Wednesday, February 29, 2012

John 11:35

This just in...

XXXXX Lutheran's first event is a contemporary service held at 5 PM on Saturday, March 10th.
"This service provides an informal setting for worshiping with fellow Christians and offers new music in which to praise our Lord."


Following this service will be a viewing of the film, "Passion of the Christ," which focuses on the last twelve hours of Jesus of Nazareth's life.


Light refreshments will be available.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

To Be a Lutheran: A Response to Curtis

Imagine you are getting on to an airplane for a very long flight. The plane has a single column of seats, two wide. Every row has one of your fathers in it. The seat next to him is empty. You get to choose where to sit for the flight, but you won’t be allowed to move once you choose. You get to spend a very long, uncomfortable time in the company of one man, but only him. Your wife and children, parents, best friend from grade school, etc., are not on the plane.

On my plane, there would be rows of philosophers, theologians, saints, and authors. Socrates and Aristotle would be on the plane. So would Aquinas. Tolkien, Lewis, Shakespeare, and Burns. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson would be there, as would Thomas Paine and George Washington, so would Leonidas, Aesop, Cicero, and Caesar. St. Mary would be on the plane, as would all the holy apostles, prophets, and evangelists. The western and eastern fathers, including Augustine and John of Damascus would be there. Thomas A’Kempis, Ephrem of Syria, Bede, and Polycarp would have their own section. John Lightfoot and Alfred Edersheim would be there. There would even be some Lutherans. David Chrytaeus, both Gerhards, Chemnitz, and Melanchthon would be there. Walther, Pieper, Sasse, Bonhoeffer, Giertz, Franzmann, Robert Preus, David Scaer, and Nagel would be there. And there would be others, all those who have taught and fed and delighted me.

But I wouldn’t sit with any of those listed so far. I would sit with Luther.

Fr. Curtis’ criticisms of Luther, as posted here on Gottesdienst Online over the last couple of years, are spot on, in my estimation. I don’t doubt that gouty, old Luther would fart and belch, be rude to me, gossip, insult my family and education, and even blaspheme from time to time. But even though I know that, I would still sit with him. There would be nicer people on the plane, better conversationalists, and a few that might even be smarter or better spoken. But if I could sit with anyone, I would sit with Luther.

I would sit with Luther because Luther has taught me more than any other writer. I would choose that seat over the seats next to the Apostles and St. Mary even because without Luther I fear I would never have known their work. Luther frustrates and annoys me at times, even, occasionally, embarrasses me. But even in translation, he speaks to me. The Small Catechism and his hymns alone are enough for him to win the contest for my first choice, but there is more to Luther than that. I will sit with Luther. I will stand with Luther. If God demands it, I will die with Luther.

Yet, that is not why I am Lutheran. To be sure, it has something to do with it. So also, I was born to Lutheranism. I can hardly say that has nothing to do with it either. But I wouldn’t say those things have made me, or kept me, a Lutheran. I am Lutheran because of the Book of Concord. I love Luther, but I don’t confess Luther. I confess Christ. And I confess Christ as declared in the Creeds and the Book of Concord. But I’d still choose Luther over Melanchthon on that plane.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Luther Link

For a while now I've been aiming for the title of Lutheran Blogger with the Most Bad Things to Say about Luther. But I take a break from that quest to point out something that Luther was very, very good at.

HT: Fr. Scott Adle

+HRC

Browning, Caleb, the Canaanite Woman and Jesus

God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers,
And thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face,
A gauntlet with a gift in't. Every wish
Is like a prayer . . . With God.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, Book II

Perhaps it's not what Miss Browning quite had in mind, but I think this sums up nicely what our Lord does with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.

She cries out and He throws down the gauntlet. Whether it be in his silence or his rebuke, the challenge, the test, the obstacle is set. But with the gauntlet comes the gift also. Luther puts it this way:

"Thus she catches Christ with his own words, and he is happy to be caught. . . . he let himself be made captive, and must comply. Be sure of this: that's what he most deeply desires . . ." (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 5, 325).

That the Lord would give his gifts in this way strikes us at first as odd. But is it really? Are we so different? Do we not do these things with our own family: our spouses, our children? We say we love our children unconditionally and we do. But we also test their love for us. We throw down our own gauntlets, our own obstacle courses, and when they pass, there is a gift in't--our own response of love. We do it out of our weakness; He out of His strength. We do it in order to receive love; He in order to give it.

Luther made much of the blessing of not being heard immediately, that it is good to wait because our Lord delays in giving us what we pray for for our own good. And this account speaks much to those whose prayers seemingly go unanswered. But Luther says something else that got me thinking:

"We see here why the Lord presented himself so unyielding and refused to hear her, not because he wanted to present an unfriendly image as not wanting to help her, but rather that her faith might be so evident, that the Jews who were the children and heirs of the kingdom might learn from the Gentile, who was not among the children and had no inheritance, how they were to believe in Christ and place all confidence in him" (Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 5, 325).

Those who must endure the suffering that comes from unanswered prayer is not the only people this account addresses. It addresses those who presume upon God's grace thinking it their right and not His gift, those who rest secure in having once, at one time received God's gifts but do not receive God's gifts, those who think that birth or bloodline or membership rolls are sufficient. What does this account say to the one who thinks he's safe? Had the Jews forgotten how our Lord dealt with Joshua and Caleb?

I bring this up because perhaps this account should have been the OT reading for this Sunday. Joshua (the savior) and Caleb (the dog, for that is what his name means in Hebrew) were the only two of the Twelve spies who believed the Lord's promise and wanted to move forward to take and inhabit the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14). Joshua the Jew and Caleb the Gentile dog from Edom, only they trusted the promise. And the Lord promised a a portion of the Promised Land to Caleb the dog man, who represented the tribe of Judah. And when it came time to give out the allotment, Caleb chose Hebron, the hill country. And the dog kept the Lord's people safe from invasion by driving out the Anakites (Joshua 14:6-15, 15:13-19). The dogs already received the inheritance because of their trust in the the promise and the blood of the one who promises not because of their own blood.

Perhaps the Canaanite woman knew of this, but perhaps not. Regardless, the Jews did, but then again, perhaps they didn't because our Lord said "you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matt 22:29). They should have known that it was not blood but trust, it was not for their name's sake that they'd be saved, but His. That the Canaanite woman is given not just crumbs but a seat at the table, as Luther says, that Caleb gets his own portion of the land, is a rebuke for the faithlessness of those who were considered children.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bo Giertz's Help for the Historic Lectionary

I don't know how I missed this, but I did. Amazon lists the reprint date as June, 2000. I think that must be wrong. The book itself only lists the original date of the English publication, 1967. But this is a gem and well worth $15.

Here is what Rev. Todd Peperkorn wrote almost four years ago:

"This little volume, recently republished by Lutheran Legacy Publishing, is a delightful resource for churches and pastors that use the historic lectionary. It’s 141 pages, and costs only $15.

There are two pages on each Sunday of the Church Year. In it he takes a doctrine that the Sunday proclaims, has 20-30 Scripture references in the margin, and then has 4-5 paragraphs on the doctrine based on the text for the Sunday. The Scripture references are invaluable, as they draw the reader/hearer/preacher into the whole of the Scriptures for each given Sunday.

For anyone who preaches, this volume is a wonderful addition and useful tool. For anyone who listens to preaching, this will deepen preparation for the divine service, and receiving what our Lord would give to us in the proclamation of his word."

Available from Amazon as a paperback or as an e-pub book (should work on anything that can read .pdfs, including the i-pad).



Gottesdienst - Chicago: Schedule and Registration

This just in from the Editor-in-Chief: details for Gottesdienst - Chicago.

A one-day conference on the ministry and liturgy:        


Tuesday, May 1st    Saint Paul Lutheran Church
            9035 Grant
            Brookfield, IL 60513

Featuring from among our editors

Rev. Fr. Heath R. Curtis, MA, MDiv
Rev. Fr. D. Richard Stuckwisch Jr., PhD Rev. Fr. David H. Petersen, MDiv
Rev. Fr. Burnell F. Eckardt Jr., PhD


8:30-9:00 am registration/coffee donuts/
Holy Absolution available

9:00 am Matins
9:40 am Welcome

9:45-10:45 am
     “The Liturgical Duties of Ministers”
            Fr Heath Curtis
            Online Editor

11:00 am Holy Mass

12:15 pm Lunch

1:30 – 2:30 pm
“The Impressive Clergyman”
Fr D. Richard Stuckwisch
Online Editor

2:30 – 3:30 pm
Panel discussion:
The Gottesdienst editors

3:30 pm Vespers
4:00 pm Gem├╝tlichkeit


Lodging on your own.  Recommended: Best Western, 6251 Joliet Road, Countryside, Countryside, Ill. For reservations call (708) 354-5200.

Registration: $12 (Payable to Gottesdienst: mail us this form or email this info to eckardt@kewanee.com with Gottesdienst in  the subject line).  You may pay the registration fee in advance or when you arrive.

Registration form:


Name:  _________________________________
Title:    ________    
Parish: _______________________________

Address:__________________________________
City:________________  State:______
Phone:______________________
Email: _____________________________

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thoughts on Lent 1 and Temptation

A question of identity, a confusion of desires, a challenge to our future: these are what makes temptation so strong. It is what our Lord endured and conquered for us.

Temptation begins with a question of identity: "If you are the Son of God . . . ." Another way to say this is: "If God is really your Father . . . ." The evil one, the world, our sinful nature seek to mislead us into thinking, believing that God is not our Father--1) that he will not provide for us (first temptation); 2) that he won't protect us, that he won't keep us safe, and healthy, that he won't allay our fears (second temptation; Psalm 91); and 3) that there's another way to the same result, to argue that the end justifies the means, to live by sight and not by trust, to be an individual, to go your own way, to rebel, to reject God as Father and not be Son.

And the reason temptation is so powerful is because it confuses our desires, it disorders them. God created our desires for bread, for sex, for security and health, etc. There is a proper use of them. We may not live by bread alone, but we do live by bread. We are tempted to what appears to our natural desire by what is good (seeing that it was pleasant to the eye and good for food). And so in temptation, when our desires kick in for what is good, we abstract the desire, seeing the good in it, thinking that God created us to desire these things, and he wouldn't want me to despise his gifts, it suddenly seems all the more reasonable to indulge.

It's reasonable because we justify it as a gift from God (which is only half true). And since it is from God, or it is natural, or some other similar justification, we become convinced by the future that the world, the devil, and our sinful nature hold out to us: "You will surely not die" and "You will be like God knowing good and evil." And if we become our own gods, if we're our own masters, knowing good from evil, we are authors of our future, a new reality of what will happen.

I think that the one temptation we most struggle with is also the one that is least understood and the most overlooked. It's the second one. Who would be tempted by the challenge to cast yourself down from the temple mount? Psalm 91 is about God's protection and man's fear, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty . . . You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday" (Ps. 91:1, 5-6). That despite what it may look like, God is with him in times of trouble, and will vindicate his trust.

This temptation is another assault on God as Father and Jesus as Son. What son doesn't want to know the love and acceptance and protection of his father? For Father's not only provide by giving bread, they protect from threat and fighting for them. It is a twisting of our desire to know beyond doubt, to see and to feel that our father loves us, will protect and fight for us.

And so we look for signs of the Father's love in our own life. We point to our blessings as badges of his love and acceptance, but the crosses we avoid. Are we any different than the health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel preachers? We want to find assurance in things we can measure. We try to bargain with God that "if he keeps us safe, we'll do x, y, and z." And so when our ultimate goal becomes security and protection, God becomes a means to that end. And so we test him to see if he's able to serve us in our worship of our real god--the desire to be protected and loved, the desire for that sense that everything will be alright.

The sinful world, our own sin, and the evil one work to give us a bad conscience. They work tirelessly to make us see only the evil, the gunk, the grime, the crap in our own lives and in the world. The temptations call us away from looking at the Father in order to look at ourselves.

Jesus didn't cast himself down from the temple mount because he didn't come to protect himself. He came for us.

Perhaps this is over analyzing, overly psychological. But what do you think? How does this second temptation come home to roost in your own lives? In the pastor's life, the church's life, the family's?



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

March 25

An alert reader asked via email what to do about the Annunciation falling on a Sunday in Lent this year (Judica even - the beginning of Passiontide). Here's how I responded. 


No - nothing trumps Lent, even the Annunciation. When the latter falls on a Sunday, it is transferred to the first free weekday after Easter.

LSB allows the supplanting of a Sunday in Lent, but this is indicative of LSB's general permissiveness toward widespread practice and should not be read as a suggestion of what the best practice might be. The Historic Lectionary's Lent is a logical progression and something more than just one Sunday is lost if one Sunday is replaced.

For our part, we observe Annunciation at our first midweek service after Quasimodo Geniti, which is the first week without privileged readings of its own. If you don't have midweek services, then it would be appropriate it include the collect for Annunciation after the collect for the Sunday of Lent on March 25. This, by the way, is one of the great arguments to have a regular midweek Divine Service: it's an outlet for the many important days in the Christian calendar that don't quite merit displacing a Sunday.

+HRC

Ash Wednesday, T.S. Eliot

How can I not have read this before? What a travesty. I feel cheated. It's probably Petersen's fault. He's read it before, I bet. Read the whole thing. It will take you a while, but it is very much worth it.

A blessed Lenten Spring to you and yours.

+HRC

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Try 2: A Response to Rev. Cwirla on Ashes

I don’t disagree – exactly – with Pr. Cwirla. He is certainly free to guide his parish as he sees best in these things. But I don’t find his actual arguments here to be persuasive. Here is a re-write that I could say “amen” to:

Why We Do Ashes on Ash Wednesday

People always ask me, “Are you going to do the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday?” They know I’m one of those “liturgical types”, and we’re one of those “liturgical” churches whose attendance is flat because we don’t have a drum set in the chancel, so they figure we’re naturally going to be slinging the ashes on Ash Wednesday. After all, what’s the point of having Ash Wednesday without ashes? They, of course, are on to something.

To be sure, the imposition of ashes, is about 600 years old, sort of a new comer to liturgical practice, but not nearly as young as corporate confession and absolution or the use of colors to symbolize seasonal emphasis. I guess you could say one reason we do ashes on Ash Wednesday is because we submit to the traditions of the Church rather than trying to correct everything that we think could be better or more pure, but there are better reasons.

Hear the prophet Joel: “Yet even now,” declare the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts, not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

Why ashes on Ash Wednesday? Ashes were an OT sign of mourning. Ashes went along with scratchy, burlap clothing. Sackcloth and ashes. You piled ashes on your head and dressed in sackcloth to remind yourself that you were laid low in the dust. Ashes were not something someone else put on you, they were something you put on yourself as a sign of your own grief and death. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” Adam was the man of dust, and by his fault, his own fault, his own most grievous fault, he was headed back to the dust in death.

Sin is dirty business. It is not simply skin deep, like a topical application of greasy palm ashes. It goes to the core of our soul as an inherited, systemic disease. A topical treatment won’t cure it – not the application of ashes or of water - any more than a dab of ointment and a bandaid can cure cancer. But outward signs and reminders are good for those of us who live in and with the flesh and even as we don’t apply water in Holy Baptism apart from the Word of God and faith, so also the ashes are applied with God’s own lawful Word: “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Still, “Rend your hearts, not your garments,” God says. Does that mean it is wrong to rend our garments? Symbolic gestures alone just won’t cut it when it comes to repentance, but they certainly have power. Symbols aren’t whatever we say they are. We can try, but we can’t make the swatiska a symbol of peace. We can’t make feces a symbol of food. We might try to run symbols under our control, like agents of propaganda, which is the way our sinful self likes it, but it is rarely as easy as that. That is not to say that ashes have instituted by the Lord. They haven’t. They are a Biblical ceremony, an ancient and salutary custom, but they are not essential. They are not Divine.

We must distinguish, in all cases, between what the Lord gives and what the Church does in here freedom. The Lord has not instituted the sign of the cross, kneeling, chanting, incense, Christmas Day, or a host of other things. He has instituted (I confess a dislike for the Law word “mandate” which mean, of course, “command”) His Holy Word, prayer, Holy Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Absolution, the Office of the Holy Ministry, Holy Marriage, and probably a few other things, but He hasn’t instituted ceremonies – not one. What we call “sacraments,” for lack of a better term, are actually are what they say they are, even if they don’t look like it or we don’t feel like it. Baptism isn’t a symbol of rebirth: it actually is rebirth. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a symbol of Christ’s Body and Blood as food and drink: it actually is the Lord’s risen Body and Blood given for food. The Holy Absolution isn’t a symbolic gesture of forgiveness: it actually is forgiveness. You actually are forgiven as those absolving words enter your ears and perfuse your mind and heart.

Still, there is more to the life of the Church than the bare minimum. The Lord has given us a heritage and that heritage is itself a gift. Fallen human beings are always limited in their scope and interests. The generation that preceded us in this country was mainly blind to the gift of Holy Absolution despite the fact that it is one sixth of the Small Catechism, included in the Constitution of the LC-MS, and is throughout the Confessions and the Bible. We are blind to things also. There is, for example, a danger in us to judge even the Scriptures and Creeds according to our current understanding of the necessary distinction between Law and Gospel. Who among us hasn’t cringed a bit during the Athanasian Creed’s assertion “those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire?” The Scriptures themselves contain many statements like this. We like to explain them away. Our sinful nature likes categories that are neat and solid. It gives us a false sense of control and a place for our vanity to think itself clever. The categories, “Law,” and “Gospel,” are, in and of themselves Law distinctions and thus subject to perversion and abuse.Submitting to the traditions on the Church that don't fit perfectly within our modern understanding, but aren't heretical, is way of acknowledging that we have blind spots and aren't perfect confessors.

What we need, of course, at all times and places is the Word of God. The Word of God cuts straight to the heart: accusing and acquitting, afflicting and comforting, killing and making alive. It belongs to the Office of the Holy Ministry, not to put soot on the foreheads of the faithful, but to preach Law and Gospel. But neither does it belong to the Office to wear vestments, to chant, or guide the Church in architecture, art, and music. Still, those things, including soot, all serve the preaching of Law and Gospel. We are not reductionists. It is not only the Office that washes clean of sin and death with the bloodied words of Jesus. It is the preaching Office, but it is not only the preaching Office. It is also the shepherding and teaching Office.

Now don’t get me wrong here. Our new hymnal makes provision of ashes under a “may” rubric, which means we’re free not to do it. (Thank God for “may” rubrics!) I’m not going to condemn anyone for a symbolic gesture or a lack of a symbolic gesture. It is fine with me if some pastors choose to wear violet vestments – a novelty in the history of the church far younger than ashes – during Lent. It is fine with me if some choose to not receive or to not even offer ashes and still call the day “Ash Wednesday.” But I reserve the right to examine a bit deeper what I show the world about our faith in Christ and our heritage in the Church, and I admit some resentment of those who would claim some superior insight or depth either way.

I suppose if we wanted to engage in hyperbole we talk about “getting the symbolism right” and then we would need to be smeared not just our faces but our whole bodies with feces and vomit. Then the pastor would not just stick his hand in the Baptismal font for some symbolic water to wash the faithful off but would lick them clean, taking the filth into himself. But that is ridiculous. In fact, I would argue, the Church already got the symbolism “right.” The faithful aren’t smeared with sin and death. They get a token, a reminder of sin and death, through the symbol of ashes and they get the very clear and certain Word of God: “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

We deal in what is real. You have a real death. You are dust, and you are going to dust, and there is nothing you can do about it. That is the Word of God in the ceremony. Deal with it. Medicine can’t save you, good works can’t save you, you can’t save you. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” Maybe you don’t need a soiled forehead to remind you of that. That is fine. But maybe you are weak in your flesh, maybe you are vain, maybe you are given to denying the reality of this death. I know I am. Maybe you aren’t. Or maybe you have some negative associations with ashes from your past that keep you away. That is just fine. But for some, for the last few hundred years, the ashes have been a way to remember, to submit to the judgment of God against our sins and confess our dusty death.

Still, the Lord says, “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” It is heart-rending, what sin does to us. It destroys our homes, our marriages, our lives. It divides us from God and from each other. It turns us inward on ourselves, isolating us in our own narcissism, binding us in a self-styled prison of lust and anger and lies. It grinds us down to death and the grave. That is the point, ultimately, of the ashes. Sin has and is killing us. If that doesn’t break your heart, that’s even more heartbreaking. Consider how callous and hardened our hearts become under the constant abrasion of sin. Truly, if that doesn’t break your heart, then no ceremony will, and if you rend only your garments, you are damned.

That is we do ashes on Ash Wednesday. The church is an embassy of good news, a place where sinners can die a blessed death and live forever, a refuge for the weary beaten down by the law, a place where the soil and soot of Adam’s sin and our own can be washed away and we can live our lives by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself up for us. We face death all day long, but in our sinfulness we deny and forget it. The good news the Church preaches is only good news for those who are dying. So that we know we are dying, even so that we feel it, we impose ashes. The ashes, of course, are not the end. We don’t go home after the ashes. We continue to hear the Word of God, to be absolved, and to partake of His living, risen Body and Blood.

The Christian life does have a bit of discipline to it – though its exact forms vary from place to place and person to person. We are at the beginning of Lent. For most of us, Lent is a time of self-discipline, like returning to the gym after a flabby winter. Jesus issued some warning regarding public displays of piety – prayer, alms-giving, fasting. And you heard Him say, “Do not do these things to be seen by men; rather do them in secret before your Father in heaven.”

When you pray, Jesus said, don’t babble like pagans or parade your piety like the religious who love to be seen being religious, but go to your room and pray in secret to your Father in heaven. Of course, we still pray publicly in Church. The point is not that we shouldn’t pray in public but that we shouldn’t do so to impress others. In the same way, when you gives alms to the poor, don’t make a big show out of it and trumpet your generosity all over the neighborhood. Don’t even let your left hand keep book on what your right hand is doing.

And when you fast, Jesus says, wash you face and comb your hair and don’t let anyone know what you’re doing. This is between you and your Father in heaven. These things are done in freedom, not under compulsion or law, the way children play at the feet of their Father. This doesn’t mean that they are done in secret. It means we are not to judge one another in these things nor do them for the sake of gaining praise or honor from men.

Don’t worry about showing your good works such as almsgiving, prayers, and fasting to others. A city on a hill can’t be hid. The point is not to keep secrets about your piety but that your piety would grow from your faith.“Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Don’t worry about it. Just live by the grace you’ve been given. The Lord will work through you – whether you know it or not. You can talk about fasting to your friends and loved ones. In fact, doing so can be a means of encouragement. No one gains favor with God on account of his or her works, but the Lord does use the works of His children for good in this world. Children see their mother’s prayers in church and are moved to imitate her. Insofar as she desires their approval and seeks to gain their praise, she sins. But what do we do, brothers, with perfect motives? Insofar as she is a forgiven sinner in Christ, she performs a good, disciplined, deliberate work that is good for her and good for her children - not because she is perfect or free from sin but because God is merciful in Christ.

“If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

You are in an embassy of reconciliation. You have come to the ministry of reconciliation, where enemies are declared friends, where weapons are checked at the door, where the flag of the King of kings flies high declaring the mercy of the cross, and men are free to fold their hands or not, to close their eyes or keep them open, to kneel or stand or sit, to receive ashes or not.

You have been rescued from the dust of death by the second Adam, Jesus the Christ, who in His own perfect, human flesh went down into the dust of your sin, your death, your grave, to pull you up from the dust. Dust you are, and to dust you will return. Yes. This is most certainly true. But there is a yet greater truth, one that follows the first: From the dust you shall rise to eternal life in Christ Jesus, who though sinless became your sin, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God.

He has washed away the dirt of your death in your Baptism. He has cleansed your lips and your life with His own Body and Blood. He has forgiven your sins. He has given you a new heart, beating the rhythm of His own heart that was broken to save you. He has given you a life you could not have on your own, a life overflowing with the undeserved mercy of God. He has taken away those rough garments of sackcloth, the itchy abrasiveness of sin, and swapped them with a seamless white robe of righteousness.

So if anyone asks you tomorrow why we do ashes on Ash Wednesday, you can simply say this, “I was lost and I am found. I was dead and am made alive. I was in desperate need of a Savior and the Lord provided Jesus. I’ve been washed by the blood and water of Jesus’ own death for me. I am a baptized child of God. Dust I may be and to dust I will go, but dust never had it so good as to be embraced in the death and life of Jesus.”

Encouragement toward Uniformity in Worship Fails at SID Convention

It's amazing how the opponents of uniformity in worship are so predictable.  Their tired arguments never change, which makes it all the more clear that they just aren't listening.  They prate about legalism, complain that encouragement amounts to the use of a club, warn against compulsion, etc.  The only sensible explanation I can muster for their contortions is that they are very urgently needing to shore up their rationalizations for their own departures from the common service, departures perhaps conscience is already telling them they shouldn't have made in the first place.

Anyhow, kudos for Fr. William Weedon for trying again, at the Southern Illinois District Convention, even though his resolution failed. To read all about the effort from his own helpful perspective, have a look the latest entry at his blog.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Question Concerning Districts

"Pastors" of the Mekane Yesus Lutheran (sic) Church (sic) in Ethiopia
By Larry Beane

I've been a member of the synod since my ordination in 2004.  But I still do not understand our polity in the LCMS.  It is a mystery right up there with the riddle of the sphinx and the fate of Atlantis  - though with 18 years of marriage under my belt, I may finally be starting to understand the gentler sex.  However, the LCMS's bureaucratic machinations is something that I may never really grasp on this side of the grave.  And in eternity, I don't think we'll be too concerned with synodical bureaucracy - at least I hope not.  At any rate, I have a question: In the LCMS's structure, are the districts authorized to meet with the leaders of church bodies around the world that "ordain" women?

It sounds like a loaded question, but it really isn't.  I honestly don't understand what the district's role is in forging relationships with international Lutheranism.  I know that our seminaries - particularly my alma mater CTS-Fort Wayne - established contact with several Lutheran bodies around the world.  In some cases, this has paved the way to full altar and pulpit fellowship.  I know that these contacts have been criticized by some for not following political protocol.  I honestly don't understand all of this.  All I know is that there are faithful Lutherans around the world who are courageously standing firm on the Bible and the confessions, bearing the cross and the gospel, who refuse to go with the flow on homosexuality and women's "ordination" (which are actually two sides of the same coin).

One such example is the preacher at President Harrison's installation, Kenya's archbishop Walter Obare, the recipient of the 2006 Sabre of Boldness.  He heroically defied the mighty Lutheran (sic) World Federation by consecrating a faithful Swedish bishop who would not "ordain" women and cave to the homosexual agenda in the Church (sic) of Sweden.  Archbishop Obare has written eloquently, and has backed up his theology with courageous deeds, and has borne a heavy cross as a result.  His action freed faithful Lutherans in Sweden to once more have pastors - something denied them by their own wicked bishops for many years.

What puzzles me is the recent news from the Southern District.  Here is an excerpt from the Spirit of Southern newsletter (Jan/Feb 2012):
District and Concordia-Selma Presidents Travel to Ethiopia 
District President Kurtis Schultz, accompanied by Rev. Dr. Tilahun Mendedo, President of Concordia College – Selma, AL, embarked on January 5th for a 13 day trip to Ethiopia. The Southern District Board of Directors at its December, 2010, meeting adopted a resolution that the Southern District express its strong desire for greater mutual conversation, encouragement, and kingdom work between the Southern District and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, Mekane Yesus. They are the largest and fastest growing Lutheran church body in the world.The pastors’ itinerary included meeting with the leadership of Mekane Yesus, as well as visiting congregations and historical places.

Also reported here in the Southern District's This Ministry That We Share newsletter (Jan/Feb 2012):

PRESIDENT SCHULTZ TRAVELS TO ETHIOPIA 
President Schultz traveled to Ethiopia on January 5th and returned to Slidell, LA, on January 17th. President Schultz traveled with the Rev. Dr. Tilahun Mendedo, President of Concordia College – Selma, AL. Their itinerary included meeting with the leadership of Mekane Yesus, visiting congregations and historical places.  
The Southern District Board of Directors at its December, 2010, meeting adopted a resolution that the Southern District express its strong desire for greater mutual conversation, encouragement, and kingdom work between the Southern District and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus.   They are the largest and fastest growing Lutheran church body in the world.  
Ethiopia is a country located in the Horn of Africa.   It is the second most populous nation in Africa with over 82 million inhabitants.  It is also the most landlocked nation in the world.

This is all well and good until you consider that this church (sic) body, Mekane Yesus, is not only in full communion with the ELCA and the LWF, but according to its own website, it is proud to "ordain" women.  This fact seemed to have been omitted from the Southern District reports above.  That fact seems to me to be more important than its status as the "largest and fastest growing Lutheran (sic) church (sic) body in the world."

Arianism was also a large and growing "church" body.  Today's Mormonism and Islam are also large and fast-growing religious bodies.  Why does size and rate of growth trump faithfulness to the Scriptures?

I know that there are church bodies around the world in which there are conservative factions heroically fighting against women's "ordination" in their own midst.  There is also the recent historical example of the Church of Latvia which managed to rollback and end the practice of women's "ordination" thanks to yet another faithful bishop. Of course, I believe we need to support churches and their leaders who are willing to stand for the Bible and the confessions - even against their own hierarchies who have gone to the dark side by adopting cultic "ordination" practices.

But at least according to Mekane Yesus's own website, they are not exactly trying to do away with the practice, but are rather quite encouraging of expanding it!  Maybe the leaders that the delegation from the Southern District met with are in opposition to this practice and are fighting to overturn it.  I hope so.  The articles are silent regarding the matter.

Back to my original question: Is this the role of the LCMS district in international contact and ecumenical dialogue?

I was always taught that the districts are synod's representatives in a given place.  So, is this meeting between the leaders of the Southern District and Mekane Yesus supposed to represent some kind of official synodical ecumenical contact?  And what does it mean that the Southern District's board of directors has resolved to express its "strong desire for greater mutual conversation, encouragement, and kingdom work between the Southern District and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus" with no mention of the "elephant in the parlor" of women's "ordination"?

Can we do "kingdom work" with a body that is boastful of a Satanic practice like female "ordination"?  Is an LCMS district considered to be representing the synod as a whole when its leadership meets with high-ranking officials in other church (sic) bodies?  As a member of the Southern District, I would have been a lot more comfortable if the news announcements made it clear that the LCMS is not in fellowship with Mekane Yesus and the fact that the latter practices ordination of a diabolical sort that the district obviously condemns as contrary to Scripture.  I would feel a lot more comfortable if the mission were to call Mekane Yesus to repentance and to support dissidents trying to overturn the practice.  I'm going to assume and state publicly that there is no doubt a reasonable explanation that precludes any member of synod from sinning here.  My reason for raising this issue is not to accuse, not to presume that anything sinful has occurred by any member of synod - but rather to understand where the district comes into play when it comes to international contacts.

Again, I am not being critical of my district president (far be it from me!).  But as a member of synod, I am posing the question to other members of synod how all of this works.  Is there any implied relationship being forged between the synod and this Ethiopian Lutheran (sic) body?  But I will certainly and unequivocally condemn the heresy of women's "ordination" - which is really a manifestation of the goddess-cult and nothing other than a recapitulation of Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden under the temptation of the Serpent ("Did God actually say...?").  I believe every LCMS pastor ought to be able to agree that women's "ordination" is Satanic.

My personal opinion is that we should honor and support Lutherans around the world who refuse to "ordain" women.  As the faithful bishop of another Lutheran body worded it to me in a private e-mail: "By ordination of women Satan wants to destroy the priesthood in the Christ's Church. And we must resist, we must defend the Church, as we promised during our own ordination."

Again, what is the role of the LCMS district when it comes to this kind of ecumenical dialogue?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

SID Convention (so far)

Just a few notes as the SID convention enters its last day. 

1. Once again, a resolution asking the Synod to get a plan together to end "lay ministry" will be headed to HQ. This was overwhelmingly passed in 2010 as well. And it was passed then by CID and NID as well. This year we hope it will pass there as well as in other districts. And this time, one of the men who helped write this resolution in 1st VP of Synod. In 2013 we have the best chance we've had since 1989 to restore AC XIV in Missouri. Ora et labora.

2. Father Weedon has the goods on a failed resolution regarding worship.

3. A resolution on SMP asking the powers that be to disallow big parishes to use SMP as a quick route to home grown assistant pastors. 

4. A resolution asking Synod to release the 1986 Small Catechism into the public domain. 

More later, Dv.

+HRC

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Good news from the MO Synod

It's hard not to be discouraged in the Church Militant. Especially here in our little corner of North American Lutheranism. Horror stories abound. But we should also remind ourselves of the good things.

In a couple days, Dv, I'll be heading down to the SID district convention. This time around the convention is being built around the Daily Office rather than just being peppered with silly "devotions." There will also be a chapel set aside for prayer with various pastors scheduled to be in there to hear confession and pronounce absolution - 5.5 hours' worth of this scheduled C&A time over the course of the convention.

The DP (Fr. Timothy Scharr) and his chaplain (the dexterous and melodic Rev. Dr. Fritz Baue) have decided that a convention should be a Church gathering with business on the side rather than a business meeting with Church on the side.

The Confessional movement within Missouri has been a bottom up effort powered by pastors teaching the Word of God to their flocks. In pockets here and there this bottom up effort has led to top down results: after decades of work, enough parishes and enough pastors are interested in being Lutheran that now, in several places around the Synod, the Districts themselves are being guided in that direction by men who have arisen from below through this Confessional movement.

So if you are one the men who have been working for decades for this to occur: thank you. Your efforts have not been in vain. And while we always bear a cross, the Lord also promises us blessings through those crosses. The crosses you have borne have made our Synod a better, more Lutheran, more godly place. Everything is far from perfect, but there is plenty of evidence that things are, in fact, improving.

+HRC

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tricking Yourself To Be Disciplined

Some people have the discipline to focus their energies on getting things done with relative ease. They don’t get side tracked easily, or find themselves wandering down an unexplored rabbit hole that leads to no where after two hours. It seems almost innate. I know it’s not, but some folks seem to have an easier time with this than others.


I’m not one of these people. I have to trick myself to be disciplined. I have to put my alarm clock on the other side of the room so that I’ll actually get out of bed to shut it off. I have schedule my prayers as daily service just to ensure that I do it. I have to write my sermon rough draft longhand just to overcome my perfectionist tendencies to procrastinate. (I’m an only child--so think first-born tendencies on steroids). Nothing that I do just comes about without planning it or tricking myself into doing it. It’s really annoying but it’s the only way I can get stuff done.


So if you find that you have similar difficulties, here’s a couple of resources that I found immensely helpful on getting things done.


First, the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. Reading this book made me feel like Mel Gibson in Braveheart: “FREEEEEDOMMMMM.” GTD helps put everything into perspective and tells you why there are things on the To Do list that never get off. There are two main premises to his book.


The first premise is to get everything out of your head and down on paper so that you can free up your brain for real thinking. Since more and more of our work is brain work not physical work, we need to a method for keeping it all straight. Starting, maintaining, and finishing multiple projects at a time can overload your brain and make you feel like completely overwhelmed. But with the GTD method you get that out of your head so that you can devote your brain to thinking that will actually get things done instead of spinning your wheels. But it also let you enjoy your days off because you know that you’re not forgetting anything because it’s all written down in the GTD format.


The second premise is that when you are making Task/To Do lists, you must do enough thinking to write down what the action is. Don’t write down the abstract, overarching project, but write down the very next thing you must do to get you one step closer to getting it done. So, for example, if I had to get an oil change for my car, I wouldn’t write down “Get oil change for Accord.” I would write “Call dealership to make Friday appointment for Accord’s oil change.” The difference between the two is that I’ll look at a Task List with “Get oil change for Accord” on it and think: “I don’t have time to do that now.” And so I won’t move any closer to getting it done. But if I see “Call dealership . . . .” I’ll think to myself, “Oh, I’ve got a minute that I can do that while I drive to my next homebound visit. You must do just enough thinking to write down the next action to DO. I know it seems silly, but it’s immensely helpful.


Here’s the Getting Things Done website for more information (http://www.davidco.com/).


The other resource is helpful in managing bigger blocks of time. If you’ve ever gone home, thinking “what did spend all day doing?” This is for you. The resource is called The Pomodoro Technique (http://www.pomodorotechnique.com). Here’s how it works.


Look at your day to identify your available time. Determine how many 25-minute time blocks ("pomodoros") will fit in the time. Then assign work to those blocks. No single task can take more than 3-5 pomodoros. (If it does, you need to break the task into subtasks.) Between most pomodoros plan a short 2-3 minute break. Every few hours plan a longer break. Then during the day, time every pomodoro with a timer. Record the work, including changes to your plan, plus any problems keeping focused on the task for the full 25 minutes.


I know it sounds silly and really simple but it’s really helpful. It tricks you into getting things done. And this why: It provides a physical support structure that helps you execute several crucial mental processes: making a commitment, resisting interruptions, focusing on finishing, and monitoring progress.


Setting the timer helps you make the commitment to the work. You write down what you'll do during the pomodoro, and then you turn on the timer. That simple existential action embodies your choice to commit.


The running timer inoculates you against interruptions, because you are supposed to stop the timer if you stop work. That makes the choice to stop--to be interrupted--an active, conscious choice instead of a passive reaction. Plus, you know that you will have a short break soon, when you can deal with the interruption. All this motivates you to resist interruptions.


The running timer also helps you focus on achieving the goal. The mini-deadline every 25 minutes is a natural incentive to finish. You are more aware of how much time you are taking, and you are motivated to beat the clock, if you can.


Taking a short break to record what you did and clear your head helps you monitor the work and consider whether or not you are making the best use of your time. You become much more aware of how long a task is taking, and can stop yourself from going down the slippery slope, using up all your discretionary time for email or some other low-value task. The small breaks give you a chance to adjust your plan to meet the realities of the work.


Both these methods help you to be disciplined but offers some flexibility at the same time. It’s the best of both worlds for pastor types because sometimes you don’t have the mental stamina to write, but you can make phone calls. Or sometimes you don’t feel like talking to people but you are able to do reading or internet research for project X or Y or Z. They offer those tricks that help you stay focused so that you can unplug and be Dad or Son or Husband when you’re not at work.


Friday, February 10, 2012

What seminaries are for

A couple of good things from the seminaries lately.

First, since CTQ started getting caught up about a year and a half ago, the issues have been amazing. The last two are especially wonderful. I want to read each and every article and just don't have the time. I'm in the midst of Prof. Ziegler on Eduard Preuss right now - very good stuff. I wish I could also recommend CJ from CSL, but, alas, my alma mater's journal has not been up to to CTQ's snuff. I point this out in the Pauline hope that a little jealously will spur on my own people.

Second, CSL has produced what looks to be a great look at the Gospel of Mark. This is geared toward the Vatican II lectionary Year B, Mark's year, but nevertheless sounds like a very insightful look at this Gospel. Since I'm a Historic Lectionary guy it will be better for me in Bible Class, but still very good. BUT THEY ARE CHARGING $50 FOR IT! Revera, Alma Mater? I hope that they are following the model where you have to pay for brand new content, but after a year or so it shows up free. Let's hope.

+HRC

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Burden of Freedom

For no other reason than the fact that I am an editor of Gottesdienst, I get copied on notes like this from Fr. Stuckwisch. I see this as the main benefit, by the way, of being associated with Gottesdienst:

+ + +

“I get a little annoyed with the way CPH publications are treated like holy writ (as if we now look to Synod, Inc. for a papal imprimatur and nihil obstat )”

Everybody's searching for authority and certainty.

Plenty of people do the same sort of thing with Redeemer in Fort Wayne and Zion in Detroit.

And lots more people do the same thing with TLH.

In my opinion, figuring out how to answer "the question" (of what to do, when, and why) is THE compelling question, which touches not only upon liturgical practice, rites and ceremonies, but ecclesiology and justification (even though I'm not a Preus).

I'm sure I'm just late to the party, but it also seems to me that this is what led John Fenton, et al., out the door and Eastward: a search for authority and certainty.

Yet, for all its frustrations, and despite the ways it is abused, the Lutheran understanding of adiaphora, and of the freedom of the Gospel, is the right answer -- which refuses to find any absolute authority or certainty apart from Christ. Loehe was correct, I think, in saying that the "satis est" was one of the crown jewels of our Lutheran Confession. But how does one live in that without resorting to anarchy and chaos; and how does one guide and direct the church in a unity of consistent practice, without resorting to legalism?

I'm frankly still struggling to answer these questions for myself, and I go back and forth all the time; which is a big part of the reason that I have found it difficult to write about things.

In Christ, Rick

+ + +

I think he is right on the money. I think if we weren't going back and forth on these things all the time we'd either be legalists of one sort or another or we'd be in heaven. The right understanding of adiaphora is the blessing and curse of Lutheranism.

God, in His mercy, has left us free in many things, and freedom always suffers abuse. My analogy on this is freedom of the press. We could end all libel in a heartbeat. We simply take away this freedom. There is no libel in North Korea. But at what cost? So we suffer constant abuse in the press. It is hard to deal with, to discipline, and rarely is disciplined. But I don't think any of us would prefer the North Korean paper.


Fr. Stuckwisch finds it difficult to write about these things because he is not like me. Not only is he nice, he is also careful. So I've hi-jacked his e-mail and posted it. Because, despite his caution, I think he has written well, honestly and openly here, about the constant struggle of Christianity: how can we be free and slaves at the same time? In other words, were is my authority and certainty? And how does the Gospel rule me while the Law accuses me? And on and on it goes.