Friday, June 26, 2015

Draft For Trinity IV, with special attention to Marriage

Here's my first draft of a sermon for Sunday in the context of my flock's life in an America that continues to shed the last vestiges of being a society of Christians based on Biblical norms. Does anyone have a better collect for the conclusion? Other thoughts on what to say this Sunday and how to say it?


Trinity IV, 2015
Luke 6
Rev. H. R. Curtis
Trinity – Worden, IL & Zion – Carpenter, IL

The events of the day suggest that we look at our Gospel lesson with an eye toward marriage and the church’s place in society and our place in both the church and society.

First of all, what does Jesus mean, and what does He not mean, with His statements about “judge not….”

Does this mean that we are not to attempt to judge between what is right and what is wrong?
Well, let us take a clear cut example. Does Jesus mean to say that when we see things as a man walking into a church and shooting up the place we should say, “Well, who am I to judge?”  Or that when we see someone breaking into our neighbor’s house that we should not call the police because, after all, who are we to judge about what’s right and what’s wrong? That is ludicrous. For the Bible says in I Thessalonians 5:22: Stay away from every form of evil. How are we to stay away from evil if we can’t judge between evil and good? So clearly Jesus is not saying that we should be ignorant of the difference between what is right and what is wrong.

Well, do the words of Jesus, judge not lest ye be judged, mean that while we can tell evil from good, we should refrain from saying that what a specific person is doing is right or wrong. That is, maybe we should be able to say what is right and wrong in the abstract (murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, lying is wrong) but that we should not judge the individual actions of individual people as right or wrong. But that can hardly be what Jesus means because the same Jesus says in Matthew 18: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

So Jesus says that we should indeed notice when other people sin, and that we should even confront our brother with his sin in order that we might “gain our brother” – that is, gain him back to the life God wants him to live, helping to turn him from his sin and find forgiveness in Christ. This is exactly what St. Paul says in the book of Galatians: Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

And there it is: that is what Jesus means by our Gospel lesson today, “you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” We are not to be high and mighty. We are not to approach those who have fallen into sin in a spirit of arrogance, with a beam in our own eye to remove the speck in his. No, but as Jesus says, we first remove the beam in our own eye in humility so that we can approach those who are mired in sin with the warning that sin leads to death and the good news that Jesus has come to give us life.

So, armed with this knowledge, what do we in Christ’s Church make of the news that now in America marriage is officially defined contrary to God’s definition in Genesis:

Genesis 1:27-28  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Genesis 2:24  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
As Jesus Himself said: Therefore what God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

So what is the Church’s job, and our job as individual members of the Church, in the face of a world that has tossed God’s gift of marriage to the curb?
Just as Jesus said, our job is to remove the beam from our eye in humility and then to “confess Him before men” and to “speak the truth in love” to lead others to repentance.

So first, especially now, we in the Church should examine our own lives and in humility admit that marriage has not always been honored in our midst, either. Adultery, frivolous divorce for unbliblical reasons, the wandering eyes of lust, living together without benefit of marriage, husband and wife trying to lord it over each other and delighting in causing pain to one another, encouraging strife in the marriages of family or friends with meddling and gossip, etc., etc. There is no one in this room who can’t confess to at least one of those sins which diminish marriage.

Well, in the church we are not afraid of confessing our sins, for we worship Jesus who said that it is not the healthy who need a physician but the sick and that he has come to save sinners, of whom I am chief. And it is from the power of Jesus’ forgiveness that we receive power to go forth into our lives and seek to do better – to grow into our Lord’s image of kindness and godliness and faithfulness to the Father’s plan.

So we are not afraid to look at ourselves in the mirror and remove the beam. We must also not shrink from our duty to remove the speck in our neighbor’s eye and to speak the truth in love. This is what the New Testament says about the issue in the news:

Romans 1:18-28  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.  24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,  25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.  26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.  28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11  Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

There is nothing new under the sun. The New Testament talks about these issues, which we think of as very modern, progressive issues, because they were very big issues in the world that Jesus and St. Paul preached in. Rome, in fact, had views of matrimony that line up very nicely with the Supreme Court’s recent decision. Yes, the world surrounding the early church was just crazy, just as morally bankrupt as our world; in pagan Rome they believed in what we think of as the 1960’s version free love; they also had celebrities (emperors even!) who decided they would like to change their gender, and they celebrated and approved of relations “contrary to nature” as St. Paul puts it.

That’s the “old-fashioned” way, the way of Rome. It’s neither modern nor progressive; it’s ancient and it’s pagan. The modern, progressive morality was from Christianity. And that ancient, pagan world discovered that Christianity was telling the truth because Christians stood by what the Bible says and were not embarrassed of it, nor were they afraid of those who persecuted them for standing by the truth. The Church of the first centuries lived in a moral cesspool exactly like our own day time TV shows and the disastrously salacious lives of our celebrities. But by living godly lives and holding fast to the teaching of God’s Word, the Christians of those days demonstrated to the ancient world that God’s Word was truth and pointed to a better way of life.

And the ancient world was converted. And the old pagan morality, which was not morality at all but an indulgence in every wicked lust, was cast aside. And so you were blessed to grow up in a world that did uphold basic, godly morality because of the inheritance of Biblical morality passed down through the ages due to the faithfulness of those first Christians whose lives of godliness inspired the conversion of the ancient Roman world.

But now the world has largely grown tired of our Lord and His Word and we are once again in the minority in what was once our own land. Within the span of one short generation we are once again become a Church that is condemned by the intelligentsia, by the rich and famous, by those in power in the culture and the government.

And so what shall we do? How shall we live? Will we have the courage of the saints of old who would stand up on the Word of God in the face of all sorts of pressure? Will we love the world enough to distinguish between right and wrong and to stand by the right? We will love our children enough to raise them in the fear and instruction of the Lord and teach them what the Bible says without fear? Will we love our family members enough to warn them away from dishonoring marriage in ways small and large?

By the grace of God. Only by the grace of God.

Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who repent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding…

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thoughts on Trinity 3

Aristotle’s teaching on virtue was not that it was the opposite of vice, but rather that virtue was the mean between two opposite vices, the mean between an excess and a defect of the same feeling. Courage, for example, is virtue not because it has no fear, but rather that it takes a stand despite fear. It has the proper proportion of fear so as not to lead cowardliness—an excess of fear—and rashness—a defect of fear. So also temperance is virtue not because it lacks all feelings of pleasure, but because it has the proper proportion of feeling pleasure that it neither leads to intemperance—an excess of pleasure—or apathy—a defect of pleasure. Aristotle does this for all virtues and vices, showing how virtue is not vice’s opposite but rather mean between two opposite but equally pernicious vices.

What Aristotle said of virtue, the church, too, has said with regard to doctrine. The opposite of heresy is not orthodoxy, but rather another heresy just on the opposite side. It’s what Luther, among others, calls falling off the horse on the other side. Or as we might call it: running into the opposite ditch. The point is that by overcorrection, we go from one ditch to the other one. The problem, of course, is that we’re still in the ditch. In other words, we don’t fix error with error, by overcompensating. Error is fixed when one follows right behind the Lord and His Words, when we abide in His teaching, shifting neither to the right or to the left.

And so a parable about the virtue of zeal for the lost AND found.  The angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents. And here is where the vices of Jesus’s day and ours enters. For the Scribes and the Pharisees, their vice is a defect of joy over one sinner who repents. They don’t rejoice because they don’t see a need for repentance. They are already righteous. The reality is quite different. The Scriptures are replete with examples of how all men are sinful from birth and are in need of repentance. And thus the final unstated question in our Lord’s parable: If the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents, why don’t you? They don’t because they see no need for it because being righteous in God’s sight in not about being lost and found by God, but by never getting lost. The problem is that sinful man is always lost unless he is found, he is a sinner in need of repentance.

But this is not our vice. Our vice is an overcorrection to that of the Scribes and Pharisees. It is not in the defect of joy over one sinner who repents. It is in the excess of joy over the sinner’s sin. This leads to the same outcome as the vice of the Scribes and the Pharisees. There is no rejoicing with the angels over one sinner who repents because there is no sin that needs to be repented of. The sinner is not lost and found. The sinner in this case is never lost and is not in need of being found because he has done nothing wrong.

Consider the world’s acceptance of same-sex marriage. It’s not enough that we must be tolerant of it, we must rejoice in it. Celebrate it. The acceptance of those with same-sex attraction is not on the basis of being lost and then found, of a sinner who repents of his sin. Rather by the sleight of hand, the stroke of pen, the sin is no longer a sin and made into a good—a transformation of darkness into light, falsehood into truth. It’s a changing of identity not by the Word of God but by the will of the man. It is the polar opposite of the Scribes and the Pharisees, but just as destructive.

But that’s the world, you think. That’s society, our culture. It’s not us. This is true. But we do something similar by our own sleight of hand. And it is always preceded by three little words: “but at least . . . .” The parents in response to the couple living together against the clear Word of God, not to mention, the clear findings of study upon study regarding the detrimental effects of this, “but at least” they’re being honest and not hiding it from us. As though mere brazenness atones. To the girl giving birth out of wedlock, “but at least” she didn’t get an abortion. Yes, this is good. But does the refraining from a second sin atone for the committing of the first?

“But at least” theology blinds us to our sins. It makes us comfortable with breaking God’s law. It dulls our ears and our hearts to hearing not only God’s holy law, but also His life-saving Gospel. It makes Jesus’ death and resurrection completely unnecessary because atonement can be achieved by our own works. It gives us the ability to soothe our own consciences, not by God’s Word of forgiveness, but by rejoicing in the sin the sinner could have done but didn’t. And it still doesn’t rejoice with the angels over one sinner who repents because in our eyes there is nothing to repent of.

Repent! For this is the same sin as the Scribes and the Pharisees but in a different direction. 

And that is where the parable leaves the Scribes and the Pharisees. It’s where it leaves us. The end is left open. What will they do? What will we do? Will we continue to go our own way, either in excess or defect? Or will we follow right behind Jesus, without wavering from His Word and promises? Will we rejoice with the angels over one sinner who repents? Will we rejoice with the Good Shepherd who at great cost to Him seeks to find the one who is lost, carry him on His shoulders so that his friends and neighbors can rejoice with him that what He lost is now found and restored to His fold? Will we rejoice with God who at great effort to Him turns His house upside down and inside out to find the coin that was under His charge for safe keeping? Will we rejoice with the Word of God made flesh, who for the joy that was before Him endured the cross and despising its shame sought to save those who were lost in sin and death? This is how we love one another. For love does not rejoice is wrongdoing. It does not rejoice in evil. Love rejoices with the angels over one sinner who repents, who was lost but now is found, who was dead but now is alive.

That is what repentance is: being found by God through His Word when we are lost in our sins because of the temptations of our own flesh, the world, and the devil. He finds us. He comes into our mess. He breaks in to hinder every evil plan of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature by the proclamation of His Word. Repentance is simply admitting that you’re lost when God’s Word says that you are. It is confessing, saying the same thing as what God’s Word says.

And God’s word says this: You were once lost but now you’re found. You were once dead in your trespasses and sins, but now you are alive in Christ Jesus. You were once not a people, but now you are God’s people. For by water and Word, you bear upon your brow the sign of His victory and our redemption. And now the God of all grace will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you with His own body and blood. Rejoice with me, he says, for what was lost is now found, what was dead is now alive. For you are, and we do, with the angels and all the company of heaven, with shouts of thanksgiving “for though you were angry with us, your anger turned away, that you might comfort us . . . for the Lord God is our strength and our song, and he is our salvation.”

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ecclesiastical Pet Peeves as Ecclesiastical Rubrics

Ironically, Dr. Jerry Kieschnick and the Gottesdienst Crowd agree on something. What you do in the Divine Service with your posture, what you wear, how you speak, etc., actually matters and confesses something about what is actually happening. Without any surprise; however, we differ on what those things are. He calls them “pet peeves,” but make no mistake they are his rubrics.

But at least we’re getting somewhere. We agree that it’s not adiaphora. In other words, we agree that it’s important, even necessary, to conduct oneself in a manner befitting the occasion. Sadly, the occasion for Dr. Kieschnick seems to be of a different spirit and truth than us and that of the Lutheran Confessions (AC XXIV, 1–3). It is more like a meeting of US Presidents and Fortune 500 companies, which his list reflects. It’s a meeting of people who have it all together to praise God, the American flag, and apple pie.

The reality is that we meet before the Altar as those who decidedly don’t have it all together, but eagerly desire it. Thus we come before the King of the universe in words and posture to confess that we don’t, imploring Him for His grace and mercy to forgive us, and give us the will and action to do better. Thus all that we do, everything that we wear, how and why we sit and stand, what we sing and why we sing it, everything reflects the very nature of what is happening—the Holy Trinity coming into our midst to forgive us, renew us, console us, and feed us. 

Thus the importance of ecclesiastical rubrics. And these aren’t pet peeves. They are the wisdom of the church handed down through the ages to confess in word and posture and space—in all that we do in the Divine Service—the reality of the God who comes in Spirit and truth to receive us who prostrate (προσκυνέω) themselves before Him in Spirit and truth. Come to think of it: We agree on one more thing—it’s a pet peeve when other’s don’t recognize it as important. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Restoring the Sacred!

St. John Cantius, Chicago
By Larry Beane

Here is a remarkable 30 minute, exquisitely beautiful video about restoring the sacred in Chicago's St. John Cantius Church.

In a decaying culture that celebrates death, embraces mediocrity, and revels in the perverse and ugly, this is a refreshing and inspiring respite.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Again, click here!  You will be inspired.