Sunday, May 28, 2006
Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28; 1 Pet 4:7-14) (Historic)
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Today is a great time of transition. This is Exaudi, the last Sunday of the Easter Season. Next Sunday, we move on to Pentecost. We celebrated the Ascension of our Lord this past Thursday. The paschal candle was extinguished. Next week, we will put away the white paraments. The extra alleluias will disappear from our liturgy, and, after next week’s celebration of Pentecost Sunday, we will leave behind the festival half of this church year.
Today is also a great time of transition for our many graduates. A time of leaving behind an old school, only to begin another adventure in a new school or in the school of hard knocks. It’s also a time of transition for our confirmands who will be confirmed this morning. They leave behind childhood in the church and take their places as confessing adults who join centuries upon centuries of those who will partake in the holy miracle of eating and drinking our Lord’s body and blood. For them, today isn’t a graduation, but rather, a new beginning. Today, they will experience the resurrected Christ in a way they never have before, and their lives will never be the same.
Today is indeed a time of transition, for this is just as it was for the apostles after the Lord had risen. They had just finished basking in the glow of 40 days of triumph as they once again beheld their Lord who had overcome death and the grave. They saw him enough times to know this was no daydream or hallucination. They ate with him and touched him – hence this is no ghostly apparition. But what does he do? He ordains them into the ministry, tells them what they must do, and promptly ascends into heaven, leaving them staring at the sky. They have been told what to do, but have not yet been given the tools to do it. Hopefully, they remembered what he said to them as recorded by St. John in our Gospel reading: “I’m sending you a Helper, who comes from the Father, and who testifies of me.” For he tells them great trouble is coming. While Christ is triumphant over sin, death, and the devil - the Church must still wrestle with all three for a while longer.
Jesus tells them they will suffer and be persecuted. They will even be put to death. And yet, the Helper is with them, confessing for them, giving them boldness and courage, providing them with words, and raising up more believers around the world until Jesus returns.
This is where you, our confirmands, are today as well. You become adult Christians today. You will swear to hold the Christian faith unto death today. Our culture would consider this a heavy burden for young people not yet in high school. It is, but yet it isn’t. For our Lord tells us that we must be willing to bear our cross and die, and then tells us his burden is light. It is difficult, and easy at the same time. For we have a Helper, the Holy Spirit. This Spirit was given to you at Baptism, and has been there in his fullness from that day onward. Today’s action is not a sacrament, it is not a “completion” of baptism, but rather a transition – a shift from being a child Christian to an adult. From this day forward, you are responsible for going to church, receiving the sacraments, and living the Christian life of repentance, forgiveness, and mercy, of being surrounded in the ways that God pours out his grace on us. It is no longer up to mom and dad, but now that adult responsibility falls upon you. Will you be up for it? Of course not. None of us are. That is, by ourselves. Jesus knows our frailty, our sinfulness, our laziness – and gives us a Helper. He sends us his Spirit to give us a sense of guilt and shame when we sin. Of conviction to do the right thing. Of motivation to come to God’s House where his Word is preached and his sacraments given out like there’s no tomorrow.
For indeed, there may be no tomorrow. As Peter tells us in our epistle: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be serious and watchful in your prayers.” Dear Christians, the time for childishness and foolishness is past. This sermon may be the last one you ever hear. This trip to the holy altar to receive our blessed Lord in his holy sacrament may be your last. We never know when this life will end – either by our own deaths, or by the promised return of our Lord. One way or the other, it will happen. And this is why our Lord is with us physically. This is why he sends us divine assistance in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is why he, as well as we in the church, call upon every Christian to confess the faith to which we cling – even to the point of death.
For notice what the prophet Ezekiel promises: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.”
It all begins with a sprinkle of clean water – not just any water, but water combined with God’s word and promise, poured out in his Triune Name. This is what confirmation points us all to. It is a claiming, a grasping, of that promise of God. It is a confession, a confirmation of what God did in that miraculous encounter. For in that Holy Baptism, you were given the Holy Spirit, and it is only by that power that you have any righteousness at all.
It is only by this Spirit that we can, as St. Peter exhorts us, not think it strange “concerning the fiery trial which is to try you.” It is only by this Spirit that we can “rejoice” as we “partake of Christ’s sufferings,” that we can, when “reproached for the name of Christ” to count ourselves as “blessed,” for as the holy apostle confesses: “The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” This is the same Spirit the blessed Ezekiel speaks of giving us a new heart.
But dear Christians, do not allow Satan to convince you that this heart transplant is instantaneous. We have the Spirit in the instant of baptism, just as we are heirs of the Kingdom enjoying full salvation and grace from that moment. And yet, the entire life of the Christian is one of being “under construction.” We should grow in our Christian lives. Of course, sometimes we have setbacks. We stumble and fall. We may even lose our faith and search after other gods like the prodigal son. And yet, the Spirit beckons us, pleads with us, calls, gathers, and enlightens us, frets over us, and moves us to repentance. The Spirit always points us to Christ, to where he may be found. And where is that, dear children of God? Where has Jesus promised we may find him? In his Word, of course. Where that Word is proclaimed, by those to whom Jesus said: “When they hear you, they hear me.” Come to this holy house and offer your worship and praise – and also listen to the Lord speak to you in the proclamation of the Scriptures and in the preaching of the Gospel!
Concerning his ministers, the Lord said: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” Come to your pastor, for he has been given a special gift of the Holy Spirit to forgive your sins. The Lord also charged his servants to celebrate Holy Communion, in which is found the Lord’s true, physical, miraculous body and blood, which is shed: “For the forgiveness of sins.” Come often to this Holy Supper! Come running! Can you imagine anything more important, more worthy of your time, than to partake physically of the Lord’s holy Body and Blood!
Indeed, this is a time of transition, just as it was for the apostles waiting for Pentecost. It is a time of transition for our confirmands, and it is a time of transition for all of us Christians. We continue to be crafted and molded by the Holy Spirit as we are exposed to the Gospel, and we submit to the Lord and to those he has authorized to act and speak on his behalf. We stand, like the Israelites between the rock of the armies of this world who seek to destroy us, and the hard place of walls of water, life in this fallen world, waiting to drown us out. But like the Israelites, we hold the trump card – we have our Lord Jesus Christ standing before us, we have the Holy Spirit guiding us, and we have the ark of the Church that protects us like a brooding mother, an ark that keeps us safe from the crashing waves of the devil. And in this Ark, just as in the Ark of the Covenant, we find holy things – powerful things – not only the ten commandments, but also the Holy Manna, the Bread of Life that nourishes us unto eternity.
Even as we stand in this time of transition from the tired old world and the new perfect world that is yet to come, even as we horrific sinners are also glorious saints according to God’s Word and promise, and even as we exist in this fallen flesh that is dying bit by bit, we know that according to the Spirit placed in us by virtue of the sacrificial death and promise of Jesus, we are incorruptible, immortal, and destined to live forever in glory that will have no end.
For every transition in the life of the Christian is one more step toward glory, one more day closer to that great day promised by our blessed Lord. My dear brothers and sisters, rejoice! For we are one day closer to realizing in full what has been promised us, and given us: “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne. Alleluia.
I will not leave you orphans; I am going away and coming back to you;
and your heart will rejoice. Alleluia.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Text: Mark 16:14-20 (2 Kings 2:5-15, Acts 1:1-11, John 16:5-15) (Historic)
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
In the 1920s, the Pope introduced a festival into the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church called “Christ the King.” Interestingly, this feast happens on the same Sunday we Lutherans celebrate the Reformation. Some church historians believe Rome did this to steal some of Father Luther’s thunder. Whether this is true or not, who knows? But in reality, the Church has always had a “Christ the King” celebration – that of Ascension.
Think about it. What do we confess in the Creed? That our Lord “ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” In other words, Jesus took up his heavenly throne when he ascended. And, as we further confess in the Creed: his “Kingdom will have no end.”
The Ascension is really a celebration of King Jesus and his otherworldly, eternal Kingdom!
To us Americans, the notion of a king is a foreign concept. But in a kingdom, the source of power is not the people, but the Crown. Of course, the monarch doesn’t oversee every government office and sit in on every departmental meeting. The king has ministers, servants, who not only act and speak on behalf of the Crown, but who report back to the king as well.
And while the king chooses to work through ministers and ambassadors, make no mistake, it is certainly the king who runs his kingdom. Ministers who speak without authority are put to the sword. Ambassadors who act outside the wishes of the Crown are likewise executed. For the king is far too important to personally deliver every letter, sign every document, and hear every judicial case. And yet the Crown does all of these things – once again, through ministers, servants of the king.
In today’s Gospel reading, the disciples have just been made ministers. They have received their marching orders from the Crown: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” They have been charged with preaching and baptizing, with a ministry of Word and Sacrament.
They are further instructed to cast out demons, to speak the Gospel every language, and to not fear the old enemy, the serpent. Neither are they to fear the poison of their foes. For these apostolic servants of the Crown travel under safe conduct orders from the King of the Universe. They are to lay hands on the sick, and give them life. In John’s Gospel, Jesus gives them the authority (and the command) to forgive sins on his behalf. And they have already been commanded to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
And having received their commissions, the King goes to his throne room. The apostles stare at the sky, perhaps dazed and confused. What now? Angels appear and tell them to quit staring into space. Just as their King ascended, so too will he return. Hint hint. Get to work! You are ministers, servants of the King. You have been given your orders, now go!
And the Church has been carrying out the wishes of her King ever since, and will continue to do so until he returns again in triumph to close out space and time and create a new heaven and a new earth. But meanwhile, we find ourselves, like the apostles, stuck between the two comings of our King.
But the Lord does not leave us alone. We still spread his Kingdom and carry out our orders by his power. As our gospel text says: “They went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.” Jesus continues to govern his eternal Kingdom, working through his ministers. He has given them the Holy Spirit, guiding them, instructing them, empowering them, sanctifying them, and growing the Church as he, the Holy Spirit, sees fit.
So today really could be called the Festival of Christ the King!
And notice how many times Jesus is addressed as King in this festival season. On Palm Sunday, he rode into David’s Royal City in a regal procession on a donkey – just as did King Solomon at his coronation. “Hosanna! Long live the King!” the people cried out. They were hailing their King as he came to claim the throne.
At his trial, Jesus faced down the pretender to the Throne of David: King Herod. The True King would not even speak to this illegitimate puppet, refusing to recognize his kangaroo court. Pilate insisted that the placard above Jesus on the cross read “King of the Jews” – not “claimed to be king” as the Jews wanted. The Roman soldiers placed a purple robe on him and crowned him with thorns – and though they did this to mock, their actions confess the truth, that Jesus is truly a King – and not just any king. For as Jesus testified to Pilate, his Kingdom is “not of this world.” Indeed, how puny is Judea to the Creator of the Universe. What a speck of dust the mighty Roman Empire is to the God who created all things! What a tiny sliver of Jesus’ Kingdom is the entire world! For his Kingdom is the universe, spanning all time. Not a single atom is apart from his reign.
And while his Good Friday throne was a rude and shameful cross, this is the kind of coronation he accepted. For a good King will lay down his life for his subjects. And being sovereign even over death, this King did not surrender his throne upon dying, but rather took up his life again, proclaimed his royal victory to the conquered in hell, and then appeared to his subjects in a victory parade that lasted 40 days. But when this period of jubilation came to an end, the time came for the King to put his government in place. And so we find ourselves where the apostles are in our text – serving our King as he reigns, and awaiting his triumphant, final royal visitation.
Meanwhile, we continue to carry out our orders. We preach, we baptize, we make disciples. The Kingdom of God is governed by the Crown, our triune God, even as Jesus reigns from on high, and as the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens us. Every subject has his part to play in the kingdom – whether being a faithful spouse, a father who exercises sacrificial headship over his family, a mother who nurtures and protects her children, or an obedient son or daughter. Everyone is placed by God to advance the Kingdom: white collar workers, blue collar workers, professionals, artists, pastors, teachers, those who fix things, and those who create things. We offer our meager abilities to our King, and unworthy as we are, our Monarch governs us like no other.
For he shares his Kingdom with us, making all of us co-regents, promising us all thrones to rule with him. He becomes part of us, in a mystical union with himself as we commune, as his body and blood become one with ours.
And notice how we interact with our Sovereign when we come to his court, here in his very palace – the sanctuary. We come as humble servants. We speak in hushed tones. We bow in his royal presence. As the psalmist writes: we “kneel before the Lord, our Maker.” When your pastors serve at the altar, they genuflect, that is, bow the knee, even as Paul proclaims to the Philippians: “Every knee shall bow.” While it may look like a quarterback taking a knee to stop the clock, this is in fact an ancient act of submission to our very-present King, our God who is here with us. For there is no need to stop the clock, for to the Christian, time no longer matters. We are with Christ in eternity, for he has begun his eternal reign, and we commune with him and with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” What else can we do in his presence but kneel?
We begin our service in begging the King’s royal pardon, after which the minister proclaims the royal forgiveness. After this, we sing: “Lord have mercy” – which is the ancient way of asking the King to throw gifts to us. Instead of asking a pretend carnival king to “throw me somethin’ mistah!” in this sanctuary, we are so bold as to ask the real Rex to give us his true and eternal gifts – and instead of pot-metal doubloons and trinkets, he graces us with eternal life!
Next, we sing a hymn of praise to our King: “For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign, alleluia!” We read the royal commands and letters of pardon from our King. We hear the King’s minister speak on behalf of the King, followed by an acknowledgment of our beliefs about the Kingdom. We go to the King’s court to ask petitions, followed by the offering of gifts to our King, and then we prepare for the royal banquet.
We recreate the royal entry into Jerusalem as we hail our King with cries of “Hosanna.” We address him: “Blessed are you, Lord of heaven and earth.” And then the King dines with us. But we don’t merely eat with him, we are given a holy meal that unites us with him in flesh and blood. As the ancient Eastern liturgy says: “Holy things for holy people.” This King has not come only to rule over us, but to invite us to rule with him!
For this is a Kingdom like no other! This is a Kingdom “not of this world,” a Kingdom that can never be washed away with a storm or gone with the winds of warfare. This is a Kingdom that has no end, and we are more than mere subjects – we are in fact more than conquerors. For the Church, the Kingdom of our Lord, transcends time and crosses the grave. It overcomes all evil, and stares down the gaping gates of hell.
The Lord has ascended on high to take up his throne, and we ascend with him, to share in his glory, to partake in his holiness, to be united with him forever as an eternal bride and conquerors over the devil himself. Indeed, God became man so that man might become divine.
Thanks be to our ascended King for sharing his reign and glory with us, his beloved. Thanks be to him for sending us his Holy Spirit. Thanks be to him for giving us the name that makes us worthy to stand before the Father. All glory and honor, power and might be to our King, even as we await his triumphant royal return to bring all of the universe into eternity. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Go ahead and read the article, and then I'll toss out some points for discussion.
Done? Wow, some of you folks can really speed read. Anyway, just some observations...
Now, I write this as a person who wears a leather jacket (though it's not often cold enough in New Orleans, and certainly never in the chancel at church) and who rode for many years. In fact, with the price of gas, I may well revert back to biking. Motorcycles are a blast, a true gift of God, and some of the most interesting people you will ever meet tool around on two wheels. One of my fondest memories was riding halfway across the country on a camping trip with my dad. We were so crazy about riding that we would wear snowsuits and ride in the Northeast Ohio winter. Now that my disclaimer is over, here goes my critique.
1) The people who attend this service (as well as the other "theme" churches mentioned in the article, such as the "cowboy church") are not seeking Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. Now, they may well be after some kind of therapy or some sort of change in the priorities of life - but what is missing in this article is the mission of Jesus to die for the sins of the world and to save us from death and hell - in other words, the gospel. At best, the Jesus proclaimed by the preacher at this church is a kind of moral example, a Zig Ziglar with long hair and sandals.
2) The real religion being promoted is not worship of Yahweh, but worship of self on a Harley. Notice that the sanctuary is decked out not in statues of Jesus, not in stained glass bearing images of the life of our Lord and His Church, not in iconography that points to the Gospel - but rather with motorcycle parts. This church celebrates the religion of America: our hobbies. People love their hobbies, be they motorcycles, sports, movies, cars, collecting, etc. to the point that they want to engage in the hobby 24/7 - even in church. This self-centeredness is antithetical to Christianity. In fact, it is to take wonderful gifts of God (leisure time and hobbies) and turn them into false gods, even placing them in a sanctuary and creating a cult religion out of them. They refuse to submit to God even for an hour on Sunday, instead requiring the Church to conform to their tastes and sensibilities. Do these people see themselves connected more to the ancient martyrs and saints of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, or would they feel more fellowship with non-Christians who happen to ride and wear leather?
3) The preacher only refers to himself as a "preacher." He doesn't see the pastoral office the way Scripture does: as an office of shepherd, elder, overseer, spiritual father, steward of the mysteries, etc. He makes no mention of sacraments. In fact, he works in an auto parts store during the week. He almost boasts of his lack of training. Is this all there is to pastoral care? Ride to church on a bike and wear a nametag that says: "pastor," preach a sermon, and ride home?
Interestingly, the pastor says "I'm called." Many in the LCMS would completely agree, and would cite the fact that he has a congregation, and therefore has a "regular call" according to the Augsburg Confession. There is no mention of whether or not he has been biblically ordained.
Also, it bears mentioning that this is only one step removed from what goes on in many conservative LCMS churches today under the guise of "contemporary worship." The "church growth" methodology is certainly the same. There is at least one LCMS church in Texas that has a "cowboy service" - complete with two-stepping and cowboy hats. St. Paul warned us this would happen in 2 Tim 4:3-4.
I don't know who said this (it was quoted by Prof. Pless in a lecture at seminary), but we Americans play at our worship, worship at our work, and work at our play.
This latest fad of "theme churches" is one more example of our misguided priorities - and the Church's cowardice in acquiescing to them. What bikers and non-bikers alike need is the Gospel, the proclamation of Jesus in both Word and Sacrament, the radical notion that Jesus dying for your sins is far more important than your leather jacket. This is far more radical than giving people a fluff church that encourages them to worship themseves.
Friday, May 19, 2006
The payoff is finally arriving. Yes, I realize we have come a long way, and there is so much more to be done, but let's celebrate this latest milestone of the feminist movement.
No longer is drinkning, smoking, violence, boorish behavior, aggression, and crime only for boys. No indeed! Equality has come into full fruition, and girls have been liberated! Hooray!
These are the fruits of egalitarianism, and a rejection of the order of creation. This is the logical consequence of women working outside the home, women dressing like men, women refusing to submit to the headship of their husbands, women (and their husbands) putting finances ahead of family, etc. These are also the fruits of the "Age of Aquarius," the rejection of Christian morality, the sexual revolution, the refusal to condemn sexual deviance, legalized abortion, and no-fault divorce.
This is also the inevitable result of pushing girls into sports, as well as the feminization of the military. Title IX deserves some credit for the great change in the concept of femininity.
You've come a long way, baby! Can't wait to see what "great thing" happens next!
Thursday, May 18, 2006
I had an interesting discussion with Mrs. Hollywood at the breakfast table today. We were discussing liturgical ceremony. Don't all married couples talk about such things over Gevalia coffee and homemade bread? [Mrs. Hollywood really outdid herself today, making a pineapple coconut bread that is just this side of divine...]
We've been to a lot of Lutheran worship services over the years. And many of our churches have abandoned the historic liturgy in favor of more culturally "relevant" methods of "doing church" - such as having rock music, big screens, dancing girls, etc. Worship is done in front of wheeled altars in gymnasia or multi-purpose rooms. It has become a culture of "anything goes" - all justified by the number of butts in the pews. The LCMS has increasingly become a synod of beancounters.
But even in traditional and liturgical Missouri Synod churches, ceremony is, as a rule, kept to a bare minimum. Very few of our churches use incense, for example. Few make use of processions before and after the service. Pastors who genuflect are a rarity (and laypeople who do, even more on the endandered species list). Pastors who do not chant are the rule rather than the exception.
In short, most LCMS worship (even at its best) is rather bland and "unplugged." And we justify this Spartan atmosphere by appealing to evangelical liberty. Regarding our liturgical practice, we Lutherans often ask the question: "Is this mandated by Scripture, or not." If the answer is "not," we categorize the practice as "adiaphora" - a Greek word that means "indifferent." In other words, Jesus doesn't establish genuflecting and incense at the celebration of the Mass, so it's a matter of personal choice and taste. It is thus seen as unimportant, as some kind of add-on that is not worth fussing over. If it will cost money and make the service longer - fuhgetaboutit!
And God forbid that we look Catholic!
This way of thinking has led us to a kind of liturgical minimalism - "what is the very least I can get away with doing, and still get the benefit of God's promise?" becomes the resulting question. Our lazy, sinful flesh loves this question, because as every good Lutheran knows, salvation is by grace alone. There is nothing I have to do, so I will do nothing.
Hence as long as the bare-minimum bread and wine are used, with the bare-minimum Words of Institution, and as long as a bare-minimum eating and drinking happen, that's all we need. So, that's all we do. Hopefully, using disposable cups for convenience's sake, and running through it as quickly as possible so people can get home in time for the game.
What is missing in this matter is what is confessed. For the way we celebrate the Lord's Supper, and the way we distribute it, and the way we eat it all say something about what we believe. We can teach with our mouths all we want about what the catechism says, we can even memorize it word for word - but our theoretical beliefs are negated by our actions when we casually run through the consecration of the bread and wine with the same gestures and indifference as we click through all the channels on the remote. And all the high and pious words about the Real Presence aren't truly confessed if we approach the altar in the same way that we walk toward the garden shed to get the weedwacker.
So, although ceremonies are not mandated by scripture, they do reveal what we believe. While Scripture is silent as to whether or not I can do the chicken dance at the communion rail, I would not put that into the category of "evangelical freedom." We do great harm in calling liturgy an adiaphoron. Our Lutheran confessions never say such a thing.
The reformers were careful to point out that ceremonies need not be uniform everywhere. Some versions of the Western liturgy call for the Creed to be said before the sermon, some after. Some churches may retain the offertory procession, while others may not. Local custom can dictate such things. But it is an entirely different matter to omit the Creed, or worse yet, change it. It is something entirely different to omit the entire liturgy and just gather on Sunday morning and sing "praise choruses" for an hour. This is the flaw with the question: "What does the Bible explicitly say we have to do?"
The purpose of ceremony is to tell us what is happening in a non-verbal way. It is teaching without a lecture. It is also a way for us to confess to ourselves, to others, and to the Lord what we believe. It is a form of non-verbal prayer and confession of faith. While we certainly don't know what is in a person's heart, just what is suggested when a person crosses himself after receiving communion? What is suggested when someone doesn't? This is not to compel anyone, but let's look at what is being confessed.
If an unbeliever walks into a church and has no explanation other than what he sees and hears, what would he conclude if:
1) the pastor and laity bow and kneel often during the service, make the sign of the cross, and are all paying rapt attention, are not chattering, are not giggling, are dressed in conservative, non-casual clothing (with the pastor fully vested), incense is used, and music is a stately choral expression of a deep theological nature.
2) The pastor and laity never bow, kneel, or cross themselves, are looking around and chatting, laughing, dressed as if they are going to a barbecue (with the pastor not, or only minimally vested), no distinct aroma, and pop music with jingle-like choruses.
Which would come across as really believing what they claim to believe - particularly in the Lutheran tradition and confession, where we claim to believe Jesus is miraculously and physically present in Word and Sacrament in order to commune intimately with us - not merely symbolically present to impart some data to us?
God established high liturgical worship practices in the Old Testament, in the Tabernacle and Temple. The priests wore specific vestments that had symbolic meaning (which served to teach the people and remind the priest of what he is really doing in the exercise of his office). There was a time and a place for specific prayers and actions. It was formal and ritualistic. It was also a sensual experience: rooted in sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. Incense and flame were used to symbolize the divine presence. Beautiful artwork and craftsmanship confessed the holiness of the place.
God gave us the gift of high liturgy even when people were already able to see what was happening: the gathering of the animals at the altar, the slitting of the animals' throats and draining of their blood, the butchering of the animal, and its cooking. Even with this overwhelming sensual experience, God still gave specific instructions regarding other sensual input.
In fact, worship was (and perhaps still should be) almost a sensory overload. The Temple attendee was blasted with visual, aural, and olfactory reminders of Yahweh's justice and mercy, of sin and death, and also of holiness and salvation. There was nothing cerebral or theoretical about it. And the liturgy taught and confessed the faith.
New Testament worship is different, insofar as the one all-availing sacrifice has been done. We no longer slaughter animals. Instead, we offer God our meager gifts of our bodies, our time, our offerings of money and of praise, while God gives us something of infinite value - Jesus Himself, in Word and in physical element. But Jesus is veiled under the forms of bread and wine, and of words. Aside from the odor of the wine, we don't really smell anything. We don't hear the wailing of the sacrificial victim. We don't see blood being drained from the Lamb's veins. There is nothing "in your face" about eating bread and drinking wine, in hearing a pastor read out of a book or offer prayer.
So we need the sensual reminders the Lord gave us in the Old Testament all the more!
We need our pastors to wear their priestly garb, so as to teach us about the holy office and to confess what they are doing at the altar. We need incense to remind us of the sweet aroma of the sacrifice of our Lord that rises to heaven to plead for us, along with the ascendant prayers of the saints. We need to look around and see beautiful and ornate artistry, to remind us that we are in the very presence of Heaven! We need to see people genuflecting and bowing, so as to remind us of being in the real presence of the King! We need to see people make the sign of the cross, so as to call to mind how we have been redeemed. We need to hear chanting, and singing, and bells ringing to call our wandering minds back to the miracle of the Lord's presence among us!
We need these things. And if we need them, how can we call them "indifferent things." We suffer by their lack. We have lost something in allowing them to fall into disuse. And our worship and theology have come to resemble that of our Protestant brethren who do not believe and confess the sacramental presence of God among us.
While Scripture doesn't mandate high liturgical practices, it does operate under the assumption that this is how we worship. God has told us in very fine detail what His tastes in sactuary adornment and furniture are. God told us that He likes incense and ceremony, that He likes beauty and ritual. And this divine preference has the added advantage of teaching us as well. For once again, we learn perhaps more from observing what people do than what they say.
Instead of asking the question: "What is the least I can get away with and have a valid sacrament?" - maybe we should ask: "How can we elevate the level of dignity and glory in our worship so as to please God and teach our people the miracle of Christ among us?" Instead of asking: "What are we free to get rid of under Christian liberty?" maybe we should be asking: "What are we free do make use of under Christian liberty?" Instead of asking the question: "How can our worship be pleasing to man so we can bring in the numbers and money?" maybe we need to ask: "How can our worship be theocentric (God-centered), so that genuine worship (i.e. the reception of God's gifts) can be unimpeded by our sinful desire to please ourselves?"
Oh yes, we also had scrambled eggs. I almost forgot. A really nice breakfast!
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
I just received a church publication aimed at teaching children in Lutheran schools. One of the articles is a well-intentioned help for Christian school teachers who must lead devotions and give children's "sermons." This particlular teacher gives out a web address where teachers can glom ideas for "chapel talks" from others (I hope their pastors aren't preaching the same way!).
This particular one is supposed to "teach kids how to pray." Of course, we have the catechism to do that. Even very young children can learn the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the table blessings - as well as the morning and night prayers. But, of course, we can always improve on the fathers of the Church, not to mention our Blessed Lord Himself! So, therefore, we need cutesy little "prayers" that are more "fun" than the kinds of "boring" prayers children have learned (by memorization) for centuries, prayers that serve them their whole lives long.
Anyway, this "prayer" consists of using the fingers as symbols. I suppose this is a little like a "digital rosary" where fingers are substituted for beads as a prayer aid. A little odd, but whatever! Let me quote a paragraph:
"We then refer to the middle finger as our tallest finger. The tallest finger is used to remind us to pray for those who lead us. This is a reminder to pray for the President, the Governor, the Principal, and other community leaders."
So, the middle finger is used for those in authority. Yes, this makes perfect sense - especially assuming that a "baby boomer" wrote this particular "devotion." Maybe it was the same guy who was captured in a 1960s news magazine giving the "tallest finger" to the police during a Vietnam protest. I'm quite certain he was praying for the cop.
Here in Louisiana, there are plenty of people who would like to use this "devotion" as a "prayer aid" in the aftermath of the hurricanes from last year. Of course, we tend to be partisan, so those who would like to give the "tallest finger" to President Bush may not want to use this "prayer" for Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin. Others may want to "salute" the mayor and governor, while offering another prayer for the president.
But I think most of us would like to offer the "tallest finger prayer" for FEMA, for the Army Corps of Engineers, and the looters who took advantage of the situation of chaos after the storm. Indeed, these "prayers" are a great show of unity among our partisan and racially divided people. While we may vote differently, we can "do the finger prayer" in unison for those who have injured us by their stupidity, incompetence, or mendacity - and there are plenty around here in need of such "prayers."
Of course, Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies, but I don't think he was referring to the "tallest finger prayer" - as tempting as it is.
Instead of teaching children this kind of "prayer" - why not teach them true prayer. I refuse to believe that little children today, who have every advantage of technology, who live in relative wealth and comfort when compared to children of every prior era - are not as smart as the generations of illiterate peasant children who really could pray, instead of playing finger games that will have no use to them when they get older.
Is it any wonder that Christianity is seen as banal and silly, and that once children are confirmed, they "outgrow" the church and see no reason to continue coming?
Let's teach our children to pray, and leave "the finger" to other contexts - hopefully not using it to allow our anger to lead us into sin. And if you teachers don't know how to preach a "sermon," I can tell you who does: pastors. Most of them don't have to glom ideas off the web. Holy Scripture is filled with plenty of things that can be preached to all ages. Too often, teachers are pitted against pastors, and pastors "can't be bothered" to preach and teach in their schools.
I am grateful beyond measure that the relationship between church and school here at Salem is what it is. The pastors love and respect the teachers, and are happy to lead chapel and devotions whenever possible. The teachers love and respect the pastors and the pastoral office, and are happy to allow the pastors to preach and teach in the context of the school.
Here at Salem, our children are taught to pray. If they learn clever things to do with their fingers, they aren't getting that at our church or school. Considering our highways in post-Katrina New Orleans, I have a feeling they are learning this "prayer" on I-10!
Sunday, May 14, 2006
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
We find ourselves today four weeks into the season of Easter, on a Sunday whose introit is the joyful and jubilant Psalm 98: “Oh, sing unto the Lord a New Song!” (which is where this Sunday gets its name, Cantate, Latin for “sing!”). Our hymns still proclaim the joyous resurrection, and our liturgy is bursting at the seams with glorious alleluias.
In the midst of all this joy, singing, and praise of God for conquering the grave and winning eternal life for us, the fathers of the Church have selected John 16 to be our gospel text, in which Jesus is delivering the sad news of his impending departure, and the disciples react with hearts filled with “sorrow.”
Sorrow? My goodness! We spent six long weeks of Lent with somber hymns, no alleluias, focus on the law and in self-examination, exposing (and hopefully confessing) our sins, perhaps even fasting and attending additional church services or taking on works of charity to discipline ourselves – and now Easter is barely a month old, and we’re dealing yet again with sorrow.
Why did the church fathers do that to us?
Well, my brothers and sisters, that’s how life on this side of the grave is, isn’t it? For even as we celebrate the joyous feast, we still have sorrows. Even in this age of grace, we still have aches and pains, family feuds, sick and dying friends and relatives, anxieties about another rapidly approaching hurricane season, money problems, rising gas prices, worries about another war on the horizon in the middle east, and the list goes on and on.
It is interesting that Jesus uses the word “sorrow” here. For “sorrow” is not only sadness. It is a specific kind of sadness, a word that carries with it a sense of regret, of being sorry, of a disappointment that things are the way they are, and not the way they should be. Sorrow is the most natural thing in the world to feel in this fallen world, surrounded by death and disappointment.
For we were not created to have aches and pains, money problems, bickering relatives, and death itself. It is with sorrow that we reflect on these burdens in this life – for these are things that ought not be. We were not created to have regrets, to wish things were different. We were not created to be refugees and patients. We were not created to be divorcees and convicts. We were not created to suffer stress and anxiety. We were not created to be sinners and lawbreakers. We certainly were not created to be on a countdown to our own death.
The disciples experience this sorrow as they face Jesus’ mortality. There is something more than sadness here – there must be a gnawing understanding that something is terribly wrong in the universe when the Messiah, the God-Man, speaks of his own impending death.
But notice that the Lord doesn’t condemn their sorrow. He doesn’t scold them, or tell them to get over it. In fact, Jesus is himself prophetically called the “Man of Sorrows,” who was himself filled with sorrow at the death of his friend Lazarus, and who became “troubled and sorrowful” in reflecting on his impending death as he prayed at Gethsemane.
For sorrow is not sin, but rather a realization of the devastation of sin. Sin is why we must be sorrowful in this life, and sin, our sin, caused all of our blessed Lord’s sorrows.
In response to the disciples’ sorrow, our Lord promises comfort. While he must go away, he promises the Helper – sometimes translated as “Advocate,” or “Counselor,” or “Comforter” – who will come afterwards. Of course, this is none other than the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, of whom the Nicene Creed confesses as: “the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.”
And Jesus outlines the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a very short summary: to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He is promised to be with the Church as she carries out the ministry of Jesus, even under the sorrow of not seeing her Lord face to face in this life at this time. The ever-comforting Spirit is promised to the Church, to guide her into all truth. For just as Jesus is God, and yet did not speak apart from the authority of the Father, so too does the Spirit speak with derived authority. The Spirit’s ministry is to glorify Jesus – not himself – and all that Jesus has is also property of the Father – including all of us.
The Holy Spirit is always working humbly in the background as our Comforter, Advocate, and Helper. He comforts us in our sorrow, our continued regretful existence in the sinful flesh, even as he advocates for us before our Judge, and helps us in times of trial and temptation. He continues to point us to Jesus and turn us to the cross, leading us to where Jesus is found – in his preached word and administered sacraments. The Spirit is at work in the Word of God, both in condemning our sins, and in restoring us to holiness.
Some Christians seek the Holy Spirit in signs and wonders – even arguing that baptism is incomplete without being confirmed by some other manifestation of the Spirit – real or imagined. Some Christians turn the Trinity on its head by ignoring Jesus’ words that the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus. Instead of using the cross or crucifix as a symbol, such churches use the dove as their sign – as though the Holy Spirit’s ministry is ever separated from our crucified and risen Lord, or as if the Holy Spirit ever seeks glory unto himself.
There is a temptation for us Lutherans to resist the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctifying us, perverting the Gospel into a kind of license to sin, and almost boasting of our lack of good works to prove what genuine Christians we are! But the Spirit himself tells us through the very Word of God that this is wrong, and the Spirit convicts us of sin and goads us into the sanctified life – not to earn salvation, but rather as a result of it.
But through all our sins and errors, the Holy Spirit continues to patiently hover over our baptismal waters, lovingly brooding above our altars, quietly emanating from our pulpits, and carrying out the Father’s will through humble physical means. Some people believe the Holy Spirit works like a wizard, or like magic spells and the occult. In reality, the Spirit’s work is often rather “un-spiritual” in a sense, meaning very earthy and physical. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgment through the pastoral ministry (as our Augsburg Confession is bold to say), in preaching and in sacraments.
Wherever our Lord is present, there is the Spirit doing the Triune God’s holy work: creating and giving life, justifying and forgiving, sanctifying and fortifying us for the Christian life, defending us against assaults of the devil, and constantly turning us away from ourselves and back toward Christ, the Church, the Sacraments, and the Gospel!
For even as the Spirit turns us from our sins, the Lord’s anger is turned away from us, and we are comforted in our sorrow! This is the Holy Spirit’s work, that we are able to draw water from the wells of salvation! Thus it is that every baptized Christian can indeed praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his deeds, and sing to the Lord.
It is only by the ministry of the Holy Spirit that St. James can promise us “every good gift and every perfect gift from above.” Only through the Spirit’s work can we “be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” It is only in the sanctifying work of the Spirit that we are freed and empowered to be “swift to hear, slow to speak,” and “slow to wrath,” that we can “lay aside filthiness and overflow of wickedness” in favor of the gift of the “meekness of the implanted word which is able to save your souls.”
Dear Christians, one and all rejoice! Even in our sorrow, let us sing unto the Lord a new song, let our souls praise the King of heaven, let us live boldly in the mystery of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let us join with the Holy Spirit as he glorifies our risen Lord Jesus Christ, both now and unto eternity! Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Monday, May 08, 2006
I really need to move closer to church. I spend so much time on the road that I probably see every bumper sticker that exists - and then have time to ponder them while stuck in traffic. But for some reason, people seem to resonate more with my rants about bumper stickers on this blog than even my sermons. I'm not sure what that means, maybe there will be a bumper sticker about it some day, and I can disect it. On a side note, a Lutheran pastor [I'm so out of the loop, I have no idea who he or she (just kidding) is], has given me an award, the Ardie (on display here), for my collective rants about bumper stickers. Thanks (whoever you are)!
So here goes again with yet another interesting (and completely wrong) slogan on the back of an automobile. It says: "Jesus was a liberal." This one is misguided on a couple of counts.
First, look at the tense of the verb: "was." The confessor of this mini-creed is speaking about Jesus as if he were dead! This betrays the person's bias and wrong-headed thinking right off the bat. Of course, maybe the person believes in our Lord's resurrection, in that case, he must be saying that "Jesus was a liberal, but he has since changed His mind. " But somehow, I don't think this is the intended meaning.
Jesus is not a liberal, nor a conservative. Not a Democrat, nor a Republican. He is not a monarchist, reactionary, radical, communist, socialist, or any other political-ist. He said: "My kingdom is not of this world." Jesus is no politician. And this is why Christians can, and do, indeed live under many different political systems. Christ's kingdom, the Church, lives under every imaginable kind of worldly polity. God did not take on human flesh in order to overthrow the Empire of Rome, nor did he come to establish a secular theocracy along the lines of Cromwell's England. He did not come to create a Great Society, nor a Republican Revolution. He did not come to teach us the perfect balance between state and federal powers, or to clarify the second amendment for us.
He came to be the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." A world which, for the most part, doesn't get it.
And so, all sorts of political groups make Jesus in their own image. Here is a list of other bumper stickers I found on the web (with my commentary in italics).
- a liberal (which in classical economics is a person who favors free trade, low taxation, and minimal regulation, in short, what the popular culture calls "conservative").
- an enemy of the state (who, though it was in His power, opted not to overthrow the government)
- a pacifist (who overturned tables and chased out moneychangers with a homemade whip)
- way cool (who was publicly humiliated , tortured, and crucified. Yeah, sounds like the "in" crowd to me, can't wait for the designer jeans endorsement...)
- not a bigot (which these days means favors affirmative action and considers it "normal" for a man to wear make-up, call himself "Georgette," and use the women's bathroom)
- a victim of genital mutilation (this one is from an anti-circumcision group which also has a sticker that says, if you can believe this, "Circumcision is blasphemy." Okay. Nuff said!).
- a black man (no petty racial agenda here...)
- a vegetarian (who ate fish)
All of these stickers (all of which invoke the past tense: "was") are attempting to put Jesus into a political (or social-agenda) bottle, to be invoked like a genie when the debate isn't going their way. Conservatives are certainly not off the hook, as they too claim Jesus as their own personal lapdog. Sorry, guys, it's equally wrong when you do it as when the left does it. "My kingdom is not of this world."
This doesn't mean the Church ought not take a stand on issues that are ultimately settled by politics. Far from it. The Church stands for life, for human dignity, for peace, for justice, and for moral decency as confessed in Scripture - whether these ideas are popular or not. But it does mean that our Lord's life, death, and resurrection are ultimately about something much more profound than politics, elections, campaigning, and making promises to certain constituencies in exchange for their votes. If the Lord wanted to save the world with a political agenda, he could have. He didn't. Neither should the Christian Church. Politicians ought not stump in Christian pulpits - whether they are Jesse Jackson, Carl Rove, Condi Rice, or Ted Kennedy.
In other words, let's not drag Jesus into discussions of taxation, government contracts, congressional redistricting, the salary of public school superintendants, highway speed limits, and the balance of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. These things are certainly important in this life, but when compared to the Gospel, when considered against the backdrop of eternity, it suddenly seems pretty lame to try to claim Jesus for your own political affiliation or social hobby horse, and then stick it as a slogan on your bumper. But then again, Jesus cures the lame, doesn't he?
Hmmm. Maybe I need to make my own bumper sticker that says simply: "John 18:36".
Sunday, May 07, 2006
And while this is primarily an ELCA group, they cater to Christians outside of their communion, including at least one LCMS congregation.
Now, think about what we Lutherans confess in the Book of Concord - to which we are bound (and just for kicks, look at the picture above before and after each quote):
"[T]he Mass is retained among us and is celebrated with the greatest reverence. Almost all the customary ceremonies are also retained." (emphasis added) AC 24:1-2 (Latin text)
"Since, therefore, no novelty has been introduced which did not exist in the church from ancient times, and since no conspicuous change has been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass except that other unnecessary Masses which were held in addition to the parochial Mass, probably through abuse, have been discontinued, this manner of holding Mass ought not in fairness be condemned as heretical or unchristian." (emphasis added) AC 24:40 (German text)
"[N]othing has been received among us , in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic." (emphasis added) AC Conclusion 5 (Latin text)
"We further believe, teach, and confess that the community of God in every place and at every time has the right, authority, and power to change, to reduce, or to increase ceremonies according to its circumstances, as long as it does so without frivolity and offense, but in an orderly and appropriate way, as at any time may seem to be most profitable, beneficial, and salutary for good order, Christian discipline, evangelical decorum, and edification of the church." (emphasis added) FC SD 10:9
I'm sure there are plenty of other quotes from the Concordia Pia that I'm missing, but I think these suffice (these quotes are from the Tappert edition, since this happens to be what I have at home at this time).
This shift from traditional, ancient, christocentric, and reverent worship to experimental, novel, anthropocentric, and entertainment-based worship may well be part of what is driving some of our pastors and churches away from the LCMS. Granted, very few have left, but enough have so as to raise eyebrows. Instead of "circling the wagons" and spewing venom upon pastors, laymen, and congregations who leave our synod, and perhaps even our Lutheran confession entirely, maybe we should take a good, hard, brutally honest look at what is going on in our sanctuaries. There is a terrible discrepancy between what we confess in our confessions and what we confess with our lived-out practice. I don't believe our enemy is any other communion within the church catholic - especially those jurisdictions which are part of the ancient and historic Christian Church - rather our worst enemy is our own communion, our own failure to bring to life what we confess on paper in the actual lives of our congregations and synod.
Most of our congregations don't have clowns on Sundays, but what percentage now have "contemporary" and "blended" services? What percentage of our congregations now use some form of pop music in their services? What percentage of our churches now have at least one non-liturgical service? What percentage of our congregations would dare put the above quotes from the Book of Concord in their bulletins?
But before you get completely depressed, please have a look at this article about the Latin Mass now offered for Roman Catholics in Arlington, Virginia. There is much to be hopeful about - especially given the remarks of some of the faithful in this article.
It is sometimes said that when the pope gets a cold, the Missouri Synod sneezes. In spite of our often nasty polemics against the pope, we do tend to mimic much of modern Roman Catholic liturgy in our parishes: the three-year lectionary, lay readers, female acolytes, etc. Perhaps this trend toward renewal of Christ-centered, traditional, and reverent worship will continue in the papal nasal passages, then we will soon have a healthy sneeze in the LCMS. I, for one, would reply with a hearty "bless you!"
Friday, May 05, 2006
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Yesterday's chapel service for grades K-8 was a demonstration of the thesis: "You can't dance to good liturgy."
Our Eastertide chapel liturgy includes an "Easter Canticle" which is the song "This is the Feast of Victory for our God" from Lutheran Worship's Divine Service II (which in turn is copied from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's hymnal, Lutheran Book of Worship).
Although this canticle has become a beloved staple of Lutheran worship services since the 1980s, I've never liked it. I prefer to stick by the ancient and traditional Gloria in Excelsis ("Glory Be to God on High") as the Hymn of Praise in the Sunday liturgy.
To be sure, "This is the Feast" is a biblical canticle (known by its Latin name, Dignus est Agnus). Well, most of it is, anyway. The actual refrain and title of the song isn't scriptural. And it isn't without theological problems. Is Holy Communion a feast "for" our God, a party we put on for Him? In fact, several of the "canticles" in Lutheran Worship (and the Lutheran Book of Worship) aren't really canticles at all, since they are devoid of scripture (e.g. "Let the Vineyards be Fruitful" and "Thank the Lord and Sing His Praise").
But my meanderings for today have nothing to do with our modern-day tinkering with the Mass, or with the issues of the wording of extra-biblical canticles or parts thereof. Today I'm addressing the musical setting.
Back to my chapel service for the kids.
A kindergarten girl was sitting in the front pew. As we began to sing "This is the Feast," she got down onto the floor and began to "perform" the song, emoting like an American Idol contestant, complete with facial expressions and arm gestures. One could not help but smile. She meant no disrespect to our Lord and His holy sanctuary, she was just reacting naturally, and I believe this little girl's impulsive act reveals something about our liturgical state of affairs in modern American Lutheranism - not unlike the little boy who pointed out the king's nakedness. Out of the mouths of babes...
This little girl taught me something: you can't dance to good liturgy.
"This is the Feast" sounds a lot like a showtune, like a piece from a gaudy Broadway play. It is sing-songy and "dancy." It is syncopated and repetitive (the part that is repeated is, interestingly, the part of the song that is unscriptural, the part that focuses on what we are doing instead of the gifts being given to us in the Feast).
Now, had our liturgy avoided this move from traditional chant to modern sing-song, would this little girl have done the Spice Girls show during worship? I doubt it. The equivalent piece in the older Lutheran Hymnal (1941) is a setting of the Gloria in Excelsis sung in a variation of Anglican Chant (which is actually credited as a Scottish Chant in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer). You can't really dance to it, so I believe it is superior in terms of liturgy.
Can you imagine if we had been chanting a Gregorian version of Dignus est Agnus? I cannot imagine anyone listening to such a thing and feeling the urge to "shake one's booty" like Beyonce or Eminem. Again, you can't dance to good liturgy.
[Note: The other advantage to chant is that no tinkering with the sacred text to make it rhyme or make the syllables come out is necessary. Gregorian Chant is a WYSIWYG expression of the Bible ("What You See Is What You Get") - unlike, for example, the Lutheran Worship version of the Sanctus which has to translate "Sabaoth" (which means literal, physical "hosts" or "armies") into the vague and non-physical "pow'r and might" - which is a very weak and unsatisfying translation - all for the sake of musical fit. With chant, the text reigns supreme - no monkeying necessary. It reflects a high view of Holy Scripture, unlike modern "contemporary" liturgical settings.]
Maybe the Commission on Worship (also known as the Sacred COW) was onto something in suggesting that the new Lutheran hymnal project needed a lot of "field testing" and "feedback" from the congregations. Perhaps we should sing proposed liturgical settings with a "test congregation" of kindergarten children, and if they dance, that setting is out.
I think that might actually work!
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
We need to come to grips with the fact that we will have several generations of very ignorant adults. This article is yet another example of the abysmal results wrought by "educators" with their experimental methods since the 1960s.
In their desire to make everything "fun," the education establishment has only lowered the bar to the point where the Americans are the butt of the planet's jokes - all the while we congratulate ourselves on our intelligence, education, and wit. In the end, ignorance is not "fun."
Why not give young children maps of the world and of the U.S.? How about buying children a globe?
I believe the secret is to learn geography (not to mention foreign languages) when the child is still curious and learning names for everything is truly fun - not artificially "fun" with all sorts of over-the-top gimmickry. For some reason, I was surrounded by atlases and maps as a child: the world atlas, the road atlas, I even had a globe of the moon! By the time I started school, I knew the continents, the major countries of the world, and all the states. Nobody taught me. I learned geography in a completely painless way - by satisfying my curiousity. Young children are naturally curious, but the American education system seems to sap all the curiousity out of them before they're even old enough to read. "Fun" has replaced curiousity, and the children are burned out on fun. They are "fun" addicts in search of bigger fixes - and mindless fun is not condusive to learning.
I also think TV has a lot to do with it. Very young children are dumbed down by watching hour after hour of stupid cartoons at the very point in their lives when learning where Africa, Iceland, and the Amazon River are is a source of great fun. A flat screen kinetic television can't replace a three-dimensional spherical non-talkative globe. As a teacher of junior high kids, learning the basics of geography at age 12 is about 8 years too late.
And this is where we are in this country - playing catch-up. University students actually have to learn to find the states on a map, and find the U.S. on a globe. And this doesn't seem to be a priority.
And just think! We have universal suffrage in our "Republic." Oh my! But that's another rant for another day.