Friday, June 29, 2007


Who says Lutherans don't do reincarnation?

The erstwhile bloggers from "Beggars All" have returned in a newer, more focused blog entitled, "Honoring the Office of the Holy Ministry". Welcome back, gentlemen. You have been missed.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Church Dress Code

A Phillipine Archdiocese has issued a dress code for church-goers.

My first thought:  not a bad idea!  My second thought was a woeful recollection of a young woman wearing a visible thong to church...

What's with the move toward more and more casual attire in our churches?  Is it linked toward a more casual approach to church?  Where does the respect factor get lost in all this?  

I wouldn't want a law... but an encouragement isn't a bad idea.  Dress up, wear your best, and be respectful when you come into the presence of the Holy God.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sermon - Pentecost 4 - Luke 8:26-39

Pentecost 4c
June 24, 2007
Luke 8:26-39

Your list of daily worries and woes probably doesn’t include demon possession. You don’t likely think much about the prospects of some evil spiritual being taking control of you, your body, your life. You probably don’t spend much time thinking about the devil and his influence in your life, or even in the world around us.

But then we come to this Gospel reading today from Luke 8 and it all seems so shocking. Like a horror movie. A man is completely possessed by not one, but many demons – “Legion” they are called. They take complete control of him, and while giving him superhuman strength, they also take from him his freedom, his home, his clothing, his dignity. Mark tells us, in a parallel account, that they caused him to gash himself with stones. The man was living in the tombs – surrounded by the dead – but undergoing a living hell himself as the demons tormented him.

It had been this way for quite some time. We don’t know how it all began, but we do know how it ended. The Son of the Most High sets foot on the land, and immediately the demons take notice. The tormentors (ironically) begged not to be tormented. They beg not to be cast into the abyss. But Jesus casts them out. They take to the pigs, and then in self-destruction those pigs run down to drown in the lake.

Now, what are we to make of all this? We could turn this into a bible study on the details of demon possession – how it happens, why it happens, what are the signs. We could ponder the nature of those evil spiritual forces themselves. We could dismiss this, as some do, as a quaint mythological story told by the early Christians to make Jesus seem even more powerful. But none of those approaches will do.

There is a reason the Gospel writer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us this true account. And like all of scripture, while it does teach us information, it is never simply about head-knowledge. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message to be believed. It shows our Savior and tells of his work and his promises for us. So what DO we make of this?

Well, even though we are not assailed by this kind of demon possession, we are certainly accosted by the forces of evil. We learn in Confirmation class that our spiritual enemies are Sin, Death and the Devil. And that temptations come from the Devil, the sinful world, and our own sinful nature. So we must contend with the Devil and his minions. And they harass and harangue us in many ways.

Satan loves to see us suffer, but also to distract us from what’s really important and especially to make us doubt our salvation in Christ. He is the master of deception, the “Father of Lies”. And he has many evil tricks and schemes up his sleeve.

It’s often said that the two mistakes we can make when it comes to the Devil and his minions is to pretend they don’t exist, on the one hand, or to become paranoid about them, on the other. We needn’t find a demon under every rock. We needn’t blame Satan for our own sinful nature and its temptations. We don’t have to lie awake at night worried about how he will bother us next. But neither should we think that he is a fairy tale. How many people today would affirm and endorse the existence of Heaven and angels, but deny the existence of Hell and the Devil?

We are not the Gerasene demoniac, but without Christ we are like him. Under the power of the Devil. Self-destructive. Apart from God and from his people. Nothing to cover our shame. Haunted by death, tormented by sin that brings death. Sinners who may think we are strong, but are held captive by the Devil. All who are outside of God’s kingdom are possessed by the Devil in one way or another.

But all is not lost. There is hope for those under the power of the Devil. Jesus has set foot on our shore. He strikes fear in the heart of our enemies, because they know he comes to destroy them.

He destroys sin, death and the Devil at the cross. Jesus dies and rises and then descends to Hell to announce his victory to the forces of evil.

They know who he is, and what his authority is. And they know they are doomed. The unclean spirits are loosed into the unclean pigs, and they drown in the lake. And the man who was possessed is made clean.

One of the interesting things about this passage is the prevalence of the water. Jesus comes to the man via the water. And those evil spirits are cast out, and they drown in the water. What a reminder of what happens for each and every one of us in Christian baptism.

Jesus comes to us in that water, paired with his word. He rescues us there, at the font, from the devil and all his works and all his ways. He washes away our sins, and the unclean becomes clean. He drowns our old sinful nature in the flood of his grace and mercy. Each day, by repentance and remembrance of our baptism, the Old Adam is drowned anew, and our life with God continues. We are no longer associated with death – but with the life that he wins and brings and gives.

And we are no longer “possessed” by Satan, but instead by Christ’s own Spirit. Yes, in a way, you could say we who are baptized are now “possessed” by the Holy Spirit. He dwells within us, guides and directs us. He gives us life and we belong to him.

This is why we Christians need not fear demon possession. We are already possessed by the Holy Spirit, we belong to Jesus, who promises us that no one can snatch us from his Father’s hand. Oh the forces of evil can distract us and tempt us. They can even make us suffer. But they cannot have us. We belong to Christ. We are bought and paid for by his blood. And they can’t overshadow that.

Just like the man who was freed from his demons, and came to believe in Jesus. He was freed from one master, freed to serve a much better master. He went and told how much Jesus did for him. And so can we. For we have been healed and cleansed, released and restored in Jesus Christ, by His Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Why "Confessionals" Scare "Moderates"

As the July LCMS convention approaches, I have been pondering the struggles of the Synod and my place in it all.  I have been thinking for some time about the two camps in the LCMS and how I managed to start in one and migrate to the other.  

Coming from the East Coast and out of Concordia, Bronxville, I was a prime candidate to 
end up in the "moderate" wing of the synod.  Going into seminary, I wasn't totally convinced
of Closed Communion, and had my doubts about women's ordination.  

I remember even in Seminary getting into an argument about whether the LCMS should even be discussing women's ordination (I thought then, that we should - my wiser adversary saying it was a settled matter).

Back then, I didn't like contemporary and praise type music, but still didn't really "get" the liturgy.

I remember firmly thinking that style and substance were completely unrelated.  

I also figured I could and would remain neutral in all the various squabbles of the LCMS, and be "above it all".

Honestly, I also didn't study the Confessions as seriously as I should have in seminary.  It didn't seem so "relevant" to me then.

How that changed.  While I still am careful about how and when and where I participate in our synod's political process, I find myself increasingly taking sides with the confessional/conservative/traditionalist camp.  My growing appreciation for and understanding of Lutheran theology is to blame for this.  

The Yankee Stadium contraversy was, for me, and for many I think, a turning point.  It almost drew a line in the sand.  You kind of HAD to take sides.  And as I examined what happened there and studied the issues carefully, I found myself siding with a new and strange group of people.  The people who used to scare me.

I was, originally, quite intimidated by the Confessional crowd in the LCMS.  I think I understand why.  To me, they represented the Law.  Their very existence suggested there was something "less pure" or "less faithful" or "less Lutheran" about me.  And I resented that.  I guess I also internally knew that it was true, and so these guys became a sort of walking talking embodiment of the Law for me.  By identifying themselves as certain things, they implicitly identified others as not those things.  Liturgical, traditional, Biblical, concerned about Law and Gospel, faithful, confession-minded... all these have an opposite.

I have heard moderates in the synod speak derisively of the "ultra-conservatives", as they assumed I sympathized with them.  I honestly don't know what the problem is, other than a feeling that because that guy wears a collar all the time and doesn't do contemporary worship, he must think he's better than us.  And in a sense, I guess that's true.  But perhaps he simply thinks what he is doing is better.

Sure there's arrogance and condescension on the confessional side too.  And to the extent that we allow this we are sure to turn off the moderates even more.  But even without it, I think a certain amount of Law will prick the honest moderate's conscience, as he sees a faithful pastor doing things he knows he should be doing - but is either too lazy, or afraid, or uninformed to do.

I have come a long way in the last 7 years.  I still feel like I am on the road to becoming truly Lutheran.  I appreciate the internet and all I have learned here, in the blogs and on the email lists and forums... and it gives me hope.  Issues Etc. is another gem.

I hope that many who were or are like me - once the Squishy Missouri Middle - can grow and learn and see why it is we want to build Lutheran identity and stem the tide of the Neo-Evangelical influence in our Synod.  

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Emerging Church - A Lutheran Perspective

Scott Diekmann, a Lutheran Layman who wrote a critique of The Purpose Driven Life a while back, has also put forth another thoughtful piece, this time on the Emerging/Emergent Church movement. (Thanks for sharing, again!)

What follows is his summary of the full article:

If you're not all that familiar with the Emerging Church, or Emergent Church, I'd encourage you to read it. The Emerging Church seeks to witness to postmodern people in a way that will reach them more effectively, which is commendable. I give them credit for seeking to promote the Gospel message in ways that are culturally relevant. At the same time, however, they are sometimes corrupting the Gospel message while doing so. Most importantly, some of them have lost sight of justification by grace through faith, reject inspiration and inerrancy, and confuse Law and Gospel.

On the surface, the Emerging Church may not seem like it would have much of an "influence" on Lutherans, but the Emerging Church conversation has a broad appeal to those of a more postmodern worldview, and a broad appeal to the old Adam in us. Emerging Church authors such as Brian McLaren often write using the same religious terminology that you and I might use, but the definitions have been rewritten, giving an orthodox appearance to something that isn't.

Here is a synopsis of the article:

Part 1: An Overview, introduces modernism and postmodernism, and provides a brief description of the Emerging Church using their own words.

Part 2: The Bible, One Voice Among Many, describes the rejection of Biblical inspiration and inerrancy in favor of a derivation of "truth" through a cooperative effort of community, story, and Biblical "interpretation."

Part 3: The Experiential Road, relates how abandonment of Scriptural authority necessarily leads to an emphasis on experience.

Part 4: The Mystical Road, considers the Emerging Church's embrace of mysticism through such means as contemplative prayer.

Part 5: Redefining the Gospel?, delineates how the New Perspective on Paul has led to a rejection of justification by grace through faith.

Part 6: A Social Gospel?, emphasizes the Emerging Church's confusion of Law and Gospel, to "live in the way of Jesus."

Part 7: Sheep Without a Shepherd, points out the lack of certainty of many Emerging Church pastors, and their failure to preach the whole counsel of God.

Part 8: Final Thoughts, summarizes the previous parts and reiterates the true way to "live in the way of Jesus," through Word and Sacrament.

The article can be viewed or downloaded at

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How Would Jesus Drive?

Vatican issues "10 Commandments" for good motorists

I wonder if the pedestrians are next? You know there is that passage:

"Walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you" Is. 5:33

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sermon - Pentecost 3 - Luke 7:36-8:3

June 17th , 2007
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 7:36-8:3
“Forgiven a Little, Forgiven a Lot”

How would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10? How good looking are you, with 10 being a supermodel, and 1 being a face only a mother could love? Where do you fall? How smart are you? If 10 is Einstein – are you a 5? A 7? How wealthy? How healthy? How stylish are you? Feel like you are reading a magazine in a grocery store check out line yet? How about this one….

How sinful are you? How big of a sinner are you? If a 1 is perfect – like Jesus, and a 10 is an absolute scoundrel, what’s your number? How would you even come to such a number? Maybe you would start out thinking about the 10 commandments, and how well you’ve kept them. Maybe you would compare yourself to other people you know, or know of. Maybe you would just think about all the good and bad things you’ve done in life and try to weigh them out. So what is your number? 5? 8? 3?

I wonder what Simon the Pharisee thought – the one who had Jesus over for dinner. If he had to rate himself on that scale – his number would be pretty low. He thought himself pretty good. Maybe a 2 or 3. Of course, like all Pharisees, he observed the law, well, religiously.

And though he was gracious enough to invite Jesus to a meal at his home, his reasons for it are not clear. Was he genuinely interested in learning from Jesus? Was he seeking information on a rival? Or was he simply curious as to what all the fuss was about the man from Galilee?

In any case he was less than the ideal host. He didn’t do all the customary things for welcoming an honored guest – providing a foot washing, a kiss of greeting, or anointing with oil.

Then there was this sinful woman, who showed great humility toward Jesus, kissing and anointing his feet, wiping them with her hair. How do you think she would have rated her own sins? Probably a 10. Everyone knew her sin, whatever it was, but no one knew it, felt it, as much as she did. But Jesus had forgiven that sin, and so this woman’s eyes flowed with rivers of grateful tears.

Jesus’ little story for Simon illustrates the point well. If two men owe debts that are forgiven, which will love more? The answer is obvious. The one with the larger debt. So this woman’s “larger debt” which has been forgiven results in her outshining even a Pharisee in welcoming the one who forgives the debt of sin.

Which brings the question back to us. What kind of sinners are we? Where do we fall on that scale? St. Paul, perhaps the greatest Christian missionary of all time, considered himself “Chief of Sinners”. And so should we.

In a sense my little exercise on a scale of 1 to 10 is a false one, though I think we all do it. We want to compare our sinfulness to the next guy. But when we think of our sin, we should use a different standard – the same standard God does.

God’s standard is perfection. Perfect obedience to his law. There is no graded scale with God when it comes to our sins. It’s all or nothing. Sheep or goats. Holy or wicked. Sinners or saints. That’s because God isn’t comparing you with the next guy like you want to do.

As I was saying to someone last week, that if you don’t think you are a sinner, you won’t see much use for a place like this church. You won’t see much use in confessing your sins, if you don’t have that many to confess. And you won’t see much use for Jesus if you don’t need much of his forgiveness.

And if the tiny little Jesus forgives your tiny little sin then your love too will be miniscule. But if the great big Savior forgives your heaping mound of sins, then your love, too, will overflow.

There’s quite a bit of Simon is us all, though. If you pressed him he would probably admit he wasn’t perfect. But how quick was he to admit and confess his sin? Rather, he, like most of us, plodded through life with a false sense that everything is ok, that I’m ok, and you’re ok, (but I’m more ok than you are…). Sin, for many of us, is an idea in the abstract, not something we struggle with from day to day, or even minute to minute.

How great is your sin? I hope by now your answer is 10! I hope you confess with Paul, “I am the chief of sinners!”. I hope you see spiritual the elephant in the room of your heart that God’s law will no longer allow you to ignore. For as great as this woman’s many sins were, so are yours and mine. And as great as God’s forgiveness was for her in Christ, so it is for us too.

But in Jesus Christ, your answer should not be 10, but 0. Zero sins are held against you by God. Because Jesus took them all to the cross. He who was perfect became a curse for us, became sin for us, and put that sin to death in his body. We are not perfect in ourselves, but in Christ we are – righteous, holy, redeemed, justified, forgiven. And so the paradox of our faith continues.

And today, we come to Christ’s house, where he is the host of the meal. We come to fall at his feet in gratitude, but also to kneel at his altar in humility. We have already confessed our sins. But even the act of coming forward to commune is a confession of sins – we’re saying that we need what is given here.

Likewise, it is also a confession of faith in Jesus’ promise. That this bread and wine really is his body and blood – and that it really is for the forgiveness of your sins. The more we know our sins, the more we cherish this forgiveness.

And that forgiveness moves us to love. In our everyday lives, we will continue to fall at Christ’s feet in gratitude as we serve our neighbor in many and various ways.

Our theme verse at Grace for the year fits well here too, “Christ died for you, live for Him”. Indeed. The more you know why he died, and the more you know for how much sin he died, the more you will live for him.
So know your sin well, Christians. Know his forgiveness even better. And live for him all the more each day. In Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


From the recent LCMS Youth E-News:

ARE LCMS YOUTH WORKERS COOL? . . . In the May thESource, a "coolness" poll yielded the following results about LCMS youth workers:
25% say they work really hard NOT to be cool;
17% said their peers might say they were cool but students, not so much;
25% responded "Nope. Pretty much uncool"; and
30% said "Totally. I am so rad."

My answer: Who cares?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sermon - Pentecost 2 - Luke 7:11-17

June 10th , 2007
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 7:11-17
“Life Touches Death”

When you put two things next to each other for comparison, it’s called juxtaposition. Today we have some interesting juxtapositions in our readings. For one, we have the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading.

In the Old Testament reading, Elijah performs a miracle in which the son of a certain widow is raised from the dead. In the Gospel reading Jesus comes to the town of Nain, and also raises the son of a widow. But the stories are different too. Elijah had to pray to God for his miracle, whereas Jesus simply commanded the young man to arise. Elijah’s prayer was uttered three times, whereas Jesus’ command only once. On the other hand, Elijah’s miracle led the widow to recognize him as a man of God and speaker of the truth. Jesus’ observers were amazed too. But did they see him for who he truly was?

Another juxtaposition today is the two crowds in the Gospel reading. One crowd followed Jesus – a crowd of disciples. They were no doubt caught up in the excitement and wonder of his many miraculous signs and wonders. And his teaching wasn’t bad either. But then there was the other crowd – a funeral procession – a gathering of mourners. Certainly not excited but instead subdued as they made their solemn departure from the town toward the grave site. These two crowds meet. And after the miracle, they become one crowd of amazed and terrified worshippers, glorifying God.

Perhaps a final juxtaposition worth mentioning, and one we will explore further today, is that of life and death. Here comes Jesus – the Lord of Life, the Living Bread from Heaven. Healer of many. Everything about Jesus is life. And there on the funeral bier (that is, the frame carrying the casket) was a young man who was dead, and on his way to the grave.

Life and death come to collision outside the town of Nain. Life in the person of Christ and death which had taken hold of a young man. But the Life of Christ is more powerful than death. The life of Christ cannot be stopped by death. And when the life of Christ touches death, death itself is destroyed. No matter how hopeless it seems.

Take note of several details here. First, the deceased was the only son of a widow. Without the ability to earn her own living, and without an institutional safety net like Social Security, widows in Jesus’ day were among the most vulnerable of society. Without a husband, they would rely on adult sons to care for them. And now, with no one left, this widow faced a life of begging and relying on the kindness of strangers. Her prospects were grim. Much more than the emotional heartache of losing a child, this woman now also had to fear for her own life – and how she would make it from day to day.

Also, the deceased was a young man. He was not old. While death is never easy, most of us can handle better the death of an elderly person. A bitter departure that is made somewhat sweet by the relieving of suffering and the release from a body which has worn down and worn out.

However death is much harder to take when the victim is young. We see the potential of their life snuffed out “too soon”, and it seems to multiply the heartache. You see a teenager or perhaps even a child’s funeral – and the crowds swell. Death is never fun, but it is tragic when the victim is younger.

But it is no less “fair”. In fact, we all deserve death from the moment of our conception. We are conceived sinful, born sinful, grow up sinful and die sinful. Human beings justly deserve the wages of that sin, which is death. While our sense of fair play is offended when a young person dies, God’s sense of justice is not. This widow’s son at Nain was a sinner like us all. And he deserved the temporal punishment of death for those sins, whether the mourners knew it or not. How easily we can identify with this mother and son. For apart from Jesus we have no hope. Apart from Jesus, we are as good as dead, no matter our age or station in life. Sinners all, all deserving death.

None of that matters to Jesus. He doesn’t make the dead man earn his life back. He doesn’t ask to be repaid for the sins that caused this death. Jesus comes to that funeral procession and to that casket and to that corpse with one intention – and that is to give. To give life. To restore what was lost. To give breath to the man, and hope to the mother. So too, with us.

Jesus touches the casket, which would have made him ceremonially unclean. Any contact with death or the dead would make an observant Jew unclean for a time. But Jesus makes the unclean clean, just as he makes death into life. So too, with us.

In fact Jesus’ entire mission here on earth was one of life and death. His purpose was to live the life we couldn’t live. An earthly life of perfect human obedience. And then to take that life and give it over to death on a cross. A perfect sacrifice for sin. The only one who didn’t deserve to die, voluntarily dying for all who do. So he dies, too, for us.

And I don’t have to tell you what happens when Jesus touches death – he destroys it. Three days rest in the tomb brought him to the glorious resurrection of Easter. There the final enemy was proven no match for the Lord of Life. When death and life collide, one must give way. And with Jesus Christ, life always wins.

That could be our body they are carrying out to the grave, and one day, it will be. Unless Christ returns first, each of us will one day face death. It may seem far off to you today – especially if you yourself are younger - with the concerns of daily living distracting you. But remember this man was young too. Then one day death came and slapped him in the face. But like the young man who was raised to life by the Lord of Life, so shall we be.

Or perhaps you are older and ailing and death doesn’t seem so far off anymore. Perhaps you dread the day – with a fear of what lies beyond. Perhaps your aches and pains make you dread it not so much. Hopefully you know well the promises of Christ for his people, that believing in Christ, even though we die, yet shall we live!

Or perhaps you are like the mother who lost her son. Maybe you have lost a child, or a spouse, or a parent. And maybe you are still mourning that loss. So here comes Jesus today, with his life, to touch you, and bring you hope. Trust in his love and his promises. And know that even death holds no fear for us.

Yes the juxtaposition of life and death in our Gospel reading show us what Jesus is all about. Our Lord meets death and he overcomes it at Nain, for the widow’s son, and even more so at the cross of Calvary and the vacant garden tomb. Jesus touches death, and destroys it, for you and for me too. So we can rest secure in life and even in the face of death, trusting always in the Lord of Life. Amen.

Breakast Irony

As I looked over the next week's readings this morning, I had to grin at a delicious irony.  While also munching on my sausage and egg breakfast sandwich, I read from Isaiah 65:

"...who eat pig's flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels"


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Evaluating Church Music

This came out of some recent discussions I have had about what sort of music is appropriate to have children sing in a worship service.  However, I believe these broader principles would apply to church music across the board.  What do you think of these?

Questions for evaluating music to be used in a church service:

1. Is it Christian? If a Jew or Mormon or Buddhist could sing the song without pause, it is likely not a Christian song.

2. Does it mention Jesus (Christ) by name? Titles such as Savior and Lord are not wrong, but songs/hymns are most clear when the proper name is used. It leaves no room for confusion.

3. Does it mention the cross? Or does it speak nebulously about God’s love apart from this central teaching?

4. Does it balance Law and Gospel? (Especially troublesome is if Gospel is absent)

5. Does it suggest salvation has to do with my work, decision, commitment or heart, or does it rather make clear that we receive everything as a gift from God alone?

6. Does it rightly show our good works as a response to God’s good work in Christ, or does it leave the impression God justifies us in response to our action? Could it give such an impression?

7. Does it specifically teach some false doctrine (like the Rapture, for instance)?

8. Does it refer at all to the Means of Grace (Word and Sacraments of Baptism and Communion)? Or does it suggest we receive from God apart from such means?

9. Does it make prayer into a sacrament (which offers grace)? Does it suggest a certain prayer must be prayed to invite Jesus into our hearts? (Decision theology)

10. Is it scriptural? There should be a strong scriptural connection, rather than lofty and abstract concepts tied to no particular text.

11. Does it present a corporate view of the church, or does it overly emphasize the importance of the individual? (Us/We vs. I/Me) “Me-and-Jesus” music should be avoided.

1. Is the music beautiful?

2. Is the tune appropriate to the text? Does the “mood” fit?

3. Is the music inappropriately difficult for the singers?

4. Does the tune carry “baggage” (i.e., a familiar Christmas tune should not be used in Lent. Likewise certain secular tunes have strong associative ideas we might want to avoid)

5. Does the music “play on the emotions”? This should be avoided.

6. Is the music reverent?

7. Does the music have a timeless quality, or is it too strongly associated with a narrow style?

Sermon - Pentecost Sunday - Genesis 11:1-9

May 27, 2007
The Day of Pentecost (Youth Confirmation)
Genesis 11:1-9

In French, “Bon Jour”.
In Spanish, “Hola”.
In Hebrew, “Shalom”
In Chinese, “Lay Ho”.
In Swahili, “Habari”.
(And just for Pastor Poppe) “Guten Tag”

I won’t say hello in every one of the more than 775 languages of the world. But if you ever wondered where we got all these languages, Scripture is clear that it all goes back to a tower. And every time we struggle with a translation, we can remember the judgment of God on an arrogant humanity which worked together against him.

Genesis 11 tells of a time when there was only one language, and the people of the world worked together. They got an idea. They would build a tower, all the way up to the sky. They would make a name for themselves. They would ascend to the heavens, perhaps even to God, on their own. They would not disperse and fill the earth, according to God’s earlier command. They had their own ideas, their own plans.

This wasn’t too long after the flood, and they were using pitch or tar for mortar – the same water-proofing material used to cover boats. Perhaps so that the next flood wouldn’t even be able to wash away their grand tower. The smell of even greater rebellion against God was in the air. They were out for the sake of themselves and their own name. They showed no concern for the Name above all names.

God saw their little project. He was concerned. Here was sinful man working together for a sinful purpose. It could have been only the beginning. And so, in judgment but also in mercy, God confused their languages, and dispersed them.

Judgment but also mercy. Like when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden and put an angel with a fiery sword at the gate. This was not only banishment for sin, but also for their own good – so they wouldn’t eat of the tree of life and live forever in sin. It was mercy even amidst judgment.

So too was the scattering and the confusion of languages at Babel. If God had allowed it to continue, he knew the human capacity for getting into trouble was boundless. Working together as one, a tower would have been only the beginning of the trouble. So in judgment and mercy, he scattered and confused. A consequence of their sin, no doubt, but never the way things were meant to be from the beginning.

The Tower of Babel is not a story about the sins of other people, but we can find ourselves in it too. We are arrogant and prideful at times, thinking our own magnificent work must impress God and Man alike. We try to make a name for ourselves, often at the expense of the name of others. We find ourselves challenging God and his commands and demands in our life. We don’t build a tower, but we construct all sorts of monuments to our selves with the time and energy we should be devoting to God.

And sin brings confusion and discord to our relationships with others. Sometimes even when we do speak the same language, we talk past each other. We argue and struggle, we bear grudges and hate. It’s not just language that divides us from each other, but also our use of words to hurt and harm. No, those ancient tower-builders weren’t the only ones to construct catastrophe for themselves. We sinners are by nature just as rebellious and wicked.

And just as God dealt with his people of old through both his justice and mercy, so too does he deal with us. His law shows us our sin. But the good news of the Gospel of Jesus – shows our salvations.

So the Tower of Babel is not some quaint Sunday School tale to amuse children. It is a true account of real events. And it also makes a difference to us today. Especially today, the Day of Pentecost.

You know the story – 50 days after Easter, as the disciples were gathered in Jerusalem with many Jewish pilgrims from all over the world, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples of Jesus a special gift. They spoke in tongues – the native languages of the people gathered there. And they weren’t just talking about the weather, mind you. They were telling the good news of Jesus, the promised Messiah, who fulfilled the scriptures by dying and rising from the dead.

In a way, what happens on Pentecost is the undoing of the judgment of Babel. The languages which were confused because of man’s sin, were now miraculously clarified by the power of Christ’s Holy Spirit. Divisions are healed, unity is restored, and the people who were many are, by the Gospel, made one in Christ.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit extends and continues the work of Christ.
Recall how when our Lord was crucified, the charge against him was posted by Pontius Pilate? The sign above the cross read, “This is the King of the Jews”. And that message was written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Fitting, in a way, to show how Jesus is King not only of the Jews but also the Greeks and Romans, in fact, of all people. And what happened there at the cross was for all people of every language. He is the world’s Savior. He is your Savior.

Now at Pentecost, Peter preaches his first sermon – and quotes the prophet Joel, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. So instead of making a name for ourselves, now we call upon God’s name. We approach God “in Jesus’ name.” We rely on the triune name of God we received at our baptism. There God’s Spirit was poured out on us, along with forgiveness of our sins and all the promises of Jesus.

You Confirmands, today is a special day for you. Not just because it means the end of sermon reports and Wednesday night classes. Not because you get to sit in the front of church and come up to read your essays. Today, the Day of Pentecost is also Confirmation Sunday. It is a day in which we, the church, remind you of another special day long ago. The day you were baptized.

It’s your baptism that is being confirmed today. You also have the chance to confirm it, as you say your confirmation vows before God and this congregation. Those promises are your response to God’s promises to you in Baptism, where he has made you his child, where he poured his Holy Spirit on you, and where he put his own Triune Name on you forever.

Long after you take off those snazzy robes… long after the pictures are taken and the confirmation party is over… throughout your years of schooling and even into your old age, you will remember this day. But this day really is meant to recall that other day, when God made you his own. This day also looks forward to that day that is coming, when Christ returns, and all who are found in him are given eternal life by His Holy Spirit.

In our late service today we will celebrate the Rite of Confirmation for 10 of our young people. Churches often choose the day of Pentecost for this special event, and with good reason. The connection to the Holy Spirit and to Baptism is apparent on this day.

Many of us will remember today our own Confirmation in the faith. Whether as youth or as adults, we have each been called to profess publicly our faith in Jesus Christ. But it is always in answer to what God has first done to and for us.

Last week, our sermon examined how the Bible pictures Heaven as the paradise of Eden restored. Today, we see the beginning of the “end times”, the inauguration of the age of the church, the birth of Christ’s bride – on the Day of Pentecost.

In many ways it is the reversal of everything that went wrong at the tower of Babel. Communication is restored. Unity is established. Confusion is ended. And God himself builds a new construction – not a tower, but a Church – built by his Spirit. Built on the Chief Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. He is the only way we can, and the certain way that we will reach heaven.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Roemke Ordination

Just got back from our weekend in Ft. Wayne where we attended the ordination of (the now Rev.) James Roemke of St. James the Hoosier. I was honored to be the guest preacher.

Here is the text of my sermon for this occasion:

Dear people of St. Peter's and Good Shepherd Lutheran churches, fellow Pastors, Dear Family, Friends, Dear Lesa and Jim, Grace and peace to you...

Today is a special day. For many of you this is the first, and perhaps the last ordination service you will ever attend. For us pastors, it brings us back to a day long ago when we were sitting right there where Jim is now. And I know Jim, that you and Lesa have been looking forward to this day for years.

First perhaps a word of introduction - My name is Pastor Tom Chryst from Grace Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin. I got to know Jim several years ago, and we have chatted almost daily since then, though we've met only twice in person. You might call us "internet pen pals". And as we've chatted over those years I have watched Jim go through all the ups and downs of being a seminary student and vicar, from his better days to a foot-in-mouth moment or two. But I can truly say that the people of Good Shepherd will be served by a well prepared and faithful servant of Christ.

I was honored when Jim asked me to preach for today, but he did make me promise not to embarass him. However I must tell you one thing about Jim - not only is he excited about becoming a pastor, but he's also REALLY looking forward to dressing like one. Jim would often share with me his growing collection of crosses and robes, stoles and chasubles. He'll be the kind of pastor that wears his collar everyday - and maybe even the kind of pastor to wear black pajamas at night (with a little bit of white on the neck). I predict that Jim may well be the best dressed pastor in his entire circuit.

When it came to what passage I would preach on today, Jim's love of vestements made me think of a very common ordination passage. The passing of Elijah's mantle. Elijah the prophet, just before he was taken to heaven in a firey chariot, passed on his mantle or cloak to his successor, Elisha. This vestment was symbolic of the public office of the prophet, and is much like the stole of the pastor that Jim will be receiving today. This vestment (the stole) which symbolizes the yoke of responsibility for the preaching of God's word, and the administration of the sacraments.

But all this got me to thinking about clothing in the Bible:
Clothing is a First Article gift - it's one of the blessings of physical creation - along with food and drink, house and home, land, animals and all that I have. God clothes us. Jesus said look at the lillies of the field - how magnificently they are clothed - and don't worry about what you will wear tomorrow. God will provide. Yes, God always provides the right clothing.

Remember the first clothing in the Bible? After they sinned, Adam and Eve sewed together fig leaves to cover their shame. But that clothing didn't do the job. In his mercy, God provided for them animal skins. Thus the first animal was sacrificed. And that sacrifice (like all Old Testament sacrifices) pointed forward to Christ, the ultimate sacrifice.
* Jim - your main task, where the pastor is most pastor, will be preaching. There you too will point to Christ, who covers our sins. There you too will point to his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. And by such preaching, sins will be covered, and God will take their shame away.

Those animal skins might remind us of John the Baptist, who wore a coat of camel's hair. John who preached a forceful message of repentance - which irritated people more than, well, a camel's hair coat.
* Jim - I doubt you would be caught dead in camel's hair. But in the spirit of John the Baptist, don't be afraid to preach the Law. And if you do it right, some will be irritated. But also like John the Baptist, preach the Gospel - that the kingdom of God is coming and has arrived in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world - Jesus Christ.

Jesus, whose own clothing was always significant.
From the swaddling clothes of his humble birth to glorious robes of his transfiguration. Pay attention to what Jesus wears.
From the power that exuded when even the hem of his garment when it was touched, to his humble foot-washing with a towl wrapped around his waist.
* Jim - show the power and glory of Christ as you model also his humble service to the people of Christ.

Then, at his passion -
There was the purple robe they cast on him, mocking his kingship - he who indeed was king of all.
His own garments were divided among the soldiers, and they cast lots for his tunic - thus Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, as he always did.
Then Joseph of Arimethea and the women hastily wrapped his lifeless body in linens for burial. But these were garments he would not need for long.
* Jim - preach Christ crucified for sinners. Never cover the cross with the fig leaf of how-to sermons or personal hobby horses. Don't be ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation!

And then when Peter and John arrived on Easter morn, they saw the linens left behind, and the cloth from his face neatly folded, as one makes his bed when he rises in the morning.
* Jim - preach also the Resurrection of Christ. Remind them at Good Shepherd that the Good Shepherd leads us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for he has been there and done that, and he rose victorious.

Yes, Jesus' clothing is always significant, but then there is the clothing we get to wear- Galatians 3 says, "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" In Baptism, we Christians get the finest clothes of all - Christ himself. His own robe of righteousness. Our baptism is a gift of God that covers our sins. Most children who are baptized wear white for this very reason. * Jim - you will have the privilege of baptizing many children, and probably some adults. Remind them all how we are decked out in God's own finery by those waters overflowing with promise.

And what good Lutheran can mention baptism without also touching on the Lord's Supper? Any connection with clothing there? Remember Jesus' parable of the marriage feast. When the king was outraged when some of the beggars he had invited were not clothed in the proper wedding attire (which the host himself provides, by the way)? Here we are reminded that to join in the Lord's Feast, we must be properly clothed in faith. For Christ's presence and his promise there require it.
* Jim - as a steward of the mysteries, be faithful. So that all whom you serve with the Lord's Supper are properly attired with faith in Christ's words, "This is my body. This is my blood. given... shed for you... for the forgiveness of your sins." For there, veiled in the bread and wine is the real presence of Christ for the blessing of his people.

Not long ago we read the Ascension account in which Jesus promised the outpouring of his Spirit. He said to his disciples, "Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high". We too are clothed with the Spirit's power - that Holy Spirit who is always working through God's word, pointing sinners to Christ.
* Jim - you will find that this office of public ministry will be exhilirating and often challenging, sometimes frustrating, always a blessing. And though you have been well prepared and thoroughly trained - resist the temptation to rely on yourself and your own resources. For like the apostles long ago, you can do nothing without the power of the Spirit. And you will find that Spirit working as God promises, in his Word - which is our only sword in the battle.

Yes, there will be weddings, with the bride beautifully adorned like the Bride of Christ, as the church is pictured in the final chapters of Revelation. Remind the bride and groom of the true bridegroom in their marriage, Jesus Christ.

And there will be funerals, when the casket is covered with a pall to remind us of the robe of Christ's righteousness given in baptism. And you might preach a funeral sermon or two on the multitude who have "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb".

From crade to grave and from font to funeral, Christ is there to clothe his people, and you, Jim, will be there, to point them to Christ. May your stole and alb and cassock and surplice and chasuble and cross all serve you well in serving the people of Christ, and may you, Jim, always be attired in that same robe of His righteousness. That's your most important vestment.