Wednesday, July 21, 2010

10 Common but Bad Arguments for “Contemporary Worship”
and 10 Quick Rebuttals

1. “You Traditionalists aren't interested in outreach”
A: This is simply not true. We simply disagree on how it should be done. Worship should not be “targeted” to the unbeliever or “seeker”.

2. “You Traditionalists are afraid....”
A: If by fear you mean concern, yes. But too often the “fear” argument is used to diminish valid concerns without having to address them honestly.

3. “It's just your preference”
A: No, in fact, my preference for music is quite different than what I believe is appropriate for worship. You should be glad that my preferences aren't the standard!

4. “It's style, not substance”
A: There is much about style that affects and effects substance. I know a sad or happy or angry song when I hear it. “The medium is the message”

5. “Contemporary is more user-friendly”
A: There's an argument to be made here, but not without some holes. For one, user-friendliness is not without a cost. Also, user-friendly to one may not be to another. Finally, why not educate people about worship “bring them up?” instead of “bringing it down” to them?

6. Claiming Martin Luther's Mantle
A: Because Luther made changes, contemporary worship proponents must be like Luther? This ignores the reasons for and the substance of the changes Luther made.

7. “Traditional hymns are old”
A: Easily dis-proven by the existence of very new hymns in traditional settings. Conversely, many so-called “contemporary” songs are decades old.

8. “God is my buddy – so I can be casual”
A: While Scripture does teach us God is our friend, it also teaches us to worship reverently. How does a casual approach to worship express reverence?

9. “Traditional worship is boring”
A: Even if we concede this point, so what? This assumes its purpose is to entertain, which is not true. However, I don't concede the point. I'm still very interested in and learning about our rich liturgical worship life.

10. “The Holy Spirit is on my side”
A: This rebuttal takes longer, but often the argument comes from deep misunderstanding of who the Spirit is and what He does. Often, it's a confusion of human emotional experience with the work of the Spirit.

The purpose of this list is not to reduce all discussion on Contemporary vs. Traditional worship to simple statements and rebuttals. I've simply observed that many of the discussions hardly get much further than these types of bad arguments, which are easily answered.

I believe it's time to get started having the long, hard conversations about the nitty-gritty of what divides us most in the LCMS - worship. But perhaps to do so we need to first get past these kinds of shallow soundbytes and canards.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sermon - How Righteous?

(The following is a sermon preached at our sister congregation, St. John's in Racine)

Matthew 20:20-26
July 11th, 2010
“How Righteous?”

Dear Friends at St. John's. Grace and peace to you from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Also, greetings from your brothers and sisters at Grace Lutheran Church, where I serve.

I think a great deal of my own congregation, and the times I've visited here at St. John's you've always been kind and welcoming to me too. You're nice people. I'm sure if I needed a favor you'd do your best to help me out. You probably also do your best to serve your neighbor, and love God with your whole heart. I think that even Pastor Quinn would assure me that you're good people – God's people in this place.

But are you good enough? Jesus has some pretty striking words for us today in Matthew's gospel. Words which might be hard to swallow. He says, “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven”. Well that takes the wind out of our sails, doesn't it? How righteous are you? And is it enough?

I think Jesus means to have us all ask this question of ourselves. “What about me? Am I righteous enough?”

Before you answer it, let's have a look at the commandments. It's not too hard – they were our Old Testament reading today. Well how do you do? Do you have other gods before the one true God? Do you keep his name holy? Do you keep his day holy? What about your neighbor? Do you honor the authorities God gives us? Do you murder, steal, lie, and commit adultery? Any coveting by you?

I think many would grade themselves pretty well even against this standard. But if you think so, you're not reading these commandments rightly. Only a very shallow and twisted view of God's law lets us rest on self-righteous laurels. Anyone who thinks he keeps these commandments is delusional. There is no one that is righteous, not one. All have sinned and fall short. Even our best works are as filthy rags before God.

And Jesus shows us why. He raises the bar on these commandments. He says, “you've heard it said don't murder... but I tell you don't even be angry!” You know it's against the rules to swear at your brother, but I say even calling him a fool is out of bounds. Elsewhere Jesus tells us that murder, adultery and other sins – even if you're just thinking about them – bear guilt and bring us under judgment. We confess sins of deed, but also of word and even of thought.

So it might appear that we are done for. That we will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. For our righteousness is a sham. It's really not very righteous at all. We sin a lot, even the nicest ones of us.

In fact there's only one who never broke the law. Who kept the commandments perfectly. Who loved God and loved his neighbor without fail. One who always put others first. One who always loved, and never sinned. He was like us in every way, yet without sin. And his name, of course, is Jesus Christ.

His righteousness exceeded the scribes and the Pharisees. His holiness and purity were unmatched. He stands alone – perfect man, the second Adam who did not fall for the devil's temptations. He was obedient to God – obedient, even unto death on a cross.

And because the Righteous one came to take our place, to be our Savior, and give us all good things – he gives us also his righteousness.

Every Sunday-school child knows that Jesus died for us. But we often forget that he also lived for us. He took our place on the cross, and took away our sins. But he also took our place in his life of law-fulfilling, and gives us his own righteousness.

When we hear these words of Jesus, “unless your righteousness exceeds the Pharisees....” we can see how it does! Not with a righteousness of our own, but the righteousness that Christ wins for us and gives to us. On our own we have nothing. With Christ we have it all. On our own we are sinners. In Christ we are saints. On our own – righteousness is impossible. In Christ, our righteousness is more than enough to please the judge of all.

Yes, Jesus also died for us. He takes the punishment with one hand even as he gives us his own righteousness with the other. He takes our place in life and death – taking what is terrible, and giving always what is good.

He does the same in Holy Baptism. Where our old nature is drowned and a new creation arises. Not just when the water hit your head, but every day as you remember your baptism and its blessings, by daily repentance and contrition. Each day you receive his righteousness anew.

And in the Sacrament of his altar, he forgives our sins, sustains our faith, and confirms again our righteous standing before God. Holy, perfect, forgiven and renewed people of God – washed and fed by God – ready for anything he calls us to do.

These are the means by which you enter the kingdom of heaven. They are not your means, they are his. These are the means by which you are made righteous. It's not your righteousness, but his. But like all his gifts, he gives them to you – freely and fully, for the sake of him who died and rose and lives forever – righteous and making us righteous, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Prayer for Travelers

Lord God our Father, You kept Abraham and Sarah in safety throughout the days of their pilgrimage, You led the children of Israel through the midst of th esea, and by a star you led the Wise Men to the infant Jesus. Protect and guide those who travel to our synodical convention in Houston. Make their ways safe and their home-comings joyful, and bring all of us at last to our heavenly home, where You dwell in glory with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sermon - Luke 10:1-20 - Pentecost 6

Luke 10:1-20
July 4th, 2010
“Woe and Peace”

A happy 4th of July to all of you. I know many of us will be taking part in the celebration of our nation's birth with cookouts, parades, fireworks and the like. We'll feel patriotic and nostalgic. And it's a good thing to love our nation and give thanks to God for America – and to ask his blessing on it.

It's always interesting to relate a national holiday with our Christian faith. For we Christians are in the world, but we are not of it. We live here in time and space in a certain nation, now. But our true citizenship is in heaven, our eternal home.

I think in many churches today preachers are talking about what a great country we have. And in many churches today preachers are talking about what a terrible country we have. And there's probably a lot of truth in all of that. We have our good and bad points in this country.

But the important message for us today is not about the U.S.A., even though it's our national holiday. As Christians, we always concern ourselves first of all with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's where the real fireworks happen.

We have a message, given to us by Christ. Just like the 72 who Jesus appointed and sent out to preach. We have a word for the world, just as Jesus and his disciples proclaimed it to the towns and villages in their neck of the woods. And since we are part of that world, the word is for us too.

And it is a message of Woe and Peace. (Not War and peace like the novel). Woe and peace. Two key words in our Gospel reading today.

What Jesus wants is for people to have peace. He wants us to know his peace. The peace that passes understanding. A peace that is not as the world gives. A peace found in his work of salvation for us. Peace in a clean conscience and a certain hope of salvation. A peace that lasts forever. A peace that he won for us in the violence of the cross, and in the tomb which could not hold him.

All that peace is wrapped up in the disciples' greeting, “Peace be to this house!” As he sent these 72 preachers out with such good news – they went to real people in real places. “Every town and place where he himself was about to go”.

But it was a dangerous journey for them. They were as sheep among wolves. For those who carry the word of God have no defense but that word alone. And sometimes the word is rejected. Sometimes Jesus is rejected. Maybe you see it happening in the world you live in – in America today – or in your own neighborhood or family. In real times and places, there are unbelievers. And there is a harsh word of law from Jesus for those who reject his peace, for those who turn away from his kingdom. It is a word of judgment. “woe to you!”

Chorazin and Bethsaida receive this word of woe. For they had rejected Christ. Even though they saw unmistakeable signs of his authority and power – the calling cards of the Messiah. And so Jesus says they will be even worse off in the judgment than Tyre and Sidon, those pagan cities in the North. Caperrnaum, where Jeuss did many signs and wonders, where he preached extensively, also receives a harsh word of doom and gloom.

Too bad for them. But we're ok, right? Be careful. For at times, we too reject the message and the messenger. At times we are no better than Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. We, yes, even we Christians, deny God's power in our lives and shun his word and message. We act as if we are our own little gods – doing as we please, justifying it all the while. This is perhaps a particular trouble for us as Americans – the idea that each individual can do what he wants. But so often we turn our freedom into license, our liberty into a pretext for sinning. No one can tell me how to live my life. And that includes you, God.

And so we reject the message, and the messenger too. Perhaps it's hard to hear a condemning word of law from your pastor. Maybe you think we're talking about someone else's sins. There's a part of all of us that likes the fire and brimstone – when it's directed at someone else. Oh the cultural rot of America today. Oh the government, oh the greedy businesses and rich people, oh the enemies of our way of life and our freedom – sock it to 'em pastor! But don't point out my sin! That's no fun. That's not uplifting.

Pray that by God's spirit, we are not the ones who hear and reject. For rejecting the messenger, and rejecting the message, is rejecting the one who sends it. To deny our sin and need for redemption is to deny Jesus himself. No sin, no savior. And that's a terrible place to be.

Pray that by God's spirit, our hearts are brought to repentance and faith. And pray that we hear his word with joy.

Rejoice, Jesus says, that your names are written in heaven. And so are yours and mine. When we are baptized and receive his grace and mercy, his Triune name is on us. But our name goes in his book – as one of his own, belonging to him for eternity. Our Baptism is a seal of this promise, a downpayment on heaven for all who bear the name of Christ.

And when his messenger, say, the pastor, preaches a word of peace to you – it is for you! It's not a word of forgiveness and healing for some other sinner whose sins aren't as bad. It's for you! Peace be to you! Believe it!

Jesus words are real – and they are for real people living in real places. Places like Chorazin and Bethsaida. Places like the Unites States. His word of woe is for all who reject, and his word of peace is for all who receive and believe. So God bless America – not with wealth and success and power and respect or even with worldly peace. God bless America – through the preaching of his word – the saving work of Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners like you and me. A word of peace for every house that receives him. A word of peace to you. In Jesus' name, Amen.