Sunday, August 31, 2008

Thank you, and an update

Thank you, everyone, for your prayers and concern!

After school yesterday, we had a quick faculty meeting - and all of our teachers had already decided to evacuate. Our assistant principal was going to stay, but changed his mind. He and I (actually, I should say "he" with only a minimal amount of help from me) were able to get the plexiglass covers put back on the historic stained glass windows that grace our church building. I know this was a concern to many of us, and thank you, Chris, for seeing to that on such short notice!

Our family left this (Saturday) afternoon, and arrived about 1 a.m. at the La Quinta Inn in Texarkana, Texas - which is across the street (no kidding!) from Texarkana, Arkansas. This is our third hurricane evacuation, and the first in only one vehicle (as well as the first occupied by three humans and five felines). All of our critters (six, if you count Lion Boy) were extremely well-behaved and cooperative. Having left before the crush of traffic, we were able to make pretty good time (after a few initial snags, anyway). Leo is a very brave boy. He knows something is not right, but has been eager to help, and for the most part, is obedient and patient under difficult circumstances.

And though a lot is at stake, even harried evacuation preparations are not without the uniqueness that is New Orleans. Grace had run into the Winn-Dixie to pick up a few last minute things, and a lady at the store was handing out free samples of vodka. Grace chatted with the lady (who had, ironically, just finished getting her floor repaired from Katrina!), and enjoyed the sample (it was flavored with passion fruit). "I should have had another one," she remarked upon returning to the van, explaining how much she enjoyed the lady's telling of her "story". New Orleanians are generally chatty anyway, and impending evacuation makes us downright clannish with each other. And everybody really does have a "story". We really do root for one another. Total strangers become like family members.

Just before leaving, Grace treated us to her signature crème brûlée. Even with a monster storm bearing down on us, there is simply nothing quite like sitting at the kitchen table savoring the fluffy custard, covered in sugar that has been burnt black with a blowtorch, and served in a traditional white ramekin. I even indulged in a second one. As Andrei Codrescu quipped during Hurricane Katrina "That's New Orleans awright - it may be the end of the world, but that's no reason to become uncivilized." There is something to be said for that!

After learning valuable (and costly) lessons from Katrina, the parish (county) and state governments have been impressive so far - both in coordination and the execution of plans. Gov. Jindal has really stepped up to the plate. People are responding very well. Busses, trains, and even ambulances are evident in force. Looters, beware! After the manditory evacuations kick in, anyone choosing to remain will be confined to his own property. Anyone seen on the streets for any reason will be arrested and confined at the notorious Angola Prison until the government is in a position to press charges. The Tchoupitoulas Street WalMart (which was looted shamelessly after Katrina) is already boarded up and under armed patrol by the Louisiana National Guard. I'm sure the ACLU will be thrilled.

This storm is likely to cause catastrophic damage, especially to the West Bank (where we live, and where our church is) - due to storm surge being swept in from the Barataria Bay. A couple of my neighbors (as well as a couple parishioners) are holing up in our school building - which is a cinder block storm shelter, and is very high on the second floor. Please keep them in your prayers - as well as the few of my neighbors who are choosing to ride out the storm in their homes.

We plan on staying here a couple days - and then see what has happened. If we are able to return home, we will. If not, we will head over to Tulsa to stay with family. I may drop Grace and Leo (and critters) off in Tulsa and return to Gretna to see what I can do to help. My friends Rev. Brad Drew, Rev. Dave Lofthus, Mr. Ramsey Skipper, and I had some experience with this three years ago. If it is the Lord's will, we won't have to repeat those experiences.

We'll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, to paraphrase Luther: "We are all refugees." I would encourage all of our Christian brothers and sisters who will be impacted by this storm to pray Psalm 91, especially verse two: "I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.'"

Thanks again for your prayers. The peace of our merciful and risen Lord be with you always.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Go Away Gustav!

You can find the latest National Hurricane Center prediction here. And over here you can see the various computer models here.

Pray for us!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sermon: St. Bartholomew

24 August 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 22:24-30

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Luke reminds us of an incident in Church history that is not something to be proud of. This has nothing to do with witches or the Inquisition, with crusades or burning heretics at the stake – but rather, something far more petty: the disciples were bickering about which one was the greatest.

This may seem shocking to us, as these men had spent three years with our Lord, listening to His preaching, observing His miracles, taking in His teaching, and now they just had the Eucharist with Him as He is preparing for His crucifixion, and these men, these founding members of the Church, these first bishops hand picked by our Lord, are carrying on like little children arguing over which one of them is best.

But this should not shock us at all, dear brothers and sisters. We do this all the time. We are constantly measuring ourselves up against others, our sinful flesh shamelessly trying to one-up everyone else, and barring that, trying to knock everyone else down a peg. We are interested in “who is the greatest.” This desire to identify the best (and if we can’t be the best, we want our countrymen to be the best) is why we have sports events like the Olympics. In the case of sports, there is much to be said of this competitive streak, but in God’s Kingdom, striving after a gold medal is nothing more than idolatry.

For “which of them should be considered the greatest”? That distinction belongs to our Lord alone.

In His loving rebuke of the disciples, our Lord points out that in God’s kingdom, true greatness is found in the least likely places – in weakness, in the lack of social rank, in lowly service. Our Lord punctuates this point by pointing to Himself: “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”

Our sinful flesh wants to be served, to be respected, to be loved. But true greatness, according to our blessed Lord and Servant, wants to serve, to respect, to love. That kind of selfless, sacrificial love for the sake of people in need and for the good of the Kingdom is where true greatness is to be found. And the greatest greatness is to be found on the cross – the least likely place of all: a place of apparent defeat and the seeming finality of death. On the cross, our Lord is the Servant of all servants. And this is His greatest triumph.

And our Lord, speaking to the Eleven, continues: “But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me.”

One of those first followers of our Lord was Bartholomew – also known as Nathaniel. He is certainly not the first name that comes to mind when we think of the “greatest” of the Lord’s apostles. He is certainly not mentioned with the prominence of Sts. Peter and Paul, of Matthew and John. As far as apostles go, we don’t even know much about him.

But the greatness of St. Bartholomew lies in that very fact. He devoted his life and death to the Lord and the kingdom. He is never called a “benefactor” nor did he ever lord over a great empire or enterprise. But Bartholomew did what he was instructed to do – to preach, to baptize, to administer the Lord’s Supper, to proclaim the good news to all nations.

Tradition teaches us that Bartholomew went as far as India preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Some accounts report that he left a copy of Matthew’s Gospel – interesting as these reports claim the book was in Hebrew, rather than Greek – a point that many Bible scholars find to be quite plausible – as Matthew’s Gospel is the most “Jewish” of the four.

Tradition also tells us Bartholomew was martyred for the faith in what is today Armenia. It seems Bartholomew’s preaching converted the king, and the king’s brother was not pleased by this development. According to tradition, St. Bartholomew was tortured and crucified upside down in Armenia.

Interestingly, Armenia has an ancient Christian presence, a Christianity that has survived to this day – even the attempts of communism to snuff it out. But all the while Communists sought to destroy the Church, they struggled in vain, for our Lord promised Bartholomew, the other apostles, and us today: “I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me.”

And in this kingdom, greatness is not to be found in a golden crown and a jeweled throne, but rather in a crown of thorns and the blood-stained cross. In this kingdom, greatness is not something that can be proven by arguments and disputes, but rather is demonstrated by proclaiming Christ, the One who is truly great. In this kingdom, greatness is not to be found in great personal strength and prowess, but rather in weakness and in deference to the One whose victory on the cross won for us eternal life.

St. Bartholomew’s greatness was not to be found in himself, but in his service. For the servant does not call attention to himself, but rather makes his master look good. A good servant stands in the shadows as his labor serves to glorify his master. This is what St. Bartholomew did. His greatness doesn’t consist in his missionary trip to India, but rather in the book he brought. His greatness is not in his martyr’s death, but in his Master’s martyr’s death. St. Bartholomew was not a great man because he preached, rather he preached the greatness of the Man and God he served.

Dear friends, we are not great. But our master is. And in serving Him, we can and do partake in His greatness. For listen again to our Lord’s words about the kingdom the Father bestows on the Son, and that same kingdom the Son bestows on us: “I bestow on you a kingdom… that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Our greatness, our destiny to rule, our sitting on thrones is rooted in the Lord, in His Kingdom, and in His holy humble meal at His table, a meal of simple bread and wine that is at the same time the greatest eternal feast of all consisting of His almighty body and all-availing blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of all our sins, for life and salvation, for eternal communion with Him, enabling us to partake of His kingdom and His greatness – just as St. Bartholomew and all the saints and martyrs have done, and just as saints and martyrs yet unborn will do until our Lord returns in glory.

And while this passage begins with an embarrassing squabble about who is greatest, it concludes with our Lord promising greatness to all of us who reside in His kingdom – a greatness we have neither earned nor deserved, but one earned for us by our Humble Master who is also our Great Servant. For as St. Paul reminds us anew: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” Amen.

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Shocking News from the ECUSA

Another Home Run from Tom in the Box:

Episcopal Church Considers Ordaining Straight Male Clergy

Newark, NJ - Representatives of the Episcopal Church USA announced on Monday plans to begin allowing the ordination of straight males within the denomination. The news was received with mixed results within the denomination, but many reacted favorably to the news.

"I personally think it's wonderful," said Rev. Patricia Lauden-Phat-Wilkenson. "It's important that our denomination be seen as one that welcomes people from all walks of life, even straight males. They're no different from any of us really. They just want to serve God, and who are we to say they cannot fulfill that calling because of their gender or sexual orientation."

Read the rest here.

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 13

20 August 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Gal 3:15-22

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our epistle lesson, St. Paul speaks of our Lord Jesus Christ as a “Seed.” He is not merely being clever or cute here. The word “Seed” has a lot of meaning throughout Scripture.

Only eleven verses into the Bible, the Lord describes His creative work of the propagation of life through seeds which yield “fruit according to [their] kind.” Seeds are at the heart of fruits – which people eat, and which mankind then casts away to procreate new life. The seed is a tiny blueprint, a plan to replicate life as the Lord designed it.

One chapter later, after mankind has misused fruit unto disobedience, which instead of bringing nourishment and life, brought thorns and death - the seeds would no longer replicate perfect copies of perfect plants, which would spring to life without and trouble at all. For as a result of man’s fall into sin, the thorns would choke the plants, and many of them would die. The man would have to labor and sweat, tilling the soil and struggling to make the seeds grow until the day he too died.

And in the third chapter of Holy Scripture, in the very first promise of the Gospel, which was pronounced by God as a threat against the devil, the Lord Himself prophesies a conflict between the devil and the woman’s Seed. The devil would wound this prophesied Messiah’s heel, and the Seed would crush the serpent’s head.

That is a lot of talk of seeds in the first three chapters of the Bible!

Our Lord Jesus Christ tells a parable of seeds as well. In His story, the farmer (who is really a preacher) casts about seeds (which are really the Word of God). Our Lord reintroduces the earlier concepts of thorns and death – as some of the seeds get choked out by the very thorns that Adam’s sin brought forth. And most of the seeds of the preacher will die, and never bear fruit.

So, seeds are little self-replicating packets of life that are hidden in the midst of fruit. The idea is that the seeds themselves take root and eventually produce fruits. The seeds are planted by men, who then eat the fruit in order to live. But there is a specific biblical Seed, a promised descendant of Eve, who would bear perfect fruits, and though He would wear a crown of thorns, and though He would die, He would also be called the “first fruits of those who had fallen asleep” – referring to the resurrection. And through the casting of this Seed, the preaching of the Word, those promissory seeds take root in the fertile ground of those who have faith, faith which bears fruit, the fruit of good works, faith which replicates more seeds, yielding a crop of up to a hundredfold.

It is in this context that St. Paul picks up the discussion of Seeds in his letter to the Church at Galatia.

The same Seed promised to the woman was promised to Abraham. For Abraham’s descendant (Abraham’s name means “father of many”) is also Eve’s descendant (Eve’s name means “mother of all living”). The promise that God made to Eve He repeated to Abraham.

And the coming of Christ, the Seed of the fruit of the Tree of Life, is not for the purpose to give us more laws, but rather to bring us the promise, the promise that is Himself, the Seed.

As Paul explains to us, the Law’s purpose is not to be the promise, but to pave the way for the promise. The Law tills the soil of the heart unto repentance, so that when the Seed of the Word of God, of Christ Himself, is sown therein, that Seed will take root and grow to maturity and bear fruit – even the fruit of the Tree of Life.

And as our Lord, the Seed Himself preaches, unless the seed dies and goes into the ground, it cannot bring forth life and bear fruit.

And this, dear Christians, is the very essence of our faith. As St. Paul instructs: “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.” And listen, dear friends to St. Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel here, listen and let this Seed of God’s living Word dwell in your hearts: “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Tonight, the Seed of the Word – the Word of forgiveness, the Word of the Gospel – has been implanted into you anew. Seeds matured into the fruit of wheat, which has beaten into flour from which to make bread. Other seeds matured into the fruit of grapes, which were crushed into wine. And through these seeds, the Seed Himself, the Word Himself, procreates life once more into us, beating back the thorns, crushing the serpent’s head, conquering death, and giving us a taste of the fruit of the Tree of Life, the fruits of which we will continue to savor, world without end. Amen.

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Clergy Junk Mail

I can't believe how much unsolicited junk mail I get - both snail-mail and e-mail. It's outrageous.

Just because I'm a Lutheran pastor, people seem to think I would be interested in buying sermons, putting a platform for a band in the front of my church, purchasing banal and doctrinally flabby trinkets to hand out at Sunday School, attending "prayer breakfasts" with every corrupt elected official in Louisiana (sorry to be redundant), going on "Christian cruises" (can you just imagine anything more repulsive?), attending conferences with women pastors and guitar-twanging youth leaders, etc.

Part of this is our own fault. When a marketing firm or even a small business sees the word "Lutheran" (or at very least "Missouri Synod Lutheran") next to our names and the names of our churches, it should be unthinkable to send us a catalog with a priestess decked out in a rainbow stole on the cover. They should know that trying to sell me a rock concert-worthy mixing board or drum kit for my worship service would be a complete and total waste of money. They should figure sending an ad for a "leadership conference" with all the latest Christian fad leaders who believe hipness trumps doctrine would be wasted on a Lutheran pastor. It should be apparent that goods and services highlighting non-traditional worship and non-denominational theology are just not something we're in the market for - as if they were trying to sell crucifixes to Jewish rabbis or the Book of Mormon to the local Moslem imam.

But it isn't.

Enough of our brethren serving in the pastoral ministry of the LCMS are gulled and beguiled by this nonsense that it becomes a good bet to send this stuff to me. They should see the name "Lutheran" and the last thing that should come to mind is that I would be a potential purchaser of Amy Grant's greatest hits (should that last word even be in the plural?).

But they don't.

So, thanks a lot, guys. You know who you are. You're the bureaucrats who live for the latest Barna poll, who can't wait to clog my inbox with Ablaze!(tm) junk and invites to the latest synod and district events featuring Emerging Church gurus and efforts to undermine the liturgy. You're the latest breed of fad-pastors who want the church to look like an overpriced suburban coffeehouse. You're the beancounting leadership that has the synodical handbook committed to memory but could not care less what the Book of Concord says. You're the "hip" pastor that would rather die than go out in public wearing a clerical collar (I mean, someone might recognize you as one of Christ's called and ordained ministers, oh horror!) - let alone a traditional cassock. You're the great thinkers in our synod who are constantly devising new ways to get men into the ministry without seminary training.

Thanks a lot, guys. You're all the the reason I get nonsense like the following. It's because the name "Lutheran" has been devalued into the meaningless mush of postmodernist Protestantism.

From an e-mail dated August 18, 2008...

As clergypersons we should all desire to be better leaders. It is so easy to make mistakes while managing a congregation, dealing with staff, and being a visionary leader. We all need help. This is why my friend Pat Day and I have decided to put together the best speakers and workshop leaders we could find to do a 3-day conference on leadership and effective management in the local church. We have a fantastic lineup of speakers:

  • Bishop Robert Schnase – Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • Hal Sutton – Professional golfer
  • Claudia Lavy – author and professional speaker on church effectiveness
  • Buddy Roemer – former governor of Louisiana and congressman
  • Rev. Tyrone Gordon – senior pastor of St. Luke’s Community UMC in Dallas
  • Dr. Tim Walker – senior pastor, First UMC Midland, TX, author, consultant
  • Rev. Jessica Moffatt Seay – senior pastor of First UMC Bixby, OK
  • Grady Golden – president of Builder’s Supply Company
  • Dr. Bob Whitesel – author, associate professor, and founder of C3 International
  • Dr. David Trickett – president of Iliff School of Theology in Denver
  • David Wetzler – founder of ChurchSmart Resources
  • Ivan Smith – President of Ivan Smith Furniture chain of 48 stores
  • Rev. Michael Ward – senior pastor of Central United Church of Canada, Calgary
  • Dr. Everett Piper – president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University
  • Dr. Brian Bauknight – director of leadership development and large church support
  • Kurt André – senior partner with TAG (The Armstrong Group)

Each one of these speakers offers important knowledge on how to be a better leader. There are also workshops offered by these speakers and others on over 40 subjects.

The conference is September 23-25 in Shreveport. The price is still reasonable and a hotel within walking distance of the church has rooms available. You can register online at or by mail. Although the early-bird deadline has passed you can bring someone from your church and still receive the group discount. (Group registrations must be mailed in.)

This conference can help all of us be significantly better leaders. If you have any questions about it please email me. I hope to see you in Shreveport!

Yours in Christ,

Bob Pierson

Executive Director

Leadership Nexus

7103 S Columbia Place

Tulsa, OK 74136

Cell: 918-809-7489

Office: 918-477-7549


Monday, August 18, 2008

When does death occur?

The bottom line is that we really don't know.

I remember a discussion back in seminary in one of Professor Marquart's classes concerning the question of baptizing a child that has just been pronounced dead - perhaps minutes or even hours ago. His advice: baptize the child. His rationale was that we don't know when the spirit actually leaves the body. What can it hurt to conduct the baptism and commit the child to God's mercy?

It's hard to argue with his logic.

I agree with Dr. Marquart's advice. Even medical science, with all its technology and instruments and professional expertise sometimes writes people off too soon - even premature babies, as in this remarkable case.

In spite of our technology and theology - we don't know how to tell with any precision when life on this side of the grave actually ends.

If we must err, let us err on the side of life and of grace.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sermon: Trinity 13 and Installation

17 August 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 10:23-37 (Hos 6:1-6, Gal 3:15-22)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Christian brothers and sisters. Today, we are installing two teachers in our school. It is fitting and proper that the Lord, in His wisdom, selected the Parable of the Good Samaritan to be the Gospel lesson for us today.

Teaching is a godly vocation – so much so that we expect more of our teachers than do the State of Louisiana and the United States of America. Our teachers must additionally be citizens of the Kingdom of God and witnesses of Jesus Christ, as they are called to teach much more than math and science, computers and music, PE and foreign languages. All of these are important, but teachers at Salem Lutheran School do all of this, and more.

They, like our Blessed Lord, are also in the business of teaching about “eternal life.” They are to instruct concerning the Law, but more importantly, to serve as living witnesses of the Gospel. When our Lord asks, “Who was the good neighbor?”, the lawyer correctly answered: “He who showed mercy on him.” Our Lord replied: “Go and do likewise.”

All of our teachers, especially you, Kim and Jonathan, listen carefully to our Lord’s teaching. For you are to “go and do likewise,” showing mercy to your neighbor, whether they are your students, their parents, your fellow faculty and staff, the administration, your brother and sister church members, or anyone else in need of mercy. That is what it means to be a Lutheran school teacher.

For our Lord Himself is called “Teacher” – even as you are called, given a vocation to teach, in our school, the missionary extension of our church in this community.

All of us here at Salem are equipped to “go and do likewise,” – all because of the “likewise.” For our Lord is the original “Good Samaritan” – the humble outcast, the One whose mercy by far exceeds that of the priests and Levites. He is the “Seed,” in the words of St. Paul, who has come to fulfill the law, to be the Mediator between the holy God and sinful man, the One who comes “to whom the promise was made.” My fellow teachers, we can indeed show mercy, because mercy was first shown to us.

This cuts to the quick of the Gospel. Though you are not called to step into the pulpit to preach the Gospel, you are called to step into a classroom and bear witness to the Gospel. And this is more, much more, than teaching Religion class. All Christians are, to borrow a term from Luther, to be “little Christs” to the world. The Lord uses us in all of our vocations to bear witness to Him in whose service we labor.

The Good Samaritan saw a person in need, and acted with mercy. His neighbor was a wounded victim, and he used what skills he had to cure him, ordinary elements like bandages, oil, and wine. The Good Samaritan also gave of his treasure, his hard-earned money to care for his neighbor in need. And he asked for nothing in return.

We Christians are called upon to “go and do likewise” – for this mercy was “likewise” done to us. Our Lord Jesus bandages us with Holy Absolution, binding up our wounds of sin and guilt. Just like the victim in our Lord’s story, we too, in this sinful world, are battered and beaten around by the world, our flesh, and the devil. We are constantly accused. We are constantly under temptation. And often we fall into sin. We need the bandage of the Lord’s absolution carried out by humble hands and voices like those of the Samaritan. The Lord Himself has used oil, an ancient symbol of baptism, to seal us with the sign of the cross, anointing us, literally in the Greek “Christing” us, as we are baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection. The Lord Himself has given us the wine of His blood, an antiseptic that kills all germs, not just the physical germs – but even the spiritual “germs” of sin and guilt.

Mercy is given to us by our Lord through humble servants, like the Good Samaritan. And by virtue of this mercy shown to us, we are empowered to “go and do likewise” in our own vocations and callings in life.

And like the Good Samaritan, showing such mercy will not make you rich in the worldly sense. If you are looking to become wealthy, being a Lutheran school teacher is probably not the right path for you. If you are looking for applause and approval from the world, you will not get it as a Christian. But if you are looking to be wealthy in a different way, storing up treasures in heaven, being rich in mercy and filled with joy at serving your Lord and your neighbor – you will be rich beyond measure. Last week, we were reminded by St. Lawrence where the true treasure of the Church lies.

And though the eyes see only a Samaritan outcast, faith sees a Savior. Though the eyes see only bandages, oil, and wine, faith sees the mighty work of God. Though the eyes see students who don’t seem to be paying attention, a paycheck that is less than that of your friends, days where you are forced to clean up blood and other messes, times when you feel like you are a failure, situations where you are inadequate to the task, days when you feel underappreciated – the eyes of faith see a holy and glorious service, a godly vocation, work of education and witness of the faith that will have eternal ramifications, the touching of lives and the giving of love to children, parents, peers, and people of every tribe and tongue in our community.

For whether we feel it or not, whether the payoff is immediate or not – the teaching vocation is indeed the work of the Lord. And there is also great and glorious joy in the smile of a student who now understands, in the hug from a child who has been comforted, in the relief of concerned parents, and in your own heart at the end of the day when you can thank the Lord for showing you such great mercy to allow you the privilege to do his work.

The prophet Hosea says: “Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” We Christian school teachers help our students “pursue the knowledge of the Lord.” And yet that knowledge is not merely intellectual (as important as that is). The knowledge we bring is also imparted by the mercy we show in the name of Jesus, being the Good Samaritans to children who, like the rest of us, are in dire need of hearing the good news that Jesus has died for them, shows them mercy, bandages them up, salves them with oil, cleanses them with wine, and even pays the price so they can return home again eternally, in communion with God and in harmony with their neighbor.

Whatever your calling, your vocation, dear brothers and sisters, our Lord has shown you mercy as well. And He has not only empowered you, but has given you the joyful responsibility as a forgiven sinner, as a light shining in the darkness, as a witness to the saving work of our Blessed Lord, to likewise show mercy to your neighbor. Having been shown mercy, we are called upon to be merciful – even to strangers, even to our enemies, even to people who don’t deserve to be shown mercy any more than we do. But that’s what mercy is all about. It is undeserved. It is by grace. And we have received it in full measure.

Now, you have been freed from your sins and liberated to “go and do likewise.” Amen.

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

Friday, August 15, 2008

Q: Why don't WalMart clothes fit properly?

A: It's a simple matter of cross-cultural arithmetic. In China (where WalMart clothes are made by political prisoners), the number "16" comes right after "9".

Passion and Lutheran Worship

A reader named Blake commented on my earlier post regarding the Texas youth gathering. I find his questions to be honest and helpful to discussion - since I do think his remarks capture the thoughts of a lot of people who are genuinely baffled by the controversy.

Here is what Blake wrote, followed by my own comments...

I would simply ask, what is "Lutheran Worship"? Is there one way that Lutheran's worship. The way that I know one should worship is in "spirit and truth". Outside of that, I believe there is freedom in Christ. At least that is what I have learned and been taught from my LCMS professors.

I think it would a shame if people in this church (being the LCMS) refused to learn from those who are part of the Church.

Also, it is the current practice of the LCMS to allow women to become DPM's (Director of Parish Music).

Father Hollywood, I would challenge you to attend one of these events. I have attended several different types of churches both LCMS and not and have observed in many a passion that others lack. Why is that? Just a question.

Anyhow, my prayer is that God would lead your churches into worship in spirit and truth whether led by man, woman, or child.

God's Peace,


Blake is correct about worship being a matter of "spirit and truth" (John 4:23). Both of these words are greatly misunderstood - especially in America's secular and religious context.

A couple years ago, I was having a coffee at the local cafe, a couple blocks from my church. I ran into a local pastor of a non-denominational megachurch of a Pentecostal bent. He expressed a desire to attend our Wednesday night service. He had never been to a Lutheran service before. One of his members was there with him, and she asked if we were "Spirit filled." "We sure are!" I replied. And of course we are. The first words in the liturgy invoke the Holy Spirit and the other Persons of the Trinity.

Of course, our Pentecostal brethren's understanding of "Spirit" is different than ours. As it turned out, my cafe friends were disappointed at our service, since by their definition, it wasn't "Spirit-filled" at all. There was no-one rolling around on the floor, giggling hysterically, jumping up and down, throwing their heads back in ecstasy with hands raised up like they do on TBN. Nobody received any dramatic and direct new revelations from God. There seemed to be no physical and visible manifestation of the "Spirit" - which is half of the equation Blake cites from our Lord in John 4.

In the minds of most people, being "in the Spirit" involves what Blake calls "passion." There is great irony here, since "passion" comes directly from the Latin "passio, passionis" ("suffering"). In this more ancient usage comes the context of our Lord's passion and death (e.g. the title of the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ). Passion, as it has related to the Christian faith for two millennia, has referred to the road to the cross - for "by His stripes we are healed." But today, in the (post)modern American religious context, "passion" is front and center as to what constitutes appropriate worship. "Passion" is an important and commonly invoked word. And far from the context of suffering, of the cross, of the atoning work of Jesus, rather "passion" today means the opposite: pleasure, desire, even eroticism. "Passion" to most people means an emotional high, being "stoked" and excited, "pumped," or ecstatic in the Charismatic sense, in an emotional froth - which is precisely what is conveyed in most contemporary Christian music - Kari Jobe's band included.

My Pentecostal guests mistook a lack of jumpiness in our worship as a lack of the Spirit. And I do believe dignified, reverent liturgical, traditional Lutheran worship is unfairly stereotyped as joyless, dour, just going through the motions, and lacking "passion." But then again, most people never see what I see. When people are receiving the true Body and Blood of our Lord from my hands, I see their faces. When these people are kneeling before me, sometimes they show emotion and sometimes they don't. But I see the joy of the gospel in the eyes of my parishioners when I hold the host before their faces and make the sign of the cross over them, saying: "the Body of Christ, given for you!" Some are physically relieved as they quietly nod their assent, others vocalizing their "Amen." The eyes of some tear up. Others cross themselves with obvious gratitude for what the Lord has done for them, in response to the utterly majestic mystery of the miracle they have just partaken of.

Nobody leaps from the communion rail speaking gibberish. No-one rolls around on the floor or barks like a dog. Nor do any of my parishioners raise their hands up and arch their backs in "passionate" ecstasy. And yet, "the Word of the Lord endures forever." That same Word does not return to God void. There is passion there of a different sort than one sees at a rock concert.

I also visit the sick and dying, giving them the same Holy Sacrament through their tears of gratitude and bittersweet joy. I lay hands on their heads and pronounce absolution, tracing a reverent cross upon their saintly foreheads as they grab my hands and thank me like a person in a desert getting a sip of water. It might not be a "mosh pit," but it is "worship in spirit and truth" to be sure. And the "passion" is there - the crosses they bear, crosses pointing to the Passion of our Lord crucified for them in their hour of need.

Entertainment-based worship is good at whipping up emotional frenzy, but there is no "staying power" to carry a person through depression, illness, suffering, and death. That can only be accomplished through the cross and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And this is the answer to the question: "What is Lutheran worship?" It is ultimately about what God has done, and continues to do, for us (not vice versa). It is about "passion" - the suffering and death of our blessed Lord "for us men and for our salvation" - not merely a state of drum-and-guitar-powered emotion. Lutheran worship is liturgical and reverent in response to this miraculous Presence, precisely because of our freedom in the gospel - not freedom in the libertine sense of "I'm free to do what I want," but rather free in the sense of the gospel: "I'm freed from sin and death and the law, and now I am freed in order to submit to Christ, to link myself to believers of every time and place who have 'handed over' (Latin: "traditio") the treasure of the Church from the time of the apostles to the present, and in so doing, to submit to our Blessed Lord Himself - unworthy as I am."

Our Gospel freedom empowers us for reverence, not from it. It frees us to submit to the Church (which Luther and other church fathers refer to as our "mother") and to God ("our Father", as our Blessed Lord prays with us), not to rebel from them. It also binds style and substance according to the ancient dictum lex orandi, lex credendi (i.e. - we pray as we believe and we believe as we pray) instead of the modern delusion that the way one does something has no effect on what is done (a delusion even proven false even by physicists and cosmologists!).

And indeed, women contribute to worship in their holy office of the laity. They sing with soaring voices, they teach children to pray and be reverent, they play the organ, they sing in (and direct) choirs, they serve the Lord on altar guilds, and they lend their voices to the people of God in the holy dialogue of the liturgy. Is that not enough? They do not put "Pastor" after their names and stand in the front of a worship gathering with a microphone calling attention to themselves through a "performance". I don't really know what a DPM does - as we have a multiplicity of bureaucratic titles in the LCMS - but I know Pastor Jobe is not a DPM. She is considered by her church to be something entirely different, something that is not merely contrary to Lutheran sensibilities, but contrary to the Bible and the created order of God Himself.

As far as being challenged to "attend one of these events," this is nothing new. I've been to church services of every stripe, from Tridentine Masses to Charismatic tongue-speaking prayer meetings. I've been to Christian rock concerts and contemporary worship services within and without Lutheranism. I've seen chancel dramas, testimonials, spontaneous jumping up and down and "singing in tongues." I've been to worship services with drums and guitars, with jazzy lounge singers, and with scantily clad pop divas.

My own congregation swore off these "official youth gatherings" when they observed toilet paper rolls being hurled during the distribution of Holy Communion. Interestingly, the last youth conference the young people of my congregation attended was of an "unofficial" nature (Higher Things). They were not able to attend this year's, but for last year's conference, one of the area pastors asked to borrow my thurible, so the young people could partake of the Lord's Supper with incense being used. Such ceremonial reverence is indeed an expression of the freedom we have in the Gospel. These Higher Things conferences do not feature rock anthems and praise bands, but only services and hymns from our hymnal. These liturgies and hymns will serve them their whole lives long - even as their tastes in music will likely change and transform over the years. And within the reverent tradition of the Church, they worship (along with the rest of us of every age and ethnicity) in "spirit and in truth" without resorting to hiring pop singer pastorettes and non Lutheran teachers to instill a sense of "passion."

Blake sincerely prays that God will lead us to "worship in spirit and truth whether led by man, woman, or child." But to worship in "truth" means to confess and submit to the Truth - as it has been revealed by the Spirit. The truth is that God has established a holy office of men to lead such "worship in spirit and truth" - and the Holy Spirit has revealed this truth in Scripture. No matter how much "passion" a woman may have and display, it is simply a truth revealed by the Holy Spirit that she is not to serve in that capacity. Our freedom in the Gospel does not liberate us either from the Spirit or from the Truth - not even in the name of "passion."

I've seen my share of "passion" - but thanks be to God, I have also seen my share of "Passion" - quiet assurance that the Savior is miraculously present, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, and bringing people the peace of communion with the Holy Trinity. That kind of "Passion" is not manifested in bombastic earthquakes, rushing whirlwinds, or even Red Bull-fueled and electronically amplified music, but rather in a "still small voice" (1 Kings 19:11-13).

The former "passion" is overrated. The latter is underappreciated. But it is only through the latter, the Passion of the Christ, are we miraculously recreated anew and born again. Only that Passion will abide eternally.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Texas DP's "Commercial" for Higher Things

The Texas District President's slippery, bureaucratic response to criticism regarding his district's own published reports of allowing a woman pastor to serve as "lead worshiper" (later downgraded to "song leader") might as well be a full-blown endorsement of Higher Things as a superior alternative to the "official" LCMS youth events.

If you want to send your children to hear "songs" performed by a woman Pentecostal pastor that are somehow acceptable as hymnody for Lutheran worship, if you think "the awesome responsibility of nurturing the faith of young people" at a Lutheran gathering should include speakers and musicians "of another faith tradition," by all means, send your children to this event.

But it is hardly baffling that Higher Things gets bigger and bigger as more and more people become disgusted at what goes on at the "official" youth gatherings. In fact, this evasive and misleading communication from the Texas District President (as well as the entire debacle) serves as a de facto commercial for Higher Things.

I'm going to comment within the context of the statement itself in red.

The District President's original statement can be found here.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We’re very excited about the upcoming youth gathering, GLORYbound,
happening in the Texas District November 28-30, 2008. In the past week,
however, a number of emails and blogs have been forwarded which have
stated that a woman was going to be serving in a pastoral role at
GLORYbound. We want to let you know that these rumors are completely
untrue. The Texas District upholds the LCMS' position regarding women as

I challenge President Hennings to reveal these "emails and blogs." I
challenge him to produce a quote that a woman would be "serving in a
pastoral role." That is a straw man that simply does not exist. What
I wrote, and what others picked up on, are the following facts:

1) Kari Jobe had been listed on the GLORYbound website as "Lead Worshiper"
and given top billing.

2) In response to the criticism, her title was changed to "Song Leader" and
she was given less prominence

3) Kari Jobe's church lists her as an "associate pastor."
4) Kari Jobe's church openly denies baptismal regeneration and the Real
Presence in Holy Communion - which means these profound theological truths
central to Lutheran worship will be unconfessed in any of her band's songs.

5) None of this was based on "rumor" - but rather the actual published websites
of the Texas District, Miss Jobe, and Miss Jobe's Church.

Here are the facts: Kari Jobe and her band are leading the music at the
gathering but she is not a speaker or presenter. The planning committee
asked her and her band to play and sing. Their role is to provide
music—more akin to a church organist than a pastor or liturgist.

And yet, Kari Jobe is not just "Kari Jobe," but "Rev. Kari Jobe." Somehow,
I doubt that the Texas District would allow, say, a Wiccan priestess,
for example, to have a band perform at the youth gathering, even if her
repertoire had been "vetted" by the appropriate committee. Women's ordination
is repugnant, an antichristian rebellion against Scripture. To shrug this
terribly scandalous fact off is basically to say "it's not that bad." The
Texas District President is defending the placing of an "ordained" female pastor
in the front of a crowd of LCMS young people. This is offensive, and the fact
that the President doesn't even acknowledge that this is scandalous is itself

Throughout GLORYbound's many year history in the Texas District, there
have often been musicians who are Christians of another faith tradition.

There is a difference between a guitar player who is "of another faith tradition"
performing in a concert vs. a woman pastor out front singing her own music, her
own proclamation of her own religion at a worship event for Lutherans. She is
not a lay organist playing Lutheran chorales behind the scenes.

All songs are vetted by the planning team for content. LCMS pastors and
church workers lead and supervise every aspect of this gathering. An
LCMS pastor is leading and preaching at the Sunday morning service.
Another LCMS pastor is one of the speakers. An LCMS Vicar and former DCE
is serving as the Bible Study leader. As in past GLORYbound events,
there are several other speakers who are not LCMS.

The fact that it has been done in the past doesn't make it more acceptable now.
This is a red herring.

The communion policy of the event has also been questioned in these
blogs suggesting that GLORYbound will have open communion. This is also
untrue. The communion policy which will appear in the Gathering Book has
been used for the last nine years of GLORYbound events as suggested to
us by the Secretary of the LCMS when it was requested in 1999:

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Sunday of GLORYbound will be a
significant part of our gathering. St. Paul Lutheran Church, Ft. Worth
is serving as host congregation for the Worship Service and Holy
Communion. Those who have been instructed in the teachings of the
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and believe in the real presence (body
and blood of Christ is in, with and under the bread and wine for the
forgiveness of sins) are invited to come with a penitent heart to
receive the sacrament.

Notice that the President doesn't say that only those in communion with the LCMS
would be permitted to commune. This wishy-washy statement means an ELCA member
who used to be LCMS can commune. It means an Episcopalian or Roman Catholic who
attended a Concordia University can as well. This is not "closed" or "close"
communion. This communion statement makes a mockery of the work other LCMS
professional church workers - who have worked so hard to achieve altar and pulpit
fellowship with our sister churches. Instead, it reduces communion fellowship to
something flabby and fuzzy untied to the public profession of one's church.
What a disgrace.

The GLORYbound team has carefully planned this event for two years
keeping in mind the awesome responsibility of nurturing the faith of
young people in the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are fine church
workers and I thank God for them along with all other professional
church workers in our District.

In closing, let me encourage each of you to renew your commitment to our
Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and to work to advance the saving message
of our Savior throughout Texas and the world.

You're in Christ,

Ken Hennings

There you have it. Pure bureaucratic gibberish. Isn't it interesting that you
don't get this kind of circumlocution and "synod-speak" from HT?

Monday, August 11, 2008

More LCMS Winking at Women's Ordination

ECAC "pastors" who were "ordained" earlier this month

While many of us are shocked and appalled at the fact that the Texas District is allowing a woman pastor to be involved in the worship services of its youth gathering, it seems that this LCMS dabbling with "ordained" women has been quietly going on for at least 15 years.

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has a strange working relationship with a Lutheran Church body (a partner church of the ELCA) that is not only a founding member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), but has more than half a century of "ordained" women under its belt, and currently an ordained roster that is 30% female.

The Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia (ECAC) explains its position on women in ministry here (emphasis in the original):

Today, 30% of the ordained ministers are women. They are pastors, assistant pastors, teachers of religion, counselors in Lutheran schools, teachers at the Seminary, they work at bishops' offices, in social work, church gremials and many other places. Some of them are single, but many are married and have family.

Sometimes a congregation refuses to accept a woman as their pastor, there is sometimes a fear of "overfeminization", or an opinion that women should not have a high position in the church. Some groups still dispute the very ordination of women.

From the LCMS website, here is an article about a rostered LCMS pastor with a call to the LCMS Board for Mission Services who serves in Bratislava as a professor at the ECAC seminary:

Dr. David Daniel serves God at the Evangelical Theological Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. As head of the department of church history and vice-dean for scholarship and international contacts, he develops instructional materials and helps prepare future workers for the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia and other countries of central and eastern Europe.

David was born in Bethlehem, Pa. and is a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Ill. He studied at the University in Vienna, Austria, prior to receiving his Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania State University, where he taught for nine years. He served as pastor or vacancy pastor in congregations in Penn., Mo., and Ill. From 1979 to 1988, he taught at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo. David has lived and worked in Bratislava since 1988. In 1997 he accepted a call from LCMS World Mission to serve full-time as a theological educator at the Theological Faculty in Bratislava.

David is married to Slavka, a native of Slovakia, who serves as the head of the department of religion and chaplain at the Evangelical Lyceum in Bratislava.

They ask you to pray that the Spirit would energize and strengthen teachers as they prepare students to serve church and society. Pray that believers will grow in faith and that the members and workers of the churches in central Europe may be effective witnesses to Christ so that those who are not Christians may be brought to faith. Prayer Card. (top)

I can only wonder how many other LCMS pastors would be permitted to remain on the clergy roster if their wives were not in communion fellowship with them, being rostered church workers of church bodies with whom we don't share fellowship. This is a bizarre situation.

And here is another article published by the LCMS regarding the many LCMS workers who are working with this church. I can't help but think about the many struggling orthodox partner churches we have where members of the LCMS could be helping instead of a church where 30% of the pastors are women.

Here, a contributor to a Texas Ablaze!(tm) website recounts a 1992 "mission trip" to Slovakia. This is very shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

And here, on the website of the Lutheran High School in Bratislava, Slovakia, is an explanation of the LCMS and ELCA involvement in work at the school going back to 1991:

"A lot of effort by many people made the re-opening of the school possible, including cooperation from parents, school board authorities, teachers, students, and the Lutheran church bodies of Slovakia and the United States (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod)."

Here is summary of the Slovakian Church's ecumenical relationships:

Lutheran Church in Slovakia

Here and here are LCMS appeals for missionaries working with this church.

Here is a description of another LCMS long term missionary (with no mention that she is working for a church outside of our fellowship that "ordains" women):

Laurie Lenz

Laurie Lenz serves the Lord as a long-term missionary in Slovakia, where she teaches English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at a Lutheran high school of 280 students in Tisovec. Students are not only Lutheran, but many still feel the weight and affects of communism and its relationship with religion. Prior to her service in Slovakia, Laurie participated in a two-week LCMS World Mission training program in St. Paul, Minn.

Laurie was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Her home congregation is Trinity Lutheran Church, Algona. She received her education from Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, where she studied secondary education, history, and missions. While a university student, Laurie participated and led three spring break mission trips to Juarez, Mexico. She also attended two Beautiful Feet Mission Conferences for LCMS college students. In January 2005, Laurie visited the Panama mission field and helped with vacation Bible school.

Please pray for Laurie as she embarks on this new journey. Aside from this being her first experience as a teacher, Laurie will also have to show patience and understanding, as well as adjust to a new culture and language. Pray also that she builds strong relationships with other missionaries, teachers, and her students. Finally, Laurie asks that her supporters pray that she is able to "teach and witness the Gospel as Christ taught it." Prayer Card. (top)

And here is a video from one of our long term missionaries (also available through LCMS World Mission here). Notice that she mentions "pastors" and "chapel services" at the Lutheran high school in Tisovec (which is affiliated with the ECAC) - but she doesn't indicate whether these pastors are women, or to what extent LCMS church workers and volunteers participate in these services. In 2001, Tisovec had a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first woman "ordained" in the ECAC.

When there are LCMS church workers and volunteers spending months or years working with this church body, it begs the question, are they taking communion there? And think of what these young, impressionable missionaries and church workers are being exposed to. Is this any less egregious than the Texas District youth gathering's inclusion of a woman pastor in the worship line-up? But this has been quietly going on under the radar screen for 15 years. And shouldn't the LCMS be disclosing this fact before asking for funds?

Surely, Rev. Robert Roegner, who is pictured here in Bratislava, is aware of the status of the ECAC. Not only that, but the LCMS is training church planters for this church body:

European missionaries to attend U.S. institute

In their quest to make western Europe Ablaze! with the Gospel, missionaries from Lutheran church bodies in Germany and Slovakia are planning to attend the Missouri Synod's Mission Planters Institute this month in Orlando, germanyFla.

The institute, sponsored by the Center for U.S. Missions, Irvine, Calif., with assistance from LCMS World Mission and LCMS districts, is designed to share ideas and encouragement for church planting. Participants include outreach-minded pastors and laypeople from LCMS congregations nationwide.

Germany's Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia each plan to send a missionary and a mission "coach" to the Orlando institute "to get ideas to implement for the training of missionaries in Europe," according to Dr. Robert Scudieri, associate executive director for the national mission team of LCMS World Mission.

Scudieri was in Germany and Slovakia in November, where he led church-planting workshops for more than 40 Lutheran missionaries, church leaders and seminary faculty from Germany, Slovakia, France and Denmark. Prior to his visit, he had invited the church bodies in Germany and Slovakia to send representatives to the U.S.-based institute.

Scudieri said he "learned a great deal about how a church in an unchurched culture can minister." German Lutherans, he said, "are doing some very exciting things in church planting, and this gave them a framework for considering something like a 'center for European missions.'"

Such a center could be modeled after the Center for U.S. Missions, and LCMS World Mission could "provide resources to make it a reality," Scudieri said. He stressed that the center and its curriculum would come from the European Lutherans, but that "we can come alongside them and help implement it."

Scudieri plans to lead a similar church-planting forum in Latvia later this year.

Posted Feb. 2, 2004

Again, the LCMS is in partnership with many struggling churches around the world. Why are we sending church workers and missionaries to an LWF church - especially when the LWF is bullying faithful Lutheran churches with whom we share communion - and usually specifically over their refusal to ordain women? Why are we so cozy with this particular church body? And what message does this send to those who spend months or years in such an environment with the full blessing of the synod? And why is the status of this church body never discussed in any official LCMS organ?

I just don't get it.

Three Revolutionary Women

When it comes to being counter-cultural, these three ladies makeTimothy Leary look like Richard Nixon. By contrast, check out the stories in the right side-bar of the Daily Mail.

Madonna is just so establishment (yawn).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tom In The Box

If you enjoy satire when combined with the crazy world of the modern American Church, then Tom in the Box is for you! "Tom" writes from the Reformed perspective, and is not only witty and funny, but has a keen insight into the foibles of modern American Christian life.

I've thrown together some links to some "TBNN" headlines that I found particularly amusing, a sort of Tom 2008 sampler:

Judge Accused of Judging Others
"The One Week Bible" Not Catching On
Authentic Teen VBS Draws Hundreds
Climbers Discover KJV on Mount Ararat
Hinn Granted First HWPG Sainthood
Mysterious "Van of Glory" Sparks Small Town Revival
California Court Recognizes Heterosexual Marriage
California Narcissist Plans to Marry Himself
"Build-Your-Own-Belief-System" a Huge Success
California Court Rules "Parents Have No Rights to Raise Their Kids"
tx bble (The Text Message Bible)
Remember the Moment Stopwatch $12.95
Unintelligible Man Speaks Clearly in Tongues
Blogging in Tongues Yields Interesting Results
"Speaker-Sensitive" Churches Growing
Forty-Seven Church Splits Finally Brings Doctrinal Perfection
Just Divided Over What They "Just" Want God to Do
Episcopal Church Discourages Home-Schooling; Kids Know Too Much Bible

Sermon: Feast of St. Lawrence

10 August 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 8:34-38

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our blessed Lord puts everything in sharp perspective for us today, dear brothers and sisters. The Christian life is not about fame, fortune, and riches, being appreciated and loved by many, seven steps to a better you, or anything of the sort.

The Christian life is about bearing the cross. “Whoever desires to come to Me” says our Lord, “let him deny himself and follow Me.” He goes on to say that the Christian life is a paradox of love – for the one who selfishly seeks to save his own life will lose it, but the one who gives of himself, even his very life, will find it.

Jesus does all of the work to secure your salvation. He is not asking you to give your life as a ransom – for He has already ransomed you. Now he asks you to sacrifice your life for the sake of others. Having been given the free gift of eternal life, you can now lay down your life for the sake of the kingdom, motivated not by self-preservation, but by selfless love.

The Church has many examples of those who bore the cross and laid down their loves for the sake of their neighbors, for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of making a good confession before paupers and kings alike, for the sake of love. And the Church celebrates one of her own beloved saints today – Lawrence the martyr of Rome.

St. Lawrence lived a life of 33 years, and was martyred in 258 AD during the persecutions of Emperor Valerian. Lawrence was not a priest, but rather a deacon. His job was to help his pastor – who happened to be Pope Sixtus II, the Bishop of Rome, both in the administration of the Church and in the distribution of the sacraments.

Like the men who serve our congregation as members of the Board of Elders, Lawrence was not a preacher, but he was a witness whose life proclaimed the Gospel. He did not celebrate and sing the Mass, but he held the chalice of the Lord’s most holy blood and helped his pastor to bring Christ to the people. Lawrence helped to administer the material possessions of the Church and helped to distribute the Church’s charitable goods to the poor.

Lawrence was a servant and a steward. And though Lawrence was not a pastor, he offered his life as a priestly sacrifice of service to the Lord – as all lay people are called to do. And he laid down that very life as a thank offering to His Savior – something that most of us will never be called to do. St. Lawrence understood what his calling was, however, and he carried it out. In the words of a sermon preached by St. Leo the Great more than 1500 years ago on this anniversary Lawrence’s martyrdom, Lawrence the deacon “was outstanding not only in the performance of the liturgy, but also in the management of the Church’s property.”

Deacon Lawrence’s pastor, St. Sixtus, the bishop of Rome, was beheaded on August 6, 258. According to St. Ambrose, the Roman madmen who were persecuting the Church turned next to Lawrence - for they had heard that the Church was laden with treasure. Lawrence cleverly sent away various relics in the possession of the Church. Then, when asked to turn over the Church’s treasures, Lawrence took a group of poor, blind, and crippled Christians to the Prefect, and said: “Here is the true treasure of the Church.” He added: “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.”

Four days after his pastor was executed, the faithful deacon and confessor was himself ordered to recant his Christian faith. Having refused, he was taken to a hot grid-iron, upon which he was laid out and tortured to death.

As our Lord has reminded us anew: “whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it,” so too does the life and service of St. Lawrence remind us of where the treasure in the Church lies.

Our sinful flesh so often misses the point. Of course, we need material possessions to live. And quite often, people are driven to beg out of need. But so often people will only come to the church when they need money. Often a person will approach the pastor not because of the burden of his sins, not because he seeks to “lose his life” for the sake of Christ and the gospel, but rather because he seeks to save his life through money. In seeking the treasures of this world, they miss out on the “true treasure of the Church” – the Gospel, the very grace of God.

Indeed, what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For those who seem to have nothing have everything. They have the kingdom. They have eternal life. For the true treasure of the Church isn’t the chalice, but rather the blood inside. And unlike gold vessels that can be stolen and sold, the blood of Christ is given away by the Church, free of charge, without price, without limit, and without asking for anything in return.

St. Lawrence understood just what the treasure of the Church was as he served as a deacon, caring for the poor, those beloved of God but spurned by the world. St. Lawrence understood just what the treasure of the Church was as he served at the altar, giving rich and poor alike the greatest riches of all: “the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

St. Lawrence clearly understood our Lord’s preaching in today’s Gospel, dear friends. For he did not desire to save his own life, but knowing that it was the Lord who had already secured for eternal life for him – he forfeited his own precious life for the sake of his Savior and of the Gospel as a testimony to an “adulterous and sinful generation.”

In every generation since, whenever Christians call to mind those who cared for the poor and those who endured suffering and death for the Gospel, they have lovingly called to mind our dear brother Lawrence, whose brief life on this side of the grave has inspired us for 1,750 years, and who lives in eternity.

As Pope St. Leo preached in the fifth century regarding the martyrdom of St. Lawrence:

“You gain nothing, you prevail nothing, O savage cruelty. His mortal frame is released from your devices, and, when Lawrence departs to heaven, you are vanquished. The flame of Christ’s love could not be overcome by your flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which blazed within. You but served the martyr in your rage, O persecutor: you but swelled the reward in adding to the pain. For what did your cunning devise, which did not redound to the conqueror’s glory, when even the instruments of torture were counted as part of the triumph? Let us rejoice, then, dearly-beloved, with spiritual joy, and make our boast over the happy end of this illustrious man in the Lord, Who is wonderful in His saints, in whom He has given us a support and an example, and has so spread abroad his glory throughout the world, that, from the rising of the sun to its going down, the brightness of his deacon's light does shine.”

May we likewise serve as lights of the love and mercy of God, mirroring the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who bore the cross for us, He who chose to give His perfect life as a ransom for us poor miserable sinners, He who called St. Lawrence to likewise lay down his life. May we, like St. Lawrence recognize where the true treasure of the Church is, and may we carry out our vocations of grateful service to Him who has saved us by His grace. And may we too be proven faithful to Him “when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

ESV with Apocrypha

Here is an interesting and informative blog post reporting that Oxford University Press will be publishing the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV) with the Apocrypha in February 2009.

In the last century, we English-speaking Lutherans have been largely denied a good bit of our own biblical heritage since our congregations switched from German to English. Older German Bibles (typically based on Luther's translation) included the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments. When Lutherans began buying English language Bibles, they were published by various Protestant publishers, and the Apocryphal books largely vanished from our usage.

In fact, most Lutherans are somewhat shocked to find that these "Catholic" books were originally part of the Bibles their grandfathers and grandmothers used in their churches and read at home.

However, even to this day, traditional liturgical texts do continue to make use of passages from the Apocrypha (such as some of our Introits and Graduals) - as well as some of our hymnody (including the Christmas carol It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and the beloved Lutheran hymn Now Thank We All Our God. Most such references in the Lutheran Service Book materials do not acknowledge the Apocrypha, but rather read "liturgical verse" or some such. However, some of our Introits and Graduals are word for word quotes from books such as the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, and the Song of the Three Young Men - which one is not likely to find in his or her Bible.

Like the early Church, we Lutherans do not establish doctrine on the sole witness of the Apocrypha (which interestingly places the Apocryphal books in the same category as the New Testament books that were disputed by the early Church fathers, known collectively as the antilegomena (of which James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Hebrews, and Revelation are universally treated as canonical today - though Lutherans traditionally make a distinction between these and the other never-questioned books (homologoumena) - and thus do not establish doctrine based solely on their testimony).

Hopefully, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod's near-endorsement of ESV, combined with this coming new edition with the Apocrypha will result in a resurgence of appreciation for and study of the Apocryphal books in our churches.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Wilson's List...

of "Great American Inventions".

[Nota bene: In the interest of full disclosure, I do at times partake of decaf. I pretty much agree with Dr. Wilson on the rest... +HW]

A miracle!

The mayor is in jail, but it's not the mayor of New Orleans!

The end is near!

(But don't get too comfy, Mayor Nagin, from what the paper has been reporting the past few days, you and Kwame might become roommates).

Germans using force and compulsion? No way!

"Don't mention the war! I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it!"
--- Basil Fawlty

Why am I not surprised at this account of the bureaucratized government's use of jack booted thuggery and compulsion from, uh, where else? And how is it that the people of Marburg can "not see" that this is for their own good and the good of the Vaterland?

Some volks just never learn lessons from history.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Word games and communion statements

A parishioner of mine was out of town and brought back a bulletin. He asked me to look at the communion statement, it included:

"Please read and answer the following questions. They are helpful in preparing for the Lord's Supper:

1. Have I been baptized in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

2. Do I believe that I am a sinful human being without hope of eternal life except for God's mercy in Christ?

3. Do I believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son and my personal Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil?

4. Do I believe that Jesus Christ is personally present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion with His true Body and Blood?

5. Do I intend, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live a Godly life?

Our Holy Communion practice is called "CLOSE" communion, not "CLOSED" communion. "Close" communion invites all those who answer the above questions in the affirmative. "Closed" communion practice allows only confirmed members of ----------- Lutheran Church to commune. We do NOT attempt to obstruct or restrict anyone from coming to the Lord's table. We DO seek to help each guest; visitor, and member, to prepare for the celebration of the Sacrament. Because of the importance and value of Holy Communion, we ask that each one present carefully read, understand, and answer the above questions before communing, and if it is your first time communing with us, please speak to one of our Ushers, Elders, or Pastors."

There is an additional line that says:

"A wine that has been chemically treated to remove all alcohol and sulfites is offered in clear glasses in the individual trays."

Oh boy.

First of all, this "closed" vs. "close" is a lot of nonsense. It is a false dichotomy. Notice this church's practice - if you, as an individual, can accept the five questions (which everyone from Roman Catholic to Reformed can), you are welcome at this Missouri Synod Lutheran church's altar.

However, this overlooks the fact that the Missouri Synod congregations are specifically in fellowship with a couple dozen churches around the world - which means we are in doctrinal agreement resulting in altar and pulpit fellowship. An LCMS Lutheran is in communion with the Lutheran Church Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, and many other church bodies around the world. An LCMS Lutheran is not in communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the United Methodist Church, or the Roman Catholic Church. There are simply doctrinal differences that separate us - many of which involve disputes over just what one is eating and drinking at the altar - and those doctrinal divisions are not addressed in five simple questions to scan at the beginning of the service so that we can make individual choices about communing. The Church is, by definition, an "assembly" - a community of faith. These are not decisions properly left to individuals, but rather to our whole family.

You are either in communion with, or not in communion with Christians of other church bodies. As a pastor, I may be invited to preach and officiate at the Eucharist at one of our sister churches in the Russian Ingrian Lutheran Church. However, I may not concelebrate a wedding at a local Russian Orthodox Church or preach in a local Pentecostal church. To do so would be to send a false message. One could not do that with integrity. It all has to do with being in communion.

That is the nature of fellowship and communion that is completely lost in this church's approach, and their artificial use of "closed" and "close" to describe two different policies.

Notice that the church presents only two extreme scenarios: 1) closed communion means no visitors can commune (not even LCMS visitors), and 2) close communion means opening the rail to Roman Catholics, Reformed, and ELCA Lutherans. Those are the two options according to this church. But of course, the traditional and ancient understanding of communion - which has been upheld by the Missouri Synod since its inception until recent years - is neither of these extremes.

There is no other word for this convenient game-playing to achieve a specific result (open communion). It is simply a lie.

Our churches are part of a network of churches that share doctrine and practice and are in a state of communion with each other. This particular congregation's approach to communion completely ignores this reality that is our agree-upon paradigm. Exceptions need to be handled by the pastor (and indeed, there always are exceptions) - but this is not a matter of pastoral exception, but published policy.

The idea that we "do NOT attempt to obstruct or restrict anyone from coming to the Lord's table" flies in the face of St. Paul's words (which were ironically quoted in the bulletin on the very same page) from 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 that a person may well eat and drink to his judgment. This is why the sacraments ("the mysteries of God") have men (pastors) charged with administering them ("the stewards of the mysteries of God" - 1 Cor 4:1). In the same way that pharmacists don't hand out prescription drugs willy-nilly, neither do pastors (at least those who believe in the supernatural power of the consecrated elements) do the same with Holy Communion. This is why our Augsburg Confession positively cites the traditional example of the pastoral care according to St. John Chrysostom, and confesses with clarity and integrity how our churches are to administer the holy sacrament:

"On holy days, and at other times, when communicants are present, Mass is held and those who desire it are communicated. Thus the Mass is preserved among us in its proper use which was formerly observed in the church and which can be proved by St. Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 11:20 ff. and by many statements of the Fathers. For Chrysostom reports how the priest stood every day, inviting some to Communion and forbidding others to approach." (AC XXIV:35-36)

This is the very opposite of saying: "we do NOT attempt to obstruct or restrict anyone."

There is an additional ambiguity in question 4: "Do I believe that Jesus Christ is personally present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion with His true Body and Blood?" The "with" seems to divide the "personal" presence of Jesus from His physical presence. In fact, the use of "personal" instead of "physical" is one way to make Lutheran communion acceptable to Reformer Christians - a tactic tried by many groups in history to jam the square peg of Lutheran theology into the round hole of Reformed practice for the sake of an artificial unity. In this case, it is either by design with a bad intent, or by ignorance with a bad result. For the sake of the eighth commandment, let's presume in this case the latter.

Nevertheless, there is another use of "weasel words" that cannot simply be excused by ignorance. Consider the line in the church's bulletin (cited earlier) that "A wine that has been chemically treated to remove all alcohol and sulfites is offered in clear glasses in the individual trays."

A wine that has been "chemically treated" to remove one of the component parts that makes it wine is, by definition, not wine. In fact, it is "grape juice." Notice how the writer goes to great pains to circumvent the ontologically correct (and more concise and precise) term to instead use a sort of hocus-pocus to transubstantiate the innovation of grape juice into dominically mandated "wine."

To take the reverse, most parents would have no problem giving their young children a big glass of grape juice. But what if we gave Junior a big glass of "grape juice" that was "chemically treated" with a process of fermentation to "add alcohol and sulfites" - would it still be "grape juice"? Of course not. It would be wine, and the same parents would not serve it. It's simply not the same thing.

We do not fear God if we delude ourselves into thinking that our synod will not be chastened by the Lord for such unfaithfulness. What better definition of "integrity" is there than "confession" - simply and plainly saying the same thing as the Lord in His revealed Word? We need to pray fervently that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of the pastors and lay people in these congregations.