30 May 2008

King Richard the Third

We just returned from watching Act I of "The Tragedy of King Richard the Third" put on by "Shakespeare Festival St. Louis." Tonight's show was canceled at Intermission on account of the impending thunderstorm (and thankfully so, since the rain has come pouring down, now that we're home!). This is the eighth year of a Shakespeare play performed in Forest Park here in St. Louis.

I hadn't read or watched this tragedy from Shakespeare before, but what a foray into the darkness of egomania, by Richard, and what a body count, just in Act I. There's nothing like a classic story to reinforce the dictum that power corrupts and to display the fruits of humanity's fall into sin. The world of art sure can diagnose our human sickness and give greater appreciation for what our Lord Jesus Christ has done to redeem and heal us!

Now I guess I'll just have to catch another performance soon, or sit down and actually read the rest of the story.

And on the note of rain, I just received a nice, cool, wet greeting from Porthos and Gimli as they came in from the downpour. (I wonder: what kind of connection to our fallen creation can be made from wet dog smell? ;-) Time to go and find a towel to dry off!

Pastor Why? - Elevating the Host and the Chalice

Why do you elevate the bread and the chalice above your head when you say the Words of Institution in the Holy Communion?

First, let’s remember that all words and actions in the liturgy are intended to focus our attention on Christ Jesus and His saving deeds for us. Basically, we want to ask how and what the words and actions of the liturgy say about Jesus Christ in one way or another.

Second, let me say what is not happening when I elevate the host and the chalice during the Words of Institution. It does not mean that we are offering some kind of “unbloody sacrifice” of the Body and Blood of Jesus to God the Father. That went out with the Reformation.

So, what does the elevation mean? Here’s the third and main point to answer the question. The elevation of the host and the chalice essentially says, “Look, there He is! There’s the Lord whose glory fills the earth—in that bread and in that cup!” Since I face the altar when I say the Words of Institution (by direction of the LSB Altar Book), elevating the host and the chalice at their respective times gives you, the worshipers, the opportunity to see the elements and say, “That’s the bread that’s been consecrated to be Christ’s Body for us; that’s the cup that carries the consecrated Blood of Christ for us.” It gives you, the worshipers, the chance to appreciate and focus on the gift that our Lord is about to give you at the altar: Himself.

Martin Luther did advise keeping the elevation in his service orders of 1523 and 1526. Here’s what he said in 1526:
“We do not want to abolish the elevation, but retain it because it goes well with the German Sanctus [see LSB 960] and signifies that Christ has commanded us to remember him. For just as the sacrament is bodily elevated, and yet Christ’s body and blood are not seen in it, so he is remembered and elevated by the word of the sermon and is confessed and adored by reception in the sacrament. In each case he is apprehended only by faith; for we cannot see how Christ gives his body and blood for us and even now daily shows and offers it before God to obtain grace for us” (Luther’s Works, vol. 53, p. 82).
Philip Pfatteicher also gives this helpful note in his book, Manual on the Liturgy: “The gestures [of elevating the host and the chalice] are not so much to imitate what Jesus did at the Last Supper as to connect his words of promise visually with this bread and this cup” (p. 239).

29 May 2008

What's On Your Church Sign?

Ah, those infamous church signs, trying to be cute, snappy, and relevant, but somehow making many a passerby scratch their heads in befuddlement. For what not to post on your church sign, check out Crummy Church Signs. (Thanks, Pr. Landskroener, for pointing this out ... I think.)

Here's a sample:











Now how many people "like" Alka Seltzer?

(Disclosure: This "Asbury" is of no relation to me. My brand of "Asburry" has, notice, two "Rs" ... and there are no "Rs" in "Methodist.")

And then there's this one:
"Tent Revival with Jack Daniels"

As the caption on Crummy Church Signs says, "Make mine a double." (No, not the revival! :-)

A Message in a Coffin

What a hoot! A coffin with the Issues, Etc. logo draped over it. The image sure sums up what the LCMS suits and bureaucrats at the purple palace wanted to happen when they canceled Issues, Etc. and canned Wilken and Schwarz on 18 March 2008. No doubt the "radio silence" effected on Holy Tuesday fulfilled the dream of some who may be, well, uncomfortable with the light of Truth given by the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.

But now it appears that the coffin of their own making may be their worst nightmare!

With a little help from some computer graphics program (sorry, I'm not up on which one it might be; I consider it a victory just to copy and paste an image from a website to my hard drive and then onto my blog! ;-), the coffin at www.piratechristianradio.com, appears to be opening up with a bright light shining forth. The visual message (very fascinating, coming from a personality in the *radio* medium, btw :-) is quite clear: the phoenix of Issues, Etc. is rising from the ashes of synodical tomfoolery.

It just goes to show that you can't keep a good message - *the* Good Message - down, no matter how "on fire" the LCMS may be or become with Pentecostal ... er, I mean ... "Ablaze!" doctrine and practice.

Now the synodical suits and bureaucrats just might be directly called on the carpet for the various non-Lutheran things they are saying and doing. You see, prior to 18 March, they weren't, on Issues, Etc. anyway. It was only "guilt by association" with the likes of popular American evangelicals such as Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. Now the light of truth will no doubt shine directly on the very "powers that be" that wanted the Christ-centered talk show to just go away.

And we all know what happens when we open the living room drapes or blinds on a nice, sunny day. The light itself exposes all of the unseemly, unwanted dust on the furniture.

So, I hope and pray that the light shining from the Issues, Etc. coffin does not refer to the "brilliant" personalities of Wilken and Schwarz. :-) (Knowing these two men, I'm sure that's not the intended message. Remember, folks, this is not about these two men, but rather it's about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.) Instead, I trust that the new light beaming forth from the synodically imposed coffin refers to the light of God's Truth, the Light of the world Himself, Jesus Christ. He is the truly resurrected one and His light gives the life we need.

"At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you" (Ephesians 5:8-14).

Talk Radio for the Thinking Christian...AGAIN!

Since March 18 many have endured a forced fast from thoughtful, Christ-centered, Gospel-driven talk radio. Many have expressed their desire for Issues, Etc. to return to the airwaves.

Well, the time of return is coming! Check it out here.

28 May 2008

Is the Liturgy really "Adiaphora"?

The current identity crisis in the LCMS, and certainly among American Lutherans in general, focuses on the use, or abandonment, of the Church's historic liturgy. Technically speaking, yes, the liturgy is "adiaphora," that is, it is something neither commanded nor forbidden by God in Holy Scripture. It is quite true that Holy Scripture does not outline a particular form of liturgy (St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, Western Rite, TLH, LSB, etc.)

However, we live, confess, and serve in a time in which "adiaphora" is mistakenly taken to mean: "God doesn't expressly command it; therefore, I/we don't have to do it." This mistaken notion of "adiaphora" has led us into the "Judges mindset" of everyone doing what's right in his own eyes.

But if we Lutherans take the Augsburg Confession at all seriously, we may want to repent of our mistaken notion of liturgy as "adiaphora" modernly interpreted. No, God has not dictated a specific form of liturgy, but He has indeed seen fit for 20 centuries to have His Church hand down liturgical forms that faithfully confess Jesus Christ and His eternal love of saving sinners by forgiving them and restoring them to life with Himself.

In fact, we might even say that the liturgy, a.k.a. "church ceremonies," is indeed a matter of doctrine. Augsburg Confession, Article XV, makes this bold statement:
Our churches teach that ceremonies ought to be observed that may be observed without sin. also, ceremonies and other practices that are profitable for tranquility and good order in the Church (in particular, holy days, festivals, and the like) ought to be observed (AC XV:1).
This is confessed in the Augustana's "Doctrinal Articles," not in the section of disputed articles on abuses. To say it another way, to be Lutheran *means* to use the ceremonies, such as "holy days, festivals, and the like"--a.k.a. liturgy--handed down by the Church.

So, the Church's liturgy is not, it would seem, a matter of an individual Lutheran pastor's discretion as to whether or not he will use it! Rather, the "church ceremonies" (liturgy) "ought to be observed," that is, the ones that can be "observed without sin." And what is the real issue in which ceremonies "ought to be observed"? Article XV continues:
Yet, the people are taught that consciences are not to be burdened as though observing such things was necessary for salvation. They are also taught that human traditions instituted to make atonement with God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith (AC XV:2-3).
What does this mean? Clearly, observing the Church's liturgy does not make one right with God or earn His love and forgiveness. However, observing the Church's liturgy does, most certainly, proclaim that divine love and mercy to us and trains us in the ways of faith and godliness.

So, the point of the liturgy is not "liturgy for the sake of the liturgy." Rather, the point of the liturgy is faithfully to confess the mighty deeds of our Lord's salvation and to keep us centered in them. And for this reason, observing the Church's historic liturgy (as opposed to the forms of American evangelicalism/Pentecostalism) is a fundamental matter of our Lutheran confession of the faith and quite essential to the Christian faith and life, even to the mission of the Church.

"Thoughts Ablaze" from Pr. Weedon

Here's an incisive little post from Pr. Weedon on the real problem of the "Ablaze!" movement in the LCMS. (Also be sure to check out the discussion in the comments on Pr. Weedon's blog. Some more great points and analogies.)
I posted this on the ALPB site in response to some words from Bishop Benke. A friend suggested they might be of value also on the blog, so here they are:

As far as the family squabbling goes, I've tried to suggest that what the squabbling is about is not merely whose turn it is to do the dishes, but precisely caused by those who, from inside or out, would insist that the very things that make the Lutheran Church be the home that it is are the things that need to be dumped: her liturgy, her catechesis, her hymnody. I've tried to point out that I'm not saying that these things have a value in themselves; they don't. Their value is in their deliverance of the Gospel. I've tried to avoid the impression that I'm into preserving the museum pieces of Lutheranism; I'm not. It's a LIVING heritage that continues to grow. But it grows in continuity with what has come before, not by cutting one's self off from it. Let's be concrete: a parish that adopts the liturgy of the Pentecostals, welcomes adults in without instructing them in the Catechism (which is all about how to live from the receiving end of God's rich giving), and is held up by the Synod as the wonder parish we are all to imitate, does not make for accepting Ablaze. It makes for those of us in the house crying out: "There are folks here - from the inside or the outside - who are setting fire to our precious Gospel heritage and if we allow them to burn it up in the spirit of American evangelicalism it is not just a loss for us - but a loss for the whole world. We hold this treasure always and only to offer it to the world as the joyful life of learning to live by the Spirit's power from the great giving of our God."

Hope that's not too blunt. But it's the way this fellow sees it. It's not about little family squabbles; it's about whether burning our house down is a good thing or a bad thing.

26 May 2008

From Ignatius of Antioch

Let us not be insensible of Christ's loving kindness. For if he had acted as we do, we would have been lost indeed. Therefore let us become his disciples and learn to live in the Christian way; those who are called by any other name are not of God. Cast out the evil leaven that has become old and sour, and replace it with the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. He must be the salt of your lives, so that none of you may become corrupt, since it is by your wholesomeness that you will be judged.

I do not write this to you, my dear friends, because I have heard that any one of you is thus disaffected, but because, though I am less than yourselves, I would have you all guard against falling into the snares of false doctrine. Have a firm faith in the reality of the Lord's birth and passion and resurrection which took place when Pontius Pilate was procurator. All these deeds were truly and certainly accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is our hope; my none of you ever be turned away from him! [Letter to the Magnesians, 10-11]

25 May 2008

"Ablaze!, the Movement"

Check out the essay by David Berger that details some of the theological (and other) streams of the so-called "Ablaze! Movement" promoted by LCMS leadership. You can read Berger's essay over at Concordia Theology.

Here's Berger's opening paragraph to grab your attention and interest:
Several aspects of Ablaze! have raised the yellow flag of caution in Lutheran hearts and minds. Surely no one would discourage proclaiming the Gospel message to a world in need of it. Neither is that the intent of this essay. Yet, certain words and the means put forth as integral to the "movement" pose serious questions that merit careful thought and analysis.
I, for one, have heard words of castigation that go something like this: "How can we be opposed to proclaiming and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" Sorry, but that's not the issue. Let me say for the record, that's *not* where the proper and needed critiques of "Ablaze!" lie. As Berger says, no one is discouraging the proclamation of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

The problem with "Ablaze!" is that a) it finds its theology in foreign ecclesial circles, b) it relies much too heavily on the thinking and lingo of the business world, c) it is too driven by the financial bottom line, and d) most dangerously, it assumes that what has been done for centuries past in proclaiming the Gospel must needs be revamped and overhauled. (Always a precarious proposition!)

As Berger rightly reminds us, the Church grows best and proclaims best when it keeps its heart and mind focused on Jesus Christ and His deeds of salvation, especially as they are given in the Gospel and the Sacraments in the Church. After all, when you have the Good News of God's love in Christ Jesus, it's quite natural to proclaim it in word and deed, and it really doesn't take that much money. It's more like the newly engaged bride-to-be. Does anyone really need to tell her to show off her engagement ring? It's more like the person who has just seen an excellent movie or read a really good book. Does anyone really need to tell that person, "Thou shalt get out and tell about that movie/book?" No. It happens quite naturally, freely, and "organically."

Whoever has ears to hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, whoever rejoices in the new life given in Holy Baptism, whoever regularly feasts on the Lord's Body and Blood will most certainly, and most gladly, speak of that new life to others.

Homily - Trinity 1

Which One Would You Rather Be?
Luke 16:19-31


Which of the two men in our Gospel reading would you rather be? It’s a haunting question. Surely you’d rather be the rich man, and receive and enjoy your good things in your lifetime, right? Certainly none of us would want to be like Lazarus’ in this life, would we—poor, covered with sores, eating only scraps, dogs licking our sores? But then consider how each one ended up. Certainly, no one would choose to be in the rich man’s shoes in the next life, “being in torment” and “in anguish” for eternity. No, it would be much better to be in Lazarus’ eternal shoes—carried to Abraham’s side and comforted forever. Hard question, isn’t it?

Or think about it this way. How would you write the epitaph for these men after they died? Based on Jesus’ story, here’s what we could write for the rich man: “He liked nice clothes and good food.” Talk about shallow! And here’s the epitaph we could write for Lazarus: “Oh, how he suffered!” Certainly not shallow, but also nothing glorious, noble, or memorable.

So, which of these two men before us today would you rather be—the rich man or Lazarus? And, no, choosing the rich man’s earthly life now and Lazarus’ eternal life then is not an option. Sorry, can’t eat our cake and then have it too! Which of these men would you rather be? To answer that, you might want to remember that Jesus’ story is not about the evils of wealth and riches, nor is it about some odd but noble virtue of intentionally putting yourself under the wheels of life and saying, “Please, run over me!” No, Jesus’ story before us today draws our attention to faith in Him, the eternal Son of God.

Nils Jakob Laache was a Lutheran Bishop at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. In his Book of Family Prayer Bishop Laache wrote a great little devotion for today’s Gospel reading. Here’s what he said about the rich man:

“‘It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Mat 19:23). Not that the rich man is condemned because he is rich, but rich people are so severely tempted to worldliness and unbelief. The rich man in our Gospel was unfortunate because he was unbelieving, worldly, and self-righteous. His life is summed up in few, but very significant words: ‘He was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” Then we hear that “in his lifetime he received his good things,” that he did not acknowledge God’s Word as necessary for salvation and did not understand that faith is the way to life. If you strive for earthly things and think that salvation inevitably belongs to you and all decent people, then you are the rich man’s partner, whether you have much or little in the world” (398-99, emphasis his).

Sure hits close to home, doesn’t it? If you strive for earthly things—things such as the nice clothing and the best food, things such as the esteem and popularity in the eyes of others, things such as the latest goodies from cell phones to home entertainment—if you strive for these things, yes, you are the rich man’s partner.

In fact, let’s be honest and say that we all are the rich man’s partner. We may not be “clothed in purple and fine linen,” but we do have our pretty nice wardrobes. We cannot imagine wearing the same set of clothes day after day. Not only would the aroma get, well, a little ripe, but we just don’t want to be seen wearing the same thing every day. After all, that would be boring. And what about that habit that so many of us have of organizing our garments into “winter clothes” and “summer clothes,” if not one set for each of the four seasons. Yes, we have received our good things in life.

And let’s be honest. We do feast sumptuously every day. No, we may not dine on the richest of fare, but most of us really do not suffer from lack of food. Just think of how easy it is to get food. If the cupboard does become bare, we can easily go through the drive-thru at McDonald’s or Burger King or take something to go from Bread Co. or some other place of our choosing. As one friend’s mom would say, “We don’t wait until we’re hungry to eat; we eat so that we won’t be hungry.” Yes, we have received our good things in life.

For the rich man and for us, the problem is not in the clothing and food. The problem comes in where we place our trust, where we look for good, comfort, and blessing. My, how we look to the “good things” we can receive in this life! But that did not help the rich man in eternity, nor will it help us.

The poor man, Lazarus, gives us a different picture. And let’s remember that Lazarus does not attain heavenly life because he was poor. No, Lazarus shows us the necessity and virtue of faith. Here’s what Bishop Laache said about Lazarus:

“Poverty and sickness press hard, and no one is saved merely because he suffers here on earth. But these things can help us to hear God’s Word and turn our hearts away from the world. Lazarus was not saved as a reward for his suffering, but he inherited life, because he believed in the Lord. We learn this from the name ‘Lazarus’ which means one who trusts in God, and, besides, we hear that he is at home in the bosom of Abraham—Abraham, ‘the father of believers’—and that he did not seek his goods in earthly life. You are no ‘Lazarus’ and are not saved—even though you suffer ever so much on earth—unless you believe from the heart, suffer as a Christian, and have your treasure in heaven. But if you do this, your suffering is blessed and your tears are sown for a rich harvest” (399, emphasis his).

It’s no accident that Lazarus ends up side by side with Abraham. After all, Abraham is the “father of faith.” In fact, today’s Old Testament story about Abraham believing and being counted righteous is the first time that faith is explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Abraham trusted his Savior to deliver him and give him an heir. Lazarus trusted his Savior to deliver him from poverty and sores, and give him an heavenly inheritance.

That’s what our Lord calls us to do here today: trust Him above all things; trust Him for deliverance from whatever we may suffer, even if that deliverance comes only in eternity. You see, our Lord Jesus Christ is the true Lazarus. He is the one who did not set his hopes on worldly gain and wealth, but rather had no place to lay His head. He is the one who was left outside the gate of the world’s niceties. He was also taken outside the gate of His own holy city to be nailed to a tree. And on that cross He did not have dogs licking His sores, but He did have people wagging their tongues against Him. But this Jesus, whom our sins of greed and coveting crucified, is also the One whom we hear in Moses and the Prophets. He is the One who does indeed rise from the dead to tell us there is a better way than trusting nice clothes and good food. He is the One who gives us life now, in the midst of our sufferings and poverty. He is the one who brings us to Abraham’s side where we may be comforted both now and forever. As St. Paul said: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

And, dear friends, as we trust our Savior God who loves us enough to rescue us from trusting our good things in this life, we also learn to love our neighbor—every Lazarus whom God puts outside our gate. As St. John tells us today in the Epistle reading: “We love because He first loved us.” Instead of using our good things in life solely for ourselves, we get to use the good things given by God to help and serve the people around us.

So, which of the two men in Jesus’ story would you rather be? Perhaps Proverbs 8(:10-11) can help with that. Wisdom, personified in the Son of God, says: “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” Dear friends, our Wisdom, our Lazarus, our Savior, comes to us today in His Body and Blood. Let’s take, eat, and drink, for here is the true sumptuous feast. Here we learn to trust our Savior and love our neighbor. Here we learn to be like Lazarus and rejoice in our Savior’s deliverance. Amen.

24 May 2008

On Loving God

This quote comes from Basil the Great, in his "Detailed Rules for Monks," Resp. 2, 1 (cited in Wright, Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, p. 249). What a great response to the Festival Half of the Church Year (Advent - Easter) that we have just finished, and what a way to round out this week of celebrating the Holy Trinity!
What, I ask, is more wonderful than the beauty of God? What thought is more pleasing and satisfying than God's majesty? What desire is as urgent and overpowering as the desire implanted by God in a soul that is completely purified os sin and cries out in its love: "I am wounded by love"? The radiance of the divine beauty is altogether beyond the power of words to describe.

22 May 2008

Homily - Wednesday after Holy Trinity

The Trinity’s Creation Symphony
(with thanks to Pr. William Cwirla)
Genesis 1-2; Matthew 28:16-20


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Tonight we rejoice in the mystery of that invocation. It’s the mystery of our faith—the “tri-unity” of God—that God is three Persons in one divine Being and one divine Being in three Persons, neither confusing the Persons or dividing the Being.

God reveals this mystery already in the first sentence of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The word for “God” is Elohim—a plural and yet there’s but one God. The Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit—is there too, hovering like a mother hen over the face of the Deep. And the Word is there too, as God speaks and it is so. John identifies this Word as the eternal, only-begotten Son of the Father. And so you might say that the entire work of creation is from the Father through the Son (the Word) by the Holy Spirit.

Each creation day gives us a daily liturgy for prayer and praise. Together they remind us that no matter where we look in this marvelous and intricate creation, we see the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The creations days also give a liturgical structure and rhythm to our own workweek. You might say that Genesis chapter 1 is the rhythm of the symphony of creation, the drumbeat of the cosmic order, under the creative direction of the Divine Designer.

Listen to the rhythm: Day one (Sunday): Light. “Be light,” and light there is. The workweek begins with light. And it was good.

Day two (Monday): Sky. The earth’s unique atmosphere making ours a rare gem of a planet among the planets—oxygen and water, dancing clouds that produce rain and let in sunshine, clear yet protective. And it was good.

Day three (Tuesday): Sea and dry land and their playful interface of beach and tide pools. How we love the shore, the place where sea and dry land kiss. And it was good. And more: Plants springing up from the dry land in all their wonderful diversity. Marigolds, roses and dandelions. Oak trees, red buds and weeping willows. And trees with juicy, tasty fruit, such as apples, oranges, peaches and bananas. And it was good.

Day four (Wednesday): Sun, moon, and stars. A grand cosmic light show for signs and seasons. Sun and moon—just the right size, the right distance, the right relationship to each other. The next time there’s a total eclipse of the sun (which will be August 1 in Siberia, in case you want to see it), notice how the moon perfectly covers the sun like a lens cap. And it was good.

Day five (Thursday): Fish in the sea; birds in the air—all showing the artistry of the triune God in all their glorious shapes and sizes and colors, showing the humor of the triune God with all their wonderful mating and nesting rituals. Just by looking at them, you know that fish and birds belong to the same liturgical choir. And it was good.

Day six (Friday): The animals—domestic, wild, creeping—in all their diversity from aardvark to zebra, from the ant to the guerilla. And more—last of all in the grand hierarchy: Man uniquely made in the image of God. If God is the conductor of creation’s symphony, then Man is the concert master. Again the triune Mystery as God speaks to Himself—“Let us make man in our image.” Like the Persons of the Trinity, man is made for relationships and community. Male and female He created them. And God blessed them to be fruitful. And it was very good.

Day seven (Saturday): Rest. The endless day. The day with no morning or evening. It’s God’s reminder that we live by faith and not by our works. Faith rests in God and enjoys the fruits of God’s labors and ours. We rest by faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

Each creation day reflects the creative work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each work reflects the love of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, and the life of the Spirit. Everywhere you look and listen: worship of the triune God, the liturgy of the creation. The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of His hands, as do sea and dry land, plants, sun, moon, and stars, fish and birds, animals and man—a majestic chorus of praise.

However, our sin destroys the harmony and the rhythm of creation. It is a sour note, a random, chaotic noise, disturbing the order. The whole creation feels it and groans down to the smallest living creature. It’s the foreign, alien word—the lie to Eve and to Adam that God is not true, that you can be like God. We see the effects—destruction, devastation, decay, death. The earthquakes and whirlwinds are the groanings of the creation waiting for our redemption, for the new creation, for our resurrection. We see the effects in our own lives—the brokenness, the hurt, the diseases, the suffering, the killing.

The Father loves His cosmos. He hates nothing He created. He shows His love for the cosmos by sending His eternal Son, the Word, into our flesh. Jesus came to embrace the world, to shed His blood on a cross, to die and rise, and in dying and rising He rescues all He had made from decay and destruction. This is the triune God’s second great work: redemption. He redeems what He created.

We talk about “saving the earth.” We didn’t create it, and we can’t save it. We can take care of it and be stewards of its resources, but we can’t save it. However, Jesus has, by His dying and rising. He has brought the new creation, by water and Spirit, in Baptism. He has poured out His Spirit on the face of this dying earth by the preaching of the Gospel, the good news of His atoning death and life in His resurrection. He gives and pours His new creation life into us as we eat and drink His Body and Blood.

Jesus holds “all authority in heaven and on earth.” He received it from the Father in eternity. The Son of God in human flesh redeemed His creation by His blood, and now He reigns over it. He’s “the man in charge.” With His authority, He authorizes His Church to make disciples of all the nations, as many as He died for, everyone without exception. Disciples are made by baptizing and teaching. Baptizing in the triune Name—the fullness of the God’s self-revelation, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—and teaching the fullness of what Jesus entrusted to His Church. And Jesus is present in this disciple-making—“Lo, I am with you always.” This is the third work of the triune God: sanctification—making holy by water and the Word.

The new creation has already come in Jesus—a new first day, a day of light and life. The resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit tell us that even as the old is passing away, even as the grand diversity of species go extinct and the very life of the earth is threatened with change and decay, even as we ourselves die, a new creation has already dawned with the open, empty tomb and the outpouring of the Spirit.

That’s why the Church worships on Sunday. It’s new creation day, the first day of an eternity in Christ, an eternity in which you already participate in your Baptism. Your life is already hidden with Christ in God. You already live in the trinitarian love of God as a sinner justified for Jesus’ sake, baptized in the Name.

The Small Catechism teaches us to invoke the triune Name every morning when we arise and every evening before we go to sleep. “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Every morning we consecrate our workday in the Name of God who made the heavens and the earth. And every evening we offer up that day’s work as a living sacrifice to the God who redeemed us, and all creation, with the blood of His Son.

Here at Hope we’ve had 92 years of discipling the nations, of baptizing and teaching under the grace of God. What a privilege to confess the Name, to worship the Name, to glorify the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit! Amen

Fruit of God's Patience and Weakness

After discussing Jesus Christ's Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, St. Irenaeus gives this wonderfully concise way of summing up the Gospel:
God bore with us patiently when we fell because he foresaw the victory that would be won through the Word [Christ]. Weakness allowed strength its full play, and so revealed God's kindness and great power. (Against Heresies, 3-20, 1)

21 May 2008

Pastors: Think before you speak!

Since my ordination 17.5 years ago, I've made a real effort to hold to one axiom from the pulpit: never use my family - especially my wife - as a nice, convenient sermon illustration. First of all, I'm not convinced that the congregation needs or wants to hear about the pastor's family. Secondly, the pastor's family lives in enough of a "fish bowl" as it is. And, third, why humiliate my own family in any way shape or form? (After all, I only need to tell stories about myself and my own mishaps, and there's plenty of humiliation to go around! Nah, I don't even need to insert myself. :-)

Well, now I have a fourth reason not to tell stories about my wife in the pulpit: sheer and utter wife's revenge! Check out this funny video - "'Before He Speaks' Pastors' Wives Get Their Revenge" (You'll have to scroll down to find it, but it's worth the effort. ;-)

Message to pastors: Don't tell stories about your wives (or others in your family), and think before you speak!

19 May 2008

Great words for trying times

From Bernard of Clairvaux:
Lord, it is good for me to be in distress, provided that you are there with me; that is much better for me than to reign without you, rejoice without you, or be glorified without you. It is far better for me to cleave to you in distress, to have you with me in the crucible than to be without you in heaven. For what have I in heaven, and from you what have I wished upon earth? "Gold is tried in fire and the just in the trials of distress." It is there, among those who are gathered in your name that you are present, as once you were with the three young men [Daniel 3].

Why should we be afraid and make every effort to flee from the crucible? The fire burns, but the Lord is with us in distress. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" If it is also he who saves, who can charm us out of his hand? Who could snatch us from his hand? Finally, if it is God who glorifies, who can deprive us of glory and humiliate us?

"With length of days will I gratify you." answers the Lord. this says clearly: I know what you desire, what you thirst for, and what you crave. You do not crave gold or silver, sensual pleasures, curiosities, or dignities of any kind. All of these are of no help to you; there is no cure except for you to humble yourself in the depths of your heart and refuse to give your attention to what cannot satisfy you. You are not unaware in whose image you have been created and of what greatness you are capable; you do not want a meager profit to be for you the occasion of an immense frustration. Hence, "with length of days will I gratify you," for only the true Light can restore you, only the eternal Light can satisfy you--that Light whose length knows no end, whose brightness knows no dimming, and whose fullness knows no completion. (Commentary on Psalm 91, sermon 17, 4-6: PL 183, 252-253; cited in J. Robert Wright, Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, p. 243)

From a "Rebellious Pastor's Wife"

I always knew pastor's wives could be trouble (but, shhh!, don't tell my wife that! ;-). Check out this rather insightful post from one pastor's wife who seems to be reveling in her rebelling. While we all need to conquer our rebellious tendencies with salutary repentance ;-), RPW certainly has some sage and shrewd things for us to read and ponder.

(BTW, I like the picture of the cat on her blog, even if it does give that eerie sense that someone's watching me. I wonder how I could get my Beagles, Porthos & Gimli to appear like that? ;-)

18 May 2008

Homily - Holy Trinity Sunday

Holy Trinity, Blessed Unity…For Us !
(John 3:1-17)


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

A few years ago a popular song on the radio sang these words about God: “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us, from a distance.” Many thought it was a nice Christian song, after all, it sang about God, right? But if that song is true, how can we be close to a distant deity? How can we be attached to a detached god? We cannot. And we certainly cannot have our sins washed clean by a god who won’t get his own hands dirty with us. And we certainly won’t be made a community with him, if he won’t associate with us.

There’s a lot of mystery in the one, true, Triune God. On the one hand, Scripture says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Dt. 6:4). And, on the other hand, God also identifies Himself as three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—when He sends His apostles out to make disciples by baptizing and teaching (Mt. 28:19). Then get ready for how we will confess Him in the Athanasian Creed: “we worship One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.” So far this might seem rather philosophical, even distant and detached.

So, what does it mean that we confess the Triune God? Do we want to be saved from sin, death, and the evil one? Then hold on to “the catholic faith.” And what faith is that? “that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.” No, He’s not a distant deity. Our Triune God comes close to us. He attaches Himself to us. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit come to us in very personal ways. He dirties His almighty hands to cleanse us from our sinful weakness. The holy Trinity is a blessed Unity for us.

Too often we like to compartmentalize God. We put Him in various boxes. There’s the Sunday morning box. Sunday morning is the time for God, we think, but the rest of Sunday and the other days of the week are ours to do with as we please. We think and act as if our ever-present God were rather absent and detached from our daily lives.

Then there are the “Trinitarian boxes” for each Person of the Trinity. As we learn in Catechism class, the Father created us, the Son redeemed us, and the Holy Spirit makes us holy. True enough! But then we box the divine Persons in. “Pastor, we’re supposed to pray to the Father, right?” “Right.” “And in Jesus’ name, right?” “Right.” Is it wrong, then, to pray to the Holy Spirit?” Let’s not forget that when we pray to one we pray to all, and when we pray to all we also pray to each one.

And here’s another thing to watch for. In some modern, new-fangled worship services, God is almost divided into three gods. The invocation might be changed to go something like this: “In the name of the Father who created us; in the name of the Son who redeemed us; and in the name of the Holy Spirit who makes us holy.” At first we might think, “Wow, some nice variety.” However, if we take the words at all seriously, we have not only three Persons, but also three names. Three names can open the door to thinking of three different gods. The Biblical wording, though, still works best: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” One name, one God, and yet still three Persons. True God. True worship.

You see, everyone has a god. The only question is if it’s the true God. Politicians, businessmen, and radio talk show hosts often have a lot of “god talk.” Pop music might even sing of “god.” Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses even speak of “god” and “gods.” But which god? Everyone has a god of some kind. It could be money, or power, or fame, or learning, or even the spirits found in a bottle. It might even be the ever-present “get-along-with-everybody-and-don’t-get-anyone-upset” god that wants to downplay the teaching of Scripture and the Church.

Trinity Sunday, today, is about the true God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—making Himself known to us. Our God has a passion to make Himself known to and for us. Jesus tells us about God loving the world and sending His Son, and He also speaks of being born again by the Spirit.

God makes Himself known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Three Persons. And yet He always works for a unified purpose: to love us and have us as His very own people. He creates us out of great love. After we fell into sin, and even in the midst of our daily sinful thoughts, words and deeds, He loves us to redeem us and bring us back to Himself. And in the Christian faith and life He works all things to keep us as His own precious people. As Scripture says, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (Eph. 1:4-5).

Now if that isn’t great Good News, I don’t know what is! Just think of it. All of your joys and sorrows now take on a new light. Whatever happens to you—good or bad, joyous or grievous—the true, Triune God is always working to keep you as His own. Take, for example the recent earthquake in China or the cyclone in Burma. Such disasters show the raw power of God’s creation, a creation that only He can control, a power that rightly humbles us. And yet Jesus the Son of God shed His blood to redeem everyone affected by earthquakes and cyclones. And the Holy Spirit constantly works to make know the saving deeds of Christ and bring true comfort to the devastated regions.

And best of all, the holy Trinity and blessed Unity worked most gloriously at the cross and empty tomb. God makes Himself known to us by rescuing us from our sin and death. God’s good creation took a rotten turn. We masterpieces said to our Maker: “We don’t want You anymore; we’ll be our own gods.” We still say that as we box God in, as we keep Him at a distance, as we try to detach ourselves from Him. It’s no wonder that when we endure sufferings, we think God has abandoned us or left us. But the truth is, we’ve left Him.

So the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—all three together in Unity—work to bring us back to Himself. The Father shows His love for us by sending the Son to sacrifice Himself on the blood cross for us. When Jesus the Son died for us, God died for us. The riches of God and His grace are in the blood shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, the very blood we receive today in the Supper. So the Son bowed His head and gave up the ghost. But then the Holy Spirit breathed life back into Him on the third day. Now He breathes new life into us. Three Persons of the Godhead work to rescue us from sin and death. That’s the new life we have when we are “born of water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3:5).

It’s also the new life of community in the Church. Just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a unified community, He joins us together in a community of loving and serving each other. Today we see how that community of love from God works to bind us together. We celebrate the anniversaries of two teachers at our school. Mrs. Shoemaker has been part of the Hope community and teaching for 30 years, and Mr. Hunt has been teaching for 15 years, most of that here in our Hope community. We also say farewell and Godspeed to brothers and sisters whom God has placed here these past three years—the Pool family. But even as they must leave us, we still remain in the same family, community, of Christ’s Church. Yes, we need each other, just as we need the Trinity in Unity. When our Triune God lovingly rescues us from sin and death, He also binds us together in His community called the Church.

God’s singular plan of making, saving, and keeping us comes from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul says: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:1, 5). Even today the Spirit delivers that peace with the Father in the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus. So, our lifelong prayer, indeed our way of life, echoes the hymn: “My Maker, hold me in Your hand; O Christ, forgiven let me stand; Blest Comforter, do not depart; With faith and love enrich my heart” (LSB 876:4). Amen.

17 May 2008

Check out...

...Father Hollywood's comments on "The Non-Reporter and Big Brother Ablaze(tm)". A nice humorous take on the non-reporting of what happened to Issues, Etc.

To paraphrase what the Wizard of Oz said when Toto pulled back the curtain on his chicanery: "Pay no attention to that administration behind the curtain!" (And, yes, feel free to associate all of the wild wizardry and slick double talk of the Wizard of Oz with the folks running the Ablaze(tm) marketing campaign. After all, wasn't the Wizard of Oz also the traveling salesman from earlier in the movie? :-)

16 May 2008

Prince Caspian

My family and I just returned from seeing the new Chronicles of Narnia movie, Prince Caspian. You can read the IMBD information and plot summary here. You can also see the trailer and other Narnia related stuff at the Disney site.

Prior to going to the theater, I decided to listen to the story again via my iPod, with thanks to the Focus on the Family audio CDs made a few years back. Having the original fresh in my mind, I can honestly say that the big screen version of C. S. Lewis' second installment in the Narnia tales is well made, a feast for the mind as well as the eyes, and quite faithful to the original.

No doubt some will decry the portions of creative license that the movie makers take, but let's remember that movies are a much different medium than written literature, and certain accommodations must needs be made. One such accommodation involves telling the back story of what happens to Narnia and its creatures during the 1300 year absence of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve--a.k.a. the Pevensie children. While the book can legitimately tell of a dwarf relating the lion's share (no pun intended) of Narnia's subjection to the Telmarines in one sitting, that would make for some tedious film making and viewing. So the movie spreads out the details of the back story, but the effect is the same: we learn how Narnia falls almost to ruin between visits to Aslan's kingdom.

The plot and story line of Prince Caspian do remain intact, even though some "fresh" elements get added to spice up the story for 21st century movie-goers. A slightly darker Peter comes out, as does some conflict between Peter and Caspian, and Susan does more fighting than in the book, but, in my opinion, these new elements do not detract from the story, the plot, or the message of Aslan restoring his land through the unlikely heroes of Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, and Caspian, not to mention the wonderful mythical characters--talking animals (Reepicheep!), minotaurs, etc.--that we've all come to love. An added battle at the castle of King Miraz, while unexpected, heightens the tension and provides a nice dramatic avenue for Caspian's discovery that Miraz actually killed his father, Caspian IX.

C. S. Lewis' themes of restored faith in Aslan and the restoration of Narnia still come through loud and clear. The scene of High King Peter dueling evil King Miraz and the final battle scene are well done. Whereas the book can describe the battle scene rather briefly, the movie version necessarily expands it for audience participation and "enjoyment" (after all, there's nothing like "rooting" for the young good guys in the midst of a furious battle in which the odds are stacked completely against them! :-).

I highly recommend going to see Prince Caspian, not only for the sheer enjoyment of a classic tale for both young and old, but also to keep sending a message to Hollywood movie makers that such classic tales are well worth putting on the big screen. What a marvel it is to have a clearly Christian story, complete with learning to "see" and trust Aslan, the savior, for all to view and enjoy. Just as C. S. Lewis no doubt sought to open the door to the message of the Gospel by means of his delightful fantasy stories, a new generation now has that same privilege thanks to the big screen version.

Now we'll have to wait patiently for a whole two years to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but something tells me it will be worth it come the 2010 release (again see IMBD). I just hope Edmund and Lucy don't look too old by then, and I look forward to seeing the annoying Eustace Clarence Scrubb, especially as Aslan painfully releases him from his dragon skin in that great baptismal scene.

15 May 2008

Election Year "Issues"

Well, we know it's an election year in our nation, and we properly suspect that the cancellation of Issues, Etc. was probably due more to political than "programmatic and business" reasons. How appropriate, then, that Scott over at "Stand Firm" is charting official support (resolutions by Districts and Pastors' Conferences) by means of "red and blue" Districts of the LCMS.

Any chance we'll see more "red" districts? If so, how many?

Purpose-Driven *Decline*

Over at "Save the LCMS" one "Athanasius" has posted this about the real, realized fruits of the purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive methods used by our Southern Baptist friends. Perhaps the most incisive comments would be: "Let him who has eyes to read understand," and "Let the buyer (of purpose-driven drivel and seeker-sensitive schlock) beware!" Here's the post:

While President Kieschnick is in the middle of transitioning the LCMS into a "Purpose-Driven" denomination the Southern Baptists are actually waking up and realizing that so-called 'culturally relevant' and 'seeker-sensitive methods' are not growing their denomination but are instead shrinking it.

The Christian Post is reporting on statements made by Paige Patterson, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. According to the Christian Post:

Weak preaching and cultural adaptability are just two of many reasons Southern Baptists give to explain the decline of membership and baptisms.

"[T]he shallow state of preaching has exacerbated the lethargy of the church and left the lost with no real Word from God," said Paige Patterson, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in a column in Baptist Press.

"The pastor ought to be the major source of theological understanding and the most able teacher of the Bible,” he added.

"Anemic pulpits create anemic churches and denominations."

Since the release last month of the latest data on Southern Baptist membership and baptisms, both of which declined, Southern Baptists have speculated why the largest Protestant denomination in the country has been seeing lower numbers.

"Well, the time has come to identify the real problems," said Patterson.

Many church leaders have been calling for change to respond to what many identify as a shift from modern to postmodern culture. And the latest statistics showing shrinking numbers has made that call even more urgent. But cultural relevance has led many churches to lose the holiness of God and a thirst to be like God, Patterson noted.

A prominent conservative Southern Baptist, Patterson said he is the first to admit that "dullness and 'Baptist tradition' were too often the rule in our churches." But the suggestion that churches must chase after culture in order to be effective in evangelistic efforts is "misguided," he said.

"The more attune to culture Southern Baptists have become and the more we have incorporated the world into our worship, the more our baptisms have dropped!" Patterson noted. (Emphasis Added)

In other words, adopting Seeker-Sensitive methods viz. Rick Warren's Purpose-Drivenism or Bill Hybels Willowcreek methods will do nothing less than insure the long-term DECLINE of the LCMS.

Joys of Pentecost

This quote comes from Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (+367). Ah, what joys of Pentecost!

We who have been reborn through the sacrament of baptism experience intense joy when we feel within us the first stirrings of the Holy Spirit. We begin to have an insight into the mysteries of faith, we are able to prophesy and to speak with wisdom. We become steadfast in hope and receive the gift of healing. Demons are made subject to our authority. These gifts enter us like a gentle rain, and once having done so, little by little, they bring forth fruit in abundance (Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, J. Robert Wright, ed. [Church Publishing Incorporated, 1991], p. 240).

14 May 2008

Christ in the Chalice

They say, "A picture's worth a thousand words." Check out this picture, taken by yours truly, of the chalice on the altar here at Hope, St. Louis. I get to see this view every Wednesday evening when we celebrate the Eucharist (Sunday's Eucharist is set up a bit differently with more vessels). I actually get to see it "upside down" from what you see here, as the crucifix on the altar reflects in the chalice from opposite where I stand. I've simply rotated the picture here so that the crucifix is properly oriented.

I call it "Christ in the Chalice," and I'd say that it communicates more than a thousand words. It actually communicates the One - the Word Himself - whom we receive when we drink from the chalice. Remember what our eternal Word Himself says:
"Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (John 6:54-56).
Yes, drink from the chalice, and we receive Christ Himself, and with Him, His eternal life and His abiding presence with us. Says a whole lot more than a mere thousand words, don't you think?

Homily - Wednesday after Pentecost

Speaking the Wonderful Works of God
Acts 2:1-21

Peter proclaims that Joel’s prophecy is now fulfilled. God promised to pour out His Spirit on all flesh. He did just that on Pentecost. What a miracle! Joel said that sons and daughters, young and old, would proclaim God’s Word. Christians have been faithfully proclaiming the Gospel for nearly 2000 years now. What a miracle! Joel said, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.” The Holy Spirit has been working that faith for centuries. That’s the miracle of Pentecost—speaking and being saved by the wonderful works of God!

But St. Peter knew that it would be a travesty and a tragedy to give a sermon without preaching Jesus. St. Peter knew that his congregation on that famous Pentecost Day needed to hear the wonderful works that God had done through His Son Jesus Christ. You see, Peter paid attention to Jesus. On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus said, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26). St. Peter knew that a sermon that does not give you Jesus and His message is not a sermon from the Holy Spirit. It’s not a Christian sermon, if it does not have Christ at the center for you.

So, here’s how St. Peter preached Jesus, on the first Pentecost Day and for you here tonight: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” After Peter showed from the Old Testament Psalms how Christ would rise again from the dead, he said, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”

Through St. Peter’s sermon, God the Holy Spirit does two great miracles. First, He cuts like a scalpel to expose and remove the cancer of your sin, and second, He gives you the healing medicine of Jesus and His forgiveness. St. Peter concluded his Pentecost sermon with these words: “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

So, what does all this mean for you? You might think, “We were not there when they crucified the Lord.” Ah, but you were! You may not have been there physically, in space and time, but it was your sins that put Jesus on the cross. Your every ill thought of another person, your every hurtful action, and your every word meant to get even or make excuses, they all put Jesus on the cross. Your every excuse for missing out on hearing God’s Word and receiving the Eucharist in church put Christ on the bloody tree. Your every neglect of calling on God in time of need, of praying, praising, and giving thanks, they pierced His hands and feet. Your every worry and mistrust of God, even all the times you don’t even think about God, they all led to the perfect Son of God shedding His blood and dying in your place. And yet God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified—yes, you—God has made this Jesus…both Lord and Christ.

Here is the miracle of Pentecost. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart.” After all, God’s Word is sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12), sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” Notice how the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God as it’s proclaimed. Peter preaches, and his hearers come to repentance. The Holy Spirit still works that way. When you hear the Word of God, the Holy Spirit brings you to repentance. He leads you to say, “Oh, no! Look what I’ve done! I’ve sinned against God Himself! What shall I do?” And it’s a wonderful work of God!
Well, Peter does not leave the congregation in the throes of despair. No, he gives words of sweet comfort and healing: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This is the wonderful work of God! This is the miracle of Pentecost! The Holy Spirit comes to you through God’s Word proclaimed to you and through the waters of your Baptism. In your Baptism, the Spirit gives you a new life and a new way of relating to God. Because Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose the third day, you are now pure, perfect, and holy. Now, you are forgiven and free. The Spirit brings you that message. Through that Good News the He makes you alive. That’s the wonderful work of God for you!

In his Large Catechism Dr. Martin Luther explained the Holy Spirit’s work this way: “Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe in Him and receive Him as Lord, unless these were offered to us and bestowed on our hearts through the preaching of the gospel by the Holy Spirit. The work is finished and completed; Christ has acquired and won the treasure for us by his sufferings, death, and resurrection, etc. But if the work remained hidden so that no one knew of it, it would have been all in vain, all lost. In order that this treasure might not remain buried but be put to use and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to be published and proclaimed, in which He has given the Holy Spirit to offer and apply to us this treasure, this redemption” (II:38; Kolb-Wengert, p. 436).

What a treasure it is to hear in your own language the wonderful news of God forgiving you in Christ. What a wonderful miracle that you can hear these words from your Lord Jesus: “I forgive you all your sins.”

And the Holy Spirit enables you to speak these same wonderful works of God to people around you. We have an easy enough time talking about the Cardinal’s game or the daily weather. What do you say we remember how easy it is to talk about Christ and His wonderful works of saving us from sin and death? After all, you have received the Holy Spirit. Now, you can speak the wonderful works of God in your language and with your very own tongue! Amen.

12 May 2008

From Albert, an Anglican Brother

This comment from Albert, an Anglican, deserves to be elevated to a full-fledged post. Let the one who has ears to hear, or eyes to read (as the case may be in the blogosphere ;-) hear, or read ... and learn ... and inwardly digest ... :
I think it is time for my faithful brethren in the LCMS to realize that their church is in the process of selling itself out to the world. Yes, they may not follow the quasi-Marxist agenda of the ELCA, but then they are selling themselves out at a different time. Marx is so 1970s and all that - this is the age of unbridled consumerism and debt. The new motto of the LCMS should be "let's sin so the grace may abound". Unlike the radicals of a generation ago, they don't deny that Jesus is God and capable of saving us, they just don't think they are much in need of saving in the classical sense of blood atonement and hanging on crosses and that gory stuff. Their Jesus is a crossless risen Christ (who apparently rose from a bad self-image) who seeks to empower the faithful to where "WWJD" bracelets, have their daughters make chastity vows to their fathers (and how creepy is that?), and sing "praise songs" where Jesus is made to sound like the object of a schoolgirls crush. They are "second half of the Psalm" Christians, who like all the praising but skip the part where God saves his people from despair and gives them a reason to praise Him in the first place. The result is that without the reason why God is worthy to be praised, the Gospel is all law.

Think about it - the flaws in your innermost being that become obvious when you try to lead your new "victorious life in Christ" now has no recourse to the cross because you don't have a clue why Christ ended up there! Instead of freeing you and filling your soul with joy, you are reduced to despair.

I'm not a Lutheran but I am part of a similar enough tradition (traditional Anglican - another vanishing breed) to see what's going on there. Any church with roots in the historic liturgy that has as it's new catchphrase "This is not your grandfather's church" is at most one generation away from apostasy. Trust me- I've been there, done that.

Does the Church Still Speak in Tongues?

I am convinced that what often passes for "speaking in tongues," especially from Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, goes far afield from what actually happens in Acts 2, the Pentecost story when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles. It seems to me that the true miracle of Pentecost is not so much the mighty, rushing wind, nor is it the tongues of fire upon the Apostles, nor is it necessarily the phenomenon of different languages - "tongues" such as Greek, Latin, Aramaic, etc. - being spoken and heard. The real miracle of Pentecost is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us sinners - the mighty works of God - is proclaimed so that we can hear it, understand it, believe it, and speak it ourselves ... in our own native tongues.

In other words, what the Tower of Babel painfully reveals in the dividing of humankind based on language, the Pentecost story reverses and heals. Pentecost shows how our gracious, life-giving Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, unites all peoples in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While the various human languages - think "native tongues" - may not unite us fallen creatures around the globe, the Gospel of Jesus Christ does.

And yet the "speaking in tongues" still occurs - not in the chaotic, divisive way of the Pentecostals/Charismatics, but in the way of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel proclaimed in various "normal" languages, and the Church spread through and among all nations.

Here's a great treasure from an "unknown African" of the 6th century (according to For All the Saints, vol. II, p. 187-88). Yes, the speaking in tongues of the Gospel of Jesus Christ still happens ... in the ordinary life of the Church in the various nations around the globe!
They speak in every tongue. It was God's will to demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit at that moment by enabling those who had received him to speak in every tongue. For we must understand, my dear brethren, that it is through the Holy Spirit that love is poured out in our hearts.

Now the love of God was to gather together the Church all over the world. Consequently, while a single man, if he received the Holy Spirit, could speak in every tongue, now the one Church in its unity, which is established by the Holy Spirit, speaks in every tongue.

And so if anyone says to one of us: "You have received the Holy Spirit; why do you not speak in tongues?" he should reply: "I do speak in every tongue. For I am in the body of Christ, the Church, which speaks in every tongue. For what did God signify by the presence of the Holy Spirit if it was not that his Church would speak in every tongue?"

In this way the Lord's promise was fulfilled: "No one puts new wine into old wine-skins, but new wine is put into fresh wine-skins, and so both will be preserved."

It was with good reason, then, that some people, when they heard the apostles speaking in every tongue, said: "They are filled with new wine." For they had become fresh wine-skins, they had been renewed by the grace of holiness, so that when they were filled with the new wine, that is, the Holy Spirit, they spoke with fervour in every tongue; and by this spectacular miracle they foreshadowed the spread of the Catholic Church through all nations speaking every tongue.

Celebrate, then, this day as members of the one body of Christ. Your celebration will not be in vain if you are what you celebrate, if you hold fast to the Church with the Lord filled with his Holy Spirit; he acknowledges it as his own as it grows all over the world, and is himself acknowledged by his Church. The bridegroom has not lost his bride or been tricked into receiving a stranger.

For to you who are established in every nation as Christ's Church, Christ's members, Christ's body, Christ's bride, Saint Paul says: "Forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Notice, that, while bidding us to forbear one another, Saint Paul speaks of love; when speaking of the hope of unity, he points to the bond of peace. This is the house of God, built with living stones, in which so great a householder loves to dwell: his eyes must not be shocked by the disaster of schism.

Homily - Feast of Pentecost

Yesterday for the Feast of Pentecost we at Hope, St. Louis, had a special treat: a former-Pentecostal-now-proudly-Lutheran (and confessional, liturgical, to boot!)-seminary-student proclaimed the great news of the Holy Spirit's coming and work. Mr. Dan Pool has been a field education student at Hope for three years and is now headed off to vicarage, which will, hopefully, turn into his first call. He delivered this Pentecost homily, and I hope you can see why he, along with his dear family, will be missed here at Hope.

And on a personal note: Thanks, Dan, for a wonderful homily, for being an eager learner of God's message of mercy and the Church's liturgy (even if it was through an earthen vessel such as me ;-)! May our Lord Jesus Christ, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, guide you and bless you as you and your family set out for the "next chapter." May He especially bless you in His service, to His glory, and for the benefit of His blood-bought people!

Here's Dan's homily:

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Today we celebrate the festival of Pentecost. This is one of the few times of the church year that the color is red, today symbolizing the fire of the Holy Spirit.

And on Pentecost we hear the account of the events from Acts chapter two. Jesus has just ascended into Heaven. A new disciple has been chosen to replace Judas. The disciples were together in Jerusalem as was the tradition for this festival. Pentecost was a major Jewish festival, called the Feast of Weeks, meaning that Jerusalem was packed with God-fearing people from all over the world, people from Asia, from Egypt, from Rome, and bunch of other places that most of us can’t pronounce. But Jesus’ disciples are in Jerusalem for another reason, beyond the celebration. Jesus had told them at His Ascension, before He disappeared into the clouds, to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit. And they did and something amazing happened.

You remember, the Disciples were all together in one place. There was a sound of a mighty wind. Flames of fire appeared. And then the disciples began to miraculously speak in other tongues through the power of the Holy Spirit. The visitors from all over the world were amazed. These disciples were announcing the glories of God in languages that only the hearers actually knew. The crowd was hard pressed to come up with a reasonable explanation. Something spectacular was going on here and some were a little nervous about it. What could this mean?

Like the crowd, the events of Acts chapter two tend to make us just a little nervous and perhaps even confused. Not because this is the first miraculous event recorded in Scripture. For we have heard the miraculous accounts of Jesus, changing water into wine, of healing those who could not walk or could not see, of the dead being raised to life. We rejoice in the power that Jesus has over His creation. We see in these miracles, that Jesus declares His Lordship over everything. In them, Jesus declares his intent to restore all of His creation. He declares His victory, even over death, conquering death for us in His own death and resurrection.

But what is the point of the Pentecost miracle? This one is so different. Miraculous languages? Like the visitors in Jerusalem, we ask, “What does this mean?” Is this something that we should expect? Why can’t we just open our mouths and speak in other languages?

Perhaps our trouble with Pentecost comes from what is done in the name of Pentecost in our own day. Misunderstandings of the work the Holy Spirit abound. Some Christians today urge us to be “on fire” in order to bring back a fresh spirituality to the church which they say has become irrelevant and boring. What we need is more excitement, more enthusiasm, more emotion, more fire. They look for the supernatural to break in just like at Pentecost. Of course, God’s means of grace, Word and Sacrament are fine, but there is so much more. The excitement comes through the right methods, the right attitudes, and lots of zeal. Christ falls to the background as they seek the latest and greatest, calling them “moves of the Spirit.” But not every wind that blows through the church promising more is from the Holy Spirit.

But this is nothing new. Paul addressed some of these concerns in his Corinthian letters. Paul chides those who emphasize the fantastic over the means of grace, through which God has promised to work. The wild practices in Corinth certainly brought some excitement to the gathering of believers, but at the same time their practices brought confusion and division. Focusing on a supernatural gift of language, they confused hearers with sounds that made sense to no one. Focusing on highly charged emotional experiences, they mistook excitement for the work of the Spirit. Focusing on themselves, they replaced true worship with chaos. The Corinthians were left with a church that looked more like Babel than it did Pentecost.

In our Gospel lesson today, we go back those 50 days to Holy Thursday before the crucifixion. Here in John, we get an intimate look at the “sit-down” that Jesus had with His disciples on the night when He was betrayed. Jesus announces to His disciples that He is going to leave them, and He tells them that they are going to be better for it.

See, they won’t be alone. As Pastor mentioned last week, the Father will send them the Paraclete, literally “one called along side,” a Helper, a Counselor, an Advocate, a Defense Attorney. In Christ’s name they will receive His promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit will guide them into all truth by reminding them of the true teachings, the true doctrine of the one true faith. The Spirit wasn’t sent to reveal something new. He wasn’t sent to reveal everything that they might want to know. He wasn’t sent to reveal to the disciples who they were supposed to marry, what car they were supposed to buy, or what sheep to select for dinner. The Spirit wasn’t even sent to reveal Himself. The Spirit was sent to reveal the teachings of Christ. He was sent to reveal Christ. Some have even called the Holy Spirit the shy member of the Trinity. He always turns the attention to Jesus. In other words, any spirit that does not focus on the proclamation of Jesus Christ, crucified, raised and ascended for lost sinners, like you and me, is not the Holy Spirit.

Returning to our Acts reading, we hear about the coming of the Holy Spirit just as Jesus had promised. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, the believers present spoke in other tongues. This isn’t the fire of hyper emotionalism, or liturgical chaos. There is nothing to be confused about here. The first result of the Spirit’s coming was the miraculous gift of the proclamation of the mighty works of God, in real human language. No one was confused by the content. The words that they heard were real words that were clear and understandable. Here we see the work of Christ restoring what sin has ruined. Through the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, the curse of Babel is reversed. After this miraculous event, with the crowd still a little unsure, Peter stands up and adds even more clarity. He preaches a sermon pointing his hearers to the salvation found in Christ. Peter, through the Power of the Holy Spirit preaches that, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” and 3000 were baptized that very day.

There is no room for emotionally charged chaos and confusion in the church. In fact, the work of the Spirit is to bring clarity by revealing to us the Word of God. The work of the Spirit is not to show us methods toward a more exciting spirituality, rather the Spirit is sent to lead us to truth and to faith in Christ. The Small Catechism says it this way, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

The Same Spirit is at work with us today. The Holy Spirit, through whom the Apostles and Prophets spoke, speaks to us here, the same Word of reconciliation with God the Father through the cross of Christ.

And Pentecost continues. Not in a confusing theology that emphasizes the Holy Spirit over Christ. Rather, the mystery and miracle of the fire of the first Pentecost is repeated for us in our own language. We open our mouths in liturgy and in hymns and speak in real human language the glories of Christ crucified for us. In sermons and in Sacraments we hear and taste and see the risen Christ. And Babel is reversed, as the Spirit teaches us all things. In words that we understand, the Spirit calls, enlightens and sanctifies us in the one true faith.

And now, may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

09 May 2008

Just what is going on?

So, just what is going on in the Human Resources office at the purple palace? First, they post a job position announcement that appears to want to fill the position vacated by the fired Rev. Todd Wilken (for business and programmatic reasons, remember). Then, they take that posting down for some strange, no doubt face-saving reason. And now, as Mollie reports over at Augsburg 1530, someone from the Synod's HR office writes this response to an inquiry about the posting-then-unposting of the job position:
Thank you for bringing the posting of the Program Host to our attention. The position was posted in error. Please accept our apologies for the error.
According to this, are we to believe that the LCMS HR folks were unaware of the job posting until after it was on the Internet for the world to see? How could they *not* know of the posting's existence? After all, it does take some time, effort, and forethought to post something on the Internet (as I am doing right now).

And this is an "error"? I'll say it's an error! The non-reasons for firing Rev. Todd Wilken - programmatic and business, remember - would seem to be irrelevant now. That is, now that a new program is up and running, one more in line with the changing direction of the LCMS, it must be okay to spend that money which they said they didn't have to pay for a host position after all. The error would seem to be this: they've pretty much admitted that the money wasn't the reason for canceling Issues, Etc. But we knew that already, didn't we?

08 May 2008

Mac is Back!

Since last Tuesday (4/29) when my hard drive suddenly crashed, life just hasn't been the same. I've had to rely on (gasp!) PC computers and figure out what to do with my time apart from pla ... er, I mean working on the computer. Not to mention all those documents - family pictures and movies, church-related documents, iTunes music, etc. - that I lost in the crash. (I had good intentions of backing things up. Really! It's just that that procrastination gene kept kicking in, and in the end, it just, sorta kicked me in ... the end. ;-)

But now, Mac is back! And with the OS X Leopard designed for dummies just like me - that is, it has this awesome, automatic back up feature called Time Machine. Just plug in an external hard drive, and presto, instant back up. Oh, and so many other cool features that I'm eager to sink my teeth into. (Probably a really good thing that one of my seminary students is preaching this Sunday! ;-)

I know, for some this latest cat in the Mac OS litter is hardly new. When I had to - yes, had to - get my Mac last Fall, I just missed both the Leopard's arrival date as well as the "grandfathering in time" of a couple of weeks before the new OS debut. So, please pardon me while I bask in the glories of the sparkling new OS. Why sparkling? Can't you see the cool time portal in the image above? And when you have open applications, the cute little dock icons have that little sparkly thingy under them to tell you, "Hey, I'm open and ready to be utilized."

It's great to have Mac back! Now, I'll just have to find some other way to use my procrastination gene. :-)

What Does This Mean...Again?

Yesterday, over at Augsburg 1530, Mollie wrote:
Why is the LCMS advertising for a radio show host for KFUO-AM? I thought they just fired a radio show host for purely financial reasons?
Why is it that when I click on that link - and even copy and paste the URL in to my browser - I only get the LCMS main webpage? What happened to the job announcement for the position that was terminated (Pr. Wilken's position, that is) in order to save money? Has the announcement be removed to save face?

07 May 2008

Great Questions from Wyoming

Thank you, brothers in the Wyoming District (my former District, before returning to Missouri), for some stellar questions about the Issues, Etc. travesty! Please let us know if you get any answers!

Here are their questions, addressed to the President of Synod, the Board for Communication Services, and the Council of Presidents. (You can read the full resolution over at Pr. Weedon's blog.)

1. The Council of Presidents and Executive Director of the BCS both released statements which claim that the terminations were handled in a Christian and Compassionate manner. How is it an exercise in Christian Compassion to terminate two individuals who had served in this capacity for nearly a decade, on such short notice, and during Holy Week?

2. How does summarily firing a man who was not simply an “at will employee” but also one who had a Divine Call reflect a confessional understanding of the Office of the Holy Ministry?

3. If this decision was made, as has been stated, for purely stewardship and programmatic reasons, why was the Treasurer of Synod (stewardship) and the full BCS (programmatic) not consulted?

4. Given concerns for the 8th Commandment as we deal with issues such as these, why was the decision to discontinue “Issues, Etc.” and the consequent firing of Rev. Wilken and Mr. Schwarz no immediately followed by a statement which clearly indicated that such termination was in no way related to their job performance or any other personal issues with these faithful men?

5. In light of the admitted “anxiety, worry, and consternation” which this decision has caused, and in light of synodical bylaw 1.5.1.3 that “all staff of corporate Synod and every agency of the Synod shall be sensitive in their activities to taking or giving offense, giving the appearance or impropriety, (or) causing confusion in the Synod...” what actions has Dr. Kieschnick taken or does he plan to take to remedy this situation by reversing actions of Synod staff which have broken this bylaw according to his mandate in bylaw 3.3.1.2.c, “He shall call up for review any action by an individual officer, executive, or agency that, in his view, may be in violation of the Constitution, Bylaws, and resolutions of the Synod.”?

What Mission?

Here's a letter from a Rev. James May, soon-to-be former missionary in West Africa. Not only have we (the LCMS) canceled a strongly mission-minded radio program, but now another missionary is being recalled from the foreign field of proclaiming the Gospel to folks in West Africa, folks who, no doubt, have been led to trust and rejoice in the new life in Christ.

With sad news like this, one wonders: What exactly *is* the mission of the "mission-minded" LCMS?

Here's Pr. May's letter announcing the shocking news of the cancelation of his missionary work:

Last Newsletter
I regret to inform you that due to programmatic and business decisions, World Mission has decided to cease employing me as a missionary in West Africa. This decision came as a shock to me and my family as it may also be a surprise to you.

World Mission has been pressuring me to move on and inform you as soon as possible. One reason is that I would be without a paycheck and insurance soon after we have a baby due in July. We hope that by the grace of God we could have another call in place when my salary and benefits terminate at the end of August 2008.

The decision leaves three newly planted churches in Burkina Faso without a theologically trained leader and also the Lutheran Church of Togo without a missionary which they had been awaiting for six years. Please keep all these people involved in your prayers.

Last Project
Please check out our website (www.mayfamilyintogo.com) as there is still a project that could be accomplished in Burkina Faso and West Africa. Judy Stroeh, a member of a supporting congregation in Cincinnati, Ohio and an environmental consultant, visited us during the last week of April. Working in collaboration with Proctor & Gamble, she brought out a product called PUR which purifies water. The product is very inexpensive, about one to two cents per 10 liters of purified water. One simply adds the contents of PUR to the river or well water and then it is stirred for five minutes. The PUR contents cause all impurities to congeal and sink to the bottom of the container. Then the water is filtered through a piece of cotton and 99.99% of all dangerous elements are eliminated.

The Work of God Will Go On
It is not me who convinced anyone to believe in Christ, it was the Holy Spirit who called, gathered, and enlightened others to come to the knowledge of the truth. He is the one who will take care of what has been started. Part of the continued care will come from the leaders that He raised up here in Burkina Faso. Three men; Leopold, Joseph, and Espoir, have been training with me to continue the teachings of Christ. Joseph and Espoir will depart for the Lutheran Seminary in Togo starting in August. The studies last three years after which they will return to shepherd these new congregations. Leopold, the elder, will lead the congregations in their absence. It is very important that you keep these infant congregations and young leaders in your prayers.

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:7

Thank you for your support
As many of you know, our family endured many tribulations and struggles in our two years on the field. We had many health issues and struggled adapting to the extreme weather and culture differences. You have been along side us, praying for us and supporting us all along the way. Although there were many struggles, you can see from our newsletters and website that many successes and joys have been seen.

The majority of the family will be leaving in two weeks time to join Tiina’s parents in Finland so that she can give birth in a comfortable and supporting environment. I will continue training the leaders and try to pack up the house during the month of June. We hope to visit a number of congregations this fall to present what God has done in these two years and also to thank those of you who we can in person. Our entire family wishes to thank you for all your love and support.

Your brothers and sisters in Christ,
The May Family (James, Tiina, Maggie, Tristan, Sarai, Sofia, and baby May)

PRAYER REQUESTS
We always need your prayer support. At this time we ask your prayers for;
Praise God for many conversions and baptisms. Pray that all may continually be strengthened in the faith that Christ has given them.
Our family in transition; it is not easy to pack up and move, especially so quickly and with a pregnant momma and four little kids running around.
Concordia Lutheran Church in Tingandogo, Sognaaba Lutheran Church, and the Refugee Lutheran Church as they grow in knowledge and faith.
Espoir, Leopold, and Joseph, as they prepare to become ministers of God’s Word.
That others may be raised up as leaders of the church to lead the growing number of converts.
Those we know, that we may continue working with them and encourage them in the Christian faith.
Those we meet, that we may have opportunities to share the Gospel.
Our faith, that the Risen Lord and Savior would strengthen us.

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