Monday, July 30, 2012

The Parable of the Prodigal Steward: Thoughts on Trinity 9

It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to get theologians to agree on the interpretation of our Lord's words. That is, unless you're asking them about the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-9). Then they are virtually of mind and one spirit: It is, they say, the single most difficult parable to understand. And then they are back to their wide disagreement.

Kenneth Bailey, in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, has some really great stuff on this parable. If you don't have the book or you learn better by listening, Bailey was interviewed on Issues, Etc about it a while back. What Bailey does is fill in the gaps as to how a Middle Easter ear would have heard the parables, what assumptions are made in the parables that we miss because of the culture gap, etc. It really is ground breaking research on the sayings of Jesus.

Having said that, I want to depart slightly from Bailey's interpretation of this parable. In a nutshell, Bailey says that this parable is about letting everything ride on the character of God. We should place all your bets on God's grace. We should put all our eggs in one basket, and trust that he will It's convincing, and I think he's right to a certain extent. But I don't think Bailey takes it far enough.

Here's why. Bailey's interpretation doesn't make sense of the master's praise or of Jesus' summary statement in Luke 16:8. The master praises the steward for his shrewdness, his prudence, for acting wisely (φρονίμως). And Jesus says, "For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light" (Luke 16:8).

A good steward is shrewd. A good steward is prudent and wise. He manages well. But that was what he was being brought up on charges for not being. He was accused of being wasteful (διασκορπίζων) of his masters possessions, just as the Prodigal Son was wasteful of his inheritance, and the older son is wasteful of his father's generosity while he's at home.

So how is lowering what his master's debtors owe him shrewd? How is that wise and prudent? And why does our Lord praise it?

The shrewdness, the prudence, the wisdom, I contend, is in the motivation for his action: self-interest. This is even the motivation of the Prodigal Son. Neither of them are moved by a pure heart. They see the utter helplessness of their situation, and they want out. They want better. And so they say to themselves: "This is what I will do so that I am welcomed . . . ."  And this is what is left hanging in the balance with the Old Son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Will the Older Son do what is in fact in his best interest? Or will he be stubborn and refuse?

As Lawrence Wells wrote, "The Steward is a man who thinks of the future. This sets him apart form the majority who think only of the present, 'dealing with their own generation.' In his cunning and willingness, the steward is a mirror image, a picture in reverse, of what the Christ is called to be, a person who knows he will face judgment and have a future in eternity." Our Lord puts before us to consider what really is in our best interest.  He says make use of the shrewdness of the sons of this world and capitalize on it. For in so doing, the Prodigal Son was welcomed back into his Father's house, and the Prodigal Steward was praised by and welcomed back into his master's house. So, too, act and do what is in your best interest. Come to the place where Prodigals of all stripes are welcomed back into their Father's and master's home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thoughts on a Mixed Metaphor: Trinity 8

Jesus opens with talk of wolves in sheep's clothing, and the only way you can figure out if your dealing with a wolf or a sheep is looking at a tree to see if it has good or bad fruit. So wolf trees will bear wolf fruit and sheep trees will bear sheep fruit. Capiche? Yeah, I thought not.

Instructive is this little line: "who come in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." Ravenous wolves devour. They are parasites and leeches. They are hypocrites, play-actors, dressed up to look like one thing but inwardly are another altogether, who in the end can't hide who they really are. In the end, they must show their true colors. For their works, their words, their fruit will be known.

They are ravenous. And so they will eat. They will devour. They will take and take and take. Their sole purpose will be to prop themselves up, to make themselves look good, sound good, and feel good. Everything will be about and for them. False prophets always lead to idolatry, away from the Lord and his Words (Deut 13:1-4; Rev. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). For their fruit is rotten, poisonous and when digested takes from the body, causes the body to decay along with it.

True prophets aren't ravenous. They don't take. They give. They give of themselves for the benefit of others. They care not for themselves but for others. Their fruit nourishes, feeds, and fills you up. True prophets sacrifice themselves.

The true prophet is Jesus. And only those who live off of Him, who live from Him, whether pastor or hearer, shall live and be full. All else with be devoured.

They will be devoured either by the wolf who by his demands for works that God has not commanded, or for works that God has commanded but for a gain He has not promised. He will feed off their insecurity, their uncertainty, their doubts. He

Or they will be devoured by the fruit that doesn't give nourishment, that doesn't give life, but rather poisons and brings death. The fruit that would have them believe that in doing this or knowing that, they will finally be like God. The fruit that doing this or knowing that, they will finally have God's wisdom. The fruit of destruction that leads us into works of the law to gain and merit salvation, to make us like God, and to give us wisdom. Instead the true fruit, the fruit that gives life is given, is shed from the tree of the cross and given in bread made His body and wine made His blood unto everlasting life, to join us to God and Him to us, and to open our eyes, our minds, our hearts to the Wisdom of God and our lips to glorify His Name forever.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gottesdienst West: This Wednesday in Kearney, NE

Several districts have sent resolutions to Synod to end "lay ministry" and restore AC XIV in the the LCMS (Southern Illinois, Wyoming, Indiana, Central Illinois. . . I know there are more). The Synod president has also been talking about this topic publicly as he visits the district conventions - even in places like the Northwest District which, along with a few other districts has issued resolutions asking us to keep violating AC XIV.  There is every reason to hope that the 2013 Synod Convention will be presented with a plan that will map out an end to the LCMS' twenty-something year hiatus from the AC. But it will only happen if there is a groundswell of support from pastors and laity alike. 

To that end, Gottesdienst has a one day conference on Lay Ministry and AC XIV scheduled for this Wednesday in Kearney, NE. It's districts like Nebraska that will turn the tide in the LCMS: they have lived with a district bureaucracy that supports lay ministry for a long while, but as individual pastors have taught and fought for the truth, things on the ground have changed. We'd especially like to see a lot of laity at this conference. Full registration information is here


Friday, July 20, 2012

The man in black

It's a miserable, hot, drought-stricken summer here in the Midwest. On Monday I had some shut-in calls to make as well as some errands to run. These were to take me in different directions so I figured I could do the errands first and skip the clergy uniform, then head for home to get dressed for the shut-in calls. It has been so hot and sunny out that just making a few stops, walking from the car to the store, etc., will sweat you right through your collar. But then I recalled that the last time I had been out on errands that way, I had run in to a parishioner I had been wanting to talk to and was glad that I was dressed appropriately. So into the blacks I went. I didn't see any parishioners, but the checker at the store did say to me, "You are a priest, right?"

"A Lutheran priest, yes."

"Well, I have a question I've been wanting to ask. . . "

This happens all the time. It's one of the reasons I think it is important to dress my vocation when I'm out in public. There are many other reasons, too, but this is probably the controlling reason. So why don't "missional" folks go for a clergy uniform? Wouldn't it make them more accessible? Make witnessing easier?

Ah, but you forget that our target audiences are so different. I think it is important to dress my vocation so that those people who want a pastor can spot me if they need me. I dress as I do for the sake of the elect. I need to be visible to them because I am owned by them, I am their servant for Christ's sake. The missional/functional Arminian type is out to find the "unchurched." They want to talk to unbelievers, to the kind of folks who don't want to talk to a clergyman. So of course they can't dress like a clergyman.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Trinity 7, Mark 8:1-9 Initial Thoughts

How did we ever get sucked into the translation disciple for μαθητής? Was there ever a more harsh law word in all of English? A μαθητής is a student, a pupil, a learner.  Ninja sensei have disciples that live under their discipline. Rabbi’s don’t. They have pupils. But with the Lord it is more, of course. Pupil or student just won’t do. The Lord is no mere rabbi. The right word is catechumen. That is what the Twelve were and what all those follow (not lead!) Jesus are.

We’ve dealt enough with σπλαγχνίζομαι, but here it is again.

“been with Me” for προσμένουσίν μοι seems a bit weak. They have remained in His face. This is fellowship talk. They are abiding in His face and now stand in that in between place, away from the city, away from home, but with the Lord.

ἀπό μακρόθεν ἥκασιν – the verb is perfect. We might translate it with an English perfect: “they have come from a great distance.” But that doesn’t get the nuance. The Greek perfect is almost always a present in English. We rightly translate γεγραμμένον “It is written,” not “It has been written.” The idea in the Greek perfect is that some completed past action has present and ongoing consequences. So also here. Some of these people have come from a great distance and that is hanging over their heads. It defines and endangers them. There are not way stations, no hotels, no resting places along the way. So we do better with “they are come from a great distance.”

The 12 catechumens respond with this uncommon word for feed:  χορτάζω. TDNT doesn’t deal with it. It is a cognate of the word for pasture. According to Wuest, Plato uses it to refer to men with some derision, perhaps like the Krauts and fressen. But the Lord uses it in the sermon on the mount, μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται. And the catechumens add ἄρτος. This is the second time the Lord has done this sort of thing. Maybe these catechumens have been better catechized than we thought and the question is a set up. Maybe the Lord means more than physical sustenance and maybe the catechumens are in on it.

παραγγέλλει τῷ ὄχλῳ ἀναπεσεῖν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς  - He commands the crowd to recline as at a feast upon the earth. Παραγγέλλει – “He directs” is too weak. He commands is better. He doesn’t command they sit upon the grass here but that they recline and upon γῆ.

Insofar as this miracle is typical of the Sacrament of the Altar, this command foreshows the sacramental presence moving out of the Temple and to all the earth. No longer is the presence limited to the Holy of Holies. So also something is shown here of the Lord’s exaltation. Since the Resurrection the Lord now always and fully uses His Divine rights and attributes as a Man. Thus He – as a Man – in His risen Body and Blood – is present in the Sacrament all over the earth and is not limited by physicality. So they sit upon the earth for a feast, as the kings and rulers of the earth, for they abide in the presence of the Christ.

If this miracle is typical of the Lord’s Supper, so also is the manna in the desert. This miracle stands parallel to that. But no distinction is so important as the posture of those who eat and are satisfied. They do not labor for this bread. They do not go out and gather up a day’s worth. It is brought to them.

Friday, July 13, 2012

What is a Fan?

By Larry Beane

[Note: Cross-posted from here at Four and Twenty + Blackbirds]

"Fan" is short for "fanatic." A fan is a person with a passion. In fact, to be a true fan of something is to place it above all things. To be a fan is to have commitment and zeal - and maybe even in quantities that some might find excessive. A fan doesn't care about that. A fan pursues his passion with gusto. 

Many people claim to be football fans.  What does a football fan look like?  What demographic characteristics define a fan, say, of the local NFL team, or of NFL football in general?  It certainly isn’t related to factors like age, sex, or race.  Football fans come in every shape and size.  There is a universality among football fans that transcends such cultural and physical markers.  Football is transcultural.  It brings people together – even across boundaries of generation, education, socio-economic status, political affiliation, and physical appearance.  There is a mutual love of team and sport that binds this “otherness” into “community.”

Local communities of fans rally around the local team, gathering at specific times and at specific places, e.g. the local stadium or sports bar.  Fans gather to discuss, to sing the praises of the team, and at times even argue about what is best for the local franchise and for the sport in general.  Fans listen to talk radio, and maybe weigh in sometimes.  Fans watch the NFL Network and local sportcasts, and they likely read articles in sports newspapers, magazines, or the Internet.

Fans share their passion with those around them, perhaps wearing an identifying mark of the team or of the sport, or perhaps decorating their homes and property with such symbols.  There may be ritual words and gestures known to other fans when they greet one another, when they cheer something positive, when they lament something negative, or when they participate on game day.

Fans observe a cycle, a season.  There is the ever-new excitement of the draft, of contract negotiations, of new players coming on and old players departing, of the pre-season games.  There is opening Sunday.  There is a regular season.  There are the playoffs, leading to the culmination of the football year: the Super Bowl.  In addition, there are special occasions, such as all-star games and other events during the course of the year.  A true fan participates with, and joins in, the cycle of the season.  Even during the off season, there are things fans can do to hold onto their zeal.  The season provides a personal and community framework that is both excitingly fresh and comfortably familiar.

Fans have a reverence for the past.  There is a Hall of Fame, there are trophies and rings and sculptures.  There are statistics.  There are cards honoring iconic heroes.  There are tributes and feasts and opportunities to call to mind times of glory, as well as to commiserate times of trial.  Fans watch videos, read books, and talk with one another about what came before.

Fans are ever hopeful for the future.  No matter how terrible last season was, true fans come back with the faith and hope to look forward.  For they know that anything is possible “on any given Sunday.”  They stand by their team, win or lose - even when their heroes throw interceptions or fumble the ball.  They are always there to cheer their kicker through the taunts of the opposition.  They will greet the team at the airport in victory and in defeat.

Being a fan is a family affair.  Children are brought in at an early age – often as babies, being initiated and photographed with a ball or a team logo well before reaching an age old enough to decide for himself which team to follow – or even to be a fan at all.  In fact, a true fan feels more that the team and sport have chosen him, grabbed hold of him, and shaped him - and not vice versa.  There is a trans-generational character of family fan life as older fans pass on not only knowledge and factual  information, but also customs and traditions, to the younger fans.  These in turn will pass the heritage on to posterity.  Season tickets are sometimes put in wills.

Family life of a football fan family revolves around the game and the team.  The family is eager for Sunday to come.  And when it does, young and old gather in stadiums or around televisions.  There is often tailgating and grilling of food and the serving of drinks.  There is special food and ritual that goes with game day – both regular Sunday games and those outside the Sunday cycle.  Birthdays and holidays are specially blessed for fans and their families, as gifts often bear the images of their favorite teams and players.  Fan families may toss around a ball or participate more fully in the sport – in both organized and spontaneous ways.  Their homes and offices bear reminders of their passion, love, and devotion for the game.

There is often great social pressure to be a fan – particularly at certain times of the season.  Many people are quick to describe themselves as fans, but do not bear the fruit of fanhood.  They may think that a fan is someone who simply says that he is a fan.  Such people may wear a jersey on occasion, or even watch a game once in a while.  There are people who claim fanship only when the weather is nice, when the team is winning, or only on Super Bowl Sunday.  But one wonders if such people are just going through the motions, seeking the benefits of being a fan without bearing the cost of fanship.  There are indeed those who will abandon the team when it is losing, when the coach or owner makes an unpopular decision, when the ball bounces the wrong way, or when another distraction comes along competing for attention.  On any given Sunday, one can observe the motion of crowds to determine where people’s passions are to be found.

To be a fan is indeed to be a “fanatic.”  It is to love one’s passion above all things – to the point even of irrationality.  A fan’s life is governed - in time and space, in family life and social fabric, in good times and bad - by that which makes him what he is.

Gottesdienst for a New Generation?

By Larry Beane

I was just invited to our district office for a special presentation "to be part of a process that can help instill new excitement and confidence in reaching to the community to make disciples." The presenter is an LCMS pastor who will be presenting a "hinge event" to teach us how to "start a new life cycle" for our congregations "opening the door to [our] community, releasing the creative genius of God’s people, discovering the 8 hinge factors for revitalization."

Sounds intriguing.

The presenter holds a D.Min. from Fuller and is the executive director of an RSO.  He is also on staff at an LCMS congregation, as "Revitalization Pastor" and pastor of "Small Groups and Discipleship" of his congregation. His congregation runs a spin-off church (more accurately, a "partner church") as part of their vision. The spin-off church offers this rubrical explanation of their Sunday Gottesdienst (called the Sunday Gathering).:


Nothing too fancy - our Sunday Gathering isn't a production, but we want to tell you what you'll step into: 

Usually we drink coffee/tea and eat donuts and talk for a while, then around 10 AM we stand and sing a few songs, try to concentrate more on God, pray, take an offering, dismiss 3-year olds through third graders to KidsChurch... listen and interact with a teaching for about 40 minutes, maybe sing another song, then back to consuming what's left of the donuts/coffee/tea while finishing up paused conversations and starting new ones.

On the fourth Sunday of the month we celebrate Holy Communion. When there are five Sundays in the month we don't do Gathering here at all - we're out in the city doing various projects in what we call Restore Weekend.

Sunday Gathering is only one-third of what we do: the other two-thirds are spent in the community serving various non-profits in their (and our) quest to be good news, and hanging around with new and old friends processing God and Life.

love God.  love neighbor. serve city. 

Welcome to the tribe.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Of Vocations and Jobs

Some thinking out loud for a paper I've been meaning to write for a long time and keep not getting around to. . .

Between Law & Gospel, Church & Ministry, Justification & Sanctification, and Vocation it is hard to know what the most abused distinctively Lutheran theological contribution might be. Today I think it might be vocation.

A job is not a vocation. You cannot have a vocation to work at MacDonald's or Lockheed Martin. You have a job at MacDonald's or Lockheed Martin that can help you fulfill your vocation, but that particular job is not your vocation. Otherwise, how could you ever decide to stop working at MacDonald's and start working at Lockheed Martin? What cause could you give for leaving your God-given vocation of flipping burgers?

That's one great misunderstanding of Luther's doctrine. I think it might spring from Luther's own time period. Luther's doctrine has more than a tinge of the notion of class to it. You should be content with your vocation, your station, in life. If you are a servant, you should not want to be a freeholder. If you are a freeholder you should not aspire to be a lord. If you are a lord, you should not try to make yourself king.

How does that kind of thinking map on to modern, technically class-free society? Not very well, I'm afraid. But I don't think it means Vocation is bad theology, I just think it means that Luther himself sold the idea a little too short. Modern classless society teaches us something that Luther perhaps could not quite see. Namely, that the God-given vocations (as opposed to jobs) are actually quite few in number: husband, father, wife, mother, son, daughter, brother, on down the list of family relationships; pastor and parishioner; subject and ruler; and that's about it. The other stuff amounts to a list of jobs that must be subservient to the vocation. A king can't take up the job of candlestick maker because it would interfere with his vocation. But a husband-father-subject can take up candlestick making, or butchering, or stockbrokering as he sees fit. He can pick his job, but not his vocation.

Either that or modern classless society is simply disordered. I'm willing to be convinced of that as well.

We also need to consider the idea of Providence more deeply in regard to vocation. Someday I'll pull down Gerhard's volume on this topic and learn enough to be about to write this paper, Lord willing. . .


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

CID Bids Synod to Undo the Wichita Fiasco

Wow, that was easy.

Not only did the Central Illinois District elect Rev. Mark Miller to be its next president--an excellent choice--and put in a couple of fine vice presidents too, but it also passed a dandy of a resolution.

Perhaps it was because this was the first resolution we voted on, and some delegates were caught flat-footed, or maybe the Central Illinois District is just becoming that much more theologically aware, but in any case we just memorialized the Missouri Synod to fix the lay ministry fiasco that was foisted upon us when the Synod in Convention passed it in 1989 (a resolution that is wryly labeled among us as the Wichita Convention Amendment to the Augsburg Confession), and we did it without any debate, and with a resounding 199-23 vote.  Hm, do you believe in miracles?   Here’s the resolution, sensitive to the current situation, but unbending in its commitment to our confession.  Kudos to the CID.

To Require Uniformity of Practice With Regard to Word and Sacrament Ministry

WHEREAS, St. Paul distinguished between overseers or bishops (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13); and

WHEREAS, The overseers of the Bible have usually been called pastors in the Lutheran Church, based on Acts 20:28; and

WHEREAS, St. Paul also warned, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22) and “an overseer must be … not a novice” (1 Tim. 3:6); and

WHEREAS, In certain situations today, the Synod approves of preaching and administration of the sacraments by men who have not been publicly called to, and placed in, the office of the ministry (this position is expressed, e.g., in 1989 Resolution 3-05B, “. . . when no pastor is available, and in the absence of any specific Scriptural directives to the contrary, congregations may arrange for the performance of these distinctive functions [preaching and administering the sacraments] by qualified individuals”); and

WHEREAS, The Augsburg Confession's fourteenth article reads, “Concerning church government it is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call” (Kolb-Wengert, p. 46); and

WHEREAS, The systematic theology faculties of both seminaries, acting jointly, have published a detailed statement on “The Office of the Holy Ministry” (Concordia Journal [July 2007]: 242-255), which states in part,
“The Confessions never use the truth that the whole church possesses the power of the keys to make the office of the holy ministry unnecessary or merely useful. On the contrary, this truth serves as the basis for the church's right to call, choose, and ordain ministers. . . . [T]he Treatise [on the Power and Primacy of the Pope] does not imagine churches without ordained ministers of some kind, even in emergency situations or when no one else will call and ordain men for the office. As confessors of the same doctrine, neither should we. . .

“'[C]all and ordination' are essential for conduct of the ministry. . . . What is the sign of authority for ministers today? It is their call and ordination, which assure that they act by divine right and on the authority of Christ. This truth makes such ideas as “lay ministers” invitations for difficulties and troubles to ministers whose authority is doubtful and to laypersons whose assurance of God's grace may be questioned.” (pp. 253-254, 255); and

WHEREAS, The two seminaries are now implementing the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) Program mandated by the 2007 Synodical Convention; and

WHEREAS, The 2007 “Resolution 5-02 Task Force” reported in the 2010 Convention Workbook concerning situations currently served by licensed lay deacons, but after much debate 2010 Resolution 5-03A “To Address Lay Deacons” was referred back to committee and not brought back for action; therefore be it

Resolved, That the Central Illinois District in convention express its regret at the current situation in the Synod at large concerning men who are conducting Word and Sacrament ministry without being publicly called to, and placed in, the office of the ministry; and be it further

Resolved, That the Central Illinois District in convention memorialize the Synod in convention to direct the Council of Presidents to develop a plan and lay out procedures:

A) So that all men who are currently engaged in Word and Sacrament ministry without being publicly called to, and placed in, the office of the ministry may either be enrolled in the SMP program or cease from all forms of Word and Sacrament ministry by the end of 2019, and

B) So that all current Synod and District tracks, programs, licensing procedures etc. which train men for Word and Sacrament ministry without benefit of being publicly called to, and placed in, the office of the ministry can be phased out in favor of SMP by the end of 2019, and

C) So that the Council of Presidents can report on this plan to the 2016 Synod in Convention for approval, emendation, and adoption; and be it finally

Resolved, That the Central Illinois District in convention memorialize the Synod to make necessary changes in the SMP program in order to assure that the men enrolled in the SMP program be called “deacons” rather than pastors, and that they not be ordained or called as pastors until they complete the full SMP program.

Life Without Liturgy...

Thank God for the Divine Service, for the Word and Sacraments, for the Gospel, and for the Theology of the Cross. Kyrie eleison and come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What will persecution look like in the modern West?

It won't be lions in amphitheaters and certainly won't be incense and the genius Caesaris. It will be more like the Human Rights Commission of Canada pulling Mark Steyn in for thought crime. Or Australian pastors getting dragged to court for saying unnice things about Islam.

We might well be on the way to "hate speech" laws in the US; we already have several "hate crimes" in federal and state legislation. But the devil and the world have all they need already to inflict persecution on the Church through bureaucratic busybodies and zoning laws.

Now, some will no doubt argue that this guy in Phoenix should have just kept the zoning laws; that's he's a jerk who's asking for it; that he obviously didn't get along with his neighbors; that we should obey the state in all things that don't directly conflict against the Word of God, etc. I'll remember you said that when the city closes down the ladies Bible study you hold at the parsonage, or the county closes down your school's hot lunch program, or the state fire marshal says you can't have a Christmas candle light service any more. . . . all of that unless, of course, you pay $XX,XXX for the needed permit/renovations/zoning exemption, etc.

All of us in the increasing bureaucratic West play along to get along as much as we can. We seek to live quiet, peaceable lives which means attempting to keep all the bureaucratic regulations for the sake of peace and good order. But when is it time for churchmen to say enough is enough? When is it time for the Church to speak up for the 7th Commandment and property rights seeing as how they directly affect the Church's ability to do her work? And if you think the time is not when Phoenix says you can't have 15 people over for a Bible Study in your own home, or 20 people in your backyard for a BBQ, would you please tell me when the time is?


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Checklists in the Ministry

Earlier this year, I read this book review of The Checklist Manifesto. "Checklists seem able to defend everyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized. They provide a kind of cognitive net. They catch mental flaws." And this is really the major point. Checklists help people get done what needs to get done without as many mistakes.

Consider for example packing lists, grocery lists, recipes. These are just checklists. Now I could do all of these things without, but when I do I usually forget something. And that's what we're trying to avoid. We're trying to avoid missing something. We don't want to have to reinvent the wheel every time. So we make lists of what needs to be done.

There are some things that we do as pastors that can benefit from a checklist. This is one of the points behind Fr. Curtis's post on Concerning Pulpit Supply. Another of these things is funerals.

Funerals require a lot of components. And this can be difficult to remember because you can't always plan for when they are coming. A well-made checklist can relieve you of the stress that comes with the  thought: I hope I'm not forgetting anything. So here is a checklist that Fr. Christopher Seifferlein has made for funerals.

Part of his checklist includes what readings to use with the family at different stages and what to focus on. Having prefabbed sermon outlines like this can be very helpful for when you are on your way to visit the grieving family and you're thinking to yourself: "Um, what do I say? What am I going to talk about?" The LSB Agenda and the Pastoral Care Companion help a lot, but they don't do it all. You still have times when you're expected to say something that isn't from the book. So spend a few minutes now going through a few of the suggested texts for "At the Visitation," "For Those In Grief," etc, and put together a short outline of what you say when you visit them. (I have done this for hospital visits. I have something I do for my first visit, second, and then returning home, something for pre-surgery and post-surgery, etc. I don't always stick to it because I also use the propers for the week. But having it there takes the pressure off in case I get a midnight call or something.)

Anyway here is the list:

Funeral Checklist
Before Funeral Home
  • Pray for the deceased and for the family
  • Pull File and/or Church Records
  • Determine age of deceased:  ____
  • Arrange the ringing of the church bell
  • Call church organist to determine availability
  • Determine time and date of funeral home meeting: ________________
At Funeral Home
  • Readings & Prayer-Discuss the theological purpose of the funeral
Widow at Nain-Remembrance, Grief, Burial, Words of Christ (Why are we here, what are we here for, my role)
  • Determine the time and date of service:____________
  • Determine organist arrangements
  • Discuss placement of casket during visitation (narthex or at the front of the nave)
  • Determine how many pews to reserve on each side of church.
  • Explain Funeral Pall its use symbolism, request assistance from pall bearers if so desired
  • Determine cemetery where burial will take place
  • Discuss the families wishes regarding the desire to stay by the cemetery until the casket is lowered.
  • Request Favorite Hymn & Reading Selections from Family
  • Determine meal and menu arrangements.  Give name/# of individual to call for luncheon to funeral director
  • Determine the number of people expected for the service: ____
  • Determine the number of people expected for the luncheon: ____
After Funeral Home
  • Call Elders/arrange Elder(s) to assist with funeral
  • Call Head of Luncheon Committee (Carol Navis)
  • Call Cemetery Sexton (Bob Navis)
  • Call janitor and arrange for church to be cleaned before and after the service
In Preparation for Service
  • Determine Readings
  • Determine Hymns
  • Call and relate service information to organist
  • Complete Bulletin
  • Liturgy Preparation
  • Sermon Preparation
  • Prepare Wake Readings/Prayer-Theme: “Jesus In Remembrance of Me,” or “Upper Room.”
  • Prepare Pre-Service Readings/Prayer-Mary/Martha-Sustained by Jesus Words
On the day of the funeral
  • Meet with elder to go through the service: ringing of the bell at the beginning of the service, ringing of the bell at the end of the service  
  • Meet with organist to go through the service including the execution of the prelude/postlude
  • Meet with Funeral Director to go through the service including placement of the casket, funeral pall
  • Get out the funeral pall
After Funeral Service
  • Put Death Date in Computer
  • Put dates on computer to call the deceased
  • Fold up funeral pall
  • Put Funeral on Official Acts of the next Council Meeting

Use this as a starting point. Not every place is the same, so you will have to adjust it for your circumstances. But it's a great start. And the likely hood of you forgetting something, will be smaller.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

More Thoughts on Trinity 5

Taking a second glance at this Sunday's Gospel, got me thinking about why Peter says, "Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man." In my last post (Thoughts on Trinity 5: When Fisherman Become Nets), l said that what Peter says is true. I would like to modify that statement. What Peter says is only half true.

Here's the truth: Peter is a sinful man. But why should that mean that the Lord must depart? That is the falsehood. That is false humility and a false confession. That is the voice of Satan. For Adam, when hearing the Lord walking in the garden after the fall, did not cry out "Depart from me." He hid. He was afraid and so he hid.

But that didn't stop the Lord. He found him. He went to Adam. He called Adam to Himself and gave the first fair trial. In fact the history of Scripture is how God longs to and draws ever closer to be with His creatures. He comes to them. He finds ways to be with them. He ensures that He will be there God by dwelling with them.

So no it is not a foregone conclusion that the Lord must depart. The conclusion is that Peter must repent. And that's inconvenient. It's inconvenient because we like our sin. We like the status quo. We don't like people rocking the boat. We like to carve out parts of our lives to hide in. We want to be like the atheist who cares for no one but himself and what he wants. And so we become practical atheists, compartmentalizing our lives: This part for God and this part for me. And the things of God become relegated to one hour of one day of the week.

And even then, we say depart from me Lord, for I am sinful and I can't bear to deal with it. I'd rather be ignorant of it. I don't want to die so I will act as if the road I'm on isn't the slow slaughterhouse drive that every cow and pig must take.

But when you are standing before Jesus you can't ignore it. For you can't deny death when you're standing in front of the Lord of Life, But it is only by standing in front of the Lord of Life that you can escape death. We are always afraid that things will change, that they will be different. And so we ask the Lord to depart so that we don't have to face it. But the point is it won't really be that different. You will still die. But now you will live because you are with, you are in the Lord of life.

And so Jesus replies: I'm not going anywhere. I am the Lord who dwells with His people. I am Emmanuel. "Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men alive." Don't be afraid. I will not abandon you. I am with you always, unto the end of the age. I am in the boat. No I will not abandon you. You will have to abandon me, you will have to jump ship. You will have to die in the water. For fish can only live in the boat, in the baptismal waters of the boat.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Thoughts on Trinity 5: When Fishermen Become Nets

After Peter pulls in the busting nets, having let them down at the Lord's Word, he turns to Jesus and says: "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord." And Jesus replies: "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." 

Nevermind the change in words for Lord here (in verse 5 it's ἐπιστάτης, while in verse it's κύριος). It's important, but I'm more concerned with this: how does Jesus' reply really answer or fit Simon Peter's plea? Can you say non sequitur?

Matthew and Mark have the very familiar "Follow me and I will make you fishers (or fisherman, ἁλιεύς) of men" (Matt. 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–20). Luke doesn't say that. He says: "from now on you will be catching (ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν) men.” ζωγρέω is catching, but it's more than that. It means to catch, capture, or net alive. So in Luke, when Jesus says "from now on you will be catching men," He is saying that you will be capturing, catching, netting men alive. 

The picture here is not of the disciples sitting in their boats casting out the net of the Word to catch men. The picture is that Jesus is in the Boat casting out by His Word the disciples as nets to catch men alive. The disciples here are the net. Jesus is the Fisherman. 

And this is the picture that the whole account gives. Jesus is the one giving the directions. The disciples are just instruments for the Lord. They just do what Jesus wants. And even if they're busting under the pressure, the Lord is faithful. He knows what He's doing. 

And so, how does this answer Peter's plea? The Lord is the God of the living not the dead. He is catching men alive. And so He wants us alive not dead. And so do you really want me to depart form the boat? That, I think, is the last thing you want, Peter. Yes you are a sinful man. And, yes, I am the Lord. But let's stay in the boat together. For where I am, there is life even for sinners. And where there is life for sinners, there is forgiveness and salvation.

Come in from the deep and into the boat. The Lord wants to catch you alive. It is the only safe place for sinful men. Either that or be swallowed up by a bigger fish (Jonah 1:1–17) or be caught alive by the dragon from the sea (). May it not be so for us, may God grant us repentance, "leading to a knowledge of the truth, [that we] may come to [our] senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured (ἐζωγρημένοι) by him to do his will" (2 Tim 2:26).