Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Stellar Issue Coming Up!

The next issue of Gottesdienst (yes, Fr. Curtis, there is a print edition) is sure to be a treasure to its readers.  It's going to the printers, and will be turned around and out of the barn within a week or so.  I'm very stoked about it.  In particular, I think its sermons are some of the best we've ever printed.  Fr. Craig Meissner's St. Andrew's sermon proclaims the manliness (cf. the meaning of "Andrew") of Jesus our Bridegroom, Fr. Mark Lovett's sermon on the wedding at Cana provides the helpful insight about the meaning of wine at a wedding ("For the Jews wine meant God’s favor and blessing. It meant there was eace between God and man"), and Fr. Braaten's sermon sees the significance of the centurion's being under authority and his helplessness.  There's a brilliant piece by Fr. Peter Berg on St. John 6, and a couple of fine poems by Kathryn Hill.  The third installment of fr. Charles McClean's excellent argument against free-standing altars is something you must see, especially if you aren't yet convinced, and Dr. Jane Hettrick has a fine piece on the subtle art of the playing of Lutheran hymns.  Besides this are our usual thought-provoking columns, including a lot of helpful material about vestments.  If you're not a subscriber, if you're sitting on the fence, if you have a mere $15 to spend on a year's subscription (four issues), then by all means, do it now, and reserve your copy of this marvelous issue.  To subscribe, click here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Sermon for All Saints and All the Saints.

We all have a favorite sermon or two. They are the sermons that strike chords and resonate deep within us. They are the sermons that open up, apply, and proclaim the truth of the Scriptures in a way haven't understood or even considered.

One of my favorite sermons is by an editor of Gottesdienst, Fr. David H. Petersen (big surprise there, I'm sure). He says it like no one else. And the below sermon for All Saints, without fail, gives joy to my heart and tears to my eyes. So, if you lack something to say for All Saints, you can't go wrong with this. I read it every year on All Saints as a devotion and reminder of who Christ is and, thus, who I am in Him.

All Saints 
Matthew 5:1-12; Revelation 7:9-17 
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
What Our Lord describes on the Mountain, St. John sees in his vision. He sees a great multitude of the poor in spirit made rich in the grace of Jesus Christ. Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. He sees those who were persecuted like the prophets. They have come to their reward. They have left behind all mourning, meekness, hunger, and thirst. Day and night they serve the Lord in His Temple. They are satisfied. St. John sees the saints of God purified and gathered about the Lamb who has freed them by the outpouring of His Blood. 
And notice this: he sees no stars, no celebrities. He does not name the apostles, martyrs, or prophets. He does not name kings or reformers or saints commemorated by the Church. They are there, to be sure. But he does not see them or notice them. All he sees are saints. They are all loved and honored by God. It is not so much that they are nondescript. He does notice that they are from every tribe and nation. But his attention is firmly fixed not upon them but upon the Lamb. In this he is like them. For he sees that all the saints and all the holy angels and the four living creature are adoring the Lamb. 
Salvation belongs to the Lamb, to Jesus Christ, and to Him alone. Yet He gives it away to men. These saints around Him are saved. Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might are His. They will be His forever. But He bestows them upon men, men who hated and rebelled against Him, men who forgot or neglected or abandoned Him. He has brought them out of the great tribulation. He has purified them with fire. They suffer no more slander or false accusations. No one steals from them, betrays them, or hurts them. 
They are also free of gossip, jealousy, lust, anger, and fear. He has brought them out of sin. No one sins against them and they themselves commit no sins. The later is the greater. For we are more hurt by our own sins than by the sins of others. But they are free. He has made their robes as white as snow, they have no sin. He has cleansed their hearts and consciences. He has distilled them to their finest essence, to their truest selves. For in removing guilt and regret, shame and fear, He has has made them truly men as He is truly a Man. He places palms of victory in their hands. They have overcome the evil one by the Blood of the Lamb. They reap the benefits, the plunder and the glory, of His sacrifice. They reap where they did not sow. They buy and eat without money or cost. He relieves them of all burdens and bestows His own inheritance and perfect love upon them. And of all their joys, here is the greatest: Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is in their midst. He is with them. That is the definition of "blessed:" to be with Jesus. 
This is the Lamb who was slain but who lives. He did not love His life to death. Instead He loved them to the end. For He loves His Father. This He shows in perfect obedience. He does not ask, "Where is the Lamb?" as Isaac did, for He is the Lamb. He looks for no scapegoat, no mercy, no rescue. He lays down His life in perfect love in order to draw all men to Himself and show His love to creation. Thus does His Father love Him and in Him He loves them. He loves His saints, washed in Blood, drowned and raised again in water, fed with the Holy Food of the cross and the empty tomb, anointed with His own Holy Spirit. His Name is upon them. And as He is holy so then they are holy. They belong to Him. Salvation is His, so salvation is theirs. The Kingdom is theirs. Their robes are white. The palms are in their hands. Psalms of praise are on their lips. They are His. He is theirs. They are poor, mourning, hungry, and persecuted no more. But they remain in heaven as they were on earth: blessed. For Jesus is theirs and Jesus is with them. 
The only difference between them and you is that they have already passed through death and you must still abide in it. Your day will come. Your sins will end. Your sorrow will flee. But even now, like them, you are blessed: Jesus, your Holy Lamb, is in your midst. He is with you. The Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom that is theirs, is within you, is yours. You are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the object of angelic protection and prayers. For you were sealed and anointed in the holy waters of Baptism with the fullest Name of God, not YHWH or Jehovah or the Lord, but the fullest Name. You were sealed with water and the greatest and most intimate Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You were pulled out of those killing waters to new, everlasting life. You are here today to receive anew the forgiveness of sins, to be absolved, to hear the Word, to pray and praise your God, and to finally join in the most direct communion, to eat His Body and drink His Blood, to have Him come inside of you, to penetrate your heart and soul, to join you to Himself. 
The great multitude that John saw was not simply those who had already come to heaven while He was exiled on Patmos. If it were we could expect that St. Mary and his friends and loved ones who had gone before him, and also all the saints of the Old Testament, were there. They were, of course, but there was more. For John saw the culmination of creation. He witnessed the great multitude after the resurrection on the Last Day. When he was transported to heaven he was also transported out of time. So he saw people who weren't even born yet, like St. Augustine, Gregory the Great, Martin Luther, and his own great-grandchildren. And I bring this up because this means that he also saw you. What he describes in chapter 7 is not about "them," the saints of God. It is about you. These are your people. You are there. St. John looked and saw the American and Germans and French and Russian and Finnish saints, nations and tribes not yet invented at his time. He looked and saw them all, including you, in white robes, with a palm branches, singing: "Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might are His." Maybe you didn't know this, but you are in the Bible. 
That is your future, foretold in God's Holy Word and seen by St. John. So it does not matter what happens on Tuesday, what they say about you at work, whether you husband leaves you or not. What matters, what endures, is that the Lamb who was slain lives. He will bring you home. Yours in the Kingdom of Heaven. Yours is blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might. For yours is Jesus.
In +Jesus' Name. Amen. 
Pastor David Petersen

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thoughts on Reformation: Matthew 11:12-19

Over the past few years, a question has been looming over whether the Reformation is still relevant. Does the Reformation still matter? Another way to rephrase this is: Is the Gospel of Christ still relevant--the justification of sinners for Christ's sake by grace received through? For that is what the Reformation was all about.

But that raises a second and related question: Is Justification still relevant today? Does justification still make sense? Does it have a reality in our daily lives and how we understand the world around us? Or is it just another doctrinal code word Lutherans like to use?

Not only does Justification still make sense. Justification is foundational for how we relate to ourselves, to the world around us, and to God.
"There is no more fundamental desire of the human race than justification, that is, to justify one's being and existence. It is a human universal. I justify my wealth. I justify the time spent working away from family. I justify the approach I have taken toward my children. I justify the treatment of my wife. I justify my value to my employer. I justify my right to pennies from a wealthier man. I justify my right to your money. I justify my callousness toward my neighbor. I justify my lack of charity. I justify my plea for various commodities or humanitarian aid. I justify my lethargy. I justify my thievery by lying to others and believing the lies myself. I justify my tribe's hatred of 'those people.' Universally practiced and understood, the language of 'justification' is a fundamental phenomenon of life in society" (Harrison, Christ Have Mercy, 55-56).
Everything we do, everything we say, everything we think and feel, everything we are, we seek to justify by some means or another. And you don't get more relevant than that.

But all our justification falls short. No matter how much we try to justify ourselves, who we are and what he have done or not done, no matter the circumstances, there is no justification for it outside of Christ. For wisdom is justified by her deeds.

In the end we will be justified by deeds. Ultimately, we are justified by works. But whose works will they be? Will they be our own? Or will they be Wisdom's. Will they be the works of our flesh? Or will they be the deeds of Wisdom, the deeds of the Holy Spirit and the Word made flesh? In other words, in whose deeds will you put your trust?

Only Wisdom is justified by her deeds. And what are those deeds? The deeds of our Lord's active and passive obedience. Those deeds are the only deeds the justify the deeds of the sinner. They are the only deeds that justify the sinner himself. And that is what the Reformation was all about. How much more relevant can you get?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

If you're going to do it, do it right.

Interviewing candidates for calls is here to stay. It's not ideal perhaps, but it's the reality. So, if interviewing is here to stay, we may as well do it right. Besides, pastors typically don't interview for posts they have no desire or inclination to take. Pastors interview because they're looking. So put your best foot forward. Take it seriously.

Interviewing, especially phone interviews, are awkward. They are like blind dates. Everyone is nervous, and no one gets a true picture of what the other is really like. However, you can help take the edge off, which makes you memorable, and even in some cases, likable. And when interviewing memorable and likable are important.

First, even though this may not be your default personality, try to be outgoing. And that means be conversational. You don't have to be outgoing Worldview Everlasting style, ala Rev. Jonathan Fisk, although it wouldn't necessarily hurt. Just use a tone that communicates interest and warmth. Greet them. Ask questions. Take an interest in who they are and what they've been through. And this may require a little research. Look at their Web site. Google the congregation. Find out if a classmate or friend is in the circuit. You're looking for information you can use to ask some questions that engage the people on the committee about who they are, how they see themselves, etc. This shows your interest and care, but it might also prove helpful to you if the call comes to you.

Second, pray with them. I know it sounds cheesy to pray over the phone. But from the circuit counselors I've talked to, the one thing that puts a candidate's name at the top of the list is praying with the committee after the interview is over. Pray that they would receive a pastor. Pray that they won't lose heart during the process. For there are a lot of Lutheran things that the laity of the LCMS don't believe anymore or have forgotten about, but they still believe in prayer. So pray with them.

Third, if you haven't already, review and update your SET and your PIF. Congregations and call committees are looking at them, and they care about what you've written. So take some time to know what you have written, and be ready to explain further any questions the committee may have about them

Then do what you might do for any job interview. Take some time to review interview best practices and how-tos. Learn what some of the top-asked interview questions are and be prepared to answer them. Have some questions of your own for the committee. But just don't ask them like this:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jesus, Rubrics, Football and Intellectual Property

IP violations at 3:37 and 4:24?

By Larry Beane, crossposted from Father Hollywood.

I just read an intriguing essay on so-called intellectual property by Jeffrey Tucker ("A Book That Changes Everything" - from his collection of essays Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo) in which he recommends a seminal book (Against Intellectual Monopoly) on the topic.

This is a timely issue in this day and age of digital reproduction.  Is copying theft?

And what about patents and trademarks, not only of words, but of gestures?

How is it that a young professional athlete can drop to a knee on the football field to pray can now "copyright" an ancient gesture of submission to God?  What kind of a crazy world do we live in?  The athlete has now registered his name with the United States government as a synonym with the gesture that theoretically means he can demand royalties for it.  Now, I understand that the trademarked rubric is not mere genuflection (as done above in this clip from my first Mass (when You Know Who - are we allowed to say his name? - was barely old enough to drive) at 3:37 and again at 4:24 at the high altar of the magnificent Historic Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana), but also involves touching the forehead.  Fair enough, but I routinely do that when I kneel at my own ad orientem altar at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gretna - as the height of the altar makes it happen sometimes without my even thinking about it.  Should I be thinking about a football player instead of Jesus when I genuflect?

I hope this young millionaire athlete doesn't come after me, my Church, or the Lord Jesus Christ for royalties, or sue us for breaking some kind of federal writ of IP.  Of course, this young man could become the world's richest man if he gets a few shekels every time someone reads Phil 2:10.  And how many other Christian liturgical gestures can be copyrighted by sportsmen?  Doesn't judo involve bowing?  Don't hockey players sometime cross themselves when they hit the ice?  And what about a water polo Ave Maria?

For the record (and may I say "after further review"?), I don't plan on changing the rubric of the Western Mass for the sake of anyone - not even someone as remarkable as a Really Important Football Player with the full weight of the federal law (here all may genuflect) of the USA and the bureaucracy of the NFL behind him.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Be Careful What You Ask For: Thoughts on Trinity 22

In God's kingdom, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead live, the unjust are just and sinners are made saints. The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of men. Except, that is, in this parable. For here the evil servant gets his due reward. The servant who was forgiven so much by the compassionate mercy of the king but refused even to consider a small amount of clemency for his fellow servant, that servant gets what's coming to him. He is punished for the injustice of his actions toward his fellowman. The king sends him to prison and to the torture chamber. He must pay. Justice is served. He is condemned.

I find it ironic that our Lord tells Peter to forgive seventy times seven and then tells a parable about king who forgives only once. What's with that? We are to forgive endlessly, but God forgives only once?

This parable, as all parables do, places us right into it. It lays bare our assumptions of what we think is right and wrong, of what we think is just and fair. It serves in much the same way as the story that Nathan tells to David, when Nathan confronts the king with his sin of adultery and murder. We must take sides. It forces to the surface our assumptions and our alliances and allegiance.

Throughout the parable, our allegiance changes. We feel for the first servant, who has so much debt that he has almost no hope of repaying it. We take sides with the servant. And so we rejoice when the king forgives and sets him free. Then, we feel for the second servant, who has little debt and could have repaid it only if he were given a little time to do so. We are outraged that one who has been forgiven so much as the first servant would be so unforgiving and unyielding with one who owed him. We side with the second servant. And we think in our minds and our hearts, just as David did when he heard the story from Nathan, that the wicket servant deserves punishment. And these thoughts are given voice by the other servants who go to the king to tell him of what the wicked servant has done. We don't just judge the wicked servant. We condemn him. We want him to get what is coming to him. We want him to pay for the injustice, for the wrong he has committed.

And the king does just that. He punishes. But more than that, he tortures. The second punishment is far more severe than the first. And that makes us feel good. We are greatly distressed when evil goes unpunished. We are outraged when the guilty get off the hook. Don't do the crime if you can't pay the time, we say. Justice must win the day. And so we pray that God would exact his Justice upon all who do evil. We pray that no clemency be afforded. That the Hitlers, the Bin Ladens, the abortionists alike get their just deserts. We curse them. But it's not just them. It's also those who cut us off in traffic, those who think they're better than us, who by their words and deeds make us feel inferior or treat us with contempt, those who have hurt us in our inmost being, in the most personal of ways. We want them to pay. They must pay. Justice demands it. Our sense of right and wrong demands it.

And that's when we realize that we're in trouble. It is as if Nathan is pointing his finger at us, saying "You are the man." You are the unforgiving servant. For if you had been forgiving, you would not have desired condemnation in your hearts for the wicked servant. You would not have snitched on the unforgiving servant, wishing that the king would exact punishment. You would have forgiven. You would have gone to him, exhorted him to repentance, and brought him back into the community, restored him.

We are the other servants who told on the wicked servant, who refused to forgive and wanted him to get what he deserved. We want justice. We want people to pay for the evil they do, and not just in this life. We want them to pay eternally. We condemn them. And so the Lord says, be careful what you ask for. If it is a God who condemns and only exacts justice for others, you will have a God who condemns and exacts justice also for you. And if that is the sort of king you want that is the sort of king you will have. If that is the kind of God you want, that is the kind of God you will get. For you, too, will pay for all your evil. Be careful what you wish for. Be mindful what you pray for. God is not mocked. Repent. Humble yourself before the king because He, and only He, is the greatest in the kingdom. Do not suppose that you can demand justice for everyone else but yourself. You're not unique. You, too, have been forgiven much. You, too, have received God's compassionate mercy. You have received forgiveness seventy-seven fold.

"For Cain will be avenged seven-fold. But Lamech seventy-seven fold. From Adam, Lamech is the seventh through Cain. Cain’s murder is repeated by Lamech. Lamech knows this and knows that the generations of Cain being free from accounting is over. Lamech’s son, or Lamech himself, will pay the penalty. So Lamech swears that if Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then his is to be seventy-sevenfold! God has mercy and seventy generations later Jesus is born.

"Jesus is born seventy-seven generations from Adam, according to Luke, who unlike Matthew begins with Jesus’ birth. Luke begins with Jesus and moves to God showing Jesus ascension to the right hand of God, to show that Jesus is the answer to all the sins of the generations going back to Adam. Jesus is the answer to Lamech’s fear and is the restitution of Cain’s murder. Jesus is the son of Adam that cannot be killed. He is the Son of God that makes all the sons of men righteous.

"Peter is to forgive his brother by Christ’s forgiveness who is the forgiveness of all men; who is eternal forgiveness"(from Seven, Seventy-seven, and the Christ by Fr. Mark Lovett). Peter is to forgive even as he has been forgiven--seventy-seven fold. And so the the voice that came out of the servants, the voice of condemnation, the voice of revenge and punishment, is replaced with the voice of our Lord, with the Words of our Lord: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." And it is so, because the Word of the Lord does what it says.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Faith and Politics, again

To no Lutheran's surprise, the Billy Graham evangelical machine has rolled over for the Mitt Romney political machine. The two Grahams, Billy and Franklin, met with Mr. Romney and, voila, Mormonism is no longer a non-Christian religion on the Graham website.

The facts here are well known: Mormons are not Christians. They don't believe in anything resembling orthodox Christianity as it has been known since the days of the apostles. If, as Lewis said, Mohammedism is the greatest Christian heresy ever inspired by the devil, then Mormonism is the greatest lampoon of Christianity ever inspired by the devil. Mormonism is an SNL skit on Christianity perhaps, but that's about the extent of the relationship.

But what is most fascinating to me is that the American Evangelical world gives a hoot that a non-Christian may be elected president. This is a relatively new phenomenon in American politics, you can roughly put a date to it, in fact: 1975. Jimmy Carter was the nation's first actively Evangelical president and 1976 was TIME's Year of the Evangelical. A good case can be made that Carter is one of only a handful of presidents who were actively Christian in any true sense.

George Washington, for example, stipulated on his deathbed that he should not be buried until he was dead two full days. He had a terrible fear of being buried alive, which was how many Deists explained the resurrection of Jesus: accidental premature burial. The whole episode of Washington's death and burial, all devoid of "Christian ritual" is aptly summed up by Ellis: "He died a Roman Stoic, not a Christian saint." (His Excellency George Washington. by J. Ellis, page 269).

In their old age, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were able to set side the grudges of their active political lives and exchange a fascinating set of letters where their friendship chiefly revolves around their shared religious convictions which are perhaps best described as mystical-impersonal-deism. I suppose that as lovers of the classics, theirs was just Cicero's religion: a vague sense of thankfulness to Whatever might be out there for the order that is down here.

Lincoln and Reagan shared a love for mediums (both led to it by their less-than-stable wives), although for those who like sliding scales, one can certainly call Reagan more of a Christian than Lincoln.

The most open and striking example in the 20th century was Taft, who turned down the presidency of Yale because he was not a Christian, "I am a Unitarian. I believe in God. I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe." He wrote that a full decade before he was elected to 1600 Penn. Ave. 

So, whatever. Mitt Romney is not a Christian. He is headed for hell where he would join Taft, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and many other presidents - assuming they did not repent upon their death beds, of course. I hope Romney repents and comes to faith. But there is no sense playing this silly game of trying to make Mormonism more palatable: it's bonkers. Can you trust someone who would believe something so bonkers to run the free world? Should somebody who can't see that Joseph Smith is a charlatan have his finger on the nuclear trigger? That's your call. Father Berg and I have better things to do on Nov 6 (although I do admit to running in to the polling booth if there is a tax I can vote against. . . ).


Monday, October 15, 2012

Military Chaplaincy and Worker-Priesthood

Rev. Dr. A.C. Piepkorn
By Larry Beane

As part of what I hope to be a helpful discussion on bi-vocational pastors, I'm reproducing a letter I received from a brother pastor who is also considering worker-priesthood in the form of military chaplaincy.  I've redacted his letter a bit for privacy and removed some personal comments.  But I've left intact his commentary regarding the changing nature of military chaplaincy and I hope this will lead to further discussion.

Dear Revd Fr Beane:
I read your article entitled "Diary of a Worker-Priest" and I wanted to respond to you....
One of the ways many pastors in the past have supplemented their incomes was to become a Reserve or National Guard chaplain. The late great Dr. Piepkorn did this in MN back before WWII. Many others have since.
As a pastor in a small parish..., I have long considered this option, especially as Navy vet. Prior to 2001 this was a viable option for many pastors in small parishes. I can now report to you, in our state of perpetual war, this is no longer an option for small parish pastors. With perpetual war the reserve has moved from a "strategic" role to an "operational" role. You now hear reserve and guard leaders refer to our "operational reserve." When talking with recruiters about chaplaincy they all told me expect to spend at least one year away every three or four. In a small church this is devastating.... The reserve has been used to such a degree that it is increasingly becoming harder and harder to determine who is reserve and guard and who is active duty. As such more and more chaplains in the reserve are coming from non-parish settings like VA chaplains, hospital chaplains, teachers, and non parish based ministries. So for intents and purposes military chaplaincy is not really an option for the worker priest like it once was.
I just wanted to share that, because it has weighed heavily on my mind, since I read your article and I have struggled with this for a long time. I am called parish pastor and intend to stay there. I am blessed to be able to do it full time.... I'll probably be a ministering to a circuit in a few years when the Boomers all leave....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Word, Faith, Prayer: Thoughts on Trinity 21

Nowhere else do we so clearly come up against the hidden will of God as we do in prayer. We sit at the bedside of loved ones sick and dying and pray for healing. We watch our children go down paths of destruction and cry out to the Lord for help. We hear of and read about horrifying events in the news, and we ask God to have mercy upon us and them.

In those times, it's common to think that the last ditch efforts of our defeated foe, the accusing deceiver, are the reality, that the flaming arrows of the devil are the last word. It can be easy to forget that the battle we fight, the armor in which God clothes us, and the weapons he arms us with are defensive not offensive. We don't fight an offensive battle. No, we sit on defense, we sit on guard, at watch, standing firm, in the certain knowledge that the strife is o'er, and the victr'y won because Christ is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. And in those times, when we cry out for help, when we cry for reinforcements because we are under attack and in the confusion of war, it can be easy to forget. And so we cry out for our Advocate to defend us. And He does. He defends us as all advocates do--with His Word, the Sword of the Spirit. He gives us His Word. He gives us His promise. He gives us the report of His servants that His Word is true.

The official never sees his son in this reading. He has only the Word of Christ, the promise of Jesus, "Your son will live," and the report of the servants "he is recovering". He only has Words. But these are the Words of eternal life. They are the Words of the Creator who became man, who lived man's life and died man's death so that all men might truly live. But they are the Words of those who bear witness to the reality of what Christ has promised. The words of those who deliver those promises in tangible ways. We have this same Word. We have this same promise. And we have the servants, called and ordained, to proclaim it, bear witness to it, and deliver it when we need to hear it, when we need it most.

So when you are in the witching hours of the night, standing guard and keeping watch, and the defeated enemy starts his attack, and you call out to your risen and ascended Advocate for help, do not also forget to call out for the servants who deliver the same report, who comfort with that same Word. Your son will live. He is recovering. Everything is alright because Jesus is raised from the dead.

Now, I suppose that the official eventually made it home to see for himself that his son would live just as the Lord promised. He probably fell to his knees and upon his face glorifying and giving thanks to God in Christ for it. But so shall you. For when you make it to your heavenly home, your true home, you, too, will see with your own eyes, and not with another's, that Jesus is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns. You will see that your sons live, your children are saved, and that everything is well, just as the Lord promised. And you, too, shall fall to your knees and upon your face, giving glory to God in the highest for the Lamb who was slain lives and reigns in His kingdom. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against Him. They will not prevail against you either.

Nuggets from Oktoberfest

I've just returned from Gottesdienst's annual Oktoberfest, where Dr. Lawrence Rast, president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, presented on the topic "Can anything good come from the nineteenth century?"

The answer: No! No, but . . . , Yes, but . . . , and Yes! He took us through them all. And the last answer was absolutely vacant.

There were real nuggets throughout, but the most salient came in Rast's discussion of Charles Porterfield Krauth's transformation from an American Lutheran to a Lutheran in America. Having learned from Samuel Simon Schmucker that the Lutheran Reformation was simply the overthrow of Roman error that didn't go far enough, Krauth, after drinking deeply from the wells of the Lutheran divines of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, responded with this:
The overthrow of error does not in itself establish truth. The Lutheran Reformation can not, therefore, simply be about overthrowing error. It is insufficient for discerning what the Lutheran Reformation was about to concentrate on what it overthrew. It must also, and more importantly, consider what it retained (paraphrase of Rast, paraphrasing Krauth).
What did the Lutherans retain? To answer that, according to Krauth, is to answer what the Reformation was about. And to know this is to know the Confessions. So study your Confessions (not that I have to tell any of you this).

A nugget closely related to this is how the American Lutherans (S. S. Schmucker, et al.) sought to establish their uniquely American version of Lutheranism: Get rid of the Confessions. And why? Because they were dogmatic, they taught baptismal regeneration and the bodily presence of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar, and they established and required a liturgical form in worship.

I find it interesting that all the opponents of Confessional Lutheranism in nineteenth-century America agreed that the Confessions established and required a liturgical form in worship. And because of this little factoid, S. S. Schmucker and gang had to dispense with the confessions. For you can't be fully Lutheran in America and hold to a liturgical form in worship. No. If you were to be an American Lutheran, worship must be a revival, focusing on the free will to decide to believe.

How is it that the heirs of the American Lutheran movement among the Lutherans in America today, that is, the contemporary worship crowd, aren't able to see the same thing? What happened? What changed? Why do they claim that the Confessions establish no such thing? How can this be?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A serious role.

Today I was listening to Father Petersen's favorite NPR show but only because his favorite NPR interviewer was not doing the interview. This comment on titles and names from character actor Stephen Tobolowsky caught my attention when it came to the Pastor First Name vs Pastor Last Name question:

If it's a comedy - now, this is not a hard-and-fast rule, but I've kind of found it to be true. If it's a comedy, you get your job description and your first name, like in "Wild Hogs" I played Sheriff Charlie. I played Ringmaster Bob, a lot of roles in which you get the job and your name.
If you are playing a serious role, you get the job description and your last name, Detective McClaren, Agent Jones. Now, then there's a level below that, in which you get no name, you get no name. You just get your - sometimes your job description - homeless man, man on train, man with a limp. You get these. These are usually not very good roles.

Yup, that's about right.


A Worker-Priest Responds

Chaplain Dean Kavouras
By Dean Kavouras

[Note: Fr. Kavouras has responded to my call for discussion about the controversial - and yet increasingly common - situation of bi-vocational pastors.  My original article "Diary of a Worker-Priest" is in the current print edition of Gottesdienst.  I am meeting more and more pastors who work secular jobs either part-time or full-time, and so we need not only theological discussion about this trend, but also practical insights from men who live this pastoral life.  Pastor Kavouras is well-known in the LCMS for his chaplaincy work with police, the fire service, and the FBI, as well as his magnificent little book on his chaplaincy work following September 11.  He is a true mentor to men serving in such chaplaincy capacities.  I really appreciate his insights, and hope you do too!  Published with permission. + Larry Beane]

Fr. Beane seeks responses from others who are worker priests.  For 28 of my 34 years in the ministry I have provided my own support.  After 6 years of nothing but trouble, getting kicked around, run around and ruined financially, I decided that I don't mind this happening to me, but I will not let it happen to my wife and children.   That was back in 1984. At the time I stumbled upon a job selling debt collection services to businesses.  Within 3 years we decided to strike out on our own and have been at it for 25 years on our own.  In addition, about five years ago, I learned how to buy and sell coins for a profit.  Both of these businesses are immensely enjoyable because I like the world of finance, I like business in general and I love sales, which besides managing the business took up most of my time.

Time management is no problem for two reasons.  When you are self employed, especially when engaged in sales, your schedule is flexible.  We had the good fortune of making a liveable wage in less than half of a normal work week.  Besides this many pastors don't use their time wisely.  As far as I can tell a pastor's duties are as limited as they are important: prepare for and celebrate the Mass, catechize, hear confessions (not very time consuming these days), visit sick and shut in members.  These last two duties, however, are not the exclusive domain of the pastor.  A well trained, qualified deacon (not just a warm and willing body) who is locally ordained for that purpose can do it.  While there may have been a need for a professional clergy when parishes were large, and prosperity was flowing, today we must 
recognize that confessional churches are small and getting smaller.  Why would they have a full time pastor for the limited duties needed?  We need to break free from our mental mold and deal with reality.  I recognize it is hard.  But try if you will.

Further, I suspect that if we survey all of Christendom over the last 2,000 years, we might find that part time clergy are the rule, rather than the exception.  We would probably find pastors who spent a good part of their day growing their own plot of food, farming, tending animals, and going to market in order to live.  And, think of the pastors today who are full time clergy, but only by the grace of their wives who take on the double burden of bearing children and providing for the household.  If a wife is willing and able I see no problem with it, but if she is not willing or able, or only haltingly so, then the pastor needs to man up.  There is no theological requirement for a full time, professional clergy.  Indeed I believe that I have accomplished as much, if not more, than others on a part time basis because I never got involved in the busy work.  Almost everything I do is pure ministry.  We have eliminated, of necessity perhaps, all busy work in our parish.  We have one meeting every two months with the Board of Admin.  We celebrate Mass every Sunday and hold a bible class and SS preceding the Mass.  I do my preparation, personal studies, visit the sick and shut ins, and provide some pastoral counseling, as well as carry out my chaplain functions.  We also sold our building two years ago, it was drowning us, and now we rent from a sister congregation, but maintain two very separate congregations in the same building.

As for ups and downs?  In my case it is mostly ups.  The money is good, the independence is better, the wide range of people I meet and things I get to see as I consult with business owners, learn about their businesses, and counsel them on their collection needs is vast and stimulating beyond what one would imagine.  The switching back and forth from one reality to another took a little getting used to, but I find it happily satisfying.  When one mistress gets trying, I fly to the other.  But I love them both and serve them both.  I consider them both gifts from God, both as fields of service.  If there is a down side it is that some people don't consider you legitimate if you are less than full time (especially if you own a collection agency, and are a coin dealer).  I don't like to create confusion in people's minds but that is their problem, now isn't it?  I have never had that problem personally because I kept my two worlds separate, purposely so.  I never talk about my business ventures to the church, not ever.  It's none of their business.

Cleveland, being a large city, means that I don't run into members in my business dealings very often.  As for types of employment that could muddy the waters.  If you live in a small town, and end up dealing with your members as customers, especially if it is what some wrongly call "menial" employment, it could cause some confusion in people's minds.  But if dealt with properly that goes away and there is no such thing as menial labor if done with honor.

But I have a suggestion for pastors needing extra income, viz., that you consider self employment, and especially sales.  Sales is an art and a science that can be learned and acquired just like any other skill.  It pays very well.  With that ability a person can make an above average income, in less than average time, and work in whatever field he enjoys. If you like men's clothes, welding supplies, corporate jets or silk flowers you can turn selling those things into you own business.  There are also other professions and skills which people might possess: construction trades, accounting, law, medical professions, computer programmer etc.  Use them.  What's wrong with being a part time plumber and part time pastor?  Or practicing law or accounting on a limited basis to supplement your low pastoral income?  Again, this takes a re-think on our part, and on the part of our people.

Also as Fr. Beane mentioned, being out there leads to some interesting discussions.  I have lost track of the number of people I have counseled and prayed for in my business dealings because of my dual vocation. People open up to us.  Also, people can read you in the business world, they can perceive if you are a man of integrity, and pastors excel in that area.

Lastly, I would suggest that since confessional churches are magnet churches, and not neighborhood phenomena, that two confessional churches would do well to share buildings, two separate parishes
housed under one roof.  Find someone you can live with, and do it. Why do we maintain buildings that are bleeding us to death?  Sell one, make the other sound, if you can find reasonable people of like mind.

The Killjoy: More thoughts on Trinity 20

I posted earlier about Matthew's parable of the wedding feast (He Is Worthy Who Has Faith in the Word of the King: Thoughts on Trinity 20). The wedding feast of the king's son is no ordinary party. It's important. It's a big deal. And so the rejection of those who were first invited was tantamount to rebellion. They were unworthy of the feast because they rejected the authority of the king.

The unworthiness of the man who came improperly dressed was also a rejection of the king and his authority. It was a rejection of the kings invitation. It was a refusal to participate in the king's joy at the wedding feast of his son. It was a refusal to participate in the joy of eating at the king's table and partaking of the king's sacrifice. 

I want to explore this second refusal a bit more. The man who came improperly dressed is a killjoy. You know the type. They come to parties hell bent on ruining it for everyone. They make everyone feel uncomfortable. They divert attention away from the purpose of the celebration, the reason that everyone has gathered together in the first place. They make everything about them and what they want, what they didn't get, and what everyone else did to ruin it. They bring everyone down with them. Their attitude, their demeanor is such that everyone suffers if they don't get what they want. You can see it on their face. You can see it in their body language. They refuse the joy of feast, and they focus on what would have made it better, what was wrong, what they didn't like. 

And so the king throws him out. The king gets rid of the killjoy. Why? Because nothing can ruin the wedding feast of his son. The party must go on. And it must be full. But it also must be joyous. 

How often is our joy in the Divine Service stolen from us by the killjoy in others and the killjoy that lurks deep within our fallen flesh? How often does the person who sits with his arms crossed in the pew, the person who slams their hymnal shut because of a new or difficult hymn, the person who is annoyed at the mistakes in the bulletin, steal our joy from us, take away our rejoicing? 

And so the king casts that person out because nothing is going to ruin his party, nothing is going to take away the joy he has at the marriage feast of his son, when we all dine at his table and eat of his sacrifice. 

There is a killjoy in all of us. Repent. Let the king cast him out. Let the king bind him hand and feet. He takes away your sin. He renews your spirit, so that true joy may flourish where true joy is found--at the wedding feast of his son, which has no end.

Nothing will ruin the king's joy. Nothing! And thus, nothing will ruin yours either. You are at the wedding feast of the king's son. Rejoice. Eat, drink, and be merry. The sacrifice is prepared. The guests are gathered. The table is set. Rejoice, you are at the feast. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Oktoberfest beginning this weekend: still not too late to register

The annual Oktoberfest at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kewanee, Illinois is an extra-special one this year because it's our sesquicentennial celebration.  Registrations are up, and we keep getting more every day. We have Dr. Lawrence Rast coming to speak, appropriately, on the topic, “Can Anything Good Come from the Nineteenth Century?”  The schedule of events includes

* Sesquicentennial Choral Vespers at 5 p.m. on Sunday, October 7, the Rev. Kenneth Wegener preaching (former pastor at St. Pauls, now retired)

* Bratwurst banquet, and party following, "the best on the block!"

* Monday, October 8, 9:30 a.m., Holy Mass, Feast of Title (St. Paul's 150th), the Rev. Mark Miller preaching (Central Illinois District President)

* Seminar until midafternoon, Dr. Rast holding forth

* Tuesday, October 9, 9:00 a.m. Low mass

* Gottesdienst central seminar until midafternoon, a discussion of the Christology of the Lutheran mass, and the Lutheran canon, or lack thereof, led by Fr. Eckardt

All of this at
St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church
109 South Elm Street
Kewanee, IL 61443

Here again are the reasons you should come:

* A reverent celebration of the Holy Sacrament with solid preaching.

* The chance to receive Holy Absolution before the Divine Service.

* Dr. Lawrence Rast

* Sheboygan bratwurst cooked by a Sheboygan native for the Sunday banquet.

* Top notch German potato salad too.

* The best evening of drinking and theological discussion in the Missouri Synod.

* That point in the evening when Pastor Eckardt puts on Hotel California and asks, "Now, what does this hymn mean?"

* Solemn Vespers to close your Sunday.

* Good company - a wonderful group of faithful pastors to bounce ideas off of, commiserate, and debate.

As Fr. Curtis puts it: "Oktoberfest in Kewanee is simply what a general pastors’ conference should be but what many, sadly, are not. But actually, it’s even more than that, because laymen are encouraged to come too, and rub theological shoulders with a huge bunch of great pastors.  It will refresh you for your busy fall and winter and send you home with some new theological thought to chew on - it always does!"

REGISTRATION: $25 per person (students $20) $40 per couple — includes Sunday banquet and Monday continental and luncheon; no charge for children with parents.

You may register by email or (phone 309-852-2461) leaving your name[s] and address, and which days you intend to be present (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday).   You may pay your registration when you arrive, or with PayPal or a major credit card by clicking here and following the directions.