Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas

The other night my kids watched one of the latest holiday children's specials that are on network tv this time of year.  They were watching Kung Fu Panda.  As they watched one things that stood out to me was the fact that the special never mentioned what holiday it was that they were celebrating.  They were celebrating "the holiday" and getting ready for "the winter feast".  There was never a word about what holiday or what feast they were going to celebrate.

It seems to be a pattern that the more recent the holiday special are the less there is any specific mention of Christmas.  Compare the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  There are no bones about what holiday is celebrated, they are celebrating Christmas.  They are looking for a Christmas tree.  They children perform in a Christmas program.  The Peanuts Gang even reads the Christmas narrative from Luke 2.  They are celebrating Christmas.  More than that they are celebrating a Christian Christmas.  The Peanuts Special still airs on TV, most likely for the sake of nostalgia. Today the specials seem to follow the trend illustrated by Po the Panda.

My Christians sensibilities are tempted to be offended by this, to see it as an affront to the Chritsian faith.  But as I reflected further it occurred to me that this is not entirely a bad thing.  

For the Christian this time of year is about Christ.  It is a celebration of God coming to his creation to redeem us and save us from sin and death and Satan.  This has everything to do with the Gospel of Jesus.  We celebrate because this is God taking action to accomplish our salvation.  To mark this celebration we decorate with evergreen trees that remind us of the ever lasting life that is ours because of Jesus.  We use lights and candles because they remind us of the Light of the World who has come to enlighten our hearts in faith.  We give gifts to remind us of the greatest Gift that God has given to us in the person of his Son.

It just so happens that there is another holiday that occurs this time of year.  It happens to coincide with the Christian celebration of Christmas and there are many similar customs and traditions. There is gift giving, tree decorating, lights, and color schemes, but in spite of their similarities they are not the same holiday.  They are different.  One is a celebration of God's salvation come in human flesh to save the world from sin.  One is a celebration of God's greatest gift to us, the other is a celebration of our gifts to each other.  Some of these gifts we give are in the abstract; things like Christmas spirit, or peace or joy or good will.  Some of these gifts are material; gifts like a diamond engagement ring, a new BMW, a Lego set, or a Kohl's gift card.  

Television is all about selling those gifts.  It is primarily a medium where product manufacturers sell their products.  NBC, CBS, ABC don't produce programming out of the goodness of their heart or because they really want to tell a story or because they have a message to proclaim.  For the broadcasting companies television isn't about the programming at all.  It is about the commercials.  The programming is only the incentive to get us to watch the commercials.  NBC and all the rest want want to be able to charge as much as possible for that air time so they need to make their programming as broadly appealing as possible.  There are lots of people who celebrate a holiday in December and who will be potential customers for the advertisers.  Some will celebrate Christmas, some will celebrate Hanukkah, some will celebrate Kwanza, some will just celebrate Santa Claus.  So Kung Fu Panda doesn't decorate for Christmas, he decorates for "the Holiday".  He doesn't have "Christmas Dinner, he has a "winter feast".  And I am okay with that.  Because at least he is being honest.  

 Even if he called his "winter feast" Christmas he wouldn't really be celebrating Christmas.  He wouldn't be celebrating God's gift of salvation through the birth of the Christ Child for the salvation of the world from sin, he would be celebrating a generic holiday that recognized our gifts of peace, good will and gift cards to each other.  Kung Fu Panda, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Shrek Donkey and Fiona, and the Madagascar Penguins only want to sell those things.  To leave it at that and call it a holiday keeps things honest and leave the Christmas feast to the Christians.  When it gets down to it, I am okay with that.  Po can wish you a "Happy Holiday".  I will wish you a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 5, 2011

True Christmas Spirit

There is a kind of romance that comes alive every year with the approach of Christmas. It is an eagerness and an expectation that fills the world with excitement. The bright lights, the Christmas trees, the wrapped packages under the tree all add to the joy and the anticipation. We call it Christmas Spirit, and it is catching. It fills people and moves them to acts of generosity, to feelings of good will and peace toward men. It opens their hearts in joy. The realist in us, quickly acknowledges these as romantic notions, but there is something about it that you can't escape. Why else would the Salvation Army bell ringers stand out in the cold unless there was some timely spirit of generosity that invaded the season? 

But this Christmas Spirit doesn't last. December 26th comes, the parties are over the family gatherings are done. The ill-fitting gifts are returned and soon the world is like it was. The joy, the expectation, the generosity, they all fade with the season and come down with the decorations. 

But does it have to be that way? Is Christmas Spirit reserved only for the month of December? Can it be Christmas in January or July? Is it necessary for the Christmas joy to fade and the Christmas generosity to wane? Is it possible that peace and good will toward men could last throughout the year and not be things that we put on and then take off like a Christmas sweater? Yes! 

Christmas Spirit is a God given gift that is year round. Angel Choirs sing just as much on New Years Eve or even All Hallows Eve as they do on Christmas Eve. And for the Christian, the spirit of generosity and joy and good will toward men are year round fruits of the spirit that aren't just reserved for a holiday. 

We all remember the angels who visited the shepherds on the hillside with the message that they brought good news of great joy that would be for all people. But Luke, the same Gospel writer who tells us of shepherds and angels tells us of further joy. 

Those same angels who rejoiced at the birth of the Christ child burst into heavenly delight and song when one sinner repents (Luke 15:7) 

Jesus' disciples were filled with joy when they saw their Lord alive on the third day after he died on the cross. (Luke 24:41) After they saw him ascend into heaven they returned to Jerusalem where they were continually worshipping God with great joy. 

The Apostle Paul reminds us that joy is a fruit that is produced in the heart of a Christian when the seed of faith is watered by the Holy Spirit so that it grows up and produces a harvest. Christians can't help but rejoice because of what God has done for them in Christ! 

If joy is for the whole year, than how much more is good will. Usually when we consider "good will toward men" we make the assumption that this good will is a general feeling of favor that we feel toward each other. We think of it as just being kind, lending a helping hand, paying it forward. These are all fine, but they are meaningless with out God's good will toward us. 

The catechism reminds us of God's good will. "God's will is done every time he breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's name or let his kingdom come; and when he strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is the good and gracious will of God. 

Elsewhere, St Paul tells us that according to the purpose of God's good will we were predestined to be adopted through Jesus Christ as God's own children, his sons and heirs. (Ephesians 1:5) Jesus tells us that it is the Father's good pleasure to give to us his Kingdom. (Luke 12:32) And because God's will has been accomplished in us, that is to say because we have come to repentance and faith through the power of the Spirit we are able to will and to do what is good. (Philippians 2:13) 

And then there is that issue of generosity. Typically charities depend on the Christmas season for their coffers to be filled because it is a time when the Christmas Spirit motivates people to give. Yet Jesus tells us that when he returns on the last day to judge the living and the dead his Christians will be commended for how generous they were with Him, seeing him cold and naked and sick and suffering and caring for his bodily needs. 

Dr Martin Luther puts it like this: "This is an outstanding praise of hospitality in order that we may be sure that God himself is in our home, is being fed at our house, is lying down and resting as often as some pious brother in exile because of the Gospel comes to us and is received hospitably by us. This is called brotherly love or Christian charity; it is greater than that general kindness which is extended even to strangers and enemies when they are in need of our aid. Even the accounts of the friendships of the Gentiles, like those of Theseus and Hercules, of Pylades and Orestes, are nothing in comparison with the brotherhood in the church; its bond is an association with God so close that the Son of God says that whatever is done to the least of His is done to Himself. Therefore their hearts go out without hypocrisy to the needs of their neighbor, and nothing is either so costly or so difficult that a Christian does not undertake it for the sake of the brethren." (Quoted from Treasury of Daily Prayer)

The joy of Christmas is that God himself came down to earth from Heaven to save sinners and set them free so that they could live in eternal joy. The world can muster up joy for a season, put on a happy face for a month or so and give away a little Christmas cheer. But it doesn't last. It can't last. True joy comes from Jesus. True selfless love and generosity comes from the working of the Spirit so that we give to one another because we have been given to by God. True good will does not originate in us but comes from God who accomplished his will by sending his Son, born of a woman, laid in a manger, worshiped by shepherds and angels so that he could live and die under the law, so that you and I could believe and have life. True Christmas Spirit is Christian Spirit and that is yours year round.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christ and the Economics of Christmas

Over the weekend it was reported that US retailers saw a profit of about $52 billion as as 226 million shoppers took to the malls this past (Black) Friday. The numbers were higher than expected (about 74 million more shoppers than predicted) and set records for sales. Economic analysts are hoping this is a good sign.

Over the past several years everyone has felt the economic pinch of recession. People have been out of work, businesses have been forced to close, those who kept their jobs have had to take a cut in pay. Everyone is hoping that this year is the year we turn the corner and go back to better and more profitable times. Yet, there are those who believe the records set by holiday shoppers are based on false hope and misplaced optimism.

Our current recession did not happen by accident. It was a credit bubble that got us here. People were overconfident in their ability to pay back loans taken out to buy homes and cars and hdtv's that they couldn't afford. When it came time to pay back the loans, they did not have the cash and so they defaulted. On the surface it appeared that the economy was booming, but it was based on promises to pay that could not be met. Since the bubble burst, we have all had to cut back and tighten our belts. We have had to live in our current homes, drive our old cars and watch our old tv's. We want to go back. We want what we had a decade ago. We want free spending and big piles of packages under the tree at Christmas.

Christians know that Christmas is CHRISTmas, it is the worship of the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God who has come to save the world from sin. He comes with salvation and he comes to bring peace on earth and good will toward men; but he comes bringing heavenly blessings and heavenly salvation for a heavenly kingdom. He comes to bring forgiveness and eternal life. There is a competing god who comes at Christmas. He brings gifts, but they are earthly and material. They are wrapped in paper and come with low monthly payments but a high interest rate. We are all looking for our god to come at Christmas, but not everyone calls him Christ!

 People who know more than I do have predicted that our economy is still over-valued. They are predicting the likelihood of a further fall from economic glory. The bottom could completely fall out. The optimism on display over the weekend could be just the thing to send us back down into the depths of recession - people bank on optimism and false hope instead of cash in hand and money in the bank. It wouldn't take much to restart the tumble.

 Yet still we are told to spend. Christmas is coming, go shopping. Keep the economy moving. Spend your way to salvation! But isn't that what got us into the recession in the first place?

 For Christians, this serves as a good reminder. False gods don't ever provide what they promise. They are always built on a false hope and give promises that they cannot keep, and like a high interest rate on a credit card, there are always strings attached. You will have to pay and when you can't, when the bubble bursts you are left with nothing.

 But the other god, the true and Triune God, he also comes at Christmas. He comes with real love and with real salvation. He comes, not to give you everything on your wish list, but instead to give you what you need; forgiveness and salvation from sin, the promise of eternal life free from judgment and just punishment. He comes to serve and to heal and to protect and to save. His gifts are free, with no strings attached, no hidden interest rates. Not backdoor fees, just free.

A friend of mine just made it back from a trip to a national retailer. He was wished a generic "happy holidays" by a clerk who admitted to having been instructed not to mention Christmas. How sad. The one who came on the first Christmas is kept from the celebration of the current one. He has been replaced by another god. Yet, of the two gods coming, both promising to bring salvation on Christmas, only one will deliver a salvation that will last and a salvation that will matter.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Come Ye Thankful

This is the text of the sermon I preached for Thanksgiving
Grace mercy and peace be to your from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
An almost universal favorite out of all the thanksgiving hymns is the hymn Come You Thankful People Come. It is a thanksgiving classic. From its harvest theme to its familiar tune, it is well loved and enjoyed especially this time of year. While this hymn is thoughtful and meaningful in it presentation of the harvest of earthly goods that we celebrate on Thanksgiving, there is a more profound message in this hymn. We will explore those themes this evening as our meditation is guided by the text of the hymn. We will sing the first stanza now:

Come you thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home
All be safely gathered in ere the winter storms begin
God our maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied
Come to Gods own temple come raise the song of harvest home

Come You Thankful People Come is a harvest hymn. And harvest is a time of celebration. You who are farmers know just how much planning and preparation went in to those fields. There is the plowing and planting, pre-planting prep work that is done in the fields before the seeds can be sewn. The seed is purchased and then planted in the soil for what you hope will be an abundant year. But you never know. You do the best you can to buy the best seed, make the fields the most hospitable for that seed, you put it in the ground, pray that the weather doesn’t too anything too extreme and then hope for the best. Some might say farming is a gamble. Others might say it’s an exercise of faith. But then, when the work is done, the crops have grown and ripened, all the work of harvest is complete and the grain is in the barn, there is joy and relief. There is money in the bank and bread on the table for another year. It’s a time to thanks God for his goodness and to be glad for the blessings of the year.
All of this is evident in the first stanza of our hymn. Come you thankful people. Raise the song of harvest! It’s done. And It’s time to celebrate. God has provided for our needs, he has supplied our wants. He has given us reason to sing.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit onto his praise to yield
wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown
first the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear
Lord of harvest grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be

There is a solidarity that the farmer shares with the Lord; both after all are farmers. Both have gone out into the world to sew seeds hoping for a fruitful harvest but all the while fully acknowledging that where the seeds have been sewn there are also weeds that will grow. While you sew your seed into the ground, our Lord sews the seeds of his Word of life into the hearts of men, so that the seeds will produce a yield of faith – so that Christians will grow up from these seeds who will mature and ripen and produce fruit. Some seeds will produce a yield. But some will not. Jesus tells us that Satan sews weeds in the Lord’s field. Fruitless stalks that mimic the wheat, but that have no faith and produce no fruit. Lord may we be those stalks that carry the grain! May we be counted among the faithful and the fruitful. May we hear your Word, take it to heart, believe it and live it so that on the last day we might be considered wholesome and pure.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take his harvest home,
From his field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Give his angels charge at last, in the fire the tares to cast
But the fruitful ears to store, in his garner evermore.

These past weeks you have been out in the fields. And to your joy, from what I have been told ,the Lord has blessed you with an abundant harvest. In spite of the wet spring and the late planting, God provided the conditions that were just right for your crops to grow and be fruitful. God knows what he is doing.The days are coming when our Lord will go out into his harvest field. Jesus even said to his disciples that the harvest is plentiful. The workers are few. Who will go out into the fields? Just like the Lord has provided heat and light and moisture for the corn and soybeans to grow, the Lord has provided just the right amounts of the necessary things for faith to mature and grow. Luther taught that faith matures from meditation, prayer and testing (or temptation).

Just like the plants require moisture and sunshine for their growth, Christians require the Word of God and prayer for their refreshing and growth. Christians receive the Word as it is given by God just like the soil soaks up the rain. But then, after the crops have received that refreshing, they require heat, some nice warm days to really get those seed to germinate and to push those seedlings into mature corn or wheat or beans. And so do we. We need just the right amount of heat, we need our faith to be tested through temptations and trials. To accomplish this our Lord turns up the heat, he sends trials and temptations to us that make us grow, that help us to mature in faith by teaching us just how desperate we are for Jesus, so that we receive his gifts and are thirsty for more. And then, when the Lord sends out his angels on the last day to bring in his harvest he will find you mature and ready and fruitful.

Even so Lord quickly come to your final harvest home.
Gather now your people in, free from sorrow free from sin
There forever purified, in your garner to abide
Come with all your angels comes raise the glorious harvest home.

Driving around earlier today I could see a good number of fields that have been harvested. The crops have been brought in, the grain has been stored away or sold and the field is lying there waiting for the winter to come. But not all. There are a few still to be harvested before the winter comes. Until that time there is work to be done.Likewise with our Lord’s fields. He has brought in his harvest from the seeds that have been planted, but not all. There are still fields with crops standing waiting to be brought in out of the cold of the world and in protection from the winter to come. The cold winter of the Lord’s judgment is coming. It will be here soon. May we work while there is still time so that no one is lost and no grain is wasted.Thanksgiving is a harvest celebration. Tomorrow as we are gathered around our tables we will be giving thanks to God for all that he has provided throughout the year, he has blessed us greatly and abundantly. Our thanksgiving feast, as good and rich as it will be, is only a poor comparison to the feast that we will enjoy on the last day, when the Lord of the harvest has brought in his harvest from his fields, where we will celebrate with him forever.Amen.And now may the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Veteran's Day

Marysville Ohio has a Veterans Day Memorial Program every year. This year I was privileged to be asked to offer an invocation and a benediction. This is what I wrote: Dear Friends and Fellows Citizens, I would like to begin with a word of thanks. I am truly honored to be here, to address you today. I am here on behalf of the clergy of our county and it is my privilege to offer an invocation; to call on the name of God and request that he bless our nation, its citizens, its leaders, those who serve and especially on this day, those who have served to defend her. On this Veteran’s Day, we ask God to offer his protection to our Nation’s Armed Forces even as they have risked themselves for our protection. May God be with them all. St Paul the Apostle, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote these words concerning those who govern us. He said, “They are God's servants for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:3-4 ESV) If we are to have rulers with the power to bear the sword then here must be a hand to hold that sword. A hand that is strong and ready to wield its power at the very moment it becomes necessary. And if there is to be such a hand, there must be soldiers, men and women trained and equipped to fight, who are prepared to operate the machines and the weapons of war so that those who do wrong might receive just recompense. Because here, in the exercise of justice, law abiding citizens are kept safe so that we can go about our lives and conduct our business without threat, both to our safety and our way of life. Therefore, on this Veterans Day we gladly honor the men and women who have served as the hand on the sword ready to pick it up and fight for us and our way of life when threatened by our enemies. I invite you to pray with me if you wish. O Lord, our Heavenly Father, You are a God who prefers justice over injustice, order over chaos, and peace over conflict. I pray on this day that you would ensure that our nation be a people committed to upholding justice, maintaining order and promoting peace both within our own land and throughout the world. Lord, I pray that you would curb all wickedness and sin among us. Bring justice where there is injustice. Bring order where there is upheaval; bring peace where there is conflict. Lord, I give you thanks that you have provided our nation with authorities to govern. May they be servants committed to the peace and general welfare of all people. Lord you have given to our authorities the power to maintain order. So that there may be peace and order you have provided the men and women of the Armed Forces. On this day I give special thanks to you for our veterans. I thank you for their willing service and their resolute dedication. May the citizens of our nation honor them for their service, respect them for their courage, and emulate them for their selflessness. Finally Lord, I ask your blessing on our proceedings this day. May our attitudes and actions reflect the honor that is due those who have served with honor, even as you have served us through their hands to provide for our protection and for all that we need to support this body and life. I pray this and all things in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Benediction I am privileged to serve as the pastor of St Paul Chuckery Lutheran church and School. St Paul is a congregation formed in the Lutheran tradition, borrowing its name from the 16th Century reformer, Dr Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a theology professor but he was also a pastor and it happened that one who was employed as a soldier came to Pastor Luther with a troubled conscience due to the often violent nature of his vocation. The work of a warrior,after all, involves fighting, and at times even killing. Pastor Luther wrote to this man a letter hoping to calm his conscience and allay his fears. In his letter of response, Dr Luther wrote to him that the office and work of a soldier is honored and instituted by God, that ultimately it is God's work and God's judgment executed in the world to punish those who do wrong and protect those who do right. Elsewhere Luther writes that peace and good government are gifts of God provided for us just as he provides for us our daily needs of food and clothing and a place to live. [SC LP 4th Petition] Clearly without the work and the service provided by our soldiers, both active and retired, our world would be much more dangerous and much less hospitable for honest work and good living. We owe our armed forces a great debt. Union County Ohio is a peaceful community. We have the freedom to assemble here together today giving honor to our veterans, and not one of us is afraid to be here. We are here of our own choice and by our own free will. No one has forced us to come or threatened us if we chose to stay home. Yet even in our own day there are nations around the world whose citizens do not have the same freedom. They do not have freedom to assemble,freedom to speak their mind, freedom to pray to the god of their choosing. We can give thanks to God that we enjoy these freedoms and we can give thanks to God that he has provided us with the men and women willing to serve to protect these freedoms. As we make our way back to our jobs and to our homes let us give thanks to the men and women who have served, often at great risk and always at great cost; as we go home to our families may we remember those who because of their service are separated from theirs; as we leave this assembly to assemble again in our free houses of worship and prayer let us give praise and honor to God who has instituted this right and good office, who defends us from dis order and chaos, who provides for our peace, and who serves us with honorable men and women willing to take up arms and go to fight so that we can live here in peace and prosperity. May the God of all peace and all comfort bless our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Still in the Whirlwind

Over at CNN Belief Blog, Stephen Prothero (My Take: God No Longer in the Whirlwind) has an interesting piece, interesting especially in light of Michelle Bachman's recent comments in Florida claiming that the earthquake and now Hurricane Irene are a wake up call to the politicians in Washington. I would agree with the author who looks for rationale in science and explanations in tectonic plates, etc. Yet, being a Christian, I also believe that God has control over those tectonic plates, ocean currents, and air pressure. There is a secularized Christianity that looks for explanations to these events only in the scientific. I disagree. Yes they are related to the movement of natural phenomenon, yet what kind of a god is God if he has no control over these events - the name for this view is Deism: a god who is uninvolved and distant and who lets the world take care of itself. I find this god to be somewhat small and emasculated. The flip side are the vocal "conservative" Christians who open their mouths and sound like kooks. They rightly honor God as Lord of the wind and the waves but then pretend that they have a special access to him that the rest of us must respect (usually for a fee paid to their "ministry"). Interestingly enough, the Old Testament had a litmus test for those who pretended to speak for God; 100% accuracy. The penalty for a swing and a miss was death. (Deuteronomy 18:20) I wonder what the likes of our modern day prophets would think about that?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pray for the Candidates

I am not sure that this is widely known, but just as was the case a year ago, there are seminary graduates and candidates for placement who are still waiting to receive a call. I happen to have one of these men in my own charge at the moment. He was serving a convertible vicarage, the original congregation was not able to keep him, and we were blessed to have him come serve the remaining months of his vicarage here with us. He has served very, very well. He has been a much needed help while he has been here. Every member of the congregation will mourn the day that he (together with his wife) packs up to leave for his permanent placement.

There are a few things to say here. The first is that I am terribly impressed at how well prepared this man is to serve. Our seminaries do an amazing job of training these men to do the job that our LCMS congregations will ask them to do. He has a solid grip on law and gospel. He is a wonderful teacher and Bible study leader. He is a wonderful preacher. If he is any indication of the caliber of candidates our seminaries are turning out, then our synod is (and will be on into the future) blessed by him and those with him.

The second point builds from the first. From what I know there are 8 candidates still remaining, waiting to receive calls. There are approximately 200-250 congregations vacant and looking to call. Now, certainly not all of these congregations would be a suitable match for a candidate. But I am sure that many would. However, there seems to be this notion (I believe it is inherited from the business world and has crept in to the church) that a pastor needs to be tested and experienced before they will offer a call. They are afraid that calling someone "inexperienced" will be a risk. I believe that this is a false notion; one not consistent with theology; one that places institutional and administrative expertise over the authority of Christ to forgive sinners through the means of grace.

A pastor is the voice of Christ to speak His Word of consolation and forgiveness to sinners and to the suffering and grieving. He is the man Christ has appointed to exercise His keys, locking heaven for the unrepentant and unlocking heaven for the contrite. He is the one authorized by Christ to counteract the accusatory lies of Satan that burden the consciences of sinners. Certainly years in the Office will assist these men in applying the Gifts more pointedly or peacefully. But each of these candidates, once called and ordained are just as authorized, just as equipped, just as ready to serve as would be Luther, or Chemnitz, or Walther, or any of Lutheran heroes.

And so when your new, fresh from the seminary, wet behind the ears pastor stands up to absolve you, your sins are not less absolved because he lacks experience. When he presides at the Supper, Christ is not any less in with or under the bread or wine because he has only spoken the words of institution once, twice, or eight hundred fifty seven times. Your newly baptized son or daughter is not any less forgiven or sealed by the Holy Spirit because your pastor lacks administrative expertise. Remember Paul's charge to Timothy: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12) Your new pastor is Christ's man given to you to do the job he has equipped and authorized him to do. Trust Jesus. Don't trust the man, no matter how many years he has served.

These men still anticipating placements and calls are well trained to handle the Word of God. They are well prepared to offer Christ's gifts of forgiveness and healing. Our congregations should not let the world deceive them into a misplaced fear. Instead they should welcome these men who are and will be His gifts to His Church.

Monday, May 9, 2011

From God's Lips to Your Ears

There is no bigger conversation killer than to tell someone you've just met that you are a pastor. If it has happened to me once, it has happened a thousand times, I am engaged in a nice conversation with someone I've just met, I tell them I'm a pastor and that little piece of information changes the entire tone of the conversation. They suddenly back track, feel the need to explain previous comments, tell me about the church they attend and how active they are. The fact that I am a pastor makes them feel insecure and guilty. I am willing to bet I am not the only pastor with this experience. Satan does his best to rob Christians of the gifts Christ has given to his Church.

The Christian life is one that is filled with troubles. Christians are sinners, they live with other sinners. Therefore we all sin against each other. I sin against you. You sin against me. It has a tendency to make life complicated. As if that were not enough, there are untold disasters and diseases that occur all the time that again make life complicated. "Why is this happening to me?" "Where has God gone?" "Does God still love me?" God has given pastors to Christian to help with these very issues.

You have troubles, you have sins, you have frustrations, but because of the Satan induced stigma, you can’t tell the pastor. You don’t want him to know. He will make you feel guilty.

Jesus says “Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest.” Jesus says to his pastors, “If you forgive the sins of anyone they are forgiven.”

Jesus has not given you a pastor to judge you. Jesus has given to you a pastor so that when you tell him your sins, you have an ear that will listen. Jesus gives to you a pastor so that after he has heard your sin there will be a mouth and a voice to speak to you forgiveness. Jesus has promised that when pastors speak forgiveness it is Heaven's forgiveness. Jesus promises that when a pastor speaks consolation and comfort, it is Heaven's consolation and Heaven's comfort.

God gives pastors to his church. God gave Peter to the Jews to be their pastor. They were cut to the heart (Acts 2:37) and he told them of Christ’s forgiveness (Acts 2:38-39). God has given a pastor to you. His voice delivers to you Jesus. His ears deliver your cares to Jesus. His voice forgives your sin. Do not let Satan take this away from you.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Drought or Flood?

Will the rain every stop? I am sure that is the question we are all asking these days. From the farmers among us who can’t get out into their fields until they dry out to the weekend warrior who wants to cut his grass, to the little child who would just like to go out and ride her bicycle, I am sure that all of us are looking for a break in the clouds and fewer mud puddles.
Yet, while at this moment we are wishing for a hiatus from the rain, the time might soon come when we will be wishing for more. Often it happens that as the summer months drag on, the heat of the summer months dries out the ground and dries up all the water. It can happen that the muddied earth becomes dry and dusty and cracked. In those moments we pray for what we feel at this moment is more than enough.
If there is one lesson we should learn from history, it ought to be that God send His Word often the same way he sends the rain. God gives His Word and grace in torrential downpours that drench us and soak us through, not to bone but to our very soul, with His living waters. That Word refreshes us, causes us to grown in faith and life, it blesses us and strengthens us for our battles with sin and Satan. Yet foolishly sinful hearted human beings often despise this Word of God, feel like we have had our fill of it, and convince ourselves we could get by without it.
Dr. Martin Luther put it this way. “God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have [Islam]. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone, it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.” [American Edition, 45:353]
Luther was warning the German churches that they take hold of the Word while it was present. When sinful hearts despise that Word, God takes it away and when it’s gone it’s gone. Consider his example of the Jews. They had the Christ, the apostles, Pentecost, the Holy Spirit and the Church. Yet they denied Christ, despised the Word and they have become for the most part and unbelieving people. Consider the Germans. The Lord blessed them with the Reformation. They made a staunch and soled confession of faith at Augsburg. They enjoyed a period of vibrant growth as they held tightly to the faith that they fought for. Yet they eventually gave in to rationalism and in modern times the German church is largely a secular church. The showers came. The Word of God poured down upon the people. They were refreshed and enlightened with faith. They despised that Word and now the Lord has taken it away. (Isaiah 5:1-7, Hebrews 6:1-7)
Our own American churches are following that identical pattern. Consider the mainline denominations. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, they were once vibrant worshipping Christian communities. They have despised God’s Word and laid it aside to subject it to academic scrutiny. Those Churches are withering in the drought. Consider the large mega churches. Instead of preaching the Word of God and Christ crucified they preach pop psychology and self-fulfillment. The world loves these messages and so they have numbers and money and fancy buildings. They do not preach the Word of God. Instead they are like tumble weeds that are blown the direction of the latest fad. (Psalm 1:4) The Church in America has despised the Word of God. His clouds of Grace are beginning to break and the heat of his wrath may soon dry up what remains of his grace.
The question for you to answer, St Paul Chuckery is this: will you go the way of the Jews, the Germans, and follow the footsteps of the churches that remain around you? You have God’s Word. Will you despise that Word so that God takes it away?
Only this past Sunday we were gathered together around God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament to be fed by God for faith and life. Just as your backyard is drenched and soaked with rain, so are you drenched and soaked with God’s Word and Grace. It has puddled up around you so that you have it in plenty. Yet do you despise that Word?
Our catechism teaches us that we ought not “despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” (Explanation to the 3rd Commandment) Have you received God’s Word and grace as that thing that is the most important? Are there other areas of life or even of the church that you have come to see as more necessary to you and your existence beside the Word? What is it that has replaced that Word? Sleep? Recreation? Sports? Money? How to run the church? That person who sits in the pew beside you? There are lots of things that Satan would use to distract us from God’s Word and Grace. (Matthew 13: 18-19) Do not be lead into that temptation. See the warning. Repent and receive God’s grace.
And God gives that grace in plenty. (John 1:16) Just as the rains fall from the sky and have the water ways brimming above their banks so does God give His grace. He pours it out like a monsoon that keeps coming and coming and coming. And the ensuing flood is a flood of forgiveness that washes away sin. The rains fall and cleanse and refresh and well up in a rushing flood that washes away the litter and pollution of sin that we have left to rot along the banks. God’s pure word overwhelms our sin and drowns our sinful nature so that we are once again made clean.
And after the flood comes growth. (Isaiah 45:8, Psalm 46:4) The water gives life to our life so that we become green and grow and bear fruit. We reach up our branches into the light of His grace and offer up our fruit to Him as a sacrifice of praise. (Psalm 1:3, Isaiah 55:10-11, Ezekiel 47:12) He prunes us, digs around us, fertilizes us so that we are a productive garden of believers. (Luke 13:6-9)
So let us heed the warning. Give attention to the history, not be made fools by our own carelessness. Instead let us hold God’s Word sacred. Let us receive it with joy and thanksgiving so that we gladly hear and learn it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sermon for Palm Sunday, Confirmation Sunday

This is the audio from Palm Sunday, Sunday of the Passion, which was also Confirmation Sunday at St Paul Chuckery

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jumping the Shark While Wearing a Meat Dress

In television they call it "jumping the shark". A particular series has run its course and is no longer producing interesting content. The producers need some way to keep the audience tuning in, so they create some outlandish and over the top scenario to generate interest. In the waning episodes of the Happy Days series, the Fonze jumped a shark on water skis in an Evil Kanevalish sort of way. Hence the term.

Over the weekend it was reported that Lady Gaga is releasing a new single in which she romances Jesus' disciple Judas via the perspective of Mary Magdalene. I think Lady Gaga is perhaps one continuous study in jumping the shark. She dresses in meat. She dresses up like an egg (when she dresses at all). I wonder if the musical content lacks the musical quality to generate its own interest so that it becomes necessary to draw the audience through some other means.

The irony is that she is attacking Jesus by means of Judas, someone who is already a Biblical scoundrel, and Mary Magdalene, who has already been pegged as a prostitute. Much more offensive was the implication of a carnal relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus via Dan Brown and the DaVinci Code. But even then, Mr Brown was far from the first to make that connection. It appears that Ms. Gaga is trying to concoct some new controversy, but with this latest attempt it is doubtful that few are going to care. If she is going to perpetually jump the proverbial shark, she might generate that attention she so craves if she were to make the shark less than proverbial and dig the famous meat dress out of her closet (or would that be her freezer?).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Promises Promises Reflections on Confirmation

This coming Sunday is Confirmation Sunday at St. Paul. We have three young men who will stand up and publicly confess the Christian faith and promise to be faithful to Christ and His Church for the duration of their lives and suffer all even death rather than fall away from it. This is a remarkable thing.

To begin with it is remarkable because kids are making a promise that most adults these days would not be able to make. We live in a world where people make their promises a lot like an insurance company. They make their promise to get what they want from you (your money, your respect, sex, etc.) But then, when that promise comes back to cost them something they look for an excuse to get out of it. Not much of a promise, if you ask me. Our teen aged kids are making promises of greater weight and with greater commitment than most of the modern adult world.

While this promise that they will make is truly remarkable, it does not occur in a vacuum. They are not blindly devoting themselves to a lost cause. They are not foolishly committing themselves to a god who may or may not honor their commitment. This is not Islam where the only guarantee of salvation is death in jihad. This is Chrstianity. We make promises to God. But these promises are based upon promises that he has made to us. Promises that he has made and kept.

God does not ask us to promise anything that he has not already promised to us. In fact, each promise that these kids are about to make has a companion promise that God himself has already given and already delivered upon.

Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? ... In Jesus Christ, his only Son? ... the Holy Spirit? They then confess the Apostles Creed. This creed is the baptismal creed, confessed by Christians prior to baptism since the Church first began. And there at baptism God made promises to them. In baptism God promised them forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38 Acts 22:16). God promised them salvation from death (Romans 3:5). God promised them Christ's righteousness (Galatians 3:27). God promised them that they would be rescued from Satan and the world (Colossians 2:11-12). God promised them salvation (Mark 16:16 1 Peter 3:21). God promised them eternal life (Romans 6:4) God promised them the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

These kids will promise to be faithful members of Christ's church and of their congregation, St Paul Chuckery. I think Christians these days tend to take that promise for granted. They think of this promise as a pledge that they will be Christians in a general sort of way and that they will belong or attend some church, although not necessarily this congregation. They make this assumption to their own spiritual detriment.

When Christians come to faith and become believers it is not and has never been a strictly individualist sort of thing. God unites Christians together in a body, a community. (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12ff) God promises Christians that as they are joined to him they are joined to each other for their mutual benefit and building up. "If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored all rejoice together." And so we are able to share with each other the love of God that we have received. When a Christian promises to belong to a congregation they are blessed by God through that community of faith.

The biggest and scariest of the promises that Confirmation students make is the promise to be faithful unto death. Here in the USA we can make that promise without breaking too much of a sweat because it is the rare occasion that we are called upon to keep that promise. Christians are free to practice their religion and faith however they choose without threat. This is guaranteed by our constitution. But it could happen. Regardless, this promise is made in light of a promise that God has made and that God has kept. We promise to sacrifice our life for Christ in light of the promise that he kept to sacrifice his life for us. Jesus died for us. He gave his life as a ransom for ours.

Confirmation is about promises. Promises that kids make to God and these days that is a remarkable thing. Most teenagers are thinking about video games and sports and movies, etc. Not these kids. They are thinking about transcendent and eternal truth. They are staking their lives on it. But their promises are only a response, the second beat of the rhythm initiated by God as he made and kept promises to them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Pitying the Evolved

I recently ran across an article from CNN's Beliefnet website entitled "Would Jesus Believe in Evolution". It's by Karl W Giberson. Find it here.

The author has very much to say and goes on for quite a bit, but his premise is easy to debunk on a fairly fundamental level. Elementary Logic warns against a common error that is made in argumentation. This is known as “begging the question”. Question Begging occurs when one assumes one's premise to be true without actually taking the time to prove it.
The author assumes that evolution is true. Based on this assumption he assumes that Jesus, being a practitioner of truth, would agree with evolution. He does not prove his assumption. He makes lots of strong statements about evolution being true, saying things like “It’s more certain that the earth going around the sun.” and “it has been established by careful study and research.” This is only rhetoric and does not prove anything.
The fact remains that there are plenty of scientists who practice their craft with just as much diligence and care as any other, yet who do not share this particular author’s belief in the current evolutionary dogma. There are many scientists who are quite capable of releasing the air from his balloon and have successfully made the case. (There are links to some of these works if you are interested to do further research)
As to Jesus believing in evolution. This again is only rhetoric. Jesus was definitely one who was concerned with truth. The Gospel of John records him as saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus also said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John18:37) In other words, Jesus is truth. Those who want to know truth listen to Jesus. (Compare that to the author who has purported that he has decided what is truth and everyone must listen to him). According to Jesus, who is truth, the Genesis account is more than myth and it is more than general nice words. Jesus viewed it as historically authoritative. In Matthew 19 Jesus quotes Genesis 1 that says that God made Adam and Eve from the beginning. Clearly Jesus, who has claimed that he himself is truth and that those who are interested in knowing truth will listen to him, believes the Genesis account of creation to be historically accurate and authoritative. Jesus would not have believed in evolution.
Ultimately I have three problems with this man’s article. 1. He argues poorly with a logically flawed argument, assuming his conclusion without proving it. 2. He has constructed a theory that he believes explains the origins of life. That is fine. But it is a theory. It is nowhere close to being as certain as what he claims. To say as much is to leave science behind and enter into the realms of a religious dogma of sorts. This makes him a hypocrite. 3. His attempt to assimilate Jesus into his dogma is to undermine the Gospel that tells us that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for sinners so that there is a hope of salvation that transcends this man’s hope of a next great mutation. He turns down what is wonderful in the interest of what is mediocre at best. In my mind, he is to be pitied.