Tuesday, October 28, 2008

November Newsletter - Thoughts on the Vote

The following is my "Pastor's Page" for the November church newsletter:

Some thoughts on elections, voting, and Christian citizenship

Dear members of Grace,

Shortly, many Americans will be heading to the polls to cast our votes for President and other government offices. While it is not the pastor's place to endorse candidates or tell you which way to vote, I do think that our identity as Christians does shape the way we look at voting, and helps us determine how to do it.

Here's one way of looking at it. How does your vote express your Christian love for your neighbor? Rather than self-seeking, Christians should consider the needs and well-being of others in all things. Think of voting as an exercise of love and service to others.

Have you prayed earnestly for guidance? God won't tell you whether to vote for Obama or McCain, but he does give us guidance in his Word. Some of the platform positions of these candidates or their parties may or may not be in line with Scripture. When a candidate takes a position in opposition to God's Word, this is troubling. What issues are the most important to God? What issues seem most important to each candidate? A Christian should weigh the various issues first against God's revealed Word.

Then again, some of the issues of disagreement have no direct scriptural guidance. God doesn't say whether taxes should go up or down, and on whom. God doesn't say how our nation should conduct its diplomacy, how we solve our energy problems, or what the best qualifications or experience for the job might be. Still, for many of these questions, God gives us earthly wisdom, to use to the best of our abilities. And in our calling as citizens, our nation asks us to lend that wisdom in the form of our vote.

Another thing to remember is there is never a perfect candidate. We are all fallen and sin daily. We are always going to be choosing between the “lesser of the evils”. The only perfect ruler is the one sitting on Heaven's high throne.

And even if our candidate loses, God still charges us to “pray for all those in authority”. And we know the government agent, as God's representative, is due honor and respect. The Fourth Commandment and other passages remind us to honor the authorities God places over us, pray for them, and submit to them.

Finally, pray for our nation, and for your fellow voters. Pray that whatever happens, God would “work through all things for the good of those who love him”, as he has promised. Trust in God to bring about his good purposes, in his good time, according to his good pleasure. And give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy as citizens of this nation.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Footprints Limerick

Footprints in the Sand

There was a man who, at low tide
Would walk with the Lord by his side
Jesus said "Now look back;
You'll see one set of tracks.
That's when you got a piggy-back ride."

H/T Today on the Interwebs (with links to more famous poems as limericks)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sermon - Reformation Day - John 8:31-36

John 8:31-36
Reformation Day (observed)
“Truth that Frees”

There's a real temptation for us Lutherans as we observe Reformation day. It's a temptation to wave our Lutheran banners, thump our historical confessions, and puff ourselves up with the pride of our pure doctrine. We sing our Lutheran hymns with gusto, and sort of Lutheran patriotism exudes from our celebration. But where is our focus?

We too often make today about Martin Luther – a great man and hero of the faith, who famously faced down the most powerful man in the world in his great “here I stand” speech. Who translated the bible into the language of the people, who left the safety of the Wartburg castle because the people needed him, who debated the Roman Catholic false teaching persuasively, and whose work laid the groundwork for the church bearing his name. But where is our focus today?

It shouldn't be, and it's not about Martin Luther. It's about Jesus. It's always about Jesus. It shouldn't be, and it's not about Lutheran pride (as Paul says, boasting is excluded). But instead we mark and celebrate the rediscovery of the truth – the truth of the Gospel – the truth that sets us free – the Truth of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners, like you and me. Yes, we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone – not by our good works. This is the truth of the Gospel we Lutherans make such a big deal about on this Reformation day.

Of course, our heritage and history are important. We can rightly look to the reformers and our fathers in the faith and thank God for the work they have done. How Christendom might be different today had God not led these men to a clear and true confession of the faith. How many would have missed out on the assurance that a reformation understanding of the faith brings?

Jesus says in John 8 that the truth of his teaching is what frees us from the slavery of sin. A fitting reading for Reformation day. Not because today is a sort of “Lutheran independence day” in which we shoot off our liturgical fireworks. Not because we celebrate freedom from the pope and the Roman Catholic church. But instead, because we take note again, of the importance of truth and the freedom from sin the Gospel truly brings.

Some taught then, and still teach that freedom comes from your own efforts and your own work. That in order to be free from sin, one must fully commit, or earnestly endeavor to do what is right at all times in all places. Try your hardest, follow the law closest, and maybe, just maybe, you can get there. But this is slavery to the law. Human works will never free us from sin. Only the divine work of Jesus Christ can do the job. This is grace – not that we save ourselves, and not that we even help, but that he, Jesus, does it all for us at the cross. There is where true freedom is won. It was earned by him, for us. We can only receive it as a gift.

Likewise, the truth is under attack, now as then. Satan has always attacked the truth, from his first lie, “you will not die” to so many others throughout the ages. The Father of lies is a prolific author. He is crafty and slick, telling us what we want to hear. Stroking the ego of our sinful nature, playing to our pleasures and playing on our fears. “Did God really say...”? He assails the truth with doubt, challenges it with false claims, and demands evidence for all things unseen. Luther's hymn, “A Mighty Fortress” says the “Old evil foe” who seeks to “work us woe” employs “Deep guile and great might”. Deep guile – that is, an “insidious cunning in attaining a goal; crafty or artful deception; duplicity”.

Today, one of Satan's greatest attacks on the truth is a full, frontal assault. It's not enough to challenge whether what Christ says is true. Now he says there is no such thing as truth. At least there's no objective truth. What's true for you may not be true for me, or someone else. And no one religion has the truth, but all have part of it, or even when they disagree, they somehow are saying the same thing. Confused yet? Me too. But that's kinda the point.

To all this, Jesus word says again, “Hold to my teaching. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. In an age when truth itself is in doubt, Jesus makes a very specific and bold claim of truth. It's as if he says,

“What I teach is true. Anything else, anything that says otherwise is false. You disciples of mine, remember what I say. Hold to, cling to my words. Always keep my teachings, my doctrine, before you. Only then will you be free from sin, death, and the devil's lies. But if you forsake my teaching, you are slaves again to sin. If you believe something else, you are falling for the falsehoods. I am the only way. Good works will not set you free. Praying hard, clean living, even coming to church every week won't set you free. The truth will set you free. My words are the only truth.”

And what are those words? Well there are too many for one sermon, but that's why we come here again and again. The main point, however, is what the Reformation re-discovered. That Jesus died for you, to pay for all your sins. That Salvation is a free gift. That you, the believer, live by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

And you do not just live, but you are a member of the family. The Son of God, the only Son of the father from eternity, has taken the form of a servant, and freed you from slavery to sin, making you a child of God yourself. You're part of the family, as Jesus says, “forever”. That's a truth we can believe in. That's a hope that does not disappoint.

So the proper way to celebrate Reformation day, fellow Lutherans, is not simply to talk up the German monk who nailed the document to the door. It's not to simply sing our Lutheran anthems with gusto. It's not just to point with pride to our historical heritage. The proper way to celebrate is to rejoice in the truth, and the freedom of Christ. To dwell on and in his word. To receive him as he comes to us, in his Supper, also according to his word. To give thanks for our baptism, where he washed us clean, made us his people, his children, according to his word. And to therefore live in the truth and freedom that only comes through the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.

For his truth has set us free, and he is the way, the truth, and the life.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

LCMS on Facebook

I noticed a group on Facebook:

"LCMS Lutherans for compassion and change"

Uh-oh, I thought. Red flags here.

Here's the group description:

a group of LCMS Lutherans who are seeking for the compassion of Jesus (not the dogma of Walther) to be the main characteristic of the synod. We're a group of disciples of Jesus who wonder what would happen if we acted more in trust and blessing, and less in fear and control....more in unity of the essentials and less in uniformity of everything. We welcome anyone to join in the conversation!

My thoughts:
1. I am tired of seeing the false alternative of Compassion vs. Doctrine, or Mission vs. Doctrine, or Love vs. Doctrine, or Dogma, or Theology. There is no reason we can't strive for both. You NEVER hear anyone saying that we should eschew compassion in order to pursue doctrine. (See "Maintenence vs. Mission")

1a. What's wrong with the "dogma of Walther"? I find that when people choose the word "dogma" instead of "doctrine" or "teaching", they often seek to stigmatize it.

2. What does it mean to "act more in trust and blessing, and less in fear and control"? To me, this is law-talk. Of course we should all be nicer, kinder, more loving. But isn't being Lutheran primarily about the Gospel? Isn't it the love of Christ that motivates our love and compassion, and not the scolding of fellow Christians in our fellowship?

3. "Unity in essentials" is pitted against the straw-man of "Unity in everything". While I know the traditional/confessional/conservative wing of the LCMS places more emphasis on unity, they do not, in my experience, seek to legislate unity, but instead they encourage it. They do not seek "unity in everything", as if that were possible, but they do decry the "every-man-for-himself" mentality in which each congregation is a rule to itself. That's part of "walking together".

What exactly is "Unity in essentials", anyway? It seems a rather squishy kind of unity. Whose definition of "essential"? What would that be? Shouldn't we, couldn't we strive for more?

Suggesting some are in favor of an absolute uniformity in the LCMS is, however, dishonest at worst and mistaken at best. But what we have now is very far from the unity we could have (and once did have).

4. Reading through some of the discussions, I started to become VERY concerned about the denegration of doctrine, by layperson and clergy alike. Some disturbing stuff there. Is this how people in the LCMS really think?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Just a Theory"

When believers in creation and believers in evolution argue (or discuss), the conversation often turns to evolution's status as a "theory". It usually goes something like this:

Creationist: "Evolution is just a theory"

Evolutionist: "So is the Theory of Gravity"

But according to this article, there isn't really any agreement in what constitutes a "theory" and even, what separates science from "psuedo-science".

There's more to this discussion that sound-byte slaps. Epistemology and the Philosophy of Science are worth considering too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


At our confirmation class tonight, while discussing the care of our bodies under the 5th commandment, the question of tattoos arose. Of course the 8th graders just want to know if they can or can't get one. But I encouraged them to think of the whole question in terms of the commandments.

"First of all, consider the 4th commandment" I said, "if you are under 18, the first thing you have to do is honor your parents..."

To which a quick-witted student quipped, "So we could get a tattoo with a heart that says 'Mom'?"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Siemon-Netto on Dr. Tiller

Dr. Siemon-Netto has a recent piece, re-posted about the blogosphere in several places. The whole thing is worth the read, but he ends with this powerful anecdote:

Down in Wichita, Kansas, there is a physician by the name of George Tiller. On his website he boasts that he has already performed 60,000 abortions, mostly late-term, and week after week he is killing 100 more unborn babies.

Dr. Tiller does not think of these fetuses as clusters of cancerous cells. He knows they are human because he baptizes some of them before he incinerates them in his own crematorium. You don’t baptize non-humans. Dr. Tiller knows that. He is a practicing Lutheran. His former congregation, Holy Cross of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, excommunicated him as an unrepentant sinner. But the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, which belongs to the ELCA, communes him. Did I mention that he kills 100 human beings every week and has already done away with 60.000? Sixty thousand! In Nuremberg they hanged some fiends for murdering less than 60 — zero point one percent of Tiller’s toll.

While the Tiller story is dispicible enough, I was fascinated by the response of these two Lutheran churches, which couldn't be further apart on the matter. Kudos to the LCMS congregation for taking a stand against unrepentant sin.

Holy Cross, the LCMS church here,
and Reformation, the ELCA church here.

And some say that a Lutheran is a Lutheran...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sermon - Pentecost 22 - Matthew 22:1-14

Matthew 22:1-14
Pentecost 22
“Come to the Feast”

Today we come to another kingdom parable of Jesus, and this one uses the picture of a wedding feast. As usual, the earthly story has a heavenly meaning – here are both words of law and judgment but also grace and mercy. Here again, Jesus points us to the Gospel, and the free gift of salvation he offers, which he won for us at the cross. Let's take a closer look at the parable of the wedding feast.

As usual, the stories Jesus tells capture our imagination. The king throws a feast for his son's wedding. He invites the guests, but strangely, they don't come. You'd think they would be honored. You'd think they would come quickly and joyfully to the feast – not just any wedding, but a royal wedding – an invitation from the king himself! But some ignore the invitation – we aren't told why. Then the king invites them again, and they find better things to do – tending the farm, minding the shop. Even more bizarre, some mistreat the servants bearing the invitation and even kill them. Talk about “don't kill the messenger!”

Here the heavenly meaning is clear. God the Father, the king, sends invitations of grace and mercy, not to a literal wedding feast, but to faith in his Son. And here, Jesus summarizes the history of God's chosen people – who repeatedly ignored his grace and mercy, and even mistreated and killed the prophets. Soon their mistreatment of God's messengers would reach its apex as they put the very Son of God to death. They would even kill the Apostles, all of whom met violent death except for St. John.

And so, Jesus predicts the destruction of ancient Jerusalem, which came to pass nearly 40 years later. In 70 A.D. The Roman general Titus sacked the city, and dispersed the Jews from their homeland. The very temple of God was destroyed. Jesus knew it would happen. It was the punishment of God upon a people who, as a whole, rejected his repeated calls to faith, and finally refused to hear the good news of his son. But it is a mere shadow of the final destruction in store for all who reject the Christ in this life – a foretaste of the condemnation and wrath to be revealed on the day of judgment.

So the king turns to others, inviting anyone and everyone to come to the feast. Here we have the invitation to the Gentiles. The Gospel is free and freely preached to all people – rich and poor, men and women, young and old, from all tribes and languages. And so we have seen the good news of Jesus Christ touch every corner of the world. Most of us have come to the kingdom only through this world-wide invitation, and thank God for that. For now we enjoy the blessings of his banquet, the lavish food of his feast.

What about the garment? In ancient wedding custom, appropriate dress for such a high occasion included a special garment which was provided by the host. To reject it was to reject the host's generosity and favor, and would have been a social insult. The man seemed to accept the invitation, but in reality didn't. So the king treats the man harshly who was found without proper attire. He had no excuse for his lack of wedding garment.

The garment reminds us of the robe of Christ's righteousness each of us has received in Holy Baptism. There he covers our sin with his grace and mercy, which keeps us our whole life through. When, at Christian funerals, the body of our loved one is brought here to God's house, a white pall – a garment – drapes the casket, to signify that robe of righteousness.

And we do well to receive this garment. For too often we are tempted to think our own clothes will do. But the filthy rags of our own good works do not make us presentable. Only what he provides will do. Only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are we made righteous and holy. Our own works are simply a response to his goodness, but they don't earn us a thing. Salvation is a free gift. The invitation of the king is without cost.

And what Lutheran could read a story of a great feast given by the king and not think of the Lord's Supper. For in this royal feast, he gives us all the same blessings – forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We are worthy to receive such things only by faith, and especially faith in the promises of Christ, “this is my body- this is my blood.... given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”.

The feast of the Lord's Supper is also a foretaste of the feast to come. It's not an accident that Revelation pictures the kingdom to come as a wedding celebration – the great consummation of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, and his bride, the church. When we gather at his table here, we gather with all the people of God from all times and places, and even those already gathered to him.... we join at table in a grand feast of celebration and receive his bountiful provision. What could be better?

In this parable which Jesus told during Holy Week, he compares the kingdom to a great wedding feast. And he warns of destruction and dishonor for all who reject the invitation and the king's provision. But for those who receive the gifts he gives, the King and his Son provide a royal banquet without end. Thank God that through his Son Jesus Christ we are invited to the feast. May we wear his robe of righteousness with thankfulness and celebrate with him eternally. And today, receive our foretaste of the feast to come, as we gather at his invitation.

In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Mission and Maintenance, Again...

I once blogged about a commonly-promoted false alternative in the LCMS, "Mission vs. Maintenance".

Recently, I was checking out church websites doing some "forward scouting" for some members of our congregation who are moving. And in a church newsletter posted online, I found this blurb:

In measuring the effectiveness, the maintenance congregations
asks, “How many pastoral visits are being made:” The
mission congregation asks, “How many disciples are being
made?” ——taken from “Issues”

First, I should point out they are NOT quoting from the radio program, "Issues, Etc." but from the print journal out of Concordia, Seward, "Issues in Christian Education".

Second, I am peeved again that the false alternative between mission and maintenance is alive and well.

Third, I notice the focus of the mission approach is on results, and the focus of the maintenance is on process? That reminded me of the recent insightful post by the Lutheran Logomaniac.

But really, this obsession with counting has got to stop. Measuring, assessing, visioning, revitalizing, all these secular/business approaches which actually keep us from doing what we should be doing - preaching, teaching, and confessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ - to anyone who will hear it - even if they are already members of our congregation!