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.