)Can we do better than Christ? No. Jesus Christ was judged in our place at the Cross. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”
Entrust yourselves to Him Who judges justly.
To that end, I can do no better than the prayer with which Philip Melanchthon’s ended his preface to the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:
We shall commend our cause, therefore, to Christ, who some time will judge these controversies, and we beseech Him to look upon the afflicted and scattered churches, and to bring them back to godly and perpetual concord. Therefore, if the known and clear truth is trodden under foot, we will resign this cause to God and Christ in heaven, who is the Father of orphans and the Judge of widows and of all the forsaken, who (as we certainly know) will judge and pass sentence upon this cause aright. Lord Jesus Christ it is Thy holy Gospel, it is Thy cause; look Thou upon the many troubled hearts and consciences, and maintain and strengthen in Thy truth Thy churches and little flocks, who suffer anxiety and distress from the devil. Confound all hypocrisy and lies, and grant peace and unity, so that Thy glory may advance, and Thy kingdom, strong against all the gates of hell, may continually grow and increase. Amen.
Easter 4 – Jubilate – Evening Prayer (In support of Issues, Etc. after its cancellation.)
Lamentations 3:22-33 & 1 Peter 11-20
13 April 2008
What a tragedy! What a travesty! It was a most sorrowful day for God’s faithful people. It was a massive blow to the collective gut of God’s faithful people and even some on the outside. You could hear God’s faithful saying, “My groans are many, and my heart is faint” (Lam. 1:22). I’m sure some even said, “My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns” (Lam. 2:11). Of course, I’m talking about the destruction of God’s holy city, Jerusalem. (What did you think I was talking about? :-)
You see, I’m trusting that we’ve all come to hear God’s message on this evening of Jubilate—this day of Easter rejoicing, this day of sorrow being turned into joy. So the first reading we heard this evening transports us to the rubble of Jerusalem, just after God Himself destroyed it by means of His own enemies. This evening we get to pull up a fallen stone from the rubble and sit with Jeremiah as he laments the destruction caused by faithlessness to God. But a glimmer of hope—a bright ray of joy—does also peak through the gloom.
As Jeremiah surveys the smoking rubble and gruesome carnage of a sacked Jerusalem, he has no problem lamenting the horrific scene. But it’s quite an orderly and well thought out sort of grief. Each verse of chapter one begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Same thing in chapter two. No exploding, rambling, raving, maniacal sorrow! Jeremiah shows us how to sorrow and lament in alphabetical order, grappling with our sorrow with purpose and with completeness. Then we come to chapter 3. The alphabetical order of his lament intensifies. Each verse has three lines and each group of three lines begins with a successive Hebrew letter. More intense sorrow, and yet Jeremiah is building up to something even more intense.
Then we come to our first reading. It’s as if we’ve labored and lamented as we’ve hiked up the steep hill of our sorrow. As we approach the top of the hill, our muscles ache and burn, but, somehow, we pick up the pace. A certain relief kicks in. It’s what Jeremiah says just before the verses we heard: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (3:21).
What does the prophet urge us to call to mind? “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.” Sure, many things cease and come to an end. Some things cease when we don’t want them to, and other things continue when we’d rather they just come to a quick end. [C'est la vie]! What do you expect in a fallen, broken, sin-infected world? But the steadfast love of our Lord never ceases. That’s the only sure thing to hold on to. His mercies never come to an end. They are the only certain things to keep us going in the midst of sorrows. And His mercies in Christ Jesus “are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Our brief respite atop our hill of sorrow draws our attention away from ourselves, away from the mess around us, away from the wrongs we’ve received and the ones we’ve meted out, whoever we are. Prophet Jeremiah leads us to say, “‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’” Did you catch that? Our hope is not in getting even, or in unearthing institutional dirt. Our hope is not in some form of synodical leadership, whether securing another election victory or in changing administrations. Remember what the psalmist says: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Ps. 146:3-4). Our hope is not even in a certain radio show, its host, its producer, its restoration, or its resurrection.
No, our hope is solely and completely in our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ. “The LORD is my portion,” we learn to say—in all of life and through all of life. You see, “The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him.” After all, He is the One who climbed the greatest hill of sorrow. He is the One who found relief for us only in sacrificing Himself for us. He is the One whose death shows steadfast love. He is the One whose resurrection delivers never-ending mercies.
So, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Let the laments and the sorrows come. We wait quietly for the Lord’s rescue and deliverance. You see, He sat alone in silence when our sin, our sorrow, and our death were laid on Him. When He put His mouth in the dust of our sin-wrecked lives and our hopes dashed by deadly, demonic deeds, He proved that we may have hope—hope in His forgiveness, hope in His life, hope in His salvation. He gave His cheek to the one who strikes; He endured the insults. And why? To show His unique, all-sufficient compassion “according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”
That’s the focal point of Jeremiah’s lament. Then he continues his alphabet-organized lamenting through chapters 3, 4 and 5. The Lord’s love and mercies sustain him to grapple with the ongoing reality of sin and sorrow. But in the end, as he still sits amid the rubble of fallen Jerusalem, Jeremiah now prays: “Restore us to Yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old” (5:21). With the Lord’s steadfast love and mercies, with His salvation and compassion, we can wend our way down the hill of our sorrows. Yes, our muscles still ache and burn. Yes, we reenter the carnage and rubble of our broken world and our dashed hopes. But we do so with the joy of our Lord’s cross-won forgiveness. We do so with His life that bursts forth from the empty tomb. Our Lord Jesus promises to restore and renew—in His way, in His time, and for our eternal good.
So just how do we wend our way through the rubble of this world? Just how do we rejoice with Easter joy in the midst of our sorrows? St. Peter helps us in our second reading. It’s a series of practical exhortations for us who are made alive by the steadfast love and mercies of Christ. “Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” The real war is not against other people, parties, or factions within Christ’s Church, or even in this man-made corporation called “synod.” No, the true battle is against what lies inside each one of us—the sin and death that infect us from within. If we would do more battle in that arena, then we wouldn’t have to worry as much about the “successism” of being in power or attaining it, then we wouldn’t have to resort to the tactics of secrecy and subversion with our fellow Christians.
St. Peter continues: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.” Why bother with what unbelievers think? “That they see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” How can they know there’s new life in Christ, if we don’t proclaim it in our deeds as well as our fine words?
And another exhortation: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” Yes, we can even endure tyrannical leaders—both outside and inside the Church—because we have Christ and His steadfast love and mercies. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
Then we hear the heart of Peter’s exhortations: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Just as our Lord Jesus Christ freely served us by absorbing our and the world’s evil, we get to do the very same thing. No, not covering it up—least of all the evil that dwells within each one of us—but exposing it to our Lord’s cross-won compassions and resurrection mercies.
And, finally, St. Peter speaks to house-slaves who do the bidding of their master. Since Christ our Lord is the Master of His Church, we all are nothing but house-slaves, serving at His discretion, called to do His bidding. So, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust.” It doesn’t matter if our position is high or low or somewhere in between—we are called to be servants. Let all institutional bureaucracy and every thought and motivation of “get-even-with-‘em-ism” be crucified and buried. Let the new life of serving Master Jesus rise with all of its simple humility and ongoing charity. Then we can learn and live as Peter reminds us: “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
Yes, it’s radical. It’s also far too uncommon. But it is the fruit of our Lord’s steadfast love. It is the rejoicing that comes out of sorrow. As our Lord Himself says: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn. 16:22). Amen.