04 June 2014

The Abruptness of a Reading

Pentecost approaches, and the thing that always has struck me as odd is the reading from Acts 2 for Pentecost.  Oh, don't get me wrong - we should be reading Acts 2, but it seems so bizarre to cut the lection off after verse 21.  I'm sure there's a reason for it (verses 22 and following probably show up later or on some other holiday), but it just strikes me as just plain odd that we get this wondrous focus and build up - look, the Holy Spirit is here so that everyone, in all the various languages (more languages than Apostles!) are able to hear this preaching that is coming, and look, Joel pointed to the coming of this day...


And then we stop.  Just cut off the reading.  Peter's sermon - nah, no need to hear that.


Do we see how strange this is?  There is the promise of the Holy Spirit, and what does this promise lead to?  The preaching of Christ's death and resurrection.  Law and Gospel. Baptism.  It's fantastic - and yet, so often we don't get there.

So, yes, this year, our second reading is going to be a bit longer.  All the way through verse 41.  We'll see how it goes.

14 May 2014

The John 16 Reality Check

I have come to love that which I used to dread.  The late Easter season in the 1 year series... the lessons from John 16, the ones that don't even go in order but move around.

See, I'll be honest - one of the things I appreciate about the 1 year series is how it is not sequential - how it jumps around from topic to topic and theme to theme, rather than just moving at a plodding pace through the Gospels chapter after chapter, to where (in my brief, 5 month experience) you would get those times where you think "didn't I just preach this last week?"  And then we have Easter.  And we have 4 weeks in a row dealing with John 16.  And I used to dread it - I would transfer Ascension simply to give me something other than a 4th week of John 16 again.

Now I see the wisdom.  Now I see the great reality check that the Late Easter season is.

Consider - Easter 4 - John 16:16-22.  The world is going to hate you, and people will rejoice at your suffering.  Well, there's some blunt reality -- but over and against this this Truth - Christ will see you again.  Resurrection trumps the lousy reality.

Consider - Easter 5 - John 16:5-15.  It's good that Christ leaves, that there isn't a big, visible Earthly Kingdom.  Rather, the Spirit will proclaim Law and Gospel, will proclaim that we are sinners, that we are forgiven, and that Satan and his world are defeated.  This is a great "theology of glory" reality check right there -- the Spirit is going to have to remind you that you are a sinner, that you are forgiven, and that Satan doesn't win.

Consider - Easter 6 - John 16:23-33.  What greater reality check is there than the last verse?  In this world you will have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.  Even as the world around you is wicked and evil and falls to pot - there is the reality.  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, alleluia!  The world is over come... and we have peace in Christ.

And then Easter 7 - John 15:26-16:4.  You are going to get battered and bruised.  That is the reality.  Even the most holy and pious seeming of people will be the ones to trash you, to toss you out of the synagogues, the churches.  That's the way things will be - but you still proclaim Christ and Him crucified for sinners, bear witness to His death (I was there, I saw the blood and water pour out - he who saw it has borne witness and his testimony is true!).

All a giant reality check.  And as the attendance dips again, and once-in-a-while families are done with Easter and Confirmations, as Easter Lilies start to die off (although this may be a joy to those suffering from allergies) and all the other joyous things fade away - we get this wonderful reality check.  Yeah, things will go back to normal, normal for this fallen world.  And that's lousy.

Christ is still risen, He is risen indeed.

22 April 2014

I submit for your regular use until we hear the ruling the following collect:.........Father, who judges all men’s hearts perfectly and in Your wisdom appoints justices in the land, give wisdom to the justices of our Supreme Court as they decide the future of religious freedom in our country. Cause them to see that we will obey God rather than man and by that knowledge make them rule that we may practice our faith openly in a time hostile to the Christian Faith, through You, Who sits on the Highest Judgment Throne, with the Son and the Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

29 September 2013

Perspicuity of the Scripture

The perspicuity or clarity of Scripture is an important doctrine. ``Let miserable men, therefore, stop imputing with blasphemous perversity the darkness and obscurity of their own hearts to the wholly clear Scriptures of God.'' (LW 33:27) Amen. Scripture is clear. My understanding of it is not. I am the problem; not the Scripture. I am dull and do not see clearly, rather I see through an occluded lens. So I need to be taught first of all the grammar of the Scripture and then the norms of interpretation according to the tradition I have been taught. In these there is a presupposition, an over-arching rule (paradigm) or guiding formal principle which is never to be broken no matter what the actual text of the Scripture says. The rule for me is the following: I have a loving, forgiving and barmherzigkeit Gott. So when the perfect, accurate Word of God spoken by the apostle St. James says to show me your works my guiding formal principle immediately forces me to modify what would be the normally accepted exegesis of this passage with the similarly accurate Word of God by St. Paul saying it is not by works which we have done. Because of my dullness and inability I am not able to come up with a way to bring these two perfect passages into union. So as a Lutheran I allow St. Paul the trump St. James. I am not at liberty like some have done in the past and even Luther might have suggested to rip St. James out of the cannon. Romanists, Reformed, and Lutherans within each branch of Christianity bring to bear upon the Scripture their formal guiding principle. Rome is governed by “all must obey the Pope”. Reformed is guided by “God is the Almighty Supreme Being”. Lutherans by “clinging always to a gracious and merciful God”. So as a Lutheran I bridle myself to the guiding principle of the Lutheran church, never questioning the perspicuity of Scripture and always acknowledging the totally corrupt nature of mankind after the fall. Therefore I must let the Confessions guide me as I exegete the Holy Scriptures. In other words I interpret the Scriptures according to the confessions of the Book of Concord of 1580.

24 September 2013

American Top 40 Pop Sermons

In thinking about discussions of preaching that I've observed and overheard in recent years, I'm struck by how much the measure and criteria of "a great sermon" sounds like a description of Top 40 pop:

Short and catchy, with a memorable hook and emotional ka-ching.

The emotional ka-ching seems usually to be a matter of feeling good about feeling bad, and finding comfort in being convicted; as though such feelings of self-reproach and shame were tantamount to repentance.  Maybe I've simply been in the wrong places at the wrong times, but I haven't heard as much excitement about the actual preaching of the Gospel of forgiveness, as I regularly hear about the sharp preaching of the Law.  But that fits with the pop music analogy, too: Nothing packs quite the emotional wallop of regret.

I'm not sure whether American Top 40 pop sermons are good or bad.  I think it's a bit of both, so there's my cop out answer.  I do see the benefit to keeping sermons short and simple, focusing on one main point, and connecting with the hearers in a way that is memorable.  I'm constantly working at writing that way, although I doubt that I'll ever be good at it.  Maybe that's my problem: I'm envious and jealous of those who can do this.  The temptation, not unlike the world of commercial music, is to follow the formula and attempt to copy the chart toppers.  Been there, done that, and it doesn't work for me.  I go from bad to worse.

But I do wish it wasn't so easy to be distracted from the real heart and goal of sermons, which is, I believe, the preaching of repentance unto faith in the forgiveness of sins, and the comfort of the Gospel of Christ.  I know that is what I need, myself, and it is what I long to give to those entrusted to my preaching and pastoral care.

17 September 2013

St. Cyprian and the Fellowship of the Church

In thinking about St. Cyprian of Carthage this week, I posted on facebook, "The Missouri Synod could learn a thing or two from St. Cyprian concerning the unity and fellowship of the Church in the Ministry of Christ, and the fraternal fellowship and collegiality of pastors in the exercise of that Office."

I'm not an expert on St. Cyprian, and it's been too long since I've done any extensive reading of his work, but, when asked to elaborate on what I had in mind, I offered the following comments:

"St. Cyprian recognized that the unity of the Church is centered in the Ministry of the Gospel, and that the larger unity and fellowship of the Church is found in the conciliar fellowship and conversation of bishops, as the overseers of that Ministry in each place. It seems to me that the Missouri Synod has largely lost its bearings and its center of gravity in this regard. Congregations are defined and characterized by lots of other things, which compete with or practically take precedence over the Ministry of the Gospel; so that congregations are identified with and known by particular styles of practice, or programs, or whatever. And as far as our 'fellowship' is concerned, that seems to be more a matter of formality, of political and legal structures, a shared pension plan, and so forth, rather than an active theological engagement of brother pastors. Our bishops have, by and large, been taken out of the parish, and the parish pastors typically stick to their own 'turf,' guard their own 'territory,' keep their heads down, and ignore one another to whatever extent they can. I know that is not universally the case, and that there are notable exceptions. But, to my observation, most of the interaction between pastors is based upon personal friendship rather than fellowship in the Gospel, and is governed more by common opinions to begin with than by the catholicity of the Church in the common Ministry of the Gospel of Christ. I've been as guilty of falling into these patterns as anyone else; but it grieves me, and I don't believe it bodes well for the life and health and future of our Synod."

I welcome thoughts in response, especially from those who may be in a better position to clarify and further elucidate St. Cyprian's thinking on the unity and fellowship of the Church.  I'm likewise interested in pursuing whatever we can do, as pastors and congregations, to put into practice an active fellowship in the Ministry of the Gospel.

01 August 2013

They Don't Need Cool

This  is worth the quick read.  

Do you think that pretty soon the "cutting edge" congregations in our midst will signing up for Gottesdienst conferences?  What is real is the doctrine of the blessed Apostles, the very Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament and the pure preaching of the Gospel from the pulpit, sans power point, dramas, dancing girls, drum set and the like.

HT:  Shawn from Hamel

27 July 2013

Lost Pastors can be Found

If your parish is vacant, don't be afraid to look here - http://www.lostpastors.org .  There are shepherds waiting to serve.

23 June 2013

A Shoulder Set Upon the Plowshare of the Cross

To be a disciple of Christ Jesus is to take up the Cross and follow after Him, through death and the grave, into the resurrection and the life everlasting.  Those who have set their shoulder to that plowshare, dare not look back, but are called to set their face like flint upon Christ the Crucified.  We should not suppose that it is easy to persevere, nor that our progress will always be apparent.  The Christian life is one of suffering, before we enter into glory; for it is through many trials and tribulations that we enter the Kingdom of God.  And while that is the case for every disciple of the Lord Jesus, is it especially so for the pastors of His Church on earth.

This week, in particular, exemplifies the Cross that is laid upon those men who are called and ordained to preach the Word of Christ and to confess His holy name in the face of sin and death. The prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints who are remembered in these coming days provide a sober and serious warning to all those who follow after Christ in the Office of the Holy Ministry; but so are they also an encouragement to faith and faithfulness. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, in order that our eyes might be lifted up unto Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. As we are called to die with Him, and for His sake and for the Gospel, so are we raised with Him to live forever in the presence of God the Father.

On Monday the 24th, we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. He wasn't born to die in quite the same way that Jesus was, but his entire life was pointed toward that Lamb of God, who takes upon Himself the sins of the world and bears them away in His own body to the Cross. So, like the Prophets before him and the holy Apostles who follow after, St. John the Baptist also suffers the Cross in his own flesh, that his very body and life might also proclaim the Savior who is sacrificed for our transgressions and raised for our justification. Already as we sing and confess the Benedictus with Zacharias, we know that his holy child, St. John, the Prophet of the Most High, will be imprisoned for his faithful witness and finally beheaded (as we'll commemorate in a few months on August the 29th). Yet, his miraculous birth and his martyr's death proclaim not only Christ and His Cross, but also the dying and rising and new birth of Holy Baptism; even as King Herod perceives the resurrection of St. John in the life of Christ Jesus!

On Tuesday the 25th, we commemorate the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession, and we give thanks for the preaching of the Holy Gospel throughout the centuries to the present day. It is not exactly the case that Luther and Melanchthon and the other reformers were martyred in the same way that St. John the Baptist was, but they were persecuted by church and state, and they surely suffered for their faithful preaching and confession. Luther himself could not even be present at Augsburg for the reading of the great Confession, recognized by all as a public testimony of his teaching. Luther's life was under the Cross, even until his death. So, too, in our own day, the confession of the Gospel still brings wrath and woe on every hand — not only by the world, but by those who consider themselves to be the Church, who suppose that by their violence they are serving God. The promise of suffering should by no means dissuade us, but the example of those who have fearlessly faced the fire should steel us for the fight unto the end.

On Wednesday the 26th, we commemorate the Prophet Jeremiah, whose prophetic preaching of the Word of the Lord brought him grief and heartache. Indeed, the suffering of his life was as much a part of his preaching as anything he said, anticipating the Cross and Passion of the Lord Himself, whose Word he proclaimed. For Christ Jesus would take upon Himself the wrath of God that Jeremiah preached against Jerusalem, so that His people would be recalled from the exile of sin and death, and granted peace and rest in the Kingdom of God. Accordingly, poor Jeremiah not only suffered at the hands of the people to whom he preached, but then he also suffered together with them in the deportation to Egypt.

On Thursday the 27th, we commemorate St. Cyril of Alexandria, one of the most significant of the early church fathers, who vigorously defended the deity of Christ and the unity of His Person against the heretic Nestorious and others who were determined to divide and detract from the one Lord Jesus Christ. Nestorian sympathizers, both ancient and modern, have done their best to villify St. Cyril, as though his politics and personality (good, bad, or otherwise) had any bearing on the faithfulness and truth of his confession. In recent generations, Roman theologians have betrayed the weakness of their western christology by defending Nestorious as far as they dare against that "old meany," St. Cyril. But such detractors are nothing new. On the occasion of his death, someone wrote to a friend concerning St. Cyril:

"At last with a final struggle the villian has passed away. His departure delights the survivors, but possibly disheartens the dead; there is some fear that under the provocation of his comapny they may send him back again to us. Care must therefore be taken to order the guild of undertakers to place a very big and heavy stone on his grave to stop him coming back here" (quoted by Norman Russell in Cyril of Alexandria, p. 3).

A big heavy stone did not prevent the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; nor would it mean anything to the resurrection and the life that He, our Savior, has bestowed upon His servant Cyril — not any longer in Egypt, to be sure, but in the true and everlasting Canaan. So shall it also be for us, when our Baptism into Christ, the crucified God-Man, is completed in our death from this vale of tears, and we finally cross that great Jordan River into the promised land of peace and rest. In the meantime, we should fully expect to be ridiculed and villified for our faithfulness; and of course, to whatever extent the old Adam in us emerges with the faults and failings of our mortal flesh, our enemies will delight to hold those weaknesses against both us and our doctrine. God prevent us from falling into such temptations, which risk the reputation of the Gospel itself, especially if we are called and ordained to preach that Holy Gospel in its truth and purity. For our own sins, let us daily repent and do better. But for our brothers in the Ministry of Christ, who also bear the burdens of the flesh, let us defend them for the sake of their faithful preaching, and cover them with love for the sake of their Office. Even if some of them do happen to be unpleasant fellows and recalcitrant rascals, the measure of the truth is still the truth itself and neither politics nor personality.

On Friday the 28th, we commemorate St. Irenaeus of Lyons, of such tremendous importance to the history of the Christian faith and doctrine. He may not have been a martyr himself, but he was a friend of martyrs. To begin with, he became the new bishop of Lyons, upon returning from Rome, because his predecessor had been martyred while he was away. In his opposition to the rampant gnostic heresies of his day, he emphasized the goodness and the significance of creation, including the Christian's body, which shall be raised from death to the life everlasting. It is in that confidence of the resurrection, the surety of which is bodily received in the Holy Communion, that St. Irenaeus and his friends and colleagues and parishioners faced the constant real threat of martyrdom. It is in that same holy faith and certain confidence that we teach and confess the truth of Christ, come hell or high water against us.

Finally, on Saturday the 29th of June, we celebrate the great Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Apostles, one of the oldest festivals in the history of the Church. We remember and give thanks unto God, that the denier of Christ was restored to faith and discipleship, and that the terrible persecutor of Christians was called to repentance and converted to the very faith he once tried to destroy, and that these two men were sent by Christ as His Apostles to the world. In that apostleship, St. Peter learned by experience the Cross of Christ, the Son of the Living God, and St. Paul likewise learned what he would suffer for the Name of the Lord. By the grace of God, by His Word and Spirit, both men rejoiced to be counted worthy to share the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. They bore in their own bodies the marks of His Cross, for the benefit of those to whom they were sent to preach. When it came down to it, each of them was put to death for his faithful witness; and in that, death itself became a witness of the Gospel (a martyrdom). Even now, by the inspired record of their preaching and teaching in the New Testament, they continue to serve and support the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Whatever our own respective vocations may be, whether we are called to preach or to listen, or wherever we are called upon to confess the Gospel in our lives, let us not lose heart. Though we are being put to death all day long for the name of Christ, our faith and hope in Him shall not be disappointed. If there is anything to be gained by compromise, it shall be lost before too long, and gone forever; but whatever we lose for the sake of the Gospel, even if it be our very lives, we shall have gained a hundredfold in the everlasting Kingdom of our God and Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

For those who are called and sent to preach, it is most likely that suffering of one sort or another will come, but it is also most important that the Word be taught and the Gospel preached with all clarity and consistency. We may die for it, but by that proclamation shall we and our hearers be saved. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Spiritual Fathers

For anyone who is interested, my new book on the doctrine of the Ministry, Spiritual Fathers, is now available. See this web page for more information.

19 June 2013

Lutheran Marriage Initiative

I commend this new site to you  Lutheran Marriage Initiative.   Pastor Robert Baker is sure to bring the goods in his new venture.  The introduction gives you a taste of what is to come.

16 May 2013

Semper Virgo, Clauso Utero and the Womb of the Church

I wrote a paper some years ago for a pastor's conference entitled: "Semper Virgo, Clauso Utero and the Womb of the Church." Some pastors were a bit suspect of it. Some even were a bit threatened, I think; after all, their entire ministries they'd taught, "Why, of COURSE Christ had natural brothers and sisters." They had assumed we DON'T confess the Semper Virgo (much less the Clauso Utero!) and suddenly, my paper put that in question. By the end of it, I think I had succeeded, if not in convincing, at least in casting these articles in a Gospel light. It's not about Mary or virginity but about CHRIST and His Gospel. One pastor even said, "If this is so much about the Gospel - as it seems from your paper - why AREN'T we teaching it?" I thought that was an excellent question.

Anyway, for anyone interested, here is a link to my paper from a few years back.