Sunday, May 25, 2014

Christianity and Culture

Long live the weeds  by Theodore Roethke

Long live the weeds that overwhelm
My narrow vegetable realm! - 
The bitter rock, the barren soil
That force the son of man to toil;
All things unholy, marked by curse,
The ugly of the universe.
The rough, the wicked, and the wild
That keep the spirit undefiled.
With these I match my little wit
And earn the right to stand or sit,
Hope, look, create, or drink and die:
These shape the creature that is I.

This is a great poem. But as soon as I read it, I was sad. Do you think that could be published in the New Yorker today? I don't think so - because the average literate American would no longer understand even these straightforward Biblical allusions.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

NEXT TUESDAY:  Gottesdienst Chicago

Registrations are steadily coming in for our annual one-day conference.  This year: “Justification and the Sacrament”  — with special guest speaker Rev. Rolf Preus.  It's not too late to register, but please let us know if you plan to come, so we  can plan the lunch (which is included in the $25 registration fee) accordingly.

Tuesday, May 20th 
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
5259 S. Major Ave
ChicagoIL 60638

Also featuring banter and discussion from among our editors:

Rev. Fr. Larry Beane, MDiv; Rev. Fr. Jason Braaten, MDiv; Rev. Fr. Mark Braden, STM; Rev. Fr. Burnell F. Eckardt Jr., STM, PhD; Rev. Fr. D. Richard Stuckwisch Jr., PhD; Rev. Fr. David H. Petersen, MDiv


8:30-9:00 am  Registration/Coffee, donuts/
Holy Absolution available
9:00 am  Matins
9:40 am  Welcome
9:45-10:45 am
Justification and the Sacrament,
part one  -- Rev. Preus
11:00 am  Holy Mass
12:15 pm  Lunch (provided)
1:30 – 2:30 pm
Justification and the Sacrament,
part two -- Rev. Preus
2:30 – 3:30 pm
Panel Discussion
Response from the editors
3:30 pm  Vespers
4:00 pm  Gemütlichkeit

Lodging on your own.  
Recommended:  Hampton Inn $169. 6540 S Cicero AveBedford ParkIL. (708) 496-1900 ‎  Chicago Marriott Midway $219.  6520 S Cicero AveChicagoIL. (708) 594-5500 ‎ Inn Midway $109. 4944 S Archer AveChicagoIL. (773) Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites $171. 6500 S Cicero AveChicagoIL. (708) 458-0202. Hilton Garden Inn $239. 6530 S Cicero AveBedford ParkIL. (708) Courtyard $199. 6610 S Cicero AveBedford ParkIL. (708) Sleep Inn $159. 6650 S Cicero AveBedford ParkIL. (708) 594-0001 ‎ Holiday Inn $180. 6624 S Cicero AveChicagoIL. (708) 563-6490 ‎

Registration: $25 (Payable to Gottesdienst. Email the following info to with “Gottesdienst Chicago” in  the subject line).  You may pay the registration fee when you arrive.

Registration info requested:

Your name
Your title
Your parish
Your address, city, state, ZIP
Your phone
Your email

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New LCFS Policy and Its Threat to Conscience

Just today I opened a letter (dated April 2014) from Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, with the expectation that it might be an appeal for donations, a blurb encouraging awareness of LCFS, or some such ordinary communication as we pastors tend to receive from organizations that serve the LCMS.

It was not.

The letter has to do with the new Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act and Marriage Fairness Act passed in Illinois, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. These new ordinances arose in Illinois following a controversy in 2010 when an application was made to LCFS in Illinois for a foster parent license by someone identified as openly gay. The applicant was referred to another agency, but made a complaint of discrimination to the Illinois Attorney General. All this ultimately contributed to this legislation. In essence, the new laws forced the LCFS to choose between compliance and closing their doors altogether.

The LCFS chose to comply. This resulted in the revocation of RSO status, by the LCMS, in March of this year.  If you have trouble with the alphabet soup, that's the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod officially revoking the status of a Religious Service Organization, essentially saying it can not longer be an auxiliary of the Synod. The Synod Secretary Raymond Hartwig dutifully informed LCFS that, due to its new policy allowing gays to serve a foster parents, the Missouri Synod could no longer endorse it or recognize it as and RSO.

This brings me to the letter sitting on my desk. LCFS is hoping that "our congregational partners will continue to support us in our mission," that is, in spite of the LCMS's withdrawal of RSO status.

Their reasoning has to do with the plethora of adoptions, foster homes, placements, and good things that LCFS has done for youths, parents, veterans, and so forth.  "The issue," they admit, "is a complex one that invites ongoing discussion."

So, let's discuss.  If memory serves, weren't Catholic Charities forced to close not very long ago because of this very thing? Were they not served with an ultimatum, and, in identical circumstances, did they not say, we will not compromise what we believe, no matter how much good might otherwise be served?

Further, the revocation of RSO status by the Synod is not without reason. In fact the Synod is to be commended for taking this difficult step; this attempt by LCFS to solicit funds while having newly lost RSO status is essentially making the LCMS leadership look like the bad guys, when in fact, they are the ones who, like Catholic Charities, are following conscience.

But of course, we needn't let the Synodical leadership or the Roman Catholic Church be our guides. This is not really a tough decision ethically, because the bending or compromising of principles is never a good thing to do, no matter what good might come of it.

To be sure, it's all truly sad, and the loss of so much good is heartbreaking. But our legal losses in the state legislatures these days do have, and will have, severe ramifications. How much more severe will they be if we lose conscience because of them?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On the radio at 4:40pm central...

I'm scheduled to be on with Rev. Todd Wilken of Issues, Etc., to talk about the recent public prayer case decided by the US Supreme Court, Town of Greece v. Galloway. Tune in today, or listen to the podcast at your convenience anytime at


Monday, May 5, 2014

Thoughts on Easter 4 and Mothers' Day

Easter 4 falls on Mothers' Day this year, which is fortuitous when considering how the Gospel of John presents the work of the Spirit. 

The Gospel for Easter 4 is the heart of our Lord's farewell discourse, and at its center is the analogy of the woman in the pangs of child birth. This puts the picture of giving birth at the center of our Lord's teaching on the Holy Spirit. But really is it any surprise? 

In John 1:12-13, those who receive the light, those who see and are enlightened, are given the right to become children of God, born "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." 

In John 1:32-34, He who has the Holy Spirit remaining with Him is He who is the Son of God. The Holy Spirit is associated with being a son of God. As John the Baptist proclaims: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

In John 3, our Lord says that only those who are born again/from above, born of water and the Spirit, will see the kingdom of God. And this leads into a discussion with the Samaritan woman that the true children of God will worship God in Spirit and Truth. If you take the word and epexegetically, you get something like unto John 14 and 16, where the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit that is Truth, who will be made available and give life through the Word of God, through the Words of Jesus (John 6:53). And that Spirit of Truth will teach the sons of God and cause them to remember all that Jesus has spoken to them (John 14:26). Thus, the Spirit who remained with Jesus while He was with the disciples (John 1:32-34), now makes Jesus to remain with the Disciples while He is with the Father (John 19:25-27; John 20).

In John 8, the Jews question Jesus about His Father, his genealogy. Our Lord flips this on the Jews and questions whether they are in fact the offspring of Abraham. For if they were truly the offspring of Abraham, they would do what Abraham did, which is rejoice to see Jesus' day. Abraham rejoiced and saw that day when the Father gave the word of promise to provide THE lamb for the burnt offering. Abraham kept the Word, which is Spirit and life (John 6:53). Thus whoever keeps Jesus' Word will never see death (8:50).

In John 9, the man born blind truly sees the Son of Man when he washes in the pool of Siloam.

In John 19, just before our Lord hands down the Spirit, he makes the beloved disciple the son of Mary the mother of Jesus (John 19:25-27).

All of this is to fulfill the Scriptures. For after the fall into sin, even though the woman's pain in childbearing would increase, God would give the seed born of the woman to crush the head of the serpent (the word for pain in Genesis 3 of the LXX is the same as John 16). Then in Genesis 4, Eve gives birth to Cain and says "I have gotten a man (ἄνθρωπον διὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, LXX) through the Lord." And as the hour of our Lord's glorification comes, the Roman governor proclaims "Behold, the man" (ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος; John 19:5). In other words: Look, see, this is the man promised to Eve.

The Holy Spirit then is pictured, in John at least, as the one who gives birth to Christians. The Holy Spirit is pictured as our mother.

And so, I think this changes the way we should understand John 16:5-15, especially the words παράκλητος and ἐλέγχω. I don't think they carry the judicial overtones of advocate and conviction, but rather more personal, so that what the Paraclete will do for the disciples and all Christians is what a mother does for her children. Mothers do more for their children than anyone else. Whatever the need, she can always be called upon to answer that need. For that is what the paraclete means: answering calls and needs when called upon. In giving birth, mothers feed, console, comfort, exhort, help, plead, and defend whenever called upon to do so. This is the picture John gives us of the Holy Spirit. It is also a picture that Paul gives:
"For our appeal (παράκλησις) does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.   
"For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted (παρακαλοῦντες) each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." (1 Thess 2:3-13)
The word παράκλητος in John doesn't carry a judicial connotation, neither, therefore, does the word ἐλέγχω. It should be understood in the same that it is used in Matthew 18:15 and Leviticus 19:17, which has the aim of showing fault with a view toward understanding, enlightenment, reconciliation. It is the act of a friend, of a brother, not a judge. It is what a mother does for her children. She studies her children to find out how she may effectively correct their faults and improve their character. She doesn't try to convict her children. She tries to make her children see so that they'll convict themselves, so that she can guide them, nurture them into all the truth.

The nurture of the Spirit is not a grievance it has against the world, but a gift it is giving to the world. He enlightens, He shows the world with regard to sin inasmuch as unbelief in Jesus is the root of all sin. That is to say, the Spirit, the Paraclete is called upon to help and comfort and encourage when our conscience cries out "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." With regard to righteousness, inasmuch as we no longer see Jesus because He went to the Father. That is to say, the Spirit, the Paraclete is called upon to help, comfort, and encourage by showing us the righteousness of Christ, which is declared to be ours because of His death, resurrection, and ascension. For where the Spirit is there is the Son of God, where the Spirit is there is the Word of God (John 6:53). With regard to judgment, inasmuch as the prince of this world has been judged. That is to say, the Spirit, the Paraclete is called upon to help, comfort, encourage by giving us freedom from the accuser to love our neighbor because God has first loved us. The Paraclete is called upon to help, encourage, and comfort by taking what belongs to our Lord and declaring it to us, making it ours. As a mother does for her children.

And all of this gives birth in us the life of the Spirit, the life of faith, the life of prayer. For we are no longer born children from this world, but born from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Ask, therefore, call upon the one who helps in times of need. And you will receive, that your joy may be full. 

SCOTUS: It's OK to long as you don't really mean it.

So the Supremes refused to say stop (in the name of love) to prayers at town council meetings. But only if the pray-ers try to be "inclusive" and because, well, nobody really means it anyway.

From the FoxNews report of Justice Kennedy's opinion for the court:

The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers.

And there is something for the Gottesdients Crowd to ponder: in modern American parlance "ceremonial" indicates insincerity. A brief, ceremonial prayer is no big deal. If it's ceremony, then it's not authentic, you don't really mean it. This is perhaps the greatest hurdle to our flocks' understanding of public worship, liturgy, etc, etc.


Sanctification is noticeable

"O God, save us from the fury of the Northmen!"

And then, all of a sudden, the Northmen weren't so bad. They got baptized. They started building churches instead of sacking them. They replaced Beowulf's moral code of blustery boasting (reminiscent, as Prof. Balot used to say, of both Homer's Achilles and any ganga rapper) with the code of chivalry. 

All that is to say that sanctification is noticeable. Yes, every sin is damnable, even a teeny-weeny sin because every sin comes from the desire for God to die so that we can be gods. But we should not let that pious truth blind us to another pious truth: faith in Christ is always connected to love for Christ and walking in His footsteps. Just look at what happened to the Northmen!

And now look what is happening to them as Christianity has largely been tossed aside: 

"In 2013, an estimated 53 million prescriptions for antidepressants were issued in England. That is roughly the total number of people in England."

Methinks, O John of Gaunt, thou prophet new inspired, that thou hast misunderestimated!

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death! 


Friday, May 2, 2014