Sunday, September 30, 2012

Rev. James A. Lee Ordination Sermon

Rev. James Ambrose Lee Ordination
Trinity Lutheran Church Worden, Illinois
John 20:19-23
September 26, 2012 A+D

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Aquinas thinks that the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body is a necessary antidote to the forbidden fruit. Our first parents brought terrible misery upon us by eating. Fruit, meant for knowledge, was abused and taken by force, bringing guilt, need, and death down upon us. Our Lord responds not merely by taking these things into Himself, substituting His law-keeping for our law-breaking and His innocence for our guilt, but also by providing His very Body as Food to replace that which we stole and to undo its effects. His Body removes guilt, satisfies our hunger, and bestows life. 

In some ways, His Body gives what was falsely promised to Eve: it makes men like God. There is irony here to be sure. Men lusted to be like God. So God, to fix the thing we broke, took up what we despised. 

All the Greek myths, by the way, can be understood in this way. Man goes awry when he seeks immortality. Icarus wasn't meant to fly. That was reserved for the gods. Pandora wasn't meant to open the box but chafed against being merely human. And wasn't Eve's lust also partially for knowledge that only God should have?

Perhaps the Greeks better perceived the natural law than we thought, or, as descendants of Noah, they retained a confused version of the truth.

We lusted for God. We wanted to be immortal and above the Law. So He took up that which we despised: mortality, weakness, hunger. He became a Man, a creature, born under the Law, that we might be elevated and be like Him. Do we not now know, in Christ, both good and evil?

So Eve gets what she thought she wanted, the object of her temptation. It is bit like David keeping Bathsheba. It certainly seems wrong. Uriah is dead at David’s hand. David’s son is dead for David’s guilt. But he gets his cake and eats it too. He keeps Bathsheba. He gets, in a sense, what he wanted. That is more than kindness. That is high injustice: that, however, is grace.

The Body of Jesus given in the Sacrament gives precisely what we tried to steal from the tree of knowledge. We are like God because God is more than like us: He is one of us. He has a Body and He has Blood and in it He unites us to Himself.  We reap not only where we did not sow, living in houses we did not build, but we get the inheritance by killing the Son. That which we sought to steal is declared a gift. We are welcomed into the family of the Holy Trinity.

It is no wonder the Romans thought we were hedonist cannibals and atheists. We wanted to become gods so god became a Man and declared us His sons and His Bride for killing Him.

Put your feet up, baby, it is Christmastime. Welcome to the happy insanity that is Christianity. I was listening to Johnny Cash sing the little drummer boy on the way here. The song is high on schmaltz, to be sure. But consider for a minute how unusual a piety Christians have that they can write such songs. A dirty little boy can approach God almighty and give Him a worthless gift without fear and even with the correct expectation that God will accept it. The Muslims don’t write any such songs about Allah. This is a distinctly Christian ability and it is because our God has made Himself a Man precisely that we might approach Him. He is not angry with us despite our sins. He forgives us. David gets to keep Bathsheba. This is the happy insanity of Christianity, of grace.

In any case, I think Aquinas is on to something with the connection between the Sacrament and the Fall. And I wonder if the character of the Fall isn’t also seen in the institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry. Death sent an ambassador into the garden, an angel in the form of a snake, who beguiled Eve with clever lies and false promises to tempt and seduce her. The living God responds by sending ambassadors, called angels in St. John's revelation, into the wilderness of our exile to speak the Truth and proclaim God’s promises, not only to expose the lies of the devil, but also to break the bonds of temptation, to reconcile rebels to their God, to declare them righteous and welcome them to the feast in the garden. Men were seduced by words to eat. Men now are called by words to eat and live. 

All pastors sent by God as anti-devils, undoing with words what the devil did through words. Perhaps that is why the primordial and creative breathing is repeated in the Upper Room. Ash Wednesday's curse is not quite true. We returned to dust in the Fall but God rebreathes live into us again through the Apostolic Ministry. What is breathed into them but the new Adam which they breathe out again in preaching? Dust we were and to dust we returned, but the Holy Spirit comes and revives us again through preaching and absolution. The preachers undo the lie, undo death, by telling the truth. They remove the curse by proclaiming the promise, and their words are carried on the breath of the Holy Spirit. That is why preaching leads to the Sacrament . The devil lied and pushed Eve into the thorns through eating. The pastors tell the Truth and take Eve by the hand, gently leading Her to the Life of God in His Blood. 

So that is your charge, James: tell the truth. Lead the Bride to the Supper, to the Bridegroom. Undo the curse. Breathe the Holy Spirit out upon dusty men in need of Good News and Life with God. And God will be with you even as in you He will be with them.

In Jesus' Name. Amen.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

He Is Worthy Who Has Faith in the Word of the King: Thoughts on Trinity 20

There is no feast unless there is first a sacrifice. There is no application of blood, no feasting at the Lord's table unless there is first a sacrifice.
"For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests. And on the day of the Lord's sacrifice—“I will punish the officials and the king's sons and all who array themselves in foreign attire. On that day I will punish everyone who leaps over the threshold, and those who fill their master's house with violence and fraud." (Zephaniah 1:7b-9)
Notice here the similarity between Zephaniah and Matthew 22:1-14 in general. (Our Lord's midrash on Zephaniah perhaps?) But of particular importance is this: The Lord prepares the sacrifice and the feast is assumed. In Matthew 22:1-14, the feast is the main thing. But a feast assumes a sacrifice.  In Matthew, therefore, the King who is sending out invitations to the wedding feast of his son has already prepared the sacrifice. For there is no feast unless there is first a sacrifice. 

The wedding feast of the king's son is no ordinary party. It is a great occasion of the state. Consider the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. This was no ordinary day. The whole world was watching, but more important was the response of the United Kingdom. Every Duke and Dutchess, Earl and Lady from the Kingdom was there, regardless of how far they needed to travel. So also those invited first by the king in Matthew 22 would have been the other great men from throughout the kingdom. 

And their attendance would have been expected without excuse, not that these particular invitees took the time to RSVP with regrets. Indeed, their attendance would have been expected not only as a necessary expression of the honor they owe their king but also as an expression of their loyalty to the legitimate successor to his throne. Political allegiance is at stake here. To refuse the invite is tantamount to rebellion. This isn't just a snubbing of a party. It is a deliberate contempt for the king's authority. It is insurrection, and they know it. And thus the king responds as kings do when confronted with rebellion in their own kingdom.

But since the feast is in honor of the wedding of the king's son, he can't simply cancel it. It must go on. And it most certainly can't be empty. It must be full, overflowing. And so the king, for the sake of His son, sends the invitation into the streets. For if you're to get the most bang for your buck, if you're going to invite the most people so that the party will be full, then you go to the streets because that is where the people are. 

We mustn't assume then that the people came straight from the street. They had time to go home and change. They had time to go home and wash up. For if the king requested your presence before him, you most certainly would put on your best. Dressing for the occasion indicates one's full participation in that occasion. Wearing festal garments, therefore, indicated a full participation in the feast. To appear in ordinary working clothes, on the other hand, showed contempt for the occasion, contempt for the king and his son, contempt for their authority. It was a refusal to join in the king's rejoicing. 

A king's authority is only seen in his words. He rules by commands and edicts. A king doesn't fight with his army. He commands them to fight in his stead. He may be present, but he doesn't fight. He speaks, and what he speaks is carried out. To refuse the king's invitation (his calling, his summons), either by refusing to come or refusing to participate on his stated terms, is a rejection of that authority, a rejection of his word. And so both are unworthy--unworthy because they reject the word (the calling, the summons, the invitation) of the king.

Where does that leave us? There is no feast without a sacrifice. The Lord has made the sacrifice. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is crucified. Forgiveness of sin has been won. But you don't get it there. The sacrifice is prepared. The meat has been roasted (in the Father's wrath). The blood is ready for application. So come to the Feast. Come at the Word of the King. Come discerning His Body. Come to the wedding feast of the Son of the King, who invites you for the sake of His Son. He invites you. He wants you there. And He invites you because of and for the sake of his son. Trust that what He says is true, for He who died is alive out of the grave just as He promised. Come then, and eat and drink at the Lord's table. Be merry and rejoice. Dine on and rejoice in the Lord's sacrifice, which takes away sin, cleanses from all unrighteousness, makes the dead to live, and sinners into saints. Come at His Word and according to His summons, His invitation. Join the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, join with angels and archangels in festal gathering, join with the whole company of heaven (Hebrews 12:22-24). For he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." And faith is no private matter. Faith is seen.

Out of the barn!

At long last, Gottesdienst is in the mail! 

A bit late this time, for various reasons: writers got behind, editors missed deadlines, replacement NFL officials were used, etc.  We'll have to work extra hard to get things back on schedule for next time.  If you haven't subscribed to the print edition, do so now, and we'll send yours out.

It may be late, but it's another smash.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why you should patronize the pope's hospitals

Because if your Lutheran pastor gets to his final shut in call of the day and realizes he is a few pieces of altar bread short in his Mass kit, he can ask the chaplain if he has some spare Cavanagh 1 1/8" in the sacristy.

Incidentally, all of my interactions with the priests of Rome have been professional and cordial. Must be that spirit of Vatican II. . .


Monday, September 24, 2012


By Larry Beane

As a postscript to Fr. Curtis's advice on advice, I would like to offer some of my own.

Actually, I don't really have advice so much as some questions. In this video, two of my brother pastors are giving the same advice that I would also give a new pastor (and I frequently do). In no way am I questioning their wisdom. Like I said, I agree with this advice in general - which is what a YouTube video is: general advice. And I believe the only way to keep a man in the ministry - a man who has devoted four years of his life, possibly his family's life, four years of seminary and church resources, financial and otherwise, to train for the holy ministry - is to really be careful about making changes in the parish. I think most of us in the ministry have seen and experienced the heartbreak of classmates and friends, brothers in the office, who have quit or been run out of their parishes by trying to change something. And so, to new graduates, we all counsel "festina lente" - make haste slowly - especially in matters of worship.  It is such universal advice as to be cliche.

In the video, the second pastor speaks of things that will make the new pastor "uncomfortable."  I think he has hit on something very profound.  Pastors - especially new pastors - can expect "discomfort."  He doesn't mean that the temperature might be too high in his study or that his shoes don't fit well any more.  Rather, he is referring to things that will cause a pastor spiritual discomfort, discomfort in his conscience, in what he knows is right, in his being hamstrung from leading and teaching what he himself has been led and taught to do. For that is what many of our seminary graduates find when they are sent forth to their primary congregations. In some cases, these men will be shocked and scandalized by what they will find.

In spite of the fact that, as Fr. Duddleswell pointed out from the BBC series "Bless Me, Father," it is an "ugly Protestant word," I am going to ask: "Why?"  Why are pastors uncomfortable in theology and practice, and perhaps must remain so for years, decades, or even their entire ministries?  Why?

Why do we teach men in seminary that we in the LCMS practice closed communion - not because it is policy, not because it is in the handbook, not because some bureaucrat or convention (popes and councils) have decreed it by parliamentary fiat - but because it is the right and proper thing to do, the biblical thing to do, the Christian thing to do - only to then tell these men to act immorally, contrary to the Bible, and against what the church has always done - once they get into a real parish?

This is the very definition of dissonance.

Why do we pledge to norm our teaching by the Book of Concord, which unambiguously confesses against infrequent communion, and is actually quite clear that the Holy Sacrament is to be offered at least weekly - only to pull the stilts out from a man and encourage him to violate the confessions (at least for a spell) that he has sworn to uphold as soon as he actually gets a call?

Why do we train seminarians meticulously in the theology and practice of the liturgy only to tell them to yield to their congregation's wishes (even if it is just for a while) to abolish it if that is what they encounter when they leave the seminary's bosom?

In any other context, we encourage people to keep their vows - even if it is unpopular. We never counsel a seminarian or newly minted pastor to cheat on his wife if that's what is going on in his parish (at least for the time being), until he has "earned their trust," until he has led Bible studies, preached sermons, and distributed CPH tracts on marital fidelity for a period of months or years.

We don't encourage pastors to ignore the commandments the way we encourage them to ignore entire articles of the Augsburg Confession (at least until enough catechesis has happened).

Why do we educate our pastors about the importance of these matters only to tell them they are not actually so important to actually do them when they actually get a call - in the interest of not being a "bull in the china shop" or not being "winsome" or some such?

Again, I am not encouraging anyone to be a "bull in the china shop." The situation is what it is. If you go into your first call and immediately institute every-Sunday Eucharist, abolish non-liturgical worship, or close down the "y'all come" communion statement, there is a right good chance you will swiftly be CRM, unemployed, or maybe even divorced. You might be moving back in with your parents and looking for a fast-food restaurant that is interested in hiring M.Div.'s who washed out of the pastoral ministry.

But again, I am asking "why" this is.

I think the answer is this: we don't believe Walther.

Yes, that's it. And I'm not a particularly big fan of Walther.

But we give grandiloquent lip service to Wather's Law and Gospel. We use the very words as almost a mystical incantation, even pronouncing it in some cases as "Lawn Gospel". It is as Lutheran as brats and beer. But here is the problem: if a congregation (or a subset of members) refuses to accept a pastor's instruction and exercise of pastoral shepherding - be it for closed communion, frequent communion, or liturgical worship - they are sinning. It may well be a case of a small faction of the congregation that is leading the charge against "the new guy" who wants to "change" how "we've always done things." Not only are such parishioners sinning by endorsing unbiblical practices and/or violating their own promises to abide by the Lutheran confessions, but they are adding rebellion against authority and impenitence to the mix. And if things get ugly - as they often do in these situations - rumors and attacks on reputations, gossip and slander may start flying around the parish.

And so we tell the pastor just to sidestep the whole thing, go along to get along. Back up ten yards and punt. Hopefully, you will get the ball back in the fourth quarter (i.e. when you are nearing retirement and the antagonists in your parish have all gone to their eternal reward).

We do not counsel the pastor to call the sinners to repentance. We do not encourage the pastor to - in Walther's words - give "not one drop" of the Gospel to the impenitent. In fact, we tell him to do the polar opposite: to yield to the sinner. It's just easier. It's less trouble. The paychecks keep coming. The seminary doesn't have egg on its face. It keeps the DP off your case. And you get to look "pastoral" and "wise" in not confronting the sinner.

But I want to ask again, "Why?"  Why do we ignore Law and Gospel in this case?

And to that question, I think the answer may be that we believe Walther a little too much. Poor C.F.W. just can't get a break!

I think much of the problem is our Waltherian polity. Pastors are not just beholden to, but dependent upon, the very people whom he is expected to call to repentance. It is not unusual for the biggest donors to be the most demanding, the loudest and pushiest of those who object to things like liturgical worship, closed communion, and weekly Eucharist. Often the very people leading the charge to compel the pastor to tolerate sin are the ones the pastor can ill afford to tick off.  The sheep corral the shepherds.  Hebrews 13:17 is turned on its head.  The pastor is a hireling.

Moreover, the pastor is caught between the pincers of the congregation and the district office. In our current polity, the District President wields considerable power. It may be apocryphal, but I've heard a quote attributed to Dr. William Weinrich that our district presidents today enjoy powers that Roman Catholic bishops can only covet. If a pastor causes headaches for his DP, the DP can in turn blackball the pastor - even if only informally, by dropping a name or raising an eyebrow.

And so new pastors are told from every source imaginable: the congregation, the district president, the seminary, and yes even from Gottesdienst editors - make changes "slowly" - a pace that might even be so slow as to not make them at all.  Gospel reductionism covers a multitude of antinomianism.

But woe to you, Pastor, if you do not heed this advice even if you heed your conscience. You will very likely be eaten for lunch. Your reputation may be trashed, you might lose your salary, your district president may put you under restriction, your former professors may pretend you don't exist, your colleagues in the ministry may click their tongues when they talk about you, and you might even find yourself depressed and on psychotropic drugs.  And you would have plenty of company.

And like the poor vicars who are compelled against their consciences to speak the Words of Institution over bread and wine, nobody in the seminary or the ministerium or the synod bureaucracy will help you. In their defense, they cannot. Our polity leaves pastors (and those training to be pastors) twisting in the wind.

In fairness, there is not much anyone can do other than mourn the loss of our friends while secretly thanking God that it isn't us that has been devoured - at least this time.  This is our dirty little secret.  I don't have any answers nor any advice of my own other than to reiterate our Lord's pastoral advice to the apostles to be "wise as serpents and as innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16) and St. Paul's pastoral advice to St. Timothy: "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine" (1 Tim 5:23).  The former advice is paradoxically theological, while the latter is therapeutically practical - even as both are biblical.

And as Fr. Curtis says, your mileage may vary.

Of Ordo, Text, and the Future of Missouri's Worship

We don't abolish the Mass, but keep it religiously. That's what we claim in our Confessions. We are not sectarians. Not in doctrine, not in liturgy, not in ceremonies.

Or, as Gottesdienst has long put it: the liturgy is not a matter of indifferent things. How we worship directly affects what we believe, and in turn flows from what we believe in a self-reinforcing feedback loop. The way I've tried to speak of it: piety matters; or again from Fr. Beane, we should have real worship.

It was always clear that President Kieschnick had another understanding. Under his leadership, the Synod Convention got its first praise band, complete with trap set. He encouraged the seminaries to offer contemporary worship services in chapel twice a week since 40% of our parishes used some form of contemporary worship (that's 2/5 for our non-math majors: thus, 2 days per school week). His core supporters in JesusFirst were very much of the "diversity in worship" crowd, because that's what "grows the Church."

After nine years of that kind of leadership, where will the Harrison administration seek to lead the Synod? A glimpse into Fr. Harrison's mind was given when he answered questions at the NWD back in June (start at 1:22:30):

I have stated clearly that I am not opposed to contemporary worship, the issue is not instrumentation. I am a strong supporter of the ordo: if you ditch Confession & Absolution, if you mess around with the Lord's Words, if you're ditching the Creed, then I think that's out of bounds. But I think we can come, with time we can come to some resolution of those ideas.

It would be unfair to read too much into unprepared comments during an open mic session at a district convention so we should tread lightly here. The Harrison administration is obviously still seeking to put some flesh upon the bones of this outline of its stance on the Worship Question. After bouncing some ideas off a few of my fellow editors at Gottesdienst, here are some observations and questions to ponder as we all wait for the Koinonia Project to get up and running at full speed.

Not Opposed to Contemporary Worship

Was ist das? Antwort: from the context it would appear that when Fr. Harrison says he is not opposed to contemporary worship he means that he is not opposed to the sort of instrumentation common in the worship that goes by the moniker contemporary. So he is not going to oppose electric guitars, trap sets, and the catalogue of CCM (insofar as the lyrics of the latter are non-heretical) in LCMS churches. He is not opposed to such things, yet he has certainly given no indication of being favorably disposed toward them either. He's just not going to actively oppose that sort of thing.

That sounds like a tactical decision: divide the music question from the question of the ordo of the Mass, push the big buttons, first things first, divide and conquer.  One can see the logic: if you can win them over to the ordo of the Western Mass, surely the music will fall into line, for when have you every seen Divine Service Setting I (or III) cum praise band? But that line of reasoning brings with it its own questions.

* Those who fashion their own liturgies, that is, those who "ditch the Creed" and "mess around with the Lord's Words," sure seem to be the same folks who go for the electric guitars and trap sets. Why is that?

* Even if the two things can be separated in our minds for the sake of discussion, that does not prove that the folks practicing it think they are separable in practice. What do these folks think about this question?

* Are there any definable limits to appropriate music in Church? Will this ever be a question worth discussing? Is there any music whose use in Church would warrant opposition?

The Koinonia Project would seem to be designed to help us find answers to the first two sets of questions; that is good. Perhaps once they are answered, the third set of questions can come to the fore.


What does Fr. Harrison mean by saying that he is a "strong supporter of the ordo"? What is the ordo? Again, we cannot read too much into unprepared comments in a Q&A session, but Fr. Harrison's words do let us come closer to understanding his definition of the ordo, even if apophatically. If you ditch the Creed, if you mess with the Lord's Words [of Institution], if you ditch Confession and Absolution: you are not keeping to the ordo. As the Harrison administration fleshes this out, these are the kinds of questions they will have to answer.

* What exactly are the parts of the ordo? Can we leave out the Agnus Dei but not the Introit, or vice versa? Why or why not?

* If we do not use Confession & Absolution in public worship because we use private absolution instead, is that out of bounds?

* If we don't ditch the Creed, but do write our own contemporary, perfectly orthodox Creeds, or substitute a portion of the Small Catechism in its place, is that out of bounds? If we follow the rubric of the historic Western Mass and omit the Creed at lesser festivals or weekday Masses, is that out of bounds?

* Is the lectionary part of the ordo, or only the ordinary of the Mass? Is it out of bounds to use a lectionary of one's own devising?

* Can each pastor and congregation, a la Luther's Deutsche Messe, come up with their own rewordings of the ordo of the Western Mass week in and week out so long as that outline is followed?

The position Gottesdienst has been urging for years is well known: Lutheran congregations should worship like Lutherans. Historically this meant that each Lutheran jurisdiction would have its own Church Order that enforced certain liturgical boundaries on all the parishes in that jurisdiction. This included a specific incarnation of the Western Mass, a lectionary and calendar, and at least general notes about music. Diversity around the edges between these jurisdictions was always a fact of life; indeed, long before there were the Saxon Church Order and the Church Order of Braunschweig, there were the Liturgy of St. Ambrose, the Gallic Mass, and the Mozarabic Liturgy existing side by side in peace and harmony in jurisdictions next door to each other. But liturgical chaos within  a jurisdiction, glaringly distracting contradictions between jurisdictions, and flat out copying the worship of sectarians, were never part of what it meant to be Lutheran.

This position can be summed up much more succinctly thus: "exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school."

Or again, we might say that each of 6000 congregations being able to write its own agenda week in and week out is by its very nature not done "without thoughtlessness and offense in an orderly and becoming way" (FC X).

Of course, we at Gottesdiesnt also enjoy lively discussions about the bene esse of worship. We have our 'druthers, too. We are not shy about advocating for specific ceremonies, for specific orders of the Mass, for specific lectionaries among the truly Lutheran alternatives. We are not shy about arguing among ourselves as to whether the Church is best served to reserve the Sacrament or not, exclusively use the Common Service or not, elevate and genuflect or not, use the Historic Lectionary or not, etc.  But we know that such things are of the bene esse of Lutheran worship, not the esse. 

So we will wait to see how Father Harrison seeks to catechize the Synod in the question of worship. The glimpse we've seen so far gives us great reason to hope. We look forward to hearing what he has to say and being a part of the wider discussion. I'm hopeful that he is right, that some resolution can come. And I'd love to hear him next say something like this as a starting point: "We have three hymnals in English with no fewer than nine orders for the Divine Service between them. I would like to see every one of our parishes offer the Divine Service according to one of the orders from one of these books.  (We've got another setting in Spanish, and our brothers to the North have one in French. If you need one in another language, just holler.) I can't force you to do this and I'm not going to take an adversarial approach. But I am going to lead you. I am going to start a series of Pastoral Letters telling you why I think that is a good idea and will benefit your parish and our whole Synod."

In short, I'd love to see Father Harrison do for this question what he does best: lead by teaching.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Luther Sermon for Trinity 19, Matthew 9:1-8

In studying for Trinity 19, I ran across THIS sermon by Luther that previously was not translated.

Luther ends with an emphasis on vocation, which would fit nicely with what I posted about private versus public faith (that post is here).

Advice for First Year Pastors: Don't take my advice

Everybody loves to give advice. It makes one feel important. It also lets one think of oneself as an expert, tell stories of one's success, etc. I know this because I am a chronic advice giver. I am the stereotypical, Deborah Tannen-studied male: if you complain to me I will offer you advice to fix your problems. I assume that is why you are complaining.

At Gottesdienst we give a lot of advice, especially to young pastors in matters liturgical. Everybody loves to give advice to young pastors. See the opening paragraph for why. But here's the thing: Your Mileage May Vary. If I had taken the advice from this video, my congregations would still have communion twice a month and not be confirming anybody under the age of 13 (after all, if it was a big deal, Pastor, why are you only bothering us about it now?). If you take my example as advice and move to every Sunday communion within six months of getting to your parish and younger communion within a couple years, you might be out on your ear looking for a job at Starbucks (after all, if you move too fast you are a jerk bull in the China shop unfit to shepherd souls). YMMV. In the final analysis you are on your own out there and have to feel your forward as best you can. The advice-givers will surely not succor you in your distress, though we might take credit for your success.

So the best advice comes with a lot of caveats, or maybe it's better to say statistics; call it Moneyball for pastors. When another pastor tries to give you advice - especially such sweeping advice as "change worship very slowly because they have to know you love them first" or "change worship right up front because when a new pastor comes everyone expects some change and this is your best chance to get a good hearing" - quiz him on his parish, get all the details of why what worked worked. And then still don't expect it to go the same for you.

Ora et labora. That's good advice at least, because it is not mine.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Discerning the Lord's Body

Failing to discern the Lord's Body in the Lord's Supper, St. Paul teaches, is a serious matter with serious consequences (1 Cor. 11:29-30).  To be indifferent in this case is dangerous, even deadly.  Discerning the Lord's Body is commanded.  Failing to do so is forbidden.

How, then, are Christians able to discern the Lord's Body?  Not with their eyes, first of all, but with their ears, which hear and heed the Word of Christ.  He speaks, and it is so.  Concerning that which can be seen, that is, the bread, He says, "This is My Body."  And again, concerning the cup of wine, "This is My Blood."  The eyes alone would be deceived, but the ears of faith listen to Christ Jesus and believe what He speaks.  So decisive is this Word of Christ, that, for Dr. Luther, the "signs" of the Sacrament are actually not the visible bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ, which are hidden from sight, but given and poured out by His Word, in, with, and under "this bread" and "this cup," for His Christians to eat and to drink.

Discerning the Lord's Body in the Lord's Supper, therefore, is to eat His Body and drink His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving.  It is not simply a matter of inward perception or attitude, but of outward activity and conduct.  Not only heart and mind, but hand and mouth discern the Body of Christ in the Sacrament.  For what is recognized by faith in the Word of Christ, is also received and laid hold of by the body.  Nor can it be otherwise.  One should not receive the Sacrament without knowing and believing what it is, but discerning the Lord's Body proceeds from the knowing and believing to the receiving of His Body and His Blood.

Such discernment is required of all communicants.  The words, "for you," require all hearts to believe, and so to eat "this bread" and drink "this cup" at the gracious invitation of Christ Jesus.  All the more so are those who administer this Sacrament required to discern the Lord's Body.  Not only in what they believe, but in what they teach and confess.  Not only in what they say, but also in what they do.  For our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded His ministers to "Do This" in His Name and stead: To take bread and wine, to bless or consecrate these elements with His Words (Verba Testamenti Christi), and to give this Meat and Drink indeed, His Body and His Blood, to His disciples (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

In this way the ministers of Christ actively discern His Body, by giving to the Church what they have received from the Lord, in remembrance of Him.  With His Words, and according to His Institution, they distinguish "this bread" and "this cup" from all ordinary bread and wine, and from every other food and drink.  For as He speaks, so they are: His Body and His Blood.

This discernment of the Lord's Body is exercised and expressed, in the preaching of Christ the Crucified (1 Cor. 11:26), and in the way that His Body and His Blood are handled, handed out, and handed over to His Church (1 Cor. 11:2, 16, 23, 34b).  In much the same way that communicants discern the Lord's Body in both their believing and their bodily receiving of the Sacrament, so do the ministers of this Sacrament discern the Lord's Body in both their speaking and their doing, in their words (rites) and in their actions (ceremonial).

Three particular points of active discernment on the part of those who administer the Lord's Supper are the consecration of the elements, the adoration of the Sacrament, and the consumption of the Reliquiae.  The conduct of the minister with respect to these three points can be extraordinarily helpful to the communicants in their own faithful discernment.

To discern the Lord's Body requires clarity and specificity, rather than vague ambiguity and generalities.  That is to say, there must be certainty as to which "bread" and which "cup" the Lord Jesus is referring when He says, "This is My Body," and "This is My Blood."  The spoken Word, "This," must be clearly connected to particular elements, for it is the Word coming to "this bread" and "this cup" which makes the Sacrament (Large Catechism V.10-11).

Whether chanted or spoken, the Words of the Lord should be voiced without haste, deliberately and distinctly, with sober reverence (Formula of Concord SD VII.79-82).  In distinguishing the Verba from ordinary speech, already the minister distinguishes this bread and this wine from ordinary food and drink.  He faces the Altar, as the rubrics specify, rather than turning his back on any of the elements which are to be consecrated.  With gestures, likewise, perhaps with the sign of the cross, he clearly designates each of the vessels of the bread and the wine concerning which the Words of the Lord are being spoken.

In a similar manner, the historic elevation of the Sacrament (following the consecration of each element in turn), and the exhibition of the Sacrament at the Pax Domini, differentiate "this bread" and "this cup" from ordinary bread and wine.  As Dr. Luther describes, this ceremonial confesses what is true by virtue of the Word of Christ, as though to say: "Look, dear Christian, here is the body and blood of your Lord Jesus, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins."  On a smaller scale, holding the Sacrament before each communicant, with a clear and unambiguous distribution formula, makes the same confession, to wit: "This bread is the body of Christ, which is given for you." "This wine is the blood of Christ, which is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins."

The elevation and exhibition of the Sacrament invite the Adoration of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament.  This, too, rightly understood and practiced, is a discerning of the Lord's Body.  In the narrow sense, historically, this "Adoration" comprises the bowing of the body and the bending of the knee before the consecrated elements, which are the true and essential Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not as though to worship the bread and wine, which remain as creatures of the one true God, but to worship and adore the Lord Himself, who is actually and accessibly present in and with His own holy Body and His own precious Blood (Formula of Concord SD VII.126).  Nor do we look for Him apart from such tangible means of grace, by which, according to His Word, He is with us and gives Himself to us.  Discerning the Lord's Body means that we recognize and receive Him in "this bread" and in "this cup," concerning which He has spoken; and, therein, we also worship and adore Him.

Kneeling for the Holy Communion is a case in point.  The Lutherans received this tradition and practiced this custom of the Church (1 Cor. 11:2, 16), understanding this ceremony to be an appropriate adoration of Christ in the Sacrament.  In this way, also, they discerned the Lord's Body.  For they confessed with their bodies, with their bowed heads and bended knees, that "this bread" and "this cup" are, in truth, the very Body and very Blood of the very Son of God.  The Anglicans also retained the custom of kneeling for the Holy Communion, and they, too, recognized the implications of this practice; wherefore they inserted a didactic "black rubric" in their 1662 Book of Common Prayer, explicitly denying that any adoration "of Christ's natural Flesh and Blood" was thereby intended or ought to be done, and asserting to the contrary that "the natural Body and Blood of our Savior Christ are in heaven, not here."  We beg to differ with that rubric, but it does illustrate the point in a backwards sort of way.

The particular form and extent of outward bodily adoration is free, that is, neither commanded nor forbidden.  Discerning the Lord's Body does not require (nor does it prevent) any amount of bodily bowing or bending.  The heart of faith, however, in any case, bends and bows itself before the Words of the Lord, and so discerns His Body and His Blood in the Sacrament.  Where the heart thus worships and adores the Lord by faith, the Christian's body follows in some manner, in order to confess what the Lord has spoken, and to eat and drink His Body and Blood at His invitation.  Because this Sacrament is the Lord's Supper, to be eaten, the discerning of the Lord's Body necessarily includes and involves the Christian's body, as well (1 Cor. 11:28-30).

So, in this discussion, I refer to "Adoration" in a broader and more general sense, encompassing the way in which the Body and Blood of Christ are handled, distributed and received, and the way in which the pastor and the communicants comport themselves in the celebration of the Sacrament and in relation to each other.  Here I have in mind that outward behavior and decorum should honestly confess what we believe and teach (1 Cor. 11:4-10), notwithstanding the danger (and the fact) of hypocrisy on the part of us poor sinners; and that we should also discipline our bodies to act with reverence before God, and with courtesy toward one another (1 Cor. 11:22-23, 28-31).  Neither irreverence nor selfishness and animosity are adiaphora!  But, no, St. Paul instructs the Church that discerning the Lord's Body ought to be exercised in approaching His Altar (1 Cor. 11:27-28), in the eating and drinking of His Supper, and in the gathering of His disciples for this Holy Communion (1 Cor. 11:20-22, 33-34).  The pastor should follow the Apostle's lead, not only in teaching the congregation these things, but in demonstrating the same reverence and courtesy in his actions.

Whether kneeling or not, the Christian's body is intimately involved in discerning the Lord's Body, because this discernment culminates in the bodily eating and drinking of the Sacrament (1 Cor. 11:28-29).  Precisely because it is the Lord's own true Body that is present, distributed, and received in the Holy Communion, to discern His Body rightly involves more than mental affirmation, more than intellectual agreement and assent, and more than emotional attitude or verbal acknowledgment; it is finally exercised in bodily activity.  To say "Amen" to the Word of Christ, is not only to believe, teach, and confess the real presence of His Body and His Blood, but also to eat "this bread" and drink "this cup," as He has spoken.

Everything depends upon the Word and Institution of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, both the consecration (1 Cor. 11:23-25) and the consumption (St. Matthew 26:26-28) of His Supper.

Therefore, if more bread and wine are needed to complete the distribution of the Sacrament, then these elements must first be consecrated with the appropriate Words of Christ (Verba Testamenti Christi).  There can be no discerning of the Lord's Body apart from His Word, because His Body is neither given nor received apart from His Word (Formula SD VII.79-82).

By the same token, when all have communed, whatever remains of "this bread" or in "this cup" (and flagon), concerning which the Lord has said, "This is My Body," or "This is My Blood," must also be consumed according to His Word: "Eat," and "Drink."  Whether that eating and drinking (and the cleansing of the vessels) be done by the pastor at the Altar within the same Divine Service (as Dr. Luther advised), or immediately afterwards in the Sacristy (by the pastor and other communicants) — or whether what remains of the Body and Blood of Christ, that is, the Reliquiae, be reverently set apart against the next Holy Communion (as some more recent rubrics suggest as an alternative) — the Words of the Lord should not be divided against themselves, nor should His Sacrament be terminated in contradiction of His Institution.  By no means should the Reliquiae be treated like ordinary "leftovers" at home; no more so than the Lord's Holy Supper should be entangled and confused with ordinary potlucks and drinking parties (1 Cor. 11:20-22, 33-34).  Rather, to distinguish the consecrated elements from ordinary bread and wine, and therefore to consume them as the Body and Blood of Christ, in accordance with His Word and Institution, is to discern the Lord's Body rightly.

While the particulars of these several rites and ceremonies allow for some latitude and flexibility, even so, the actual discerning of the Lord's Body — in the consecration and the conduct of the Holy Communion — is given by the Lord and belongs to the "Do This," which He entrusts to His ministers for the benefit of His Church.  God grant that we, who are so called and ordained, would be found faithful and sober-minded in the administration of this Sacrament, and so fulfill this ministry as good stewards of the Mysteries of God.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Public versus Private: Thoughts on Trinity 19

We have a tendency to privatize our fear, our thoughts, and our faith. We tend think they have no life outside of our minds and our hearts. Contrary to this is what Matthew writes here in the Gospel for Trinity 19. Faith is seen. Thoughts are seen. Fear is seen. Ideas have consequences. These are not private things. They are public: perceived and known.

"Jesus, seeing (ἰδὼν) their faith, said, 'Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.'" The question is what does Jesus see? Is He seeing into their hearts? To be sure, Jesus can see into their hearts, but is that what is being referred to here. Or does He see the action of the men who bring the paralyzed man to Him?

Perhaps the exchange with the scribes gives us clarity. "And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, 'This man is blaspheming.' But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, 'Why do you think evil in your hearts?'" It seems clear here. But the word for "knowing" here is actually the word for seeing (ἰδὼν). Furthermore, the translation assumes that some of the scribes say this privately, that is, silently to themselves. But the part for "to themselves" can just as naturally mean "among themselves" (ἐν ἑαυτοῖς). So that, in reaction to our Lord's statement that the man's sins are forgiven, some of the scribes lean in together with befuddled expressions on their faces, saying among themselves "This man is blaspheming." So what does Jesus see? Does He see into their minds and hearts here? Or does He see their reaction and their corner winkle?

Finally, the people are afraid because of what they have just seen, namely the Son of Man prove His authority to forgive sins on earth. And that holy fear works doxology in those people. They leave glorifying God.

Frankly, I don't know of any commentary that says Jesus sees the action produced by either the faith or the evil thoughts. But considering the tendency today to privatize faith, to make it matter of personal taste, something that is just between me and Jesus no matter where I am or where Jesus has promised to be, makes this interaction ripe for the picking.

Faith is seen. Thoughts are seen. Fear is seen.

Faith actively trusts, and that produces something in the one who trusts. It produces the bringing of those who need help to Jesus, the only one who can help.

Thoughts are seen because ideas have consequences. The evil thoughts of those scribes was evident by their ad hoc committee meeting discussing the blasphemy of Jesus.

Fear is seen in the enactment of doxology to God for His work in forgiving sins on earth.

Lest we think that all this is private. That no one can see our faith. That no one can see our thoughts. That no one can see whom we fear. Lest we think we can hide the breaking of the First and Greatest Commandment--to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, with our whole being, in heart, mind, soul, and strength. These things are seen.

So what does Jesus see in you? Consider your life in light of the First and Greatest Commandment. What does He see?

He sees a broken, sick, and dying sinner. And seeing this, He says, "Take heart, your sins are forgiven."

The Michaelmas Skip

Dang.  Where did I put  that?  Jason asked me to chime in on a discussion someone's having somewhere on the Michaelmas skip.  Oh well, I'll just skip it.  (wait for groans)

According  to the Gottesdienst calendar (is there any other?), this year the skip is made to the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity on September 30th.  That is, we skip Trinity 17 and 18.  This will line things up so that you arrive at Trinity 27 on schedule, November 25, before launching into Advent.

Why? you ask.

I'm afraid I misplaced that information as well, but I can do some recollecting and surmising.  I'm guessing maybe this is British, perhaps having something to do with Cromwell. They observe "St. John's Tide," "St. Laurence Tide," etc.  These are divisions of the Trinity season.  When it gets to Michaelmas (Sept. 29), or the Sunday nearest, not only do we move to "Michaelmas Tide," we also shift to counting from the end of the Trinity season, setting our gaze already on latter days, at least to a degree.  This becomes more pronounced in the last three Sundays of the church-year.  I suspect that the heavy emphasis then on the Last Day is partly due to a very old, though not universal, custom of having a seven-Sunday Advent season.

Maybe somebody else has more information, but that's what I have.  For now, anyhow.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Advice for Arrogant Pastors

I probably love Lifehacker too much, but I recommend daily reading. There is tons of useful stuff on there regarding productivity.

Here this little piece Lifehacker: Sabatoging Effectiveness with Intelligence could do a lot to help confessional pastors who are frustrated with their winkels or congregations. To benefit, you'll have to accept the fact that you think too highly of yourself and are a jerk, but it is time for that anyway. You think too highly of yourself. Admit it. You think you are a smart pastor, smarter than average, with a better insight into true Lutheranism. You do. If you didn't, you wouldn't be reading this blog.

We all think too highly of ourselves. Our piety has rightly taught us to be ashamed of that. It is good that we don't speak this way about ourselves even if we often feel or think these things. But our stupid pride has lots of ways of getting us. Because we won't say these things out loud, we might not even allow ourselves to admit we think them. Then we believe our own humility act and it becomes a point of pride.

As long as you deceive yourself about your own arrogance, this article will never help you. Trust me on this: it applies. Here is some very practical advice for how to get along with brothers in the Office who don't seem as smart as you or as confessional as you. And it also works for voters' and elders' meetings. If you follow this advice you will not only be better liked, but you will get more done and you will discover that these dolts in your circuit or the confused elders who think like an Armineans, aresmarter than you thought. You will get more done and you will learn things. And maybe you won't get thrown out of the Ministry either.

Now if I could just follow this advice myself :).

Goooooooooo TEAM!

By Larry Beane

Good news: to its credit, CPH has removed the video that they sent the world via e-mail and YouTube promoting the Go Team Jesus Megaphone and Popcorn Holder.

Deo gratias.

Bad news: as of now, CPH is still selling the Go Team Jesus Megaphone and Popcorn Holder.  Perhaps this too shall pass - hopefully not like a kidney stone.

Here is what CPH wants you to know about it:

The Go Team Jesus megaphone makes a great popcorn holder for sporting events!

The importance of sports in the development of a child is the responsibility of parents and coaches. Many experts believe that beside the obvious benefits of sports like physical exercise, building self-esteem, and learning the importance of teamwork, the primary goal of sports is to help children feel valued and wanted. 

The Go Team Jesus megaphone is a great way to help parents and friends cheer on their student athletes. If you run a concession stand at school sporting events the Go Team Jesus megaphone makes a great popcorn holder.

  • Simply fill a plastic cup with popcorn
  • Place the cup into the Go Team Jesus Megaphone
  • Top off with a little more popcorn and you have a great way provide a souvenir with purchase
  • Use this FREE downloadable sign to advertise
Don’t wait supplies are limited so order your Go Team Jesus megaphones now!

Maybe Gottesdienst should make an offer for the remaining stock.  With a little blue and white paint, the letters could be reformatted to: GotTesdienst! and the megaphone could double as a brat holder to be used at the upcoming Oktoberfest.

Historically speaking, marketing and fundraising have always been among the church's weakest links.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The End of Virtue

What Berke Breathed mocks in this strip is a real phenomenon. Movie studios won't make G-rated movies. No one will go. "G" stands for "boring." So also, "virgin" is synonymous with "nerd." To be a virgin, at any point after 6th grade, is to be anti-social, deviant, and inwardly turned. Losing one's virginity is spoken of as though one has lost oppression, abuse, and chains.

What Berke Breathed mocks is real and sad. We, as a society, have lost our virginity. We have lost our virtue. So far gone is it, that we think vice is virtue.

Kyrie Eleison! I relate to my shut-ins more closely everyday. For what is the holy trinity of shut-in conversation? 1. It sucks to get old. 2. Medicine is too expensive. 3. The world is going to Hell in a handbasket and I feel sorry for kids these days. I never used to agree with them so enthusiastically as I do now. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Compassion: Thoughts on Trinity 16

Compassion. That's what Jesus had for the mother. σπλαγχνίζομαι, the feeling you get in your guts when you see others in pain and suffering.

Interestingly, Luke uses this verb and noun in four places. And in each place it is at the very center of the episode. It marks the turning point, the climax of Jesus' teaching and work, of God's nature (Luke 1:76-79; 7:11-17; 10:25-37; and 15:11-32).

So what does that tell us? Perhaps that the miracle is not the main thing. But rather the disposition of God toward sinful men. That Jesus is the one who suffers with those who suffer. That He knows their pain, that He identifies fully with them, and takes that pain and suffering into Himself (Heb 4:15). Jesus has σπλαγχνίζομαι because He is the σπλάγχνον.

σπλάγχνον was at first a reference to the inner parts offered for the sacrifice. Later it came to denote a more subjective feeling in the heart or the guts. And finally, it pointed to the heart.

In Jesus we have the very heart of God. In Jesus we have the tender mercy of the Father. In Jesus we have the sacrifice that God gives to take us back as His children. In Jesus the compassion of God takes up flesh so that it was necessary that He go to His Passion, to suffer and die and be raised on the third day.

Jesus' compassion--His suffering with the mother, His suffering for the mother--gave rise to one of the loveliest sentences Luke wrote: " . . . and Jesus gave him back to his mother" (Luke 7:15). They are brought back together, reconciled out of death into life. 

He can only do that because of His Passion. He can only do that because He is what reconciles us to the Father and to one another. His Passion gives us back to God. It gives us back to one another, whether that separation is caused by death or by sin. "And He gave him back to his mother." He will also give you back.

Your questions have already been answered.

I've mentioned before how working as an assistant editor on CPH's new Gerhard volumes (Theological Commonplaces) has been a real eye-opener, especially to the sad fact of the inadequacies of our own MDiv doctrinal theology education. Most every question we are asking today, most every controversy we are beating each other over the head with, has been thoroughly handled by Gerhard four centuries ago. Worship wars? Pastoral education? Pastoral pay? Women in the ministry? All in volume two of On the Ministry. 

Currently I'm working on the volume concerning original and actual sin. I just sent off a long section on concupiscence. Perhaps that does not sound too exciting - but the argument between Rome and Wittenberg on this topic could not be of more contemporary importance. Is our inward tilt toward sin, our desires, our inner brokenness really sin? Or is concupiscence not really sinful? This argument maps onto the current discussion in the Christian world concerning homosexuality. Gerhard has all the ammunition you need: Scriptures, patristics, clear reasoning, history, etc.

Here's a snippet from Gerhard on venial and mortal sin - another long lost Lutheran distinction that would clear up a lot of thinking in our ministerium.

That some [sins] are called venial and only some are called mortal is not because of the nature of the sins but because of the mercy of the Father, the merit of the Son, and the sanctification of the Spirit. This distinction does not pertain to all people in general but only to the reborn. It is not to be taken from the Law which accuses and condemns all sins regardless of their type and size, but from the Gospel which demonstrates that sins of weakness and ignorance and corrupt lusts are not imputed to those who believe in Christ if they resist them; that is, if the reborn,
(1) acknowledge these evils which dwell in their heart;
(2) grieve seriously over them;
(3) ask and believe that they are covered by the merit of the Mediator as by an umbrella;
(4) by no means relax the reins ujpon them but resist them by the Spirit, crucifying the flesh along with its desires [concupiscentiis].
These four chief points are very correctly assigned to remission and mortification in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession. 

I know the books are pricey (and I don't get any royalties, alas), but if you buy one volume a year and commit to read through you will plug a lot of gaps that your MDiv did not fill.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Why did Michal despise David?

This morning I've been pondering the dance that David did before the LORD and how Michal despised him for it (2 Sam. 6).

She was Saul's daughter, born to royalty.  She knew the life of luxury.  Now she was a queen.  But here is her husband, the king, dancing in the street, as a commoner.  Dancing with the plebes.  How dare he!  This is beneath the dignity of his high state.

My take, therefore, is that David's dance, far from being useful in making statements in favor of the employment of popular beat and music--to say nothing of liturgical dance--into the church's song, is rather a prolepsis of the humiliation of Christ.  David did not come down from heaven, but he came down from his throne.  He was not equal with God, but he was a bearer of God's kingship.  And he, like Jesus, made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.

The dance of David is about the humiliation of David.  Michal despises this, because she is the bride of false devotion.  She, and not he, is more the token of false worship.  He will not succumb to her pressure, but remains resolute in his humble devotion to God.

Such is true faith.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What is the therefore there for? Thoughts on Trinity 15

What is the therefore there for? It's a silly way to make a point but important nevertheless. If you look only at the appointed text for Trinity 15, you don't have a full picture of what therefore is there for.

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. “Therefore I tell you, 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. . . ."

However if you go back to verse 19 and continue to verse 25, it becomes more clear.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 
"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. “Therefore I tell you, 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."

The issue here is that our eyes are bad. That we don't receive the Word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. We don't invest in the things that have an eternal ROI. And because our eyes are bad, we see only the bad things, the evil things that surround us. We come home from a day at work, and we talk about the things that went wrong. Even our best days, when almost everything goes according to plan and where almost everything comes off without a hitch, we come home and dwell on and stew over the few things that went wrong. We fixate on the problems, which breeds anxiety and worry. Why is it that we wonder and fixate on how so much goes wrong? Why do we not marvel instead at just how much goes right? 

For what if people could read your hearts and minds? What if every lie you told, every juicy bit of gossip you spoke was fully known by everyone? Consider that despite your past arguments, your passive aggressive one-liners, your spouse still loves you, your children still want nothing more than to spend time with you, and your friends still answer your phone calls and e-mails. Or consider not how few people fill the pews in church, but rather dwell on the fact that there are so many, that Sunday after Sunday, the pews hold the same people for the same message that they’ve known and heard since childhood? This is a miracle of God’s grace and mercy and providence.

We have a vision problem. Our sight is darkened. Our conscience is defiled and tainted. We don't see things as the Lord reveals them to us in His Word. We only see the gunk and the grime, and we fixate on it, as though we were looking through a windshield soiled with bugs and dirt and mud unable to see past it all to the light of day to the clear reality beyond all the mess.

And so our Lord asks us what there is to worry about? Your heavenly Father has sent light into the world. He set the lights by His Word in the sky in the beginning. He has sent it now in the flesh. The light is among us. The Lord provides. He provides everything we need for this body and life. He has given all that we need for this body and eternal life. He cleanses your conscience with water and word, clothes you with His body and blood, His righteousness. The Kingdom is yours. For you have the King to whom they belong. His throne is still the cross. The victim is still the victor. The Lord reigns. He reigns forever, provides forever, lives forever. And so shall you. What is there left to be anxious about? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Lutheran Beard

Feel like doing something Lutheran for Reformation Day? Misplaced your copy of oppressive canon law and thus can't toss it in the bonfire? You can metaphorically, yet more substantially, oppose the false pretenses of the Bishop of Rome (if you are a secular cleric) by growing a beard.