Friday, April 25, 2008
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
For some time I have been referring people to Dr. Adams' assessment of what the division is within the LCMS. He argues there are three basic groups, the "Traditional Lutherans" the "New Evangelicals" and the "Moderates" (or really, "Liberals").
But recently I ran across this handy-dandy chart based on the Adams article. Very helpful in understanding what actually DOES divide us in the LCMS today.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
1 Peter 2:2-10
When I lived in New York I visited a well known Episcopal cathedral in the city called “St. John the Divine”. Construction on this building began in 1892, but when I visited in the early 90s it was still being built. In 1979 mayor Ed Koch spoke at a dedication ceremony marking some new construction, and he said, “I am told that some of the great cathedrals took over five hundred years to build. But I would like to remind you that we are only in our first hundred years.” Scaffolding decorated the building as late as 2007 and all the de stone masonry work still isn't done. Perhaps that's why the nickname of this church is “St. John the Unfinished”. It stands now only about 2/3s complete.
Today's Epistle lesson from 1 Peter brought me back to that unfinished cathedral. As Peter speaks of the construction of another building – not just any church, but THE church – a spiritual house which is also “under construction”. There is much to ponder here as we consider God the builder, Christ the cornerstone, and ourselves, the living stones in him.
Consider the essence of stones. They come in many shapes and sizes, and can be used for many purposes. From paperweights to skipping stones, to monuments and landmarks. In our reading from Acts, stones are used to kill the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. But perhaps man has mostly used stones for construction. Maybe that's because stones are strong and don't change or shift. Unlike wood or dirt or some other material, stone buildings will be around for a while.
One thing about stones, though, is they are not alive. They are anything but. They just sit there, doing nothing. So isn't it strange for Peter to speak of “living stones”? It's a clue that the stones he's speaking of are not stones at all. But like a builder uses stones to construct an edifice that will stand the test of time, so too does our Lord build his church to stand forever.
As Peter explains, God is the builder. Jesus, too, is the builder, of his church. “Thou art the Christ” Peter once said to Jesus, and our Lord replied, “You are Peter (which means 'rock'), and on this rock (that is, the confession you just made) I will build my church”
We may build the church buildings of rock and brick and wood. But the Triune God alone builds his church. God the Father lays the foundation by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone. Jesus himself establishes the spiritual house mortared with his own blood shed at the cross.
The Holy Spirit calls and gathers people who were dead in sins, deader than rocks, and breathes life and faith into us, making us part of this eternal construction. God is the builder. We are the stones – living stones, now, passively placed together at his pleasure, by his hand and word of promise.
The “spiritual house” for God's ancient people was, of course, the temple. In fact, the very word for temple was simply “house” - however it was the house of God. Fitting that when God calls us sinners to repentance and faith, when he makes us his people in baptism, he dubs us his temple. The place where he dwells, both individually and together as a body.
Of course, if you look at the temple with earthly eyes, you see a broken-down old shed, or a ramshackle hut. You see shaky foundations and crooked walls, a leaky roof and windows that catch a draft. The temples of our bodies wear out and break down with disease and death. An honest look at ourselves shows we are far from the majestic palace that God deserves, our hearts unfit as a sanctuary for the Lord of creation to call home. Yes, these bodies are temples defiled by sin.
Or if you look at us all together, again you would see the same. We are an imperfect gathering of imperfect people. No Christian church is without sin and flaw and conflict and struggle. Even our own Lutheran Church-Missoui Synod suffers from internal divisions as we wrangle over the direction we should take as a church body. No, if we look at individuals, if we look at churches, or if we look at the church as a whole through earthly eyes, we see a dwelling that is shaky at best, and crumbling or even collapsed at worst.
How then do we understand Jesus promise, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”? How can we be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a chosen race, living stones built up into a great and mighty spiritual house? With man, of course this is impossible. But man is not the builder, God is.
He lays the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ. And here we focus our attention. For in Christ, we have honor. By Christ we are part of the house. Through Christ we receive mercy. With Christ, we come from darkness to light.
Without Christ, the whole thing would come crashing down. But with him, and in him, this marvelous construction called the church is built to stand the test of time, and even the test of eternity.
Oh the earthly temple of the Old Testament was torn down. When the Romans came in 70 A.D. It was destroyed, never to stand again. What remains of it today is a crumbling western wall – and faint hints of its former glory.
But remember what Jesus said? “Tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days”. He wasn't talking about the stone columns of Herod's temple. He spoke of his own body – a temple which was destroyed in death on the cross. A temple which bore the sins of the world and destroyed them there – your sins and mine. But a temple which was rebuilt when God raised him from death on Easter morning, in a glorified body over which death has no power ever again.
And so in Christ we see a deeper reality than the shoddy construction of this world. We see beyond our own individual temples, and even beyond the imperfect church on earth. In Christ we see the construction of a spiritual house called the church, a universal and timeless gathering of people made holy by the blood of the lamb.
It is a construction, like St. John the Unfinished, which goes on. Through his word and by his sacraments God daily adds to the number of living stones in his church. And he also strengthens and builds us up, we who are part of the building already. When a child is baptized, another stone is laid. When a sinner repents, another stone is laid. When you hear and believe, the construction continues on God's holy eternal temple called the church.
But it is a construction, which one day will be complete. In fact, Jesus is already preparing a place, building mansions if you will, for his people in heaven. In our Gospel reading we have that powerful promise. A place prepared for all his people, a place prepared for you. Where the living stones of the church will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. For he who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Living stones – together forever, alive forever, in Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The teaser for this story said something about Tom Cruise and John Travolta believing they were a new race of humans. Here's the quote:
The more he describes the Scientology experience, the scarier it sounds. As he told me the other day: "A Scientologist who’s ‘clear’ believes he’s no longer a Homosapien. He’s Homo-novis, a new race. They believe they are the only hope for this section of the galaxy, starting with planet Earth."
It's amazing to me how the Father of Lies uses the truth. I've often said that the best lies contain the most truth. Satan has been doing it from the beginning. Much of what he says is true - which makes it believable. In fact, he uses the very word of God itself to cast many of his lies, twisting and contorting it to something entirely different.
I see it in many of the world's religions, in Christian denominations, and even in cults like Scientology. There is always some grain of truth in false religion.
So what does God say about the Homo Novis?
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (1 Corinthians 5:17)
And what about Luther's Small Catechism?
What does such baptizing with water signify?
It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I could suggest some larger and more obvious cuts, myself. As with most financial decisions, even in the church, they are reflective of our priorities. We put our money where our heart is, but not always where our mouth is.
The truth is, if the leaders valued Issues enough, they would have found a way to keep it, and cut something else. But if they were looking for a reason to cancel it, money is certainly a convenient excuse.
I also like the line in which he marginializes the malcontents, "He pointed out that the 7,000 signatures make up one-third of 1 percent of the church body." Techincally true, but very misleading. What's the old rule, for everyone who writes a letter to the editor, there are 100 other people who feel the same and just didn't write it in? Something like that.
HT to Josh Schroeder on the news story.
Monday, April 14, 2008
A “figure of speech”. Sometimes Jesus spoke plainly. But other times, not so much. Always Jesus spoke the truth, but sometimes that truth was given in a way that wasn't as obvious, especially to the unbeliever.
Today is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, our readings draw us into the grand scriptural metaphor of the shepherd and sheep. It's a favorite metaphor used by Christ, and an important theme, really, throughout all of Scripture.
Consider these important Old Testament figures who truly were shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, David, Amos – and many others. The kings of Israel were also seen as shepherds – guarding and protecting the flock of their kingdom.
And of course, our well-loved Psalm 23 tells us, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. Jesus aptly picks up on this depiction, and calls himself the “Good Shepherd”.
Today we take one of the passages from John in which Jesus strikes this theme. Let's note three key ideas there, and we'll expound on them further:
Jesus is the true shepherd, as opposed to false shepherds.
Jesus knows the sheep, the sheep know him.
Jesus is also the gate to the pen, our way to safety and abundant life.
Then, as now, there were many false shepherds. Jesus offered this as a warning to his people, his sheep. Watch out for those false shepherds! They climb over the gate... they sneak in or barge in... but they have no right to be there in the sheep pen. They are not the true shepherd. Only Jesus is.
So who are they? Doubtless Jesus referred to the many false Messiahs that had come before – false shepherds who led the sheep astray, or fail to defend the sheep, or steal from the sheep, or even prey upon them. False shepherds who either claimed to be the Christ, or claimed to do what only Christ can do.
We have false shepherds today, too, of course. False teachers who would lead people astray into false belief and false living. Some of them are wolves-in-shepherd's clothing. They may appear to be good and nice, and maybe even religious. Maybe even Christian.
And here is the great poison, when they lead the sheep away from the safety of the pen, from the shelter of God's grace in Jesus Christ – out into the wilderness of their own shabby good works. There the sheep will starve for lack of food, for the sheep don't live on bread, or grass, but on the word of God. There in the wilderness, the sheep will quake in fear of the enemies – which abound, of course. And who will protect them from the beasts of sin and death? And there, in the wilderness, should the sheep remain, they will surely die. Oh, the false shepherd may wear a smile on his face, but he is a thief and robber. He cares nothing for the sheep.
We are tempted to follow these false shepherds. Sometimes we are even our own false shepherd. When we make our own way, define our own rules, rationalize our own reasons for sin. When we fear, love, and trust in “me”, and not “he”. We lead ourselves astray. We are not following Christ.
As opposed to the true shepherd, Jesus Christ. He feeds and cares for and protects his sheep. He is worthy of our trust and faith. He will not disappoint. He will not flee in the face of danger. His steady hand holds and unwavering rod and staff that comfort the sheep.
Jesus is the true shepherd. And Jesus knows the sheep, and the sheep know him.
In ancient days, a group of shepherds would often house their flocks in the same pen. When it was time to depart for the day, each shepherd would call his own flock, and they would separate into their respective groups, each following the voice of their own shepherd.
The sheep know the voice of the shepherd. We know the voice of Christ. But how? With so many false shepherds out there, with all their appealing teachings and attractive ideas... how can we know the voice of the shepherd?
We know it through his word. We hear Jesus speak when scripture speaks. We know it to be a word of both law and gospel, judgment and grace, sin and forgiveness. And the more we listen, the better we know his voice. It is the only voice worth following. It is the voice of our shepherd. A voice of authority, a voice of power, but more – a voice of love and mercy for poor lost sheep. Sweet music to our sore sheep ears. The sheep know the shepherd.
But more importantly, the shepherd knows his sheep. Jesus knows us. Each of us, personally, better than we know ourselves. He knows what it's like for us, after all he went through everything we do – yet without sin. He knows each of us by name, as we belong to him in holy Baptism. And even though he knows we are wayward sheep, he does not deny us. Instead he seeks us, finds us, claims us, and brings us to himself.
Jesus, the true shepherd, stands in contrast to the false shepherds. He knows his sheep, and we know him. And remember, he is the gate to the sheep-pen.
Yes Jesus is not only a good shepherd, he is the only good shepherd. He is the only door, the one true gate, the exclusive way to safety. No one comes to the father but by him, he says later. But here, the metaphor of the sheep-pen. A safe place to spend the night. Protected and fed, this pen is the safe-haven of his kingdom. Here, the sheep take refuge. Here the sheep rest secure.
But there is only one way in. And he is that way. Jesus is the gate. Only through him do we have any hope at all. But in him, and through him, we have life, and have it abundantly.
See, the true shepherd is also the true lamb- the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. For he died to save the sheep from sin, and he rose to bring this life to the sheep.
So follow him, you sheep of his pasture and pen. Watch out for the false shepherds! Hear and listen to the voice of your shepherd. He is the true shepherd. He knows you, even better than you know him. He brings you to the safety of his care and keeping. And he feeds you even now.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Resolution for South Wisconsin District Pastoral Conference
April 1-9 2008
Whereas: Issues Etc. weekday and national Sunday night show was cancelled on Tuesday March 18th; and
Whereas: Issues Etc. averaged around 250,000 podcast downloads each month making it easily the highest listened to program on KFUO; and
Whereas This was a divers and word wide audience, thus presenting “critical events” every day; and
Whereas This cancellation was abruptly done and not allowing the congregations that supported the National show to give fair warning to the stations carrying the show; and
Whereas This potentially left congregations paying for unused airtime due to contracts with local affiliates; and
Whereas We should desire that all things be done civilly and carefully so that no congregations be negatively affected by this action; and
Whereas This could have been done by giving the Rev. Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwarz two month notification of the cancellation of their employment and the Issues Etc. program, would have allowedd them time to communicate with supportive congregations and national affiliates enabling them to work buy outs of contracts or cancellation of programming; and
Whereas This sheds a negative light on the LCMS nationally and those involved with local stations carrying the program; Therefore be it
Resolved that the South Wisconsin District Pastoral Conference Spring 2008 express with a united voice their displeasure with tboth the cancellation of the program and the way it was handled. And that every effort be made to resotre the Rev. Todd Wilken, Jeff Schwarz, and Issues Etc. program; and be it further
Resolved that the South Wisconsin District Pastoral Conference Spring 2008 request president John Wille to express its concerns with the COP, the Synod's Board of Directors, the Board of Communication Services and President Gerald Kieschnick; and be it finally
Resolved that we pray for and support the Rev. Todd Wilken, Jeff Schwarz and their families and all parties involved and that a God-pleasing and peaceful conclusion be reached.
Monday, April 07, 2008
I will update you on the progress of this effort.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
But how about,
or even better -
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. " Phillipians 2:5-10 (ESV)