03 December 2010

Advent Message from a Genuine Pastor

Here's a great Advent message from President Matthew Harrison, President of the LCMS. How great to have a pastor with a pastoral heart at the helm of our church body!

Advent Blessing from President Harrison from VimeoLCMS on Vimeo.

29 November 2010

Great Tribute to Veterans

Here's a great tribute to our nation's veterans as sung by some 3rd grade students:

28 November 2010

Homily for Advent 1

It's hard to believe we've begun yet another new Church Year. But Advent has, well, come and I must say that it's nice to see a color other than green on the altar.

Today's homily borrowed from the Collect of the Day (in Lutheran Service Book) for its direction and outline. With the theme "Come, Lord Jesus!" we hear just how our humble, donkey-riding King stirs up His power and comes to rescue us from the threatening perils of our sins.

Click the link to download the audio file and listen to today's homily for Advent 1.

Homily for Thanksgiving Day

This year for our Thanksgiving Day Matins service I chose to use the readings for "Harvest Observance" in Lutheran Service Book. What a refreshing change for this national - not ecclesial - observance. (After all, preaching on the ten lepers in Luke 17 can get a bit repetitive after awhile, especially when the reading pops up in both the One-Year Lectionary and the Three-Year Lectionary not too long before Thanksgiving Day!) The readings for Harvest Observance are: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; and Luke 12:13-21. From these readings came the central thought that real thanksgiving cannot happen without giving that precedes it. Hence, the title of the day's homily: "Thanks Comes After Giving."

To listen to the audio file of this homily, just click this link and download the audio file.

Homily for Last Sunday of the Church Year

November brought a reprieve from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, though only to concentrate on preaching several funerals as well as the normal Wednesday routine of Morning Prayer (school chapel) and evening Divine Service.

However, on 21 November it was great to get back in the pulpit for the Last Sunday of the Church Year (a.k.a. Trinity 27) and preach on the Gospel from Matthew 25:1-13. It's amazing how many different angles a preacher can take on a single text over the years. This time it was a joy to focus on the theme, "Don't Miss Out!"

Just click on this link to download the audio file and then listen to the homily.

Robert Farrar Capon's treatment of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins was certainly compelling throughout. But this quote, which also concluded the homily, was hard to ignore:

“’Watch therefore,’ Jesus says at the end of the parable, ‘for you know neither the day nor the hour.’ When all is said and done—when we have scared ourselves silly with the now-or-never urgency of faith and the once-and-always finality of judgment—we need to take a deep breath and let it out with a laugh. Because what we are watching for is a party. And that party is not just down the street making up its mind when to come to us. It is already hiding in our basement, banging on our steam pipes, and laughing its way up our cellar stairs. The unknown day and hour of its finally bursting into the kitchen and roistering its way through the whole house is not dreadful; it is all part of the divine lark of grace. God is not our mother-in-law, coming to see whether her wedding-present china has been chipped. He is a funny Old Uncle with a salami under one arm and a bottle of wine under the other. We do indeed need to watch for him; but only because it would be such a pity to miss all the fun.” (Robert Farrar Capon, Parables of Judgment, 166)

Homily for Funeral of Nadine Macko

On 8 November 2010, I had the privilege of finally giving Christian burial to a long-time saint and member of my congregation. Nadine had been a shut-in just a little longer than the nine years that I've been back at Hope, St. Louis. When I served at Hope as Associate Pastor (1990-1994) I also had the privilege of visiting Nadine's sister Laura. Back then sister Laura really wanted to go home and be with the Lord, and for the past nine years Nadine has had the same sanctified desire. I often reminded her of St. Paul's words to the Philippians: "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better" (1:23).

Well, finally, the Lord blessed Nadine with a peaceful rest as she awaits the Resurrection on the Last Day. My homily for Nadine's funeral focused on the three readings - Isaiah 25:6-9; Romans 8:31-39; and Luke 2:25-32 - and was titled simply and fittingly, "Finally!"

Just click on this link and download the audio file to listen.

31 October 2010

Homily for Reformation Day

On Reformation Day we hear the great news that the Son of God sets us free from sin, death, and hell. Today's homily was based on John 8:31-36 and titled "Free from What? Free for What?"

To listen to the audio file, click on this link, download the file and listen away.

27 October 2010

Another Reason to Pay Off Debt

In his most recent blog post Steve Stewart over at MoneyPlanSOS asks, "Is there a reason to pay off debt?" Then he answers his question with with some responses that he has heard:

Admit it, we all know that debt is bad.  For those who don’t mind carrying balances on credit cards or believe student loans are “good debt” know that it would probably be a good thing to pay it off.  For some, paying it ALL off has become a priority – but why?  Paying off debt is a pain in the butt, so there has to be REASON.  A couple with $112,000 in debt asked during our first session “Are we going to be miserable in order for this to work?”, I replied “Aren’t you already miserable?” 
I have never heard anyone say they wanted to pay off debt because it was the right thing to do.  Here is a short list for some reasons I have heard:
  1. Reduce Stress / Save Marriage
  2. Save for retirement
  3. Save for kid’s education
  4. Save for daughter’s wedding
  5. Start a small business
  6. Buy a hobby farm
  7. Buy a second home
PS – Notice that Reason #1 is the ONLY one you can’t pay for, but it does have a cost.  
What is your reason?  What would you do in order to WIN with money?  What is holding you back?  Think about your answer carefully, make sure it is a reason and not an excuse.
Those reasons listed are certainly good and salutary, but allow me to add a reason, this one more philosophical, if you will, and one that largely explains why "we all know that debt is bad." This reason actually comes from God Himself in Holy Writ and adds more weight to the dilemma of debt, showing why it's more than just a bad idea or an inconvenience or just a "pain in the butt." This reason just might help people to articulate that they want to pay off debt because it's "the right thing to do."

The "right" reason, among so many other good reasons, to pay off debt is this. Proverbs 22:7 says, "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender." (Thanks, Dave Ramsey, for pointing this one out!) Why pay off debt? To be free from the slavery of the lender--free indeed from ever-fluctuating interest rates and costly fees, but especially free from being obligated to send my money to other people who have other purposes and designs for it.

As a recovering "debt-aholic" I can tell you that the simple liberty of being completely "debt-free" is quite refreshing and so relaxing (Can you say cut back on the stress big time?). Now my wife and I can manage the money that God gives us both for His glory and for the benefit of our neighbors.

Sorry, lender-task-masters, you don't dictate how my money gets used anymore! And now I'm free to plan for some of those other reasons listed.

25 October 2010

Reformation Text Study

If you're looking for a text study to aid in preparations for celebrating Reformation Day (October 31), please consider this humble offering. It was presented last year (2009) at our weekly Pericope Study group, and I offer it here for wider consideration and use.

"Almighty and gracious Lord, pour out Your Holy Spirit on Your faithful people. Keep us steadfast in Your grace and truth, protect and deliver us in times of temptation, defends us against all enemies, and grant to Your Church Your saving peace; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever." (Collect for Reformation Day, Lutheran Service Book)

24 October 2010

Homily for Trinity 21 & Stewardship Sunday

Never would I consider myself a "stewardship expert," but it was an honor and a joy to preach this morning for Zion Lutheran Church, Edwardsville, IL, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, IL, on the topic of stewardship. Pr. Heath Curtis graciously invited me to preach the Word of God on stewardship and tithing on the occasion of his congregations' "Consecration Sunday" - and using the lectionary readings for Trinity 21.

So utilizing today's readings - Genesis 1:1-2:3; Ephesians 6:11-17; and John 4:46-54 - the homily was titled "Enlivened to Live as Givers," and focused on our gracious God creating us in and restoring us to His image so that we may live all of life as givers.

To listen to the audio file, click on this link and download the file.

And on a related note, I am very intrigued by the program that Pr. Curtis uses, "Consecration Sunday," written by Herb Miller. I want to examine it myself. (Check it out here at the Cokesbury website or here at Amazon.com. The Southern District of the LCMS offers a PDF file adapting the use of Miller's education program.)

It's quite encouraging to hear lay leaders sing its praises and tell how it has turned their congregation around. One gentleman said it's "just so positive," as opposed to the stewardship programs that seem to beat folks over the head with the Bible's teaching on tithing and giving. The financial secretary rejoiced that it's made her job "much easier" because they can actually pay the bills without having to worry or borrow. Now that's high praise!

18 October 2010

Homily for Trinity 20

"The Lord loves a banquet. He is happiest when His people are gathered at the table with Him." That's how Dr. Norman Nagel began his 1996 sermon on Luke 14:15-24 at Zion Academy. It's also a line I was happy to adopt for my 2010 homily for Trinity 20 based on Matthew 22:1-14. Under the title and theme of "R.S.V.P." we heard how God loves a banquet, invites the bad and the good, and wants our R.S.V.P. for attending His feast of forgiveness, life, and salvation given through His Son.

To listen to the audio file of this homily, click this link and then download the audio file.

11 October 2010

Homily for Trinity 19

Yesterday's homily focused on the Gospel reading from Matthew 9:1-8, when Jesus heals the paralyzed man first by forgiving his sins and then by healing his physical malady. It's the "Absolute Healing" that comes from Jesus' Absolution.

To listen to the audio file, click on this link, download the audio file, and listen away.

Milton Friedman on Capitalism & Greed

Here's a classic defense of Capitalism by Milton Friedman as he defends it against the typical yet trumped up charges of greed, here leveled by Phil Donahue. Not only do I really want to learn more from Friedman and his writings, but this is great to see Friedman leave Phil Donahue speechless.

HT: New Zeal

04 October 2010

Circle of Spiritual Care for Pastors

Here's a great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the circle of things that make up spiritual care for pastors:

The life of the pastor completes itself in reading, meditation, prayer, and struggle. The means is the word of Scripture with which everything begins and to which everything returns. We read Scripture in order that our hearts may be moved. It will lead us into prayer for the church, for brothers and sisters in the faith, for our work, and for our own soul. Prayer leads us into the world in which we must keep the faith. Where Scripture, prayer, and keeping the faith exist, temptation will always find its way in. Temptation is the sign that our hearing, prayer, and faith have touched down in reality. There is no escape from temptation except by giving ourselves to renewed reading and meditation. So the circle is complete. We will not often be permitted to see the fruits of our labors; but through the joy of community with brothers and sisters who offer us spiritual care, we become certain of the proclamation and the ministry.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care (Fortress Press, 1985), p. 69.

03 October 2010

The Truth about Tax Returns

Okay, I'll admit it. I used to think that that tax refund check that came in the spring of the year was pretty sweet. After all, it did seem like "free money" or a "big bonus." But then I learned the truth: it was always my money. I had just "given" too much to the federal government in the form of withholding from my paycheck! Not a wise way to manage the money that God Himself gives.

I know many people think that the tax refund check is pretty sweet. After all, they can use it to pay a bill (We see this quite a bit with our day school and back tuition payments.), to spring for something special (like a new TV or computer?), or just plain to think that they got lucky and won some kind of lottery.

Actually, the truth still remains: that money has always been yours. If you're getting a sizable "refund" from Uncle Sam's IRS, then you're loaning too much to Uncle Sam in the first place, and not getting any interest back for your "generosity." Wouldn't you rather use your money yourself, rather than let government bureaucrats and politicians decide how "best" (Do I hear pork calls and sounds of earmarks?) to use the money that God gives you to manage?

Here's a series of helpful articles over at MoneyPlan SOS - Financial Coach that helps understand the problem with withholding too much, receiving too big a tax refund, and how to correct the problem:

Tax Refunds: Part 1 (Tax Liability)
Tax Refunds: Part 2 (Withholding)
Tax Refunds: Part 3 (Tax Returns)
Tax Refunds: Part 4 (The REFUND)

Be sure to check back with the financial coach for future articles. I'm sure they will be just as helpful as these first installments.

And now...

...for something truly frightening! As New Zeal reports, a recent rally in Washington D.C., obviously meant to counter-balance, counter-act, etc. the Glenn Beck rally held back on 8-28-10, is dominated by Socialists and reveals just who supports our current President and his obviously Socialist policies and direction for our nation. Lord, have mercy!

Check it out at New Zeal.

Homily for Anniversary of the Congregation

Hope Sanctuary - January 6, 2008
Since Lutheran Service Book offers propers for observing the Anniversary of a Congregation, we decided a while back to set aside the first Sunday in October each year to thank God for His blessings given to Hope through her history. And we did just that today. October 8 is the official anniversary date - the date in 1916 when Hope congregation held its first worship service in what was called "The Portable Chapel." As mentioned in the homily we really can thank a mailman - humanly speaking, of course - for the beginning of this congregation when this part of St. Louis City was still farmland transitioning into city outskirts.

Hope Lutheran Church, built 1930
The homily, "Hope in St. Louis," gives a good bit of Hope's history because many who are newer to the congregation have never learned it. To listen, just click this link and then download the audio file.

30 September 2010

Homily for St. Michael and All Angels

Last night's homily for St. Michael and All Angels focused on the theme of "Praising God with the Angels," and drew together all three Scripture readings: Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12; and Luke 10:17-20. Also, without actually citing it, the homily tried to reflect our prayer to God in the Collect of the Day: "that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth."

To listen to the homily, just click on this link and download the audio file.

29 September 2010

Homily for Trinity 17

Here is the audio file for Sunday's homily on the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, "Healed to be Humble," based on Luke 14:1-11. Click the link, download the audio file and listen away.

24 September 2010

New IE Video

Here's the latest Issues, Etc. video, this time running with the theme of friends proclaiming the Gospel to friends. And it's truly an honor to "make an appearance" in it (not that I had anything to do with that little editing faux pas :-)

23 September 2010

Homily for Trinity 16

Sunday's homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity focused on the account of Jesus raising the widow's son at the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17).

To listen to the audio file of Sunday's homily, "His Life Invades Our Death," just click on this link, download the file, and listen.

12 September 2010

Homily for Trinity 15

Sometimes a preacher looks at a text such as Matthew 6:24-34 and wonders how he can really "improve" upon it by proclaiming and applying it. After all, in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus' words are pretty clear in themselves. He gets right to the point when He says: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on." How much clearer can He be than when He says: "Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" And then there's that immortal saying: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." The preacher (okay, at least this one was) may certainly be tempted simply to read the Gospel for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity and say, "'Nuff said. Just do what He says. Amen. "

But don't worry! I did not do that! :-) Rather, I took an image from Johann Gerhard's Postilla for this text about our fallen, sinful state being like brute beasts, focused on earth rather than God and heaven, and - Voila! - ready-made sermon title and theme. This morning's homily, "Slaying Beastly Worry," wrestled with our worries but then took consolation in our Lord Jesus Christ giving us His food, His drink, and His clothing of righteousness.

To listen the audio file of today's homily for Trinity 15, click on this link, download the audio, and listen away. May our gracious Lord bless you and strengthen your faith as you hear His saving works for you ... works that slay your beastly worry.

09 September 2010

You go, Gov.!!!

Get a load of this exchange between NJ Governor Chris Christie and a disgruntled NJ public school teacher. With such clear common sense and simple, logical facts on his side - not to mention his tell-it-as-he-sees-it approach - I say we clone him 49 times over and fill all the rest of the governors' mansions and offices with him. How refreshing to see and hear a public official strive to have his state live within its means!

HT: theblaze.com

05 September 2010

Homily for Trinity 14

Today's homily on Luke 17:11-19, Jesus healing the ten lepers, is titled "Show Yourself Clean." Just as the one leper - and a Samaritan at that - returned to Jesus the true Priest and showed himself clean, we also return to our Lord in the Divine Service to be cleansed of our leprosy of sin and death.

To listen to the homily, click on this link, download the audio file, and listen away.

03 September 2010

Our Joyous Mission

This article also appears in our congregational newsletter, The Hope Lutheran, for September 2010.

A Scary Story
A brother pastor recently told me a story that’s both scary and instructive. This story involved his daughter, a very bright and discerning young lady in her early teens, and the recent LCMS Youth Gathering held this summer in New Orleans. This was the first national youth gathering this young lady had ever attended. As are most youth, she was excited to see so many other Lutheran youth gathered in one place and she did enjoy getting to know some new brother and sister Christians.

However, one thing disappointed this young lady: the very guilt-laden “missions” message pushed by presenters. Gathering presenters may have meant well in teaching the youth to bear witness to Jesus, but their message actually ended up burdening the young people. The presenters were so focused on prompting these Lutheran youth to carry out the mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ (a.k.a. “witnessing to Jesus”) that the youth felt guilty for not witnessing enough. That’s how this pastor’s young daughter received the message, but it’s hardly the way to teach people on the Church’s mission.

The scary side of the story did not end there though. As the true story goes, many of the youth went on a tour of a New Orleans cathedral. As the group was touring inside the large space dedicated to worship and prayer, my friend’s daughter got separated from the group as she was looking at something else. All of a sudden an older man, evidently homeless and dressed in tattered and dirty clothes, approached the young lady. The man told her that he was an atheist and began mocking religion in general.

Guilty for Not Witnessing?
What makes this part of the story so scary is the moral dilemma that flooded the young lady’s mind. Should she stay and try to “witness” to this obviously bitter and unbelieving man, or should she return to her tour group and its certain safety? She knew she should have paid more attention and stayed with her group, but now she was also feeling guilty for wanting to flee to safety and not witness to this unbelieving homeless man. She chose to leave the confrontational man and return to her tour group. However, as she did, she also felt incredibly guilty. She had not, in fact, witnessed to that older man. And wasn’t that, after all, the message she had been hearing at the gathering?

For me—and I’m sure for my brother pastor and his wife—the mere prospect of this young lady, off by herself, being abducted by this stranger is truly scary. However, what’s even more frightful is that she was compelled to feel guilty at choosing her safety over “witnessing to Jesus” at a time like that. That’s what happens when mission work (a.k.a. “missions,” “evangelism,” “outreach,” or “witnessing”) is presented and taught in a burdensome, guilt-giving manner. And, sad to say, these days we hear the Church’s mission taught and proclaimed more and more in this negative manner.

An Instructive Story
However, here’s where this story transitions from being scary to becoming instructive. It actually instructs in what not to do and how not to teach Christian witnessing.

This pastor’s daughter was exactly correct in seeing through the “missions” presentations for what they really were: burdensome guilt trips dressed in the sheep’s clothing of “witnessing to Jesus.” She was also exactly correct in fleeing from the stranger and returning to her tour group. She need not feel guilty about “not witnessing” to him. Rather, she actually did witness to him. How? By returning to her God-given vocation of being a) a student learning about the cathedral, b) a participant in the youth gathering, and c) a daughter who needed to return home to her family safe and sound.

At first we might think: “But how do those things bear witness to Jesus?” That’s easy. The young lady bore witness that she is a Christian by learning more about that cathedral (That was her purpose at that place and time.), by returning to and staying with the group of Christians that brought her there (She was under the care of gathering chaperones.), and by loving and honoring her parents (Remember what mom and dad said about not talking to strangers?). Believe it or not, this young lady did show that she is a Christian in these very normal and ordinary ways.

No, she did not spark up a conversation about Jesus with that confrontational stranger. But let’s be honest, such conversations born out of such confrontations rarely “make disciples.” If anything, a quick and off the cuff talk about Jesus and religion most likely would only further solidify that man’s hard-hearted hostility toward Christ and His Church.

The Joy of Mission Work
Should this young lady—and we—be concerned about lost, unbelieving people such as the stranger in the cathedral? Of course! It’s basic Christian love. Now there’s the proper motivation for “mission work” (a.k.a. “missions,” “evangelism,” “outreach”).

When “mission work” is taught in a burdensome, guilt-giving manner, it’s usually done with some kind of self-serving purpose—a purpose such as increasing the size of an institution or ensuring institutional survival (either of a congregation or of a whole church body). That’s hardly Christian love for the lost neighbor!

The joy of carrying out our God-given mission work comes when we love our neighbor enough to show them their “lostness” in their sin and then show them the Savior who comes to seek and save the lost—them. It’s a lot like putting up road signs and barricades on a highway that leads to a deep canyon where the bridge is out. Road crews put up the signs and barricades out of love for their neighbor. After all, authorities do not want cars racing down the highway, especially at night, and plunging into the canyon to their doom. When we Christians bear witness to Jesus in our daily lives, and when the Church proclaims Christ crucified and risen to rescue us sinners, we are trying to love people enough to turn them from plunging to their eternal doom.

The joy of witnessing to Jesus comes not in keeping tabs on how many times we’ve sparked a conversation about Him with unsuspecting people around us. Rather, it comes from living as God’s redeemed children and enjoying the forgiveness and life that He freely gives in His Gospel and Sacraments. It comes from faithfully receiving His goodness and mercy in the Divine Service.

The joy of witnessing to Jesus shows as we love our neighbors enough to want them to enjoy the forgiveness and life that Jesus brings for them too. We certainly invite them to join us in the Divine Service at church, where they get to hear the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection for them. Most of the time, though, witnessing to Jesus simply means living in our God-given vocations—such as father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, worker, citizen, etc.—and showing that we Christians live differently than other people around us. We spend time with our families and learn the Word of God together; we work diligently at our jobs; we do works of mercy for those in need; we love and pray for one another, both inside and outside the Church.

As one of my professors once said, witnessing to Jesus is as simple as: “Pray, and when you get a chance, say.” Pray for your neighbor who does not yet know Jesus Christ, and then when the time comes, speak of Him and what He has done for you and your neighbor. St. Peter said it well: “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

I’ve often used the illustration of a young lady wearing an engagement ring for the joy of mission work. No one needs to coax or cajole her to show off her new ring. She is just plain happy to do so every chance she can! In fact, you cannot stop her. :) Christians bearing witness to Christ are like that. In their Baptism they have been engaged to Jesus the Bridegroom, and now they joyfully spread the word and want others to join them in that joy. After all, the wedding feast on the Last Day will be a superb joy! Perhaps instead of focusing on coaxing and cajoling youths and adults to “Get out and do the mission work (or else!),” we need to focus on the joy of life from Christ, life with Christ, and life in Christ.

If our mission work is lackluster, it’s probably because we do not find our joy of life in Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen. However, when we cling to our Savior and treasure the boundless depths of His forgiveness, grace, and life, then our joyous mission properly – and naturally – falls into place.

21 August 2010

You Cannot Multiply Wealth by Dividing It

Here's a quote given the comments of my previous post on Socialism. After reading and pondering it just a bit, I think it's worth more than just comment status and so I'm putting "up front" in its own post. Thanks to DRG for posting it.

"You cannot legislate the poor into freedom by legislating the wealthy out of freedom.  What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.  When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is about the end of any nation.  You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."

The late Dr. Adrian Rogers, 1931 - 2005

On Socialism...Because We ARE There!

The bumper sticker a few blocks away in the neighborhood summed up Socialism quite well: "Socialism is a great idea...until you run out of other people's money!"

Fr. Hollywood has also summed it up quite well in his recent post, "'Socialist' isn't just an insult." Well said, Fr. Hollywood! The graphic also says it all.

Just remember, no matter how politicians and/or pundits try to spin us away from the dreaded "S" word, we are there. We have been growing toward Socialism for about a century, bit by bit, nudge by nudge. No, Socialism isn't just an insult; it's a downright scary reality!

And that's why American citizens need to learn their history and their Constitution, get more active in the course of their country than in who wins "American Idol," and effect a wholesale firing of the crowd now in Washington and put in place people who will take us back to our roots of less taxes, less government, and more freedom.

18 August 2010

Homilies for Trinity 9, 10, & 11

My apologies for not posting links to the audio files of my homilies for the past three Sundays! When I heard the first portion of the homily for Trinity 9, I was a bit taken aback by the very pronounced lisp that I had ... on the audio file, not in real life.

So I decided to wait before posting it until I could figure out why the lisp was not only present but also so pronounced. After a couple of weeks of experimenting, I believe I've figured out the culprit: the lower quality of recording. For the past year or so I've been using the "Good" setting in iTalk Lite to record as I preach. Why choose the lowest setting? In order to keep the audio files from being too large.

However, this past Sunday, for Trinity 11, I decided to bump up the quality (and hence the size of the file) with the "Better" setting, and that seems to avoid the lisp sound. So we'll see how it goes.

At any rate, here are links to the past three weeks of homilies--Trinity 9 & 10 still with the "Good" setting, but Trinity 11 with the "Better" setting. As usual just click on the link, download the audio file, and listen away.

Trinity 9 - "Faithful with Riches" - Text: Luke 16:1-13
Trinity 10 - "Cleansing for God's Nation" - Text: Luke 19:41-48
Trinity 11 - "A Tale of Two Pharisees" - Text: Luke 18:9-14

12 August 2010

From a Former Drunken Sailor

Give that former drunken sailor a drink!

Another Dave Fan ... and More Money Wisdom

It's no secret - the RAsburry household has thoroughly enjoyed being completely debt-free for the past 8-9 months (that is, out of debt, no credit card payments, owe no one any money, not making credit card companies rich and making the family poor - How sweet it is!). And it's no secret - I highly recommend the get out of debt plan taught by Dave Ramsey and his "Financial Peace University." What a blessing these have been!

It looks like someone else has been rather taken by Dave and his approach to managing money and having financial peace. Check out "MoneyPlanSOS," both a website for services and a blog.

Perhaps you'll really appreciate this financial coach's wisdom on things we say that keep us broke.

Or perhaps you need to learn how to teach your children some "four-letter words" that can actually help them.

I happen to like this guy's little pearl of wisdom on still tithing while getting out of debt.

But I especially like the notion of eschewing the labels of lower, middle, and upper classes - along with the constrictions and/or expectations that normally go with such nebulous labeling. From now on, no matter how much money I have or don't have, I'll proudly throw my lot in with "The Other Class."

"Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce" (Prov. 3:9)

"One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth." (Prov. 13:7)

10 August 2010

And speaking of mature...

...here is a quote from a recent hand-written note sent by one of my former parishioners. A few years ago she moved out to California and now attends a LCMS congregation out there. Evidently, and quite sadly, the liturgy is in short supply. Here's what my member said in her short note:
"Everytime [sic] I go to church I'm thankful that I grew up in a traditional church. Liturgy is sometimes not part of the service, sometimes only parts are used. Newcomers don't know what they're missing. When I die, make certain my funeral has liturgy -- THIS IS THE FEAST OF VICTORY [sic]."
Now that's some mature faith coming out there! And, yes, dear former member, you shall have the liturgy for your funeral, as I've already promised you when you return ... and I'm sure we can find a way to fit in "This is the Feast."

Mature over Hip ... any day!

Amazing what an impression a mature, straight-talking, forgiveness-seeking, and grace-of-God-giving church leader can make. I'll take him any day over the "hip" kind of "preacher"(?) shown here by contrast!

HT: Extreme Theology

26 July 2010

Homily for Trinity 8

The theme given to us in the readings for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity focus on discerning false prophets. The Jeremiah 23 reading indicts those who proclaim their own dreams and visions and not the words of God, the Acts 20 reading testifies to St. Paul's faithful proclamation of God's word of grace, and in the Gospel reading from Matthew 7 our Lord Jesus Christ exhorts us to beware of false prophets. So under the theme "Beware of False Prophets" this homily addresses three questions: What does Jesus mean by false prophet? How can we tell a false prophet from a true one? And would we be able to know a false prophet if we heard one?

To listen to the audio file of this homily for Trinity 8, click on this link, download the audio file, and listen away.

23 July 2010

Everyone's a winner at Pinochle

Thanks, Pr. Weedon, for posting the pix of the pinochle winners. Notice who got the last word. (Okay, so it was technically a tie, but last word must count for something, right? ;-)

Ambrose on the Psalms

Here's a great meditation from Ambrose on the Book of Psalms:

Though all Scripture is fragrant with God’s grace, the Book of Psalms has a special attractiveness.
Moses wrote the history of Israel’s ancestors in prose, but after leading the people through the Red Sea—a wonder that remained in their memory—he broke into a song of triumph in praise of God when he saw King Pharaoh drowned along with his forces.  His genius soared to a higher level, to match an accomplishment beyond his own powers.
Miriam too raised her timbrel and sang encouragement for the rest of the women, saying:  “Let us sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; He has cast horse and rider into the sea.”
In the Book of Psalms there is profit for all, with healing power for our salvation.  There is instruction from history, teaching from the law, prediction from prophecy, chastisement from denunciation, persuasion from moral preaching.  All who read it may find the cure for their own individual failings.  All with eyes to see can discover in it a complete gymnasium for the soul, a stadium for all the virtues, equipped for every kind of exercise; it is for each to choose the kind each judges best to help gain the prize.
If you wish to read and imitate the deeds of the past, you will find the whole history of the Israelites in a single psalm:  in one short reading you can amass a treasure for the memory. If you want to study the power of the law, which is summed up in the bond of charity (“Who loves their neighbor has fulfilled the law”), you may read in the psalms of the great love with which one person faced serious dangers singlehandedly in order to remove the shame of the whole people.  You will find the glory of charity more than a match for the parade of power.
What am I to say of the grace of prophecy?  We see that what others hinted at in riddles was promised openly and clearly to the psalmist alone:  the Lord Jesus was to be born of David’s seed, according to the word of the Lord:  “I will place upon your throne one who is the fruit of your flesh.”
In the psalms, then, not only is Jesus born for us, He also undergoes His saving passion in His body, He lies in death, He rises again, He ascends into heaven, He sits at the right hand of the Father.  What no one would have dared to say was foretold by the psalmist alone, and afterward proclaimed by the Lord himself in the Gospel. (Explanation on Psalm 1, 4, 7-8; cited in J. Robert Wright, Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, 318-319)

Congress read the Bill? Sounds good to me!

Next move? How about repeal the recent bills - several in the neighborhood of 2000 pages! - that have been passed in the past couple of years? After all, many in D.C. have already admitted they never read the bills passed, and we keep finding out just what dangerous stuff was lurking in them all along.

22 July 2010

Wish List for New LCMS Prez - Item #2

The first item on my “wish list” for new LCMS President Matthew Harrison was to keep our focus on sinners (referring to himself and us) and their need for the forgiveness that only Jesus (not synodical bureaucracy, bylaws or resolutions, etc.) can give. Aside from this first item being most important and thus placed first in order and priority, subsequent items really have no priority other than when I happen to think of them and write them up.

I also tried to clarify and qualify the purpose of my “wish list.” No, I do not set Pres. Harrison’s agenda, and no, I really don’t expect my words to be seriously entertained as agenda items. These posts are merely “a view from the pew” from a simple parish pastor – in an office divinely instituted by Christ Himself – spoken to one who now occupies a high and lofty – yet humanly instituted – office. If he reads and hearkens, fine. But these “wish list” items are chiefly intended for consideration and conversation in this forum.

So, on to Item #2. If I could offer our new synodical president my “wish list” for how he can best serve our church body, I would say next: Mr. President, please do not give us missions brow beatings or evangelism guilt trips. Instead of haranguing us to perform some burdensome chore (as though not doing mission work will cause the world to implode and the LCMS to disappear from history's radar screen), inspire us and lead us in the joyous mission task of proclaiming our glorious and gracious Savior and His good gifts.

You see, Mr. President, haranguing us to "get out" and “fulfill” (Can that actually be accomplished this side of heaven?) the Great Commission is not what we need. Yes, our Lord has certainly summoned us, His Church, both clergy and laity, to “make disciples” (Mt. 28), “proclaim the Gospel” (Mk. 16), proclaim “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk. 24), and “forgive the sins of anyone” (Jn. 20). But constantly thumping us on the head and pulling us by the ear with mandates of “Get out and go, go, go!” or “Witness, witness, witness!” because, after all, so many people are going to hell with every passing moment or every snap of the finger? Well, let’s just say chicanery is not really necessary, nor is it becoming of Christ's holy people.

Missions brow-beatings in general remind me of a small though pesky thing from seminary days. The Daily Announcements used to include a brief feature called "Mission Minute." Those pesky little bulletin blurbs were well intended, I’m sure, in wanting to keep the Lord’s mission foremost in our hearts and minds. However, I also recall the typical guilt-trip tones and unwritten assumption that sent a clear, and perhaps unintended, message: "You just don’t care enough about missions! You don't quite yet have a 'heart for missions.'" I also recall (as clearly as 20 years down the timeline will allow) several seminary buddies and I pondering: "Hmm. What are we doing studying at the seminary and preparing to serve as pastors if not to carry out the Lord’s mission?"

Guilt-trips and harangues really don't further the Church's missionary task; rather, they produce, well, only burdensome guilt. I distinctly remember one dear man from a former parish who was so burdened about that unsaved person on the other side of the globe in India. "What should I do about him?" he would ask in Bible class. Aside from buying a plane ticket and going to track down that unspecified, unnamed person seared in his consciousness, perhaps pray for him and let the Lord take care of him? But the man in my former parish just could not unload the burden.

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not trying to be callous or indifferent toward those who do not trust Jesus Christ for their forgiveness, life, and salvation. Far from it! I most certainly want everyone possible to join in the life of Christ in the life of the Church and for life eternal. But is their potential damnation caused by my/our stumbling, even failing, mission efforts? Will the Lord of the Church hold me, for example, responsible for one or more of those folks who reject Christ and end up separated from His love and life for all eternity? What about those words from Deuteronomy 24:16: "Each one shall be put to death for his own sin"?

No, the mission of the Church cannot and dare not be inspired or motivated by snapping fingers or tabulating how many people have gone to hell since I started writing these words or you started reading them. We need some other motivator, some better, more Gospel-centered and Christ-focused inspiration.

We need love ... and joy.

Yes, love. Not fear of folks going to hell; not guilt for not doing enough to prevent them from entering hell; but love. Love for our neighbor who does not know Christ Jesus. The great love that flows from the Lord who loved us and died on a cross to rescue us from sin and death and eternal separation from Him. Mr. President, please lead and motivate us to reach out to our sin-infected, death-bound neighbors out of love for them, with the same love that Christ has already shown us.

And yes, we need joy in our mission work. Who cares how many souls we may or may not divert from perdition's flames, or how many souls we can tabulate for congregational or synodical rosters? That's not the point! The point is that we want our family, our friends, our neighbors, and even that homeless, unemployed man down the street to join us in the joy of sins forgiven now, the joy of life with God now, the joy of peace in Christ's presence now, as well as the joy of living together with them and with the Holy Trinity for all eternity.

We need to learn and treasure the mission work that our Lord has given us - indeed that He carries on in our midst - week in and week out. Yes, the mission work is being done when a person, young or old, is baptized at the font. Yes, the mission work is being done when sinners are hearing that their sins are forgiven, both corporately from the pulpit and individually in the sacrament of Absolution. Yes, the mission work is being done when Christ's people gather around His Table to feast on His life-giving Body and Blood. And, yes, the mission work is being done when Christians leave the Lord's house, return to their own homes and daily live holy lives and bear witness to the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus in their daily vocations. Mr. President, please keep reminding us that our Lord is actually carrying out His mission in these ways and through us earthen (cracked-pot?) vessels.

At the risk of sounding too simplistic, our mission work needs to look less like the business man meeting his quota of products sold and delivered. Instead, it needs to look more like the young lady who has just received an engagement ring. She doesn't need to be cajoled, harangued, or coerced to show it off and announce to any and all who will listen, "I'm getting married!" No, she does all of that quite naturally and even with a certain improptu and vivacious spirit. She does it out of sheer joy that the one she loves wants to spend the rest of his life with her.

Our mission work, Mr. President, needs to be like that--inspired and motivated by the sheer joy that the One who died and rose for us loves us sinners more than we can either deserve or fathom, and He wants to spend all of eternity - all of His life - with us. With such an engagement to our heavenly Bridegroom, we cannot but show off the jeweled "ring" of His Gospel goodness and mercy.


...to Daughter RAsburry for showing me this clip. The dog sure sounds like he's barking "Batman!"

(Okay, so you may only get a real kick out of it if you remember the good ol' '60s cheesy TV version of Batman with it's theme: "Na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, na-na, Batman!" But even if Batman's not you're thing, the dog's bark is still funny to hear!)

19 July 2010

Wish List for New LCMS Prez - Item #1

Now that the 64th Regular Convention of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod is concluded and entering the history books, official and otherwise, the dust is beginning to settle. And a great amount of dust there is to settle and to sift through: massive restructuring of the synodical bureaucracy (the effects of which we cannot even begin to fathom at this point), a new LCMS president (a faithful pastor and theologian whose responsibilities and burden of office have just increased exponentially), and by all accounts many other good and faithful officers and servants to help guide and steer the ship of the LCMS.

With the advent of a new LCMS president on the horizon the mood of many in the synod may very well be summed up as: "What next?" Perhaps we can even say that the mood leans toward: "What will President Harrison do to restore, guide, heal, etc. the Missouri Synod?" So with such thoughts in mind, allow me to be so bold as to make and publish my own personal "Wish List" for our new POTS (President of the Synod).

Before I get to Item #1 on my wish list for Pres. Harrison, though, please also accept a few points by way of disclaimer and qualification. In no way do I claim to set any kind of agenda for Rev. Harrison as he takes the reigns of a church body that desperately needs to be brought back on line with its own stated confession of doctrine and practice. I fully acknowledge that Pres. Harrison, by God's forgiving grace in Christ Jesus and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can figure out his own agenda for leading the synod.

In no way do I expect Pres. Harrison to read, consider, or ponder my wish list items, let alone acknowledge them in any way. After all, I'm sure that he has plenty to do just to transition into his new position, plenty to do once he's in that office, and will have many capable assistants and advisers who are much more apt at advising than I.

However, what I do want to offer here is simply a "view from the pew," as it were, some wishes from the vantage point of a simple parish pastor. Someone has called it the "highest office" in the Church, de iure divino (by divine right) for those of you know and like the Latin. Perhaps this "view from the pew" from a parish pastor might provide some benefit for one who has just been thrust into a high and lofty position, that is de iure humano (by human right) for those of you who want even more Latin. Or maybe it will just spark some thoughtful consideration and conversation in this forum (which is my real intent).

Now, disclaimers and qualifications aside, here is my Item #1 on my "Wish List" for Pres. Matthew Harrison.

Pres. Harrison, you said some pretty amazing things in your address to the LCMS Convention just moments after being elected. Most crucial and most refreshing were your words about sinners and forgiveness:
I wish to inform you that you have kept your perfect record of electing sinners as presidents of the Missouri Synod. I guarantee you I will sin and fail. I will fall short. I will sin against you. I wish also to say, that right now I forgive all who have in any way have [sic] sinned against me or anybody else, and plead your forgiveness for anything that I said or did that offended you. I beg of you your prayers, I beg of you your daily prayers and intercession (http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=11559).
The number one item on my "Wish List" for you, Mr. President, is that you keep this focus on sin and forgiveness, both for yourself and for us. I know it's easy to say so now, at the beginning of a new chapter, and, no doubt, an overwhelming one, in your life and the life of the LCMS. But I also know that the passage of time, the daily routines and the usual, laborious grind of churchly business, returning phone calls, attending meetings, and dealing with many and various crises can tend to overwhelm and take precedence.

Mr. President, please don't let the land of synodical bureaucracy - a.k.a. "synodocracy" - zap your sense of being a sinner who needs forgiveness from Jesus Christ. Please do not let strong winds of bylaw bureaucracy and convention-resolution-mania or the earthquakes of massive restructuring or the fires of urgent issues and crises muffle the sound of the Lord's low whisper of sins forgiven by the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, we need to hear that focus on sin and forgiveness, both for yourself and for us. We need to hear it because it is the Lord's very breath of life, both for you and for us. Bylaws and convention resolutions come and go, and ne'er a one gives life with our gracious and loving God. But the message of God's forgiveness in Christ? That makes all the difference in the world--all the difference between life and death, between heaven and hell, between the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ and a church body merely seeking to make a name for itself.

Keep reminding us, most genuinely and most humbly, that you are a sinner. We need to hear that! No, not to denigrate you or your office, but for other reasons. First, we need to be reminded that you are not our savior nor the savior of the LCMS. Many of us--myself included--trust that your pastoral heart and your theological mind will certainly bear wonderful fruits for confessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and spreading that Evangel and living the compassion of Christ, but we also need to be reminded that you are merely a sinner, as are we, and simply serving at the behest and pleasure of our merciful Lord Jesus Christ, the real Savior of the Church.

Second, we need to hear that you are a sinner in order that we may follow your example. Yes, we need to learn to admit that we are sinners too. Please lead us by example. As a parish pastor, I need to admit my own sinfulness and failures. Not only do I need to do so more and more, but I also need to do so more publicly before my parishioners, just as you have admirably shown before the convention. Thank you!

Most of all, keep reminding us, most genuinely and most boldly, that we are all forgiven by the blood of Christ. We desperately need to hear that! Keep reminding us that without Christ Jesus, without His sacrifice on the cross, without His ongoing presence and His gifts given in the Gospel, in Baptism, and in the Holy Supper, we have nothing. Please keep reminding us of our forgiveness in Christ in order that His life-giving Word may bear fruit in our lives, especially the fruits of trusting Him for all things, of caring for one another, and of getting that message of forgiveness out into the world. Keep reminding us of the eternal Evangel, and then we will trust that the task of evangelism will, by the Spirit's guidance, fall into place.

Please, Mr. President, keep our focus and yours on sinners who need the forgiveness that only Jesus Christ can give. And since you have requested our prayers and intercessions, please know that you have them from me, a simple parish pastor.

14 July 2010

Harrison Election in the News

Stltoday.com, the online version of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, ran these stories on Rev. Matthew Harrison's election to serve as president of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod:

Harrison beats Kieschnick for Lutheran presidency

Conservatives' pick wins Lutheran denomination's presidency

13 July 2010

New President, Old Message

This afternoon the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod in convention elected the Rev. Matthew Harrison to serve as its next and 13th president. Very interesting in light of the power-centralizing measures that the convention has also approved in the past couple of days.

I thank our gracious God for His servant Rev. Harrison - yes, for his recent election as LCMS President, but even more so for his faithful service as a sinner relying solely on God's forgiveness in Christ Jesus. It's truly the age-old message on which the Church lives, survives and thrives. Rev. Harrison's remarks right after being elected said it all.

First, he cited St. Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 12:26: "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together." What a fabulous verse to acknowledge the reality of an election such as this! Yes, those whose candidate did not get elected are suffering, and we suffer with them. And those whose candidate did get elected are rejoicing, but let's do so in the same humility with which Rev. Harrison approaches his new responsibility.

Then Rev. Harrison commented on his need for forgiveness, asked for forgiveness from the assembly for any and all against whom he had sinned, and offered his forgiveness to any who had sinned against him. Now that's a great way to begin a presidency: focusing on the forgiveness that comes from Christ Jesus and that we are called upon to bestow on and share with one another. That's the age-old message that heals and binds us together as the Body of Christ.

I truly treasure the humorous comment Rev. Harrison made regarding the LCMS convention and himself. To paraphrase, he commended the convention for keeping its perfect record of electing a sinner to serve as president of the LCMS. Nothing new is needed! The age-old message of sinners in need of Christ's forgiveness - especially sinners who are put in positions of leadership - and sinners truly receiving that cross-won forgiveness is the healing balm that we all need, both inside and outside the LCMS.

So I will continue to pray for God's mercy to be showered upon Rev. Harrison and the LCMS, especially as he takes on this new mantle and our church body learns to follow his lead. I also commend to Rev. Harrison and to all who serve in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod these words from St. Paul:

"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found [faithful]" (1 Cor. 4:1-2).

11 July 2010

Homily for Trinity 6

In years past when I've preached on today's Gospel reading, Matthew 5:17-26, I've focused on the "big picture" of our righteousness needing to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. Today, however, I chose to focus in on vv. 23-24, especially where our Lord says, "First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." With that theme - "First Be Reconciled!" - today's homily focused on reconciling with one another because our Lord has already reconciled us to His Father.

To listen to this homily, click on this link and then download the audio file. The Lord bless you and keep you!

(The statue shown here is by Josefina de Vasconcellos who made it at the age of 90. It was donated to the Coventry Cathedral on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II [1995].)

06 July 2010

And speaking of Vocation...

...here's a great quote from Dorothy Sayers, compliments of the Doxology website (www.doxology.us), on just what makes a "good work."

The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and is orderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.
Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
Yet in her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.
And why? Simply because She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.
Let the Church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade—not outside it. The Apostles complained rightly when they said it was not meet they should leave the word of God and serve tables; their vocation was to preach the word. But the person whose vocation it is to prepare the meals beautifully might with equal justice protest: It is not meet for us to leave the service of our tables to preach the word.
The official Church wastes time and energy, and, moreover, commits sacrilege, in demanding that secular workers should neglect their proper vocation in order to do Christian work—by which She means ecclesiastical work. The only Christian work is good work well done. Let the Church see to it that workers are Christian people and do their work well, as to God: then all the work will be Christian work, whether it is church embroidery, or sewage farming.
…If work is to find its right place in the world, it is the duty of the Church to see to it that the work serves God, and that the worker serves the work. (Dorothy Sayers, "Why Work?" Creed or Chaos? [Harcourt, Brace: 1949/1974 ed. Sophia Institute Press], pp. 77-78)

Homily for Trinity 5

What's a preacher to do when a major societal holiday, such as the 4th of July, or Independence Day (U.S.), falls on a Sunday, the Lord's Day? It's always a conundrum because our people in the pews are most certainly thinking about and participating in the societal holiday, and fittingly so, and yet the conscientious preacher needs to focus on what God says and let the Church's sense of time remain paramount.

Such was the case this past Sunday. The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, Luke 5:1-11, gave us Jesus teaching from the boat and giving Peter and company a great catch of fish. It gave us Peter confessing his sinful state and Jesus absolving him with the words, "Do not be afraid." It also gave us Jesus calling Peter to his new vocation of "catching men alive," that is, proclaiming the Gospel and thus rescuing people from the "sea" of their sin and death by bringing them into the boat of the Church.

And yet Independence Day was also predominantly on the minds of the hearers!

What's a preacher to do? Stay faithful to the text (I hope) and yet give recognition that it is a big day in the life of our people (and, yes, in the life of the preacher as well).

So for Sunday's homily I tried to maintain this balance: preach the text and apply it to the context in which my hearer's found themselves. It was also a great opportunity to touch on the Christian understanding of "vocation," especially as citizens in our nation. Since "freedom" and "independence" were obviously on the minds of my hearers, I used the title "Real Freedom Where God Has Called You" to proclaim the freedom of Jesus' Absolution and how that freedom leads us into our vocation as citizens.

To listen to the audio file of Sunday's homily, click this link, download the audio file, and listen away.

30 June 2010

Helpful Quote on Preaching?

The following quote comes from Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) in his Yale Lectures on Preaching of 1872. It was today's Reading IV in For All the Saints, vol. IV, p. 173. Just out of curiosity, I'd like to know what you, the readers of this blog--especially the clergy though also welcoming responses and insights from lay readers--think about the content of this quote:

There are, also, some specialties in this true Christian love and sympathy that bear upon the pulpit. In the first place, the whole cast of your thought and the subjects with which you deal are to bear the impress of this good news,--that God is Love, and that God so loved the world, that, having died for it, he now sits at the right hand of God, a risen Saviour, to live for it.

If you preach justice alone, you will murder the gospel. If you preach conscientiously, as it is called; if you sympathize with law and with righteousness as interpreted by the narrow rule of a straight line; if you preach, especially, with a sense of vindictive retribution,--I do not care who the criminals are,--you will fail of your whole duty. There must be justice, and punitive justice, of course; but, after all, "Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord. It is a quality so dangerous to handle that only Infinite Love is safe in administering it. No mortal man should dare to touch it, for it is a terrible instrument. You are to administer all the great truths, the most rugged truths, in the spirit of the truest sympathy, benevolence, and love.

So, what say you? Is the content of this quote helpful for the preaching task or not? If so, how so? If not, why not? How does it help, or not, the preacher diagnose our sin and then give us the healing medicine of Jesus the Physician of the soul? Pros? Cons? What's helpful? What's not?

Now it's your turn. Comments, questions, or "smart remarks"?

29 June 2010

Homily for Trinity 4

My homily for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity this year focused on Jesus' familiar image of a speck in your brother's eye and a log (plank) in your eye. With the title "Seeing Specks and Pondering Planks" I tried to focus on the differences between the verbs that Jesus uses in Luke 6:41. "Seeing" the specks of sins in our neighbor's eye is almost matter of fact. However, Jesus summons us to "intensely ponder" the large plank of our own sins. How does God's mercy in Christ Jesus rescue us from focusing too much on our neighbor's sins? Listen and find out.

To listen to this past Sunday's homily, click this link, download the audio file, and listen. May our Lord bless you as you hear His word of mercy and life.

22 June 2010

Moving toward Glad Giving

This article is a follow-up to my previous article on tithing. After some feedback on that article, first published in the April edition of my congregation's newsletter, I decided to step back and try to give a more "Gospel-way" of moving toward the salutary practice of tithing. Yes, tithing can seem like a burdensome law, but it need not. Rather, we can view and approach it as a God-given goal for living the Christian life, trusting God to provide for us and loving our neighbor in need. This article first appeared in the June-July 2010 issue of "The Hope Lutheran."
Back in April I used this column to introduce and teach the topic of tithing—giving 10% of your income to your congregation. God clearly teaches tithing in the Bible, both by example and by challenge. Yes, God actually challenges His people to tithe and see how He will bless! See Malachi 3:8-10. April’s article also ended with this interesting and, I think, inspiring quote from Lutheran pastor John H. C. Fritz: “If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. of their income,…the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, and there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit.” (Pastoral Theology, 259-260)

Now I can almost hear the voice in your head wanting to cry out: “Pastor, that’s all well and good. But we have light and phone bills to pay. We have to buy clothes for the kids and put food on the table. We have to pay the credit card bills, the doctor bills, and the mortgage or rent. We can barely get by and make ends meet as it is! How can we possibly tithe, or give 10 percent of our income?”

Bear with me. April’s article is not the only piece of the puzzle. It certainly was not meant to be a club to make you feel guilty. Not at all! Let’s look at God’s teaching on tithing as the destination (goal) where God wants us to live our life. Yes, God teaches it. Yes, He wants us to learn to give. And, yes, as His redeemed people, we do want to live life as He teaches and grow in His ways. After all, we do trust that our heavenly Father knows what’s best for us.

But we also have to deal with our real life challenges, where we find ourselves right now—budgets stretched as tight as a drum, perhaps debt up to our eyeballs, maybe learning to live with lower family incomes, etc. Real life is where we are now.

So let’s ask ourselves: How can we go from point A to point B? How can we move from where we are now to the destination God has for us in managing our finances? How can we move from our stress-filled financial pictures to the joyous and peaceful goal of living and giving as God teaches? How can we move from money worries to glad giving?

A Matter of Grace
The first thing to remember about the Biblical teaching on tithing is that it is a matter of grace. Yes, God teaches it in the Bible. Yes, I devoted my April article to it. But it’s not intended as a club, or a law, or a guilt trip – in any way.

If you cannot possibly give 10% of your income in the church offering at this time, God is not mad at you, and neither am I. Your salvation does not depend on whether you tithe or not. You are not a better Christian if you do tithe, nor are you a worse Christian if you don’t.

Your heavenly Father loves you, saves you and provides for you completely by His grace and mercy as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ. He does not teach you to tithe in order to burden you. Not at all! Remember St. Paul’s words: “For 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 Corinthians 8:9). Now that’s grace.

Also take a look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34. There our Lord Jesus exhorts you not to be anxious – not to worry – about your physical needs. God knows that you need food, drink, clothing, shoes and other bodily and daily needs. And God graciously provides for them purely out of His grace and goodness—because He already loves you.

So let’s always remember that tithing is a matter of God’s grace and learning to live in that grace He gives through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

A Matter of Growth
Since tithing is one goal that God gives us, it also makes sense that God wants us to grow into that way of life, that is, move in that direction. It’s part of what St. Peter says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Back in April I mentioned that God is the greatest Giver. He has created us and redeemed us to grow in His image, that is, grow into being better and better givers. This, of course, applies to all areas of life, including when we manage His gift of money.

So the question for each of us becomes: “How can I grow into tithing? How can I move toward being a glad giver?”

One practical step is to work at getting out of debt. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Debt is just plain dumb! I know, that’s not how our government acts or what our society says these days. Radio ads routinely advertise taking out another loan (more debt) in order to get out of debt. Sorry, but you cannot dig your way out of a hole!

The Bible actually does teach us about the folly of being in debt. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Also look up Proverbs 6:1-5. Think about it this way. When you are in debt – any debt, no matter how big or how small – the money you must use to pay the credit card bill or the student loan bill, well, it does not belong to you. It belongs to the creditor. And since that money belongs to the creditor, you really do become “slave of the lender” until you completely pay off those debts! (Think fees and interest rates!)

Then consider this: what better things could you do with that money if you had the say so over where it goes? How would it make you feel to use your money for purposes other than paying creditors? Instead of playing endless “catch up” with VISA, MasterCard, or Sallie Mae, you could actually use the money God gives you for more productive purposes, such as saving for a rainy day, preparing for college for your children, or even giving to help those in need. Yes, when you get out of debt – when you have the real say in how to manage the money God gives you – then you can give more freely and more gladly.

A second practical step in moving toward being a glad giver is to plan and work at increasing the percentage that you give. (And if you are used to giving a certain dollar amount, then simply figure what percentage that amount is. Take that amount, either by month or by pay period, and divide by the amount of income per month or pay period. Presto, you have your percentage. :))

Let’s illustrate. Let’s say right now you can only give 5% of your income in the offering. Thank the Lord for that! That’s a good gift and accomplishment. As you more carefully plan how to use the money God gives you, and as you pay off those unnecessary debts (everything except the house payment), then challenge yourself by raising that percentage figure. Perhaps in a couple of months you can increase it to 6% or 7%. Maybe by in a year you can bump it up to 8% or so. As you keep taking the steps to manage your money (instead of letting it dictate to you!), you can plan to increase your percentage for giving, and you will rejoice in being able to do it.

Giving with Gladness
So, tithing is a matter of God’s grace—we are saved by His grace and we grow into being better givers by that same grace. It’s also good to remember that everything we have in life, including money, really belongs to God, not to us. Check out Psalm 24:1. As someone once said, “It’s very easy to give away someone else’s money.” That’s how we can learn to give with gladness: we realize that the money does not belong to us in the first place; we are simply “asset managers” for God.

In 2 Corinthians 9 St. Paul gives good instruction and sage advice on how to live as Christians who are also glad givers. In verse 6 he says, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Gladly giving has great benefits. Since God has freely given everything to us, especially forgiveness of sins and eternal life, we can also “sow bountifully,” that is gladly give – in all areas of life.

St. Paul continues: “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7). No, God does not want grumpy givers, people who give only because they have to or because they think somebody else is forcing them to give. Remember God’s grace! Instead, God “loves a cheerful giver.” The Greek word translated “cheerful” is the word from which we get “hilarious.” So, “God loves an hilarious giver” – a giver who laughs when he/she gives, a giver who finds great joy in giving to help other people. (Hmm. Can you imagine everyone joyfully laughing as they put their offering in the basket? :))

Finally, St. Paul gives a glorious promise. It’s a promise intended to comfort and inspire us as we spend our whole lives learning to trust our Lord and move toward glad giving: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work…. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” (vv. 8-11)