Monday, August 29, 2005
Sunday, August 21, 2005
14th Sunday after Pentecost Sunday
August 21st, 2005
I. Introduction –
Dear Pastor Richter, Christian friends of
And though it is Peyton’s baptism that brings me here today, today I also want to share words of encouragement in the faith with all of you a message that is not just about our family, but a message for all of us in the family of Jesus Christ.
I read a familiar passage from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16:
In our reading here, Jesus asks the question, “Who do men say that I am?” And the disciples give all the popular answers. But only Peter gave the right one. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter knew the secret, the identity of this Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus of
When Zach and I were younger, we had secret identities. It must have been a long boring summer, when we decided one day to make up super-heroes for ourselves. Zach’s pretend super-hero was some lightning-powered, electricity shooting guy. A pretty cool power. But since I was the older brother, and in charge of the game after all, my super-hero was, basically all-powerful. I could do anything I wanted. You see, being the oldest brother has its perks.
But today I want you to know that we Christians all have a secret identity in Christ. By her baptism today, Peyton joins us who belong to the family of God, the people of Christ, and have a nature that is hidden in him. But our secret identity begins with Jesus’ secret identity…
II. Jesus’ Secret Identity
And it was a secret… at least, at first. You’ve read those passages where Jesus heals someone and they come to believe in him – and then he does something strange. He tells them – NOT TO TELL anyone. What’s that about? Or when the disciples see Jesus get all bright and shiny on the top of the transfiguration mountain. Then he tells them not to speak of it, at least for now. We Christians sometimes assume that Jesus always wanted everyone to know everything – but if you read the Gospels, this motif we call the “messianic secret” can be seen. Why is it that Jesus spoke in sometimes obscure parables, told people to keep secrets and not to make known what was clearly great, good news?
In his time. Jesus had a plan, you see. He knew what he had come to accomplish, and how he wanted it done. He didn’t want people getting the wrong idea at the wrong time. You see, if Jesus simply went around blurting out, “I’m the messiah”, well, any number of things could have happened. Either his time of public ministry could have been prematurely ended by the authorities, or worse yet, people would get the idea he had come as a military deliverer from the Romans. Neither of which was Jesus’ plan. He wasn’t that kind of Messiah.
The secret is: he came to die. To suffer, to die, and to rise again on the third day.
So he taught the few, quietly, until it was the right time to reveal his true nature and purpose.
Here in Matthew 16, the disciples are let in on the secret. Peter is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and he makes the good confession, “You are the Christ”. There’s a point here for us too. Just as Peter didn’t come to this on his own, nor do we come to faith in Christ by ourselves. The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel. He washes us in the waters of baptism. And he lets us in on the secret, that which we couldn’t have otherwise know. Jesus is not only THE savior, he is OUR savior.
When the time is right, and according to HIS plan, Jesus is made known. After his death and resurrection are accomplished, after he ascended into heaven, the disciples are filled with the Spirit and with Power, and boy, do they make him known. The book of Acts tells the story of Jesus being made known – of the secret let out of the bag – even to the ends of the earth.
So much for Jesus’ secret identity. But what about us? Remember I said we Christians have a secret identity, a nature that is hidden in him? Here we would talk about baptism…
III. The Christian’s Secret Identity
You look at Peyton – and though she has just been baptized, she doesn’t look any different, does she? A little more damp, perhaps, but I bet she’s even dried off by now. And yet, by God’s grace a fundamental difference, a great change has taken place. As those waters powered by God’s word and promise, have washed away her sins and sealed her for eternity as a child of God. She now has a secret identity.
Scripture speaks of these realities, what happens when we are baptized. But in many ways, what happens is unseen, kind of a secret.
For instance, in baptism we are crucified and buried with Christ, and what comes out of the water is a new creation. We don’t see this secret reality happen, but we believe it by faith. In baptism, we receive a new nature, we call it the “New Adam”, but too often that’s hard to see as we struggle with the “Old Adam”.
Likewise, in baptism we are declared righteous and holy. We don’t always see it, in fact, you really don’t see it much at all. But God does. Zach and Nicole, when you see a cranky, crabby, selfish, disobedient, rebellious, defiant, mean and angry little girl – give it a few months – God sees a righteous and holy saint, a child of his promise.
So too for all of us, when we look in the mirror and we see selfish, vain, dishonest, lustful, arrogant, petty, thoughtless, and insincere people – we certainly don’t see much good in ourselves if we are honest – but God sees in us the holiness of Jesus Christ. In a way, Jesus himself is our secret identity. By baptism, through faith, Christ lives in us.
But is this secret meant to be forever? NO!
In one sense, we are to be all about making the secret known. As Christians our life of witness stands to clue others in to the secret we have come to know. We would love to let others in on it. That’s the great commission, that by teaching and by baptizing, the secret is spread, and others, like Peyton, are brought in.
Then of course, there is that final unveiling. When on the last day, we will all be seen in our true colors. The sheep separated from the goats, the believers from the unbelievers. As Paul says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Then our secret identity will be made crystal clear, so that we too can see who we truly are, and will be forever.
For Peyton today, and for you and me whenever our baptism was, a great thing has taken place. God has given us a secret identity. An identity that we are called to reveal as we have opportunity – giving answer for the hope that is within us. An identity that God will reveal fully on the last day, when we stand before his throne. An identity that is always found in Christ, that doesn’t depend on us, but on who HE is, and what he has done.
For a time, Jesus identity was a secret. But in time, it all became clear. In our baptism we receive a secret identity in Christ. But it’s a secret that must not be kept. It’s one to be believed, and the be cherished, and to be shared. The secret’s out, in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Friday, August 19, 2005
On vacation in Baltimore, reading the Baltimore Sun, where Benedict XVI is quoted as telling the R.C. youth in Cologne, Germany:
"The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy, has a name and a face: It is Jesus of Nazareth."
You have a right to it?
Well at least Jesus is the answer, not Mary, but really, is this a true statement he is making here? Happiness is Jesus? Happiness is a right?
I don't think it's even in line with Roman Catholic theology, let alone the truth of Scripture.
On the plus side, Fox has this blurb at the end of a story about the Pope's recent visit to a synagogue:
He said it was important not to paper over differences: "I would encourage sincere and trustful dialogue between Jews and Christians, for only in this way will it be possible to arrive at a shared interpretation of disputed historical questions, and above all to make progress towards a theological evaluation of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity," he said.
"This dialogue, if it is to be sincere, must not gloss over or underestimate the existing differences. ... We need to show respect for one another, and to love one another."
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Friday, August 12, 2005
Thursday, August 11, 2005
The ubiquitous poem "Footprints in the Sand" has apparently undergone an update. I just received the following forwarded email: (my comments on this follow)
FOOTPRINTS...A New VersionNot sure what exactly to make of this. If I, as a Lutheran, were to re-write the story, I would simply describe Christ carrying us all the way. Only one set of prints. Thoughts?
Imagine you and the Lord Jesus are walking down the road together. For much of the way, the Lord's footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace.
But your footprints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures, and returns.
For much of the way, it seems to go like this, but gradually your footprints come more in line with the Lord's, soon paralleling His consistently.
You and Jesus are walking as true friends!
This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens: Your footprints that once etched the sand next to Jesus' are now walking precisely in His steps.
Inside His larger footprints are your smaller ones, you and Jesus are becoming one.
This goes on for many miles, but gradually you notice another change. The footprints inside the large footprints seem to grow larger.
Eventually they disappear altogether. There is only one set of footprints they have become one.
This goes on for a long time, but suddenly the second set of footprints is back. This time it seems even worse! Zigzags all over the place. Stops. Starts. Gashes in the sand. A variable mess of prints.
You are amazed and shocked.
Your dream ends. Now you pray:
"Lord, I understand the first scene, with zigzags and fits. I was a new Christian; I was just learning. But You walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with You."
"That is correct."
"And when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps , following You very closely."
"Very good.. You have understood everything so far."
When the smaller footprints grew and filled in Yours, I suppose that I was becoming like You in every way."
"So, Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints separated, and this time it was worse than at first."
There is a pause as the Lord answers, with a smile in His voice.
"You didn't know? It was then that we danced!"
To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to weep, a time to laugh, A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
This was the agreement for "Interim Eucharistic Sharing" with the United Methodist Church.
As reported here, NO ONE VERBALLY OPPOSED THIS MOTION! I suppose this illustrates in another way the great divide between the ELCA and LCMS. While Missouri struggles with its understanding and application of Church Fellowship issues, ELCA has continued its march toward full-blown ecumencial relations with just about every church body it can.
I guess for 94% of the ELCA delegates, it doesn't really matter whether Christ is truly present in the meal? O well, nothing new there.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
More to come in the next few days, for sure...
Monday, August 08, 2005
"In the Land of Tyre and Sidon"
Tune: Maar Mit Oie
(“Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain”
# 96 form Lutheran Worship)
In the land of Tyre and Sidon
Came a local Cannanite,
Desperate now this foreign pagan,
To relieve her daughter’s plight,
Soon the Lord she would entreat,
Falling at the Savior’s feet.
“Son of David, Lord have mercy,
For my daughter suffers sore,
As a devil has beset her,
And I cannot find a cure,
Help me Lord, my child now save,
Cast the demon far away.”
“Only to the lost of Israel,
Was I sent, to give them bread,
Is it right to starve the children,
So the dogs instead are fed?”
Would the Lord send her away?
What then would the woman say?
“Yes Lord, it is right and fitting,
That the Master feeds his own,
But beneath the table sitting,
Dogs eat crumbs that fall from sons,”
Trusting Jesus’ mercy great,
So his answer she awaits.
He who died for all the nations,
Paid his blood on Calv’ry’s tree,
Rose to bring us all salvation,
Granting blessings all for free,
Showed his mercy and his power,
Healed the child that very hour.
We your children, come to table,
Feasting on your Holy Meal,
To forgive, this food is able,
To restore, uplift and heal,
For your own you care and feed,
For us you have blessed indeed.
© Thomas E. Chryst, 2005.
I would like to suggest a new Latin-esque soundbyte:
Lex Hang-around-y, Lex Credendi
Call it peer pressure, call it influence, whatever. I have noticed that who you hang around with also tends to affect your theology. For good... or for ill.
1) This has been true for me.
a. Who I "hang" with: As I have been a pastor for 6 years now, those pastors around me have had an effect on my perspective. Not that I have essentially changed what I believe (I am still a Lutheran, I still hold to my ordination vows, the confessions, etc...). But I do think differently about theology, the LCMS, and being a pastor.
b. What I read: Reading from many sources, but especially making use of the treasure of good Lutheran theology available on the internet, I have also shaped my views over the years. In fact, I probably read more now than I did in seminary.
2) This is true for many laypeople I have observed.
a. Those whose family and friends are made up of Baptists, Evangelicals and the like, tend to be less Lutheran in their thinking. Those laypeople who attend inter-denominational Bible studies (like BSF) seem to have a "fuzzier" Lutheran self-identity.
b. I sometimes take note of what people read. There are many Lutherans who study Rick Warren, Max Lucado, Billy Graham, and watch the TV preachers. This has to rub off on you eventually, especially when you are not reading these ideas "critically". I remember my little-old-lady shut-in who said, "Pastor, the Baptist minister on TV stands there and preaches RIGHT FROM THE BIBLE! Isn't that wonderful???"
So maybe this whole post is just an exercise in noting the obvious. But it's worth reminding ourselves, I think, that people's theology can be, and IS influenced by association.
I think this has implications for our understanding of church fellowship.
I think it impacts our choice of school/college for our children.
I think this has implications for what VBS program we choose.
I would also want to consider the very prevalent idea in the LCMS that we can just take what some non-Lutheran has done or written and "Lutheranize" it.
I mentioned this in my post about CCM. It occurs to me that many on the "less traditional" side of the LCMS take this approach to other things too.
Take Rick Warren. I seem to remember the Lutheran Witness ran two perspectives of his book. One (the main article) said there were some problems but that we could basically Lutheranize Warren, and pluck the pearls of wisdom from among the false teachings.
The other perspective (the sidebar), by Professor Pless, was less kind to Warren. If memory serves me, he compared Warren's work to a car in which the engine was missing (or something like that). In other words, that when the Law drives the theology, the whole thing is "broken".
(I also read this analogy somewhere too: "Saying that Warren's PDL is basically good but with some problems is like saying, 'gee Mr. Lincoln, wasn't that a nice play though?")
Sunday, August 07, 2005
Pentecost 12, August 7th, 2005
“Fear or Faith?”
It’s a fearful story. Not really a ghost story, but the disciples thought it was a ghost. When Jesus came walking on the water toward their boat. They were afraid. They cried out in fear.
Jesus calmed the fears. “Don’t be afraid. It’s just me!”
Peter – for whatever reason we can only guess – decides he wants in on this water-walking. “If it’s really you Lord, tell me to come out there too!”
Pretty fearless of him, right?
Oh, it goes fine for a little while, but then Peter saw the wind, and he was… afraid… and began to sink. “Lord save me” he cries, and of course, the Lord does. And Peter’s fear is once again removed.
And when they step into the boat, all of a sudden the wind dies down, the waves smooth out,, everything is peaceful, and fear is gone.
Today’s Gospel puts fear in our face. And it reminds us of this problem with which we all struggle at various times, to varying degrees. Fear. But the story about Jesus walking on water is also a reminder of where and how and by whom fear is put away. Jesus calms our fears, and gives us courage. Let’s consider the contrast and the question today, “fear or faith?”
I. The Many Phobias of Man
We humans are well acquainted with fear. We all have fears from an early age. When you first go to school and are afraid of the unknown. When you lie in bed and are afraid of the dark. We have fears. But then we get older and we find new fears.
Take for instance, the following list of “phobias” I was able to find on the internet: (from over 530 known, documented phobias):
Acrophobia- Fear of heights.
Agoraphobia- Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded.
Claustrophobia- Fear of confined spaces.
Coulrophobia- Fear of clowns.
Glossophobia- Fear of speaking in public.
Logizomechanophobia- Fear of computers.
Porphyrophobia- Fear of the color purple.
Peladophobia- Fear of bald people.
Ephebiphobia- Fear of teenagers.
Phobophobia- Fear of phobias.
(and of course, ) Homilophobia- Fear of sermons.
Maybe your fears are of an illness. Maybe you fear for members of your family. Are you afraid about your financial security? Or do you simply find lots of little things to be afraid of – or worry about?
But what is our greatest fear? What should it be? The root of all fear is certainly a spiritual one, and it is connected with sin. In fact the first fear recorded was a direct result of Adam and Eve’s sin, “I heard you walking in the garden, and I hid, because I was afraid.”. Since then, all other fears lead back to the one great fear:
The ultimate fear is the dread of knowing we are NOT all right. That there is something very wrong, very wrong with us, as we stand before our God. The ultimate fear that should have every human quaking and shivering is the fear of the wrath of almighty God. For sinners deserve death and punishment and eternal condemnation. This is what true fear is about. Fear that because of my sin, my own sin, my own most grievous sin, God will say to me at the judgment – “depart from me you evildoer”, perhaps the most fearful words in all of scripture.
There is a part of us, even as Christians, that still fears such a thing. I have heard many stories about life-long believers (and good Lutherans at that!) who still fear that God will drag all their sins out in the open before his judgment throne. That somehow, when scrutinized, they will be found lacking. These kinds of fears are the delight of Satan, who wants us to doubt, and worry, and despair.
So how can we deal with fear?
We could turn fear into a TV show, and watch other people do all sorts of fearful stunts – from the dangerous to the gross. But how does that help me with MY fear?
We could use systematic desensitization, and little by little, get closer and closer to that which we fear – but how does that help us with the ultimate fear? How do you desensitize the fear of eternal judgment?
Maybe I could be rid of fear by thinking positive, “going to my happy place”. Nope. That doesn’t work either.
These are all human answers. And therefore they are limited and will fail.
Better to hear what God has to say about our fears. Better to let God deal with our fears.
II. The Many “Fear Not’s” of Scripture
God is decidedly against fear.
How often the Bible speaks those words, “fear not!”
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people.” (Luke)
“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield.” (Genesis)
“Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage.” (Joshua) “Fear not: for I am with you.” (Isaiah)
“Fear not, from now on you shall be fishers of men.” (Luke)
“Fear not, little flock.” (Luke)
“Fear not. I am the first and the last.” (Revelation).
In fact the phrase “fear not” appears in the Bible somewhere between 80 and 140 times, depending on how you count it.
But all this talk about “fearing not” is useless, isn’t it, if God doesn’t actually DO something about it. Well fear not, for God does.
The only thing to do with fear, really, is to take it away. That’s what Jesus does.
III. Taking Courage in Christ
Just as Jesus took the disciples’ fear away, and took Peter’s fear away, so he takes our fear away. He doesn’t just say it, he actually does it.
Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Only God has perfect love. And he shows that love in Christ. He so loved the world that he sent Christ to the cross.
Our fear of standing before God’s judgment is taken away, because Christ stood in our place, hung on our cross, and bore the wrath and anger and judgment of God for us. Our deepest, darkest fears come to fruition at the cross, and there are put away in the death of Christ. There God said, “get away from me” to Christ. There God’s anger was unleashed, at Christ. There God’s righteous judgment was meted out in full measure, on Christ. Everything we could fear, Christ took, and took it away from us. At the cross, the power of fear is destroyed forever.
So when Jesus says, “fear not”, he has the standing to say it. When Jesus says, “fear not” he isn’t just saying it! He’s all about making it happen – taking our fears away.
It reminds me of the story of a young child who is afraid in the middle of the night. He comes to his parents’ room, and says, “there’s a monster under my bed”. The parents could simply say, “NO there isn’t. Get back to bed!” But will this do much to take that fear away? What if the parent goes with the child, looks under the bed, maybe turns on a light – and shows the child there is nothing to fear. This might be better.
When we come to Jesus with fear of the monster, he doesn’t just tell us to buzz off, there’s nothing to worry about. Nor does he make us look under the bed and see for ourselves. For the monster is real, in this case. But what he does is destroy it before our eyes. The three-headed monster of sin, death and the devil, is cast away by the Christ, never to cause us fear again. He doesn’t just say it, he does it!
It’s not insignificant that fear appears twice in this story. First the disciples are afraid when they see Jesus, thinking he is a ghost. Next, Peter is afraid when he sees the wind, and realizes, “hey, I’m walking on water! Am I out of my mind?”. In both cases, Jesus takes the fear away. He speaks it away, “Fear not, it is I!” and he does something about it, when he reaches out and catches Peter.
So too with us. Jesus again and again deals with our fear. He continually reminds us that we have nothing to be afraid of. We stand righteous before God, and as we read last week in Romans, nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ – we need not fear danger, or famine, or nakedness, or sword, or angels or demons, or the present or the future, nor anything else in all of creation – not even death. We are safe with him, in His love, in Christ.
When we read the account of Jesus walking on the water, we are reminded of many things. That Jesus is powerful; that he has control of nature. He calls his disciples to trust him. He rescues them when drowning.
But we also see that Jesus takes away fear. He bids the disciples, and us, to “Take courage! And be not afraid.”
Franklin Roosevelt famously said in his first inaugural address, “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself!” A catchy phrase, but not very theological.
Much better for us is, “In Christ, we have nothing to fear. Period.” For he is our savior, our God, our brother and our friend. He died for our sins, and he lives forever. And he says, “fear not!” Amen.
Impetuous Peter gives us a window into our own struggles between faith and fear. And Jesus is always there to catch us too. With Him we need never fear.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Often, Christian teenagers must wrestle with the question of what kind of music they will listen to, and in particular, how “Contemporary Christian Music” (CCM) fits into their mix.
I’m not talking here about what music we use in worship. That’s a whole different can of worms. For now let’s just consider the music will be for our private listening enjoyment. My kids at church are often surprised when I tell them, "I don't listen to Contemporary Christian Music."
When it comes to youth ministry in the LCMS, there seem to be at least two differing approaches to this. One, (what I would call the “mainstream” LCMS way of thinking) seems to be “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater”. In other words, that CCM has a generally redeeming value, and just needs to be “Lutheranized”. Case in point, the following quotation from our synod’s “official” youth ministry website, “thEsource”:
Contemporary Christian music is a useful tool in the lives of Christians. It's generally positive, edifying, and helpful as we seek to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. However, it is important to realize that because Christian music speaks about God, and in some cases for God, then by definition that music is implementing theology and engaging us in theological discussion. When we speak about God, we are obligated to try and get it right.
In The Listener's Lounge, thESource provides case study examples of popular Christian albums and new releases, and provides a Lutheran examination of the content. How do your favorite artists stack up? You might be surprised. Check it out …
Sometimes, even this level of critical scrutiny seems lacking.
The band above, Fusebox, is one typically used at LCMS gatherings (they were at our Wisconsin State gathering this summer, and at the National Gathering in Orlando). From what I can find on their website, they are not Lutheran. Then why are they featured at Lutheran youth gatherings? Am I being too parochial here? Some would say so.
On the other side, there seem to be those who do not advocate CCM at all, even harbor a disdain (or at least a suspicion of it).
“Higher Things” magazine generally seems to have this approach. Here’s one example:
From the Bible Study Leader’s notes, relating to an article on CCM:
“…saying something false about our relationship with God is considerably worse than not saying anything about Him at all. “Secular” music which talks of other things in this life don’t hurt our relationship with God, unless a particular song specifically advocates or tempts a person to sin (and such songs do exist, so we should be careful). But the music which claims to teach us about Christ causes us to let our guard down, and we are influenced falsely to trust in something besides Christ’s coming to us in Word and Sacrament.” (i.e. Theology of Glory, Works Righteousness, etc...)
Now, I certainly am open to discussing this, but I tend to agree with the Higher Things approach. No Theology is better than Bad Theology, in my opinion.
A new blog by my buddy Jim, a St. Louis Seminary student about to go on vicarage.
I talked him into starting a blog, and it looks like I have created a monster.
On a side note, the Lutheran Blog Directory is approaching 100 blogs listed! WOW! Maybe I will have some virtual give-away to the lucky 100th lister. Stay tuned.
Monday, August 01, 2005
"Lord Jesus Walked Upon the Waves"
Tune: Steht auf, ihr Lieben Kinderlein
("How Blessed Is this Place, O Lord" -LW# 327
Based on Matthew 14:22-33
Lord Jesus walked upon the waves,
While fear shook the disciples’ nave,
“A ghost, a ghost!” the twelve did cry,
“Fear not,” he said, “For it is I!”
Then Peter spoke, “Lord if it’s true,
Then bid that I should come to you,”
The Lord said, “Come”, and Peter went-
Out of the boat made his descent.
His walk was sure, so short a time,
For Peter saw the wind was high,
He sank beneath the pounding wave,
And cried for Jesus Christ to save.
A strong hand then pulled Peter out,
A question then, “why did you doubt?”
“Oh you of little faith” said he,
His message, simply “trust in me”.
Lord at the cross you calm the wind,
You still the storm of all our sin,
And by your blood you quell our fears,
Your scarred hand wipes away our tears.
Lord when beset by wind and storm,
We pray deliver us from harm,
When in the sea we’re sinking down,
O pull us up, let us not drown.
That we would walk by faith alone,
Remind us that we are your own.
Increase our faith and trust in you,
Where’er we walk, whate’er we do.
© Thomas E. Chryst, 2005.