The Food Network chefs – Boby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada de Laurentis – were generating quite the Twitter and Facebook hubbub yesterday with their social media interactive show on how to spice up Thanksgiving and give new life to old traditional favorites. I think it’s instructive how important we believe our food traditions are; how pumpkin’s gotta stay, but chocolate desserts should be reserved for Christmas, because pumpkin just “says” Thanksgiving. Things like that.
We all get tradition. Maybe, from time to time we want to add something new, or spice up what’s grown old and predictable. Maybe, in an effort to go healthy, we do the Marie Barone thing, in that Everybody Loves Raymond episode where his mother goes tofu on the turkey. Very avant-garde, Marie. Very hip to be health conscience. Only, who wants some shaky turkey stand-in when they could have the real deal? It really is a funny episode, though, and also instructive. Mess with what people expect to be eating at Thanksgiving, and there’s you-know-what to pay!
It seems today that the Church and her pastors are doing kind of a cross between a well-intentioned grandma type shooting for something novel but failing, and Food Network chefs who know how to do it well enough to really sell the new dishes, but still, convinced that the old won’t fly on its own anymore; it’s got to be spiced up.
So, what’s the new spin for the Gospel, folks? What’s it going to take to make Christ and His dying and rising more appealing to the spiritual, emotional, or life-oriented palates of today’s hearers?
What’s the new spin on the liturgy? Because, you know, it’s got to wiggle a bit, look and sound different than it has before, if people are going to keep coming.
Martin Luther somewhere complained about those who are always looking for new spices and culinary thrills, unwilling to be satisfied with the “daily bread” God sets before us in our ordinary faire. He was noting our tendency to prefer dainties gobbled up to satisfy our insatiable appetites while reclining atop ivory couches . . . watching our ever widening flat screen TVs, leaving the peasants to eat cake . . . or plain rice . . . or whatever. We demand better.
I do, too, of course. Just don’t come at me with tofu, at least not in place of turkey! And don’t come at me with something that’s designed to make the Gospel seem more appealing to those who get bored if the resolution isn’t 1080 DPI on an LCD flat screen. I like eye-candy like everybody else, and I’m a sucker for a good show. But when it comes to being fed for my eternal well-being, I need to hear that Christ died for someone like me; a sinner. I need to hear the Law, which kills any presumption on my part that I deserve to hear anything better than the goats will hear, according to Jesus in Matthew 25, or be treated any differently than the foolish virgins, as Jesus recounts at the beginning of that chapter.
Oil? Who needs the oil of God’s mercy overflowing in love and compassion for others? Well, when crushed by God’s Law and my own selfish, self-absorbed sin . . . I DO! I need to be brought to that place, with the man beaten up and robbed of his self-sufficiency, left lying half-dead by the side of the road. Then, what a comfort is that rescue, where my brokenness is lifted up by the Good Samaritan, taken from me, and in its place, His oil, His wine, His mercy, His healing, His currency invested in my care at the Inn of His Church. Better than gold and silver, and when I think otherwise, I need to be robbed again by the Law and rescued by the Gospel.
Don’t go messing with that, Marie. I know people are tired of hearing it, eating it, don’t come for it like they will something different. Stick with it anyway. Serve it up. You’re not the chef, after all, but the server, the servant. I mean, the Marie that is your pastor; not the Marie who is the mother of Ray Barone. She really DID cook that monstrosity masquerading as a Thanksgiving turkey, and sadly, many pastors – confusing the Church with the Food Network on social media steroids – end up doing the same thing. Even when it “works”, because some are just that good, it’s not the real deal, folks, if it isn’t killing me and raising me back up, if it isn’t knocking me off my ivory couch and bringing me to Table with the King, if it isn’t converting me, healing me, recreating me in His image, so that I come to HIS Table and then HE goes into me, forgives me, leaves in me to serve others at my table or wherever the poor, hungry, lonely, afflicted, beaten up, left for dead or just plain bothersome happen to be laid at my gate.
A most blessed week of Thanksgiving to all of you, and may your turkey be as real and incarnate and in the flesh as you need, and your Savior and His mercy – to and through you – just as real as your turkeys, and so much more! Even as real and incarnate as He came to be!
+Pr. Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Flowood, MS
Preaching the All Saints' sermon on Revelation 12 to the school kids and staff this morning, wrapping them up from one end of God's Promise in Genesis, to Paradise re-won by Christ's Death and Resurrection, delivered in Baptism, sustained at the Table, and fully restored in the Resurrection, I was mindful of those dear lambs already gathered into all the company of heaven – saints who washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb as they lived from the Ministry of Word and Sacrament during my 26 years as a pastor.
My day of installation began a vigil at the bedside of a young man in the ICU, which concluded less than seven days later in conducting that teenager to his temporary resting place until the dead in Christ are raised. My installation began a quarter century of living through progressive illnesses with God’s saints, learning from them to bear their crosses – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Cancer, Rheumatoid Arthritis and so much more – enemies which will be put down finally at the last but in whose presence even now the Lord sets His Table, so that our enemies – and we – may know they are defeated.
I think of the saints, who could barely speak, yet nonetheless broke forth in song as I conducted the Liturgy of the Mass at their bedside. I think what the Nunc Dimittis, which we can sing too carelessly – if we haven’t bolted from the Service prematurely – I think what it means each time I have sung it in the Commendation of the Dying at the bedside of a saint. Each Sunday’s Mass is practice for that day we set all else aside to breathe our last. On that day, lived through so many times by a pastor, what joy it is to breathe in the Gospel, to feast from the Lord’s Promise: “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
I think of the dear ones I’ve absolved or communed so near their release from this vale of tears; how the sorrow, even anger at the death of a spouse, parent, child, is swallowed, often painfully slowly, by the Victory of Him Who never ceases to pound away at our enemies, until they are completely defeated. How I have learned – to live and die – from those who faced death in faith. It has been humbling, both to speak Words that are not my own and then to witness how their fruit has provided examples of keeping marriage vows made long before life unpacks how the “worse” can come after the “better” has been enjoyed. What gifts to a pastor are those who gather to pray, sing psalms and hymns and so escort their loved one with the sound of Victory through the gauntlet Christ has already traversed before us to make our way safe.
We pastors bring holy Words and Holy Food and Drink, but we also find ourselves on ground made holy by the service of Christ’s holy ones – children who shave a father before his last Communion or secure a mother’s modesty when death is working hard to strip away all else; devoted spouses who love to the end, and bereaved parents who weep in pews for years yet do not cease their coming just because their wounds take long to heal, and even now are healing.
As pastors, we serve, and in that, we also ARE served. We have Words of Life against which even the grave must finally give way. Those words keep us as well. We stand at the casket as family members place the pall, and we thank God for Holy Baptism, for them as well as for us. We thank God for the feet of the deceased one placed facing the altar, from which that saint had partaken of the Bread of Life, knowing that while our feet will be placed the opposite direction, as those who have served the Lord’s Body and Blood to the faithful, from the same Table we have lived, and so will live again. We preach and speak so that the enemy may be crushed beneath our feet, too. We are of the same clay we lay to rest, and so the Promise is for us as well as every saint we have escorted. And when we gather for the Mass, with angels, archangels and all the company of saints in heaven and on earth, it is so that we – who have kept vigil so often may finally put into practice what we have taught to and learned from the faithful; to die in the sure hope and confidence of the Christ’s Gospel, to come out of the Great Tribulation ourselves, with all of those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, in Whom are all the faithful sheltered, now and forevermore.
+Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran + Flowood, MS
On the anniversary of the Reformation, with liberal pundits on one channel talking up the rising of sea levels due to climate change and conservative ones on another talking up the rising financial, personal and political costs of “affordable” health care, you get the sense that maybe not a lot has changed in the 496 years since that Oct. 31st in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. The world was divided then and it is divided now. FaceBook friends can’t even seemingly agree on whether the answer to a riddle is “eyes” or “door.” Ah, but some things we needn’t go to war over. Other things? Well, the Reformation did usher in a time of great divide, during which many were willing to bear witness to the Truth, even to the point of shedding their blood. It was nothing new. Christian martyrs had borne testimony to the Gospel with lives freely given for it for generations before the time of Reformation. Even now, Christians around the world are martyred for the Truth.
Some disagreements tire us. Some trouble us. Some are just plain silly. But the Truth of God’s super-abundant Love fleshed out and brought to its fullness in the person and work of Christ Jesus . . . well, that’s not something we can let go of or let be taken from us, or permit to be recast by the misshapen doctrines of men. So, when it seemed clear to a German monk and doctor of the Church, named Martin Luther, that the clarity of the Gospel had become obscured and even transformed into what was no longer Gospel at all, it was time for action.
He did not go to war, but took up as arms the Word of God, posting his theses and asking for discussion, study and debate.
Since then, we have learned that what was true before the Reformation is still true nearly 500 years later. Ecclesia semper reformanda est. The Church is always to be reformed, as every Christian is always in need of reform. We are in need of constant dying and rising, the Old Adam being drowned with all sins and evil desires and the New Man arising to live before God in Christ Jesus. The daily life of the baptized Christian is the life of the Church as She lives from the diligent preaching of Law and Gospel and the faithful administration of the Holy Sacraments. Why is this important? Because the contrast between Old Man and New, between our sin and the righteousness we have in Christ Jesus, is more radically opposed, more strikingly in contrast, than any of the divisions we can see on TV, in political or economic debates or even in friendly disagreements over Giraffe Riddles on Facebook. To put it simply, this really is war.
We do not war against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities and powers of the spiritual darkness of this and every age. They make their inroads. They take their toll. We have their allies residing in each one of us. Too often we lay down our arms and join the other side. We do not even know we’ve done so. That makes what Luther did, and what so many others before him did, Huss, Augustine, Athanasius and every voice that raised the cry of warning and urged us to repentance and faith, including the voices we hear even now from the pulpit and classroom, from faithful parents, children and friends who point us to God’s Word and our Lutheran Confessions – it makes each one of these invaluable GIFTS!
Some of God’s Gifts include pastors, who hold the Office of the Ministry for the sake of the faith God’s Spirit would work in those who hear the Gospel. We confessed that so clearly at Augsburg, 13 years after Luther got the debate going in Wittenberg. In Article IV of the Augsburg Confession, we state the doctrine on which the Church stands or falls:
“It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5.”
So that such justification by faith might not be left to the pulling and tearing of divergent winds of ever-changing doctrines, individual opinions, interpretations or feelings, we confessed WHERE such faith might be had, and by what Means. We confessed in the very next article, Article V of the Augsburg Confession:
“To obtain such faith God instituted the office of the ministry, that is, provided the Gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where he pleases, in those who hear the Gospel.”
To obtain such faith. That is why God instituted the office of the ministry. It is why He gave gifts like pastors and teachers, who are called and ordained for the express purpose of publicly preaching and teaching God’s Word in its truth and purity and administering the Sacraments according to their institution by Christ. When we talk about the Office of the Ministry in the Church today, we find it – according to our own confession – not a matter on which we may agree to disagree, like a Facebook riddle, nor a political or economic difference on which nothing will ultimately stand or fall, nor anything so innocuous as who won the World Series. This is a matter of the Gospel, which “teaches that we have a gracious God, not by our own merits but by the merit of Christ, when we believe this.”
Because this is THAT important, the ACELC invites you to its Fourth Annual Free Conference, “Christ For Us in the Office of the Holy Ministry,” at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Feb. 25-27, 2014. We all know there are disagreements. We all know there are divisions. We just can’t change channels or dismiss the importance of what we confess. We cannot ignore the reality that the Church and our Synod even now are in need of wrestling through and coming to agreement on this issue, 496 years after the Reformation.
Please join us Feb. 25-27 in Cedar Falls, Iowa for our next Free Conference. Visit our website at www.acelc.net for updates. There will be a conference registration link provided as the conference draws near. We look forward to an array of excellent presenters, among which include Pres. Brian Saunders (Iowa East District), Dr. Richard Nuffer (CTS, Ft. Wayne), Rev. Ronald Ziegler (CTS, Ft. Wayne), Rev. Brent Kuhlman (Trinity, Murdock, NE), and Dr. Naomichi Masaki (CTS, Ft. Wayne). We look forward to pastors and laity gathering, as we continue in the confidence that as Ecclesia Semper Reformanda Est, so is our God Faithful to kill and raise up again – both Synods and individual Christians – according to His Word and Promises in Christ Jesus!
Of course, I don’t personally believe that, and I might console myself by saying that I’m not in fellowship with it. But I am. I’m a member of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. That doesn’t mean I have to commune every LCMS person who walks up to the altar where I serve. But I am in fellowship with fellow members of this synod.
It helps me when I’m honest about my own hypocrisy. It would help our Synod to be honest with its own. While we would likely all agree that we still DON’T ordain women into the Office of the Ministry, that doesn’t mean we don’t have women who are – by our understanding – rite vocatus!
Yes, yes, I know the arguments. I make them myself. Rite vocatus in AC XIV means more than simply having some training and the approval of a seminary, Synod, District or congregation. It means what we usually mean when we say, “called and ordained.” But we must understand US!
WE don’t believe what I just said. That is, the LC-MS does not actually agree on a clear-cut definition of what AC XIV means by “rite vocatus.” Don’t go to Chemnitz and company. Too early. Walther? Eh. If he had spelled it out to everyone’s satisfaction, we wouldn’t be in this mess. No, we’ve got to look at what is being done and officially sanctioned in our congregations, districts and Synod. You will know them by their fruits, as Someone once said.
So, consider The Village Lutheran Church in Bronxville, NY. They now have a woman lay deacon, and are quite glad of it. You can read the story at http://eastchester.dailyvoice.com/neighbors/tuckahoe-woman-added-deacon-bronxville-church
What does this say about our understanding of rite vocatus? It says a lot! Licensed lay deacons have been serving in the LC-MS for decades. Whenever I’ve discussed the matter, I find the understanding expressed that – by virtue of the desire of the congregation and the nature of their training – such people are not acting contrary to AC XIV. True, they aren’t ordained, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in some fashion called, as we now understand that. Laity who are publicly teaching or somehow administering the Sacrament are not doing this apart from the will of a seminary, district, congregation or – by extension – the Synod itself, which is permitting it. I don’t think anyone will disagree with that. So, what’s the conclusion?
The LC-MS has effectively defined rite vocatus as NOT requiring ordination. Doesn’t matter whether I or anyone else agrees with that. Doesn’t matter if Chemnitz can be brought to bear on the matter of defining the Confessions' use of that term. Do all the scholarship you want, and we should. When we have, and if we can – by that – reach agreement, we will move to correct the errors. Until then, I am afraid we are tilting at windmills, because at this point, the LC-MS simply and plainly believes itself to have laity who are rite vocatus, and that is why they can, without ordination, publicly teach in the Church and administer the Sacrament without being censured or disciplined for acting contrary to AC XIV.
Consider the following from the Atlantic District’s Diaconal Guidelines:
"Members of the district diaconate shall neither preside at the Holy Eucharist nor exercise the office of the Keys. In the absence of an ordained pastor and with approval of the pastor and congregation, the deacon may serve at the divine service including the communion liturgy using reserved sacrament. This practice should be used sparingly so as to not confuse the ‘Office of Deacon’ and the ‘Office of Pastor.’ The deacon may officiate at funerals under the direction of a supervising pastor. The deacon may proclaim the Gospel in formal and informal settings after he/she has received training in homiletics and while remaining under the supervision of an ordained pastor."
Clearly, we believe that ordination is not necessary for publicly teaching or administering the Sacraments, though it seems to be necessary in order to actually consecrate the elements for Holy Communion. As long as that is done, a properly trained and overseen lay woman or man may perform - in the current LCMS - what is described in AC XIV. Why? Because she/he is rite vocatus, not “running without being sent,” but acting under the expressed desire and approval of, in this case, the Atlantic District and its president, the congregation and a Synod and its president which permit the practice to continue. There are even training and guidelines in place to make sure it is all proper.
From a real-life, practical standpoint, this is our LCMS understanding of rite vocatus, and so, AC XIV is not being acted against. As we understand it, at least. Is there anywhere that we have formally stated otherwise? I don’t think so. For what we actually believe, just look at what is being done; what we’ve been doing and haven’t stopped doing and what will likely end up being the basis for doing even worse. This is our Synod, and we are in fellowship with it.
Pr. Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Flowood, MS
Be sure to say that with a high-pitched, sing-songy voice and maybe add a “coochie-coo” for good measure. Not only will people think you’re daft as you “baby-talk” your way through the next infant baptism you do, but it just won’t feel right.
There IS a time and place for baby-talk. Experts call it Infant Directed Speech (IDS). Since it comes naturally and even adults without children seem to automatically revert to it around babies, we can assume there’s likely a good reason for it. Infants don’t understand words yet, so we make them sound engaging, appealing, even if a few of them don’t make a lot of sense.
So, why don’t we have an IDS rite in our hymnal for those infant baptisms we Lutherans do? We’ve got Classic Praise services for the older generation and Blended Services or outright Contemporary Worship for others. There’s a “Children’s Church” so the kids get spoken to in their own language and even a Saturday night Heavy Metal service for those who like their worship hard. Why not an IDS baptism for babies?
An argument I am hearing these days in support of the necessity for a variety of worship styles is this: “If we don’t accommodate the cultural language of Millennials we won’t reach them.” By “cultural language” people mean the music and styles Millennials normally listen to outside of worship. I wonder if we should include in that their mores and other methods of living; that is, if they are accustomed to giving via credit card then we won’t reach them with an offering plate, and if they are accustomed to a more relaxed view toward sexuality, marriage, gender identification, divorce, drug and alcohol use, then we also need to accommodate those as well.
How far does the Church need to conform itself to the world and its patterns, forms, ways and preferences in order to win it? If the argument is, as it seems, that we must meet the world culturally or else we will fail in our missional purpose, then I wonder who we will omit from our efforts? We’ve got Cowboy churches for the Western oriented. We have Jazz, Polka, Mariachi and even Dr. Seuss Eucharists for those leaning in such directions. Clown Masses? Got ‘em! But what about the babies?
Babies have a particular and physiologically demonstrable “cultural language” yet they seem to be one demographic being completely ignored. Despite the fact that baby-talk comes naturally and may even be hard-wired into us, we have no IDS baptismal rite! The rubrics nowhere tell the pastor that he needs to raise his voice, smile, cock his head in a silly fashion and say: “How is’ums to be named?” or “I baptize you (Yes I do! – Extra kid-connect points for saying it like Roger Rabbit) in the name of the Father (Coochie-coo!) and of the Son (He wubs you, yes He do!) and of the Holy Spirit,” with all the congregation responding, “Awwwww!” making sure to glissando their collective voices to that pitch that only women and children can normally reach.
Now, it’s possible that somewhere in the vicinity of a Seuscharist (Dr. Seuss style Eucharist) an IDS baptism is being done, but I couldn’t find it on Google. I know that at least once or twice I have simplified or explained the language of the rite for an older but still very young child, so that the question was, “Do you renounce, that is, do you say ‘no’ to, the Devil and all his works and all his ways?” And certainly, there is room for baptizing the infant in other than a dispassionate manner. There is room for joy and its expression, of smiling that the child has received the baptism pleasantly, or even that she has exploded into screaming the moment the Old Adam got his first drowning! But when we speak the rite, we speak the rite, without accommodating the words to the cultural language of infants in the same way we all break into silly baby-talk at other occasions.
Why do we, as individuals, meet infants at their cultural level when addressing them privately but leave the rite in tact when administering Holy Baptism? To make sure we’re comparing apples to apples, bear in mind that – apart from the Seuscharist – Cowboy churches, Heavy Metal services, and other attempts to relate culturally to various groups may leave the words intact, though many of our churches are re-writing things like the Confession of sins and the Creed in order to relate better to a world that doesn’t know the historic liturgy and faith. I’ve not been to a Gangsta-Rap Gospel service, if there are any, but I can imagine the words would need to be re-written there too.
But, for the sake of comparing equivalent fruit, what if we left the words the same and only changed the style in which they are delivered? That is a common defense; evangelical style with the same old Lutheran substance. So, let’s say only the way the words are delivered has changed. Why then DON’T we feel the necessity of speaking the words of the baptismal rite with a sing-songy, high-pitched lilt, with maybe a Trinitarian mobile rotating overhead? If we MUST accommodate the cultural language of any demographic in order to reach it, surely that must apply to a demographic regularly baptized in our Lutheran churches. And if we don’t do that in the rite of Holy Baptism, what does this mean? That we are not reaching those baptized as infants? Or that we are, or rather, that GOD is, despite the fact that the Word is spoken without our needing to recast it in some arbitrary style we think is more conducive to an infant’s cultural vocabulary?
Does this mean that God’s Word actually CAN be trusted? Do we have any basis for such trust, say, any point in God’s Word where a spoken word was used by God to convey the Spirit and enliven an infant? We do. There is the greeting of Mary, not even addressed to the child in Elizabeth’s womb, and yet by such, in accordance with God’s promise, the child was filled with the Holy Spirit and leapt for joy! By adult speech completely unmodified for its infant audience, God worked faith when and where it pleased Him!
The Church has been trusting that for more than two millennia! And now, the purported “fact” that a particular demographic supposedly will not hear that Word and believe it unless it is packaged according to their iTunes playlists is posited as the basis for the Church altering her worship and not to do so is failing to be “missional”? Really?! But if God’s Word can work the miracle of faith apart from us reverting to baby-talk, why can it not also convert Millennials even when packaged in ancient forms? Are Millennials really incapable of cross-cultural experiences? Are they really so shallow that they won’t believe unless we “coochie-coo” them? Would they like it if we admitted that’s the only reason we’re making changes, namely, that we believe they are simply less able to repent and believe the Gospel than a new born baby, unless the Gospel is spoon-fed to them with all the cultural accommodations we can muster?
Personally, I think they are better than that, and that God’s Word is more capable than that, and I’m glad to hear Millennials speaking up and saying they don’t need to be talked down to. Some of them actually want to and are able to be spoken to as adults. I think the Church that fails to recognize that will have some explaining to do one day. Yes, I do’ums! And let the Church say . . . “Awwwwww!”
Pr. Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran + Flowood, MS
As one attendee put it after this week’s LCMS national convention, "It’s time to return to the real world of ‘sanctifying your day with the Word of God and prayer.’”
I know he didn’t mean the Word of God and prayer did not sanctify the days that delegates and others spent this week in St. Louis. They surely did. Pr. Weedon made sure of that. Our Synodical President, Pr. Matt Harrison did as well, along with many others, some privately enveloped in the incense of fine cigars and enjoying table fellowship with good beer and other spirits. But there is something nice about setting aside parliamentary procedure for the liturgical life; the adversarial construct of Robert’s Rules for the people of God gathered together in Word and Sacrament.
At the end of convention week in the LCMS, it is good to know that Sunday is on the way, and so is the Feast, in more of our synod’s parishes now each Sunday than in years past. That is good. Perhaps the liturgy remains unadulterated in more of those parishes than I realize. And God grant that the ears of our laity and pastors ring with the clearly preached Word of God, both Law to rip into and kill our old Adams . . . and the Gospel – that Life of Christ applied in mercy to cover our faults, forgive our sins, heal our wounds, raise the dead and breathe into us a new and right spirit; HIS Spirit!
There was less contention at this convention than in the past. Resolutions passed with greater margins than in recent years, heralding to many the hope of increased unity. Of course, there was an admitted desire to avoid controversy and division. At times, many of us thought we saw the political hand-writing on the wall, namely: “This is going to be nice and pleasant no matter what we have to declare unfriendly!” Others urged that we be patient. Look at the bigger picture. We’re making strides. We have to move carefully and kindly. In time, dear brother. In time.
I don’t have a crystal ball, so I don’t know how well such plans will play out. God is God. I am not. None of us are, and I appreciate that there is a real service provided a synod like ours by cooler, calmer heads than mine; people who know better than I do how to get the job done through the ways and means of men. It truly takes all kinds. I’d have probably said something inflammatory, though I really hate myself when I do. That’s why I also appreciate people who can start the necessary flame wars without apology. “Behold, the storm of the Lord!” said Jeremiah! The wrath of God is like fire and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.
I wonder if the prophets could have held elected office in the Missouri Synod? I’m sure they would have faced about as bad an end with us as they did from Israel of old.
In that Israel there were Sadducees and Pharisees and zealots and essenes, and ordinary folk who waited for the Promised One, daily even in the temple! Our Lord had some straight bully-talk for those who departed the Sacred Writings. It got Him crucified. St. Paul strategically got himself out of a premature martyrdom by dividing the assembly and getting them to argue amongst themselves about their theological differences. In the New Testament church, no small dissention arose amongst the faithful over the concerns of the Circumcision Party, which eventually got hammered out with the help of the Holy Spirit and some strong, stubborn apostolic heads! The whole of the New Testament writings speaks of the ongoing struggle to maintain the Truth of God’s Word while at the same time maintaining unity in the bonds of peace. When it’s a choice between Truth and false peace where there is no peace, since the leaven of falsehood is the opposite of peace, well – it’s a no brainer. But it’s not always easy to tell. And even when it is, it isn’t without pain. Never has been. The Body of Christ agonizes over the loss of every one-time-member, and antibodies fighting infection make the whole body feverish and pained.
So goes the History of the Church, of which the LCMS is but a part. We are not the Church. We are a collection of pastors and congregations which are voluntarily associated in a mutual commitment to walk together in the unity of doctrine and practice. That doesn’t mean lock-step Xeroxing of one another. Neither the East nor the West nor the Reformers of the 16th century ever expected or demanded that. What unites is not that we have no variances in external forms or non-essential details but that we are together in the Gospel purely preached and the Sacraments rightly administered.
But what does that mean? What does it look like? This is the point of variance, not on mere externals but on the fundamentals of understanding our own doctrine and faith!
I discovered this week – thanks to a variety of people, including Pastor Scott Murray, who not only replied to my written message but also very kindly phoned me on his way home – that Robert’s Rules are clear on what it means for an amendment to be friendly or unfriendly to a resolution. Who knew!? I learned that I need to understand the term “unfriendly” in light of what it means within parliamentary procedure. Perhaps we could do the same with respect to “rite vocatus” in AC XIV, namely, understand it in light of it’s historical context, that is, what it meant to the Reformers and their Roman Catholic opponents. It seems that if we strive for correct understanding and adherence to parliamentary procedure, we should strive even more to do that with respect to what we believe, teach and confess. Incidentally, Pr. Murray is in full agreement on this!
We do have great differences in understanding our terms in this Synod. Who could deny it? We will all be before the Lord’s Altar this Sunday, but some will mean one thing by “liturgy” and some will mean another. Some will mean one thing by “close” or “closed” communion and others will mean something else. Some will say “close” but in reality mean “open,” at least some will see it that way. Some will have called servants of the Word, meaning called and ordained, and some will have licensed laymen, laymen in training to be pastors, vicars serving under the oversight of another. Some may even have women helping with the distribution of the Sacrament, but all will feel “called.”
Some of us would like to correct this “discord.” Some rejoice in what they perceive to be the harmony of it all. Some believe we are acting against our Confessions. Others that we are not. We do not even agree as to what constitutes unionism and syncretism. Do we?
But it was a pleasant convention and I thank the delegates for their time and efforts. I thank our elected officials, especially Pres. Harrison, and want them to know they have been in my prayers and will be again this Sunday, along with our Synod as a whole. It’s time to take a break from parliamentary procedure, but it’s also time to renew our commitment to God’s Word and our Confessions, remembering that our baptismal life is one of dying and rising, drowning the Old Adam and the New Man coming forth. For that, there is Law and Gospel, Word and Sacrament, the liturgy and the life of God’s people in mutual consolation and conversation, even in speaking hard truths in love.
We’ve got a lot of division still and it can’t be ignored. We’ve got a long way to go before we are all that Lutheran bodies around the world or our own parishioners here at home need us to be. We’ve an all-too often repeated tragedy of pastors removed without just cause and men languishing on CRM, along with their wives and families. We began a good work this week to address some of that. We’ve got lots to do to fix it. Lots to do to address our dispute resolution process and those who persistently promote false teaching and practice in our midst. Lots to do to get areas served with the Gospel without compromising our Confessions. Lots to do to get men through seminary training without destroying them financially, but still guaranteeing that they enter the Ministry adequately grounded in sound theology and practice. We have lots of work to do to guarantee the same for men who receive residential seminary training! We have not only lots to do to move forward in mission, ministry and mercy without losing who we are or what we have been given to offer this world, but also much to do so that we receive one another in love, not only when another is erring or fallen, but also when someone is holding fast to everything we believe, teach and confess according to God’s Word and our Lutheran Confessions!
Now, it’s on to repentance and forgiveness and the sanctifying that comes to us by God’s Word at the Feast!
+ Pr. Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran + Flowood, MS +
I was in St. Louis last week, at the end of a long trip. Toured the seminary. Hit Ted Drewes and Schlafly Bottleworks. Then I left, knowing that many were just arriving.
I really didn’t want to worry myself over convention affairs; I mean, there’s got to be SOME perks to not being elected as a delegate. So I’d meant to just ignore things, but social media being what it is, I began hearing how good the opening Service was. I watched Pres. Harrison’s sermon. I was thankful for the crushing words of Law at the beginning. Yes, I have much to repent of as a pastor. Pres. Harrison laid it out in bully-fashion, not softening the blows of the hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer. 23:29 – the OT reading for the One Year Series this past Sunday). I was pummeled by his words. I knew I was the worst pastor in the world and could imagine others knowing it too, simply based on his words. Then, before consoling with the Gospel, he added that bit about those who rejoice to hear the Law preached to others being “doubly damned.”
The man was leaving no one unscathed!
That is the way of the Law, unpleasant truth that it is. It is unfriendly to every form of falsehood. It condemns every intrusion of error and falsehood and erosion of God’s teaching. In fact, that very Sunday I’d quoted something like that from a book Pres. Harrison co-edited with John Pless; a collection of essays entitled “Women Pastors?” I quoted from it because I was preaching from Jeremiah 23 and Matthew 7, sandwiching St. Paul’s Acts 20 meeting with the Ephesian elders, that is, the rightly ordered and appointed pastors in that church.
You can look at the notes in your CPH published Lutheran Study Bible at Acts 20:17, which wasn’t part of Sunday’s reading, but is important to it. The note points to v. 28 and to another note at 14:23. That’s where we’re told that “appointed,” which St. Paul did to the elders who were made overseers of the churches, has to do with, of all things, the laying on of hands, or maybe a show of hands. Lenski says the process is clarified for us in Acts 6:2-6. It included congregational election, oversight of the apostles, and of course, they “ordained them” (Lenski, p. 586), that is, they laid on hands.
Has it been any other way in the Church?
When I heard Pres. Harrison’s sermon, I was bashed and then bathed in the soothing balm of God’s Gospel through my baptism and the preaching of Christ. I was converted from pessimism regarding this convention to hopefulness. Perhaps we would really be given by God through His servants repentance and forgiveness of sins! So, I watched.
Well, I watched as much as my Monday morning work allowed. I cherry-picked, I’ll admit. I really wanted to hear the resolutions presented by Floor Committee 4. So, when Resolution 4-06a was presented, I was there at my laptop with the volume turned up. When Pastor Heath Curtis came to the microphone to present Rev. Jason Braaten’s amendment, I was glad. What did it say other than what we are all supposed to agree on, which even the Roman Catholic opposition agreed with, according to the Apology on article XIV, namely, that those who administer Word and Sacrament should be rightly called, that is, prepared, examined, and ordained?
It is interesting that Apology XIV starts off by saying, “In Article XIV, we say that no one should administer the Word and Sacraments unless he is rightly called. The adversaries accept that article, but on the condition that we use canonical ordination.”
Could the adversaries have accepted the article if it were saying something OTHER than what was the received practice of the churches? It’s not that the Roman Catholic opponents accepted AC XIV and then added “ordination” as though ordination weren’t already a part of “rite vocatus.” No. Rather, they were emphasizing CANONICAL ordination! They were saying, “Well and good, you Lutherans! You aren’t putting anyone in as priest apart from what the Church has always done. However, you must make sure it follows the prescriptions of the canons; that is, you must have bishops involved in such an ordination.”
That was the kicker, of course, since no Roman bishop came with us. We had ordination, but was it according to the canons of the church? That is where the opponents thought they had us, and it was the reason we had to argue that, while we were fine with ordination by bishops, what trumped that was adhering to the Truth. Which brings me back to my point about Pres. Harrison’s and John Pless’s book, “Women Pastors?”
I wish I could give you the page number, but I loaned the book out to a member this Sunday. I quoted from it at the beginning of my sermon and the quote went like this: The Gospel is not left intact when false teaching corrupts or distorts any aspect of the Christian doctrine.
Imagine my expectations as, having quoted from our President and a seminary professor on the importance of avoiding all false teaching for the sake of the Gospel, I listened to the archived file of President Harrison’s convention sermon! Then I heard reports of Pastor Cwirla’s excellent paper, which I have not yet viewed in archive. Then I heard Pastor Curtis come to the microphone with an amendment which simply stated what Lutherans were confident to assert as their practice before the Romanists, who accepted the practice as their own, as long as we had bishops involved. And what came out of the mouth of the committee chairman? The amendment was unfriendly to the resolution!
If my jaw ever dropped, I think it was then! I have always had great admiration for Pastor Murray. I still do. That is why I continue to be befuddled. I’ve messaged him on Face Book, but I know he’s busy. Maybe he was under orders to avoid controversy; to keep the ship of Missouri in convention sailing smoothly. Don’t rock the boat, baby! Don’t rock the boat! Well, then how can our President rock MY boat so unapologetically with his opening sermon? I need repentance, and he gave it to me. Without knowing our disease, how can any of us be cured? While holding our sin as not sin, how can we truly have any need of our Great Physician, who came not for the righteous but for sinners? And how can a Synod be truly whole if we won’t honestly address our error?
Pastor Murray called the AC XIV amendment “unfriendly.” I’m really not sure why he did, but I guess it is, if the resolution had a divergent intent. Truth is always unfriendly to falsehood, and our Synod is guilty of that, but is it willing to admit it? The truth is inexpedient when it comes to politics, too. I understand that. We need to be tactful and patient, and even our Lord said He had more to say to His disciples than they could at the moment bear to hear. So, I guess maybe we were hoping not to let the cat out of the bag when Pastor Curtis blurted out the unmentionable. The Emperor has no clothes! We are erring. We’ve been since Wichita! We know it, we just don’t want to come right out and say it. We are hoping that we can deal with it quietly, carefully, so that everyone comes along and no one’s left behind.
I guess that’s laudable and loving. But at some point, don’t we need to speak as forthrightly as Pres. Harrison did in his sermon at the opening worship and warn against being doubly damned? Don’t we need to say that we cannot compromise the Truth at any part without doing damage to the Gospel? Truth has a way of bringing the sword of division, else we wouldn’t have so many world Lutherans departing the broad and easy road of wayward councils and affiliations to seek guidance and help from Missouri. In the mean time, what is Missouri doing? Are we calling our own Confessions unfriendly to what we do in convention, at the very point so many look to us for our strength of conviction?
Maybe I’m putting too much emphasis on “unfriendly.” Maybe it was just a Roberts Rules of Order thing. I admit that Roberts and I don’t spend much time together! So, maybe a parliamentarian can call me down off this screed! Go ahead. Call me to repentance. Speak the truth. I need and want to hear it, even if it isn't friendly or expedient toward the way I like to be.
I’m glad to hear us man-up at the bully pulpit. I’d just like us to be able to do the same when a courageous pastor comes to the mic on the convention floor. We ought to say to him: “You know, what you just said is what we ALL should agree to, and we’re trying to get to that point. Right now, we’re not there and I really have to say something that is like grit in my teeth. It’s only true because of politics and rules. It’s only true because this resolution isn’t all it needs to be or wants to be right now. So, yeah, your amendment isn’t friendly, but it’s true; it’s good, right and salutary, and as for me, I’d be casting my vote for it, if you want to know the truth.”
Maybe in a perfect world, or maybe just in my dreams. Or, maybe I’m just jumping the gun and all this is going to be worked out in due time, carefully, lovingly, and in ways I don’t understand. I don’t understand a lot. But I do know my heart fell yesterday. I haven’t gone back to viewing the live feed yet. I’ll work back up to it, maybe.
+Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran + Flowood, MS
I know the opening “mass event” of the National Youth Gathering in San Antonio wasn’t billed as “worship” and I even told my wife as I watched the online video of the previous night, “It’s like what we've been to before, but better; a concert with some entertainment and theatrical expressions, a smaller but well-done version of what happens at the opening of the Olympics or something.” Then, as I went back to watching, I heard the bass player and lead vocalist for the band say, “I love being here and gettin’ to worship with ya.”
I’m not writing this to slam the NYG 2013 in San Antonio. I’ve got some members attending and I hope they have a good time! I know people involved with putting it together. It’s themed, “Live Love[D]” – and the first night was clearly full of excitement, fun, music and the Gospel, connected not just with Christ’s death and resurrection but also with the delivery of that in the Means of Grace.
All in all, I was entertained as well as edified. But I was also a bit confused. WAS it a worship event or not?
While I think we can hyperventilate too much in this Synod, I am mindful of Luther’s dictum in his debate with Erasmus on the Free vs. Bound Will. Luther said, “To define obscurely is the same as defining nothing at all.” Now, in a full-blown theological debate, sure. Duh! No brainer! But if it’s just 25,000+ kids having a good, rompin’ time singing, laughing, mugging for the camera, dancing around and keeping the beach balls going? Then chill out! As I’ve said, I had it all settled in my mind, and then the band leader said how much he enjoyed worshiping with everyone.
For some in our Synod, I imagine the issue is moot and my writing this seems rather silly. Sunday morning worship for them may not look a whole lot different from what was going on in San Antonio Monday night. Sure, it was on a larger scale and maybe the kids were a bit more free in their behavior, but for many of our fellow LCMS Lutherans, Sunday worship is comprised of praise bands with video and dramatic presentations, prayers and teaching/preaching, having more in common with Monday night in San Antonio than someplace with a pipe organ and a pastor who wears vestments and chants.
I don’t THINK I’m wrong about that, and I’m certainly not trying to be rabid in anything I say. Just keeping what Luther said in mind and hoping to get a less obscure definition of what we’d call Monday night in San Antonio.
I am honestly asking. I thought I wasn’t watching a worship event at first, and then the band leader said he was glad for the chance to worship. Maybe it was a slip of the tongue on his part. Maybe it was meant in a kind of general way, since all of life is worship, even if it’s just having a good time. Maybe it’s all no big deal really, though I do think we ought to talk about this – without condemning our LCMS youth for wanting to get together as Christians, with Christian music and Christian teaching to have some Christian fun. Nor should we condemn those who just want to give them a really cool opening to a youth gathering they worked hard and travelled far to attend.
It WAS a good start to the NYG 2013. But was it worship or not? I think many would say, “Of course! It’s Sunday morning expanded a good bit, with cameras and more fun, but sure! It’s worship!” And others would say, “It was fun and entertaining and had prayer and teaching and praise, but it wasn’t a worship event.”
Maybe that’s where we’re still needing to get past the obscurity of definitions in this Synod. Sure, it’s not a debate like that between Erasmus and Luther, but I do think it merits some frank discussion, in love – and patience – and the charity to say that kids and their youth leaders who come to the NYG are coming to have a good time as Lutherans, and that’s what they had on opening night. It falls more to those of us charged with putting such things together and otherwise overseeing the raising up of the next generation to wrestle with whether our kids were treated to something like a mini Christian version of what happens at the opening of the Olympic games or an expanded version of what is going on in many of our congregations on Sunday mornings, or if we care whether there is really any marked difference any more between those.
Rev. Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd + Flowood, MS
“Brothers and sisters, this simply isn’t working! People are confused; they just aren’t ‘getting it!’ They come and see how we are giving utterance to our worship and praise, how we are preaching Christ to the nations, and they don’t understand. It’s nothing like anything they’ve seen or heard before. I realize it appeals to some; that is, some ‘get it’ and are thankful. But others are asking, ‘What does this mean?’ Some are even laughing at us! They think we’re drunk! We have this wonderful opportunity to connect with the world, and we’re blowing it! We have GOT to do something! Why should the nations be confused when they see us gathered together in His Name, with the Spirit at work within us? How can we alleviate their confusion and make this all more accessible to them? If Pentecost is strange and alien to people, the Church will NEVER grow!”
Can you imagine Peter preaching that this Sunday? It may well be that pastors in our Synod will preach (or think) something like it! I mean, isn’t Pentecost about connecting with people? Isn’t it about the Church reaching the lost for Jesus? Only, when the nations come into our places of worship they are confused. The liturgy is alien to them. It’s as if Lutherans really DO speak “in tongues,” meaning “in a confusing, babbling way.” So, if we are going to reach the nations, shouldn’t we make changes in how things are done? Shouldn’t we accommodate what people are used to so that when they come into our assemblies it all makes sense to them and they aren’t forced to ask, “What does this mean?” or reach wrong conclusions, like, “You people don’t have anything for me!”
Is it interesting to you that Pentecost WAS confusing to many, and that wasn’t a bad thing? Admittedly, it took the preaching and teaching of St. Peter to clarify, to explain, to catechize, because without Peter stepping up, many would have gone away thinking the early church was a bunch of Lutheran pastors off on one of those “working vacations” called a pastors' conference! All that was missing were the keg and cigars!
That God began the greatest gathering in of the nations by creating confusion at first is instructive for us in our own day. Peter didn’t stand up and apologize for the confusion. He didn’t appeal to the Lord or to the Church to do things differently so that people immediately “get it.” Remember, the Lord spoke in parables so that people needed more from Him if they were to “get it.” So, to the masses, the Lord spoke in parables so that “seeing, they might not see, and hearing, they might not hear,” but to those who asked the catechetical question, “What does this mean?” – to those who needed Jesus to explain – He gave the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
The Lord’s greatest evangelism moment, the moment of greatest connection with the nations, was not based on a pattern that was immediately apprehended but on one that was initially misunderstood. So the Lord provided explanation. He proclaimed it the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. He preached Christ crucified and risen. He preached baptism for the forgiveness of sins. With Peter’s preaching came the Holy Spirit, convicting of sin and drawing the crowds to desire what the Lord was giving, despite their initial befuddlement with how things were being done. To all who were baptized that day God gave the promised Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of heaven, and so the Lord added to their numbers as many as were being saved.
Pentecost was the Lord’s work, as is all conversion, all evangelism, and the fact that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church. We are not told to be intentionally obtuse in our efforts to reach the nations, only that the nations will not believe because we bend over backwards to behave, look and sound familiar to them. The nations will come as the Spirit works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel. For that, we preach the Gospel in the languages of men. We avoid babble as far as possible. And if babble is what things sound like – as St. Paul was concerned would be the case if outsiders came into the assemblies at Corinth while everyone was speaking in an unlearned language? Well, that’s where explanations and teaching in plain language come in. We aren’t to intentionally confuse, but what confusion there is will be alleviated, as the Spirit wills, through instruction, preaching and teaching.
What if the nations come this Sunday and find the liturgy a bit off-putting? Explain it to them, how Christ is working in His Church with His saving Gifts! If they come and think you’re something you are not, because you don’t have a praise band and the chanting is too “Catholic”? Stand up and preach the way St. Peter did. “This isn’t what you think. Rather . . .” And if the masses come because you have a praise band and it’s all just the way they think it should be and pretty much like all the other community churches in the area, then preach as Jesus did in John 6 when the masses followed Him for the wrong reason. Give them the "hard sayings" of Jesus by pointing them to the eating and drinking of His Body and His Blood, to catechesis and being truly united in the Faith. Warn against idolatry, which today is too often expressed when people say, “I just can’t worship anywhere that the music isn’t exciting."
Since so many seem to be together in one mind and spirit on how to accommodate the world and avoid confusing them, maybe it’s time to topple the Tower of Babel again! Remember how that effort was marked by everyone being together in one mind, language and purpose? Pentecost was its correction, beginning with what seemed like mass confusion, at least to the nations who were represented. Preaching clarified things, brought order out of the chaos of men’s minds and ended with 3,000 being baptized in Christ and continuing steadfast and together in the apostles' doctrine, in the liturgical prayers, in love and in the breaking of the Lord’s bread.
That’s what the Spirit always works toward, so let's do what Peter did. Where our churches still retain the historic liturgy, it should be the preaching of Christ and His Gospel, delivered in and through His Word and Sacraments, that brings the nations together. Not the liturgy per se. Not the praise band, either! Not the ways or outward forms that either make sense or confuse. If people come because of the liturgy, we need to explain what it is that truly unites. And if people stay away because of the liturgy, we need to explain what it is that truly unites. And if people are opting to replace the liturgy with styles and forms they believe will truly help people “get it,” we need to explain the Lord’s way of working at Pentecost. The nations were confused at first, but Peter, far from advising a change in outward style, got up and preached what it is – rather, WHO it is – that truly unites! So should we!
Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd + Flowood, MS
I’m mindful how easy it is for me to lose my mind; well, beyond just the senility that often comes with age. I mean, losing my mindfulness; going through the motions in an empty, thoughtless, distracted sort of way. You know, when you’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer in Matins with the School kids or at home with your own kids and then immediately after saying “Amen,” you start with “Our Father” all over!
Maybe something like that has happened to you. It’s a shame that we can mouth off words before God without even paying attention to them, but I do. That’s not what our Lord is teaching when He commands us to pray. Rather, as our children beseech their dear earthly parents for the things they desperately want or desperately think they need, so our Father in heaven wants us coming before Him not simply mumbling words even we don’t care to hear, but in and through them learning to truly grab hold of our heavenly Father’s ears as His dear children. We have a wonderful privilege, after all. Who else can climb into the lap of the God of all creation and be confident of being heard but those who have been given His Name in baptism, who are called by the Gospel and enlightened with His Gifts working a true and genuine faith in His Mercy for Christ’s sake?
Today in chapel, I explained prayer to the children, since this is the week of Rogate Sunday, rogate being the plural command, “Pray, y’all!” Did I mention I live in Mississippi? After having talked to them about the genuine praying they do when begging Mom and Dad to go to the movies or McDonald’s or Disney World, I said that God sincerely wants to hear their eager and heartfelt prayers in Jesus’ Name. The words He gives form our lips, but He also wants them to form our hearts and minds; to have their way with us, not just vocally but all the way through. That’s why Luther said the Lord’s Prayer is so easy to speak but harder to actually pray!
Prayer is a school, of sorts, and today in Matins was no different for me. My mind wandered, but as is often the case, there are moments when the Lord brings me back. Suddenly I am aware of what I am praying and why! There are a couple of moments in the prayer service called Matins that do this for me. I call them my Sgt. Phil Esterhaus moments, but since most of you probably don’t remember that character from the groundbreaking ‘80’s television series, Hill Street Blues, I also call them my Bilbo Baggins moments, since at least I hope that Peter Jackson has made Tolkien’s characters and world familiar with most modern readers.
In Hill Street Blues, the character of Sgt. Esterhaus, played by Michael Conrad, used to say right before sending “the troops” out to their street patrols, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” A good reminder to anyone walking or driving a beat! And if an 80’s cop show is too far removed for you, Frodo Baggins quotes an old saying of his uncle Bilbo’s to Sam in the movie, The Lord of the Rings. I don’t have the book here in my study at church (I know, heresy!), but I believe it’s somewhere in chapter three of that book. Anyway, Frodo says to Sam, quoting Bilbo, “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Indeed!
There are multiple points, really, where Matins “wakes me up.” These include the opening versicles’ “make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord” from Psalm 51. You don’t pray that way unless “the streets” are dangerous! I also am minded of this in the Te Deum’s “when You had overcome the sharpness of death.” I think of the wages of sin and my own death one day, but also of the countless daggers, spears and sword points the devil has aimed against us every moment, as Luther says in the Large Catechism. But today, as I drifted off somewhere other than where my mouth was, it was the following that brought me back . . .
“We therefore pray You to help Your servants, whom You have redeemed with Your precious blood. Make them to be numbered with your saints in glory everlasting.”
Why do we pray that? Because if HE doesn’t make it so it shall not be done, and we are constantly beset by our enemies who don’t want it to be so; the world, the devil and our own sinful flesh, which do not want us to hallow God’s Name or let His kingdom come.
My daily distractions are often interrupted also by the Te Deum’s “O Lord, save Your people and bless Your heritage. Govern them and lift them up forever.” I can’t tell you how many of God’s dear ones entrusted to my care come flooding to my mind when these words, coming out of my mouth and the children’s, strike my ears and rouse me from my daydream. The dear parents who struggle so against this world’s pressures, wanting to be faithful and getting – like me – too often distracted. The children, facing so much, needing more of what Christ has for them, not less. Precious and beloved members of my congregation whom I haven’t seen in awhile. Those dealing with illnesses, difficulties, family and marital issues, personal wars which God would so love to help them with. Myself and my wife and family. Those who stand firmly in the glad receiving of the Word of Truth, and those I can see perhaps drifting away from it.
You know about your life flashing before your eyes in an instant? Often, that’s what happens to me in Matins, as I suddenly am grabbed by the reality of that for which the Church is praying. By the end of Matins, I am usually back from whatever mental trip I have taken and praying the Collect for Grace with something approximating sincerity. “Defend us . . . with Your mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin” (Didn’t we just pray that? Oh, yeah, it was in the Te Deum! Thanks to repetition, even guys like me EVENTUALLY get it!) . . . “Neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by your governance, may be righteous in your sight; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord . . .”
As Bilbo said, “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door” each day. “If you don’t keep your feet” – or your wits about you – your heart and mind clinging to the Word of Christ’s Truth, in particular His precious and saving Gospel – “there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to!” So, Luther tells us that if we could see how many are the armaments that Satan aims against us and the ones we love, we’d be eager to go the Sacrament, where the Liturgy teaches us to pray and pay attention and live from the Table Christ has set for us in the presence of our enemies.
I am still learning to pray and believe. I am like Frodo and the liturgy of the King, whether in prayer offices or the Mass, or simply in my daily devotions with the Word, well, the King’s liturgy is like the Tolkien character, Strider/Aragorn, who in The Fellowship of the Ring asks Frodo: “Are you frightened?” Frodo says, “Yes,” to which Aragorn replies: “Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”
In the services we pray I am reminded of who hunts us, but more so, of the befriending of the Rightful King and the Table-guests He has made us. By Him Who died and rose and now gives us the right to appear before His throne of Grace in His Name, calling on our Dear Father like the co-heirs and dear children we are, we are bold – not just to ask for the help we need, but to live, confident that we have it in the One Who has given us His Son, and that Son Who - seated now at the right hand of the Father - has given us His Spirit and His Name! That means a lot! Sometimes, God even wakes me from my walking, talking, rote prayer-slumber to make sure I believe it. Then, fully armored and knowing He will be the One to make it so, we go forth with His Benediction thinking: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” Because it’s dangerous business, but He is in the business of bringing us safely through - as well as making sure our prayers are heard and ever-so pleasing to Him, not because we're as attentive as we should be, but because He is when we aren't, and has given us His Son!
Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd + Brandon, MS
We hear so much about ending a decade of war overseas; everyone is ready for peace. We also have heard about Worship Wars over the past decades in the Church. Wouldn’t it be nice to reach genuine agreement on the matter of worship in the Missouri Synod? Isn’t it time for peace?
The ACELC – in the spirit of genuine koinonia with sister congregations of the LCMS – invites you to its 3rd National Free Conference, April 16-18, 2013, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Austin, TX where our theme will be - Christ For Us: The Divine Service.
It is no surprise that we have various worship practices in the congregations of our Synod today. Are these all a matter of adiaphora? Are they complementary or contradictory? What are the Biblical and Confessional grounds for each? On the basis of our common faith, how may we achieve a commonality of life and practice as we gather before our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
The ACELC sincerely wants to provide a forum in which these questions may be discussed, even debated, in a fraternal, loving and God-pleasing manner. Toward that end, our Free Conference will address the Distinctives and Bases for Contemporary, Traditional and High Church Worship.
We will outline the essential questions regarding the theology and practice of Lutheran Worship and then hear from representatives of the various types of worship current in our Synod today. We want to submit ourselves to an honest hearing of each other on the basis of God’s Word and our Confessions. We want to engender mutual trust and a better understanding. We want to talk together about what is common or still conflicted. We believe that it’s time for us to come together and work toward a genuine, Godly walking together in peace. For Lutherans, we call it Concordia!
Again . . . the ACELC invites you to its 3rd National Free Conference, Christ for Us: The Divine Service, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, TX, April 16-18, 2013. We hope you will come.
Scholarships are being graciously provided by our host congregation, Trinity Lutheran in Austin, TX, to cover conference registration and two nights in a hotel for SEVEN pastors meeting the criteria on the registration form. Please note that only seven such scholarships are available.
Registration information is now available on our ACELC home page. Please click on this link http://www.acelc.net/ for registration information!
Our registration form is also available. Pleace click on this link http://www.acelc.net/message.php?formID=2256& to register online for Christ For Us: The Divine Liturgy, in Austin, TX this coming April 16-18.
See you in Austin - Deo Volente!
With all that red and blue dividing our one “indivisible” nation under God, I got to thinking about our good ole’ Missouri Synod.
In a recent discussion of a column by Pastor Joshua Scheer (cf. Continued Conversations over at the Brothers of St. John the Steadfast website), Rev. Paul McCain of CPH makes an excellent point. After acknowledging that we most certainly are eager to “patiently, lovingly and gently” teach those with genuine questions about issues like the ordination of women, Rev. McCain says . . .
“When people come openly advocating the ordination of women and advocating for the Church to change its position on homosexuality, as have Carol Schmidt and Matthew Becker, this is no longer a matter of sincere asking of questions to seek understanding, but advocacy of teaching contrary to the Word of God.”
He then cited a most excellent account from Herman Sasse relating Pope John’s harsh refusal to receive a vocal supporter of women’s ordination within the Roman fold. Sasse observes that “Every pastor knows, or should know, that there are cases, when a discussion is impossible and the only answer to a question can be that ‘Be gone, Satan!’ which Jesus spoke not only to the devil (Matthew 4.10), but also to his faithful confessor, Simon Peter (Matthew 16.23).”
Yes, every pastor should know this, but it is difficult knowledge to come by . . . to determine when a person is weak and needs patience or when a person is persistent, unrepentant, and needs to be shown the door. Hard, hard pastoral decisions, these!
In the ACELC, we do not pretend that correction of error will be fast or easy. At the same time, when dealing with the wolf, we need to act decisively in order to protect the sheep. We need to speak as unequivocally as LCMS Pres. Matt Harrison spoke to congress in behalf of the unborn and our refusal to waiver on that issue!
Where is the forceful, sure confession against the errors which have encroached upon the sheepfolds of this Synod?
The ACELC has identified in its Fraternal Admonition and in its Evidence of Errors documents ten cases of leaven currently leavening the lump that is the LCMS. We have followed the procedure of bringing our concerns and objections to the Synod’s President and the Council of Presidents, to our seminaries and to both the CTCR and CCM. Still, the errors remain.
Every pastor knows how hard it is to deal with sin in the parish. He worries about moving too fast, about not being patient enough. He second-guesses himself and loses hours of sleep in prayer or just plain gut-wrenching terrors of conscience. Did he do or say enough? Did he act in love? Was he wrong at some point?
We get it, believe me!
We also get how one sin left unchecked can easily lead to others. St. Paul warned, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” I Cor. 5:3. Sinners know how to find permission – not in God’s Word – but in the actions of others! “Well, THEY did it – or HE did it – or SHE did it . . . Why shouldn’t I?”
I’m sure Synodical officials are aware of this and have the same struggles parish pastors have. How to know when you’re dealing with a wolf or just a wayward, wandering, weak and confused sheep? No one thinks it’s easy.
However, aren’t there SOME things we ought to get? Rev. McCain seems to think so. So do others. Maybe they are spread over the Synod in much the way that red is spread across the map of our nation in the image above. I know that we feel as helpless as the red states did in the recent election! Such a narrow margin . . . and who knows how many unborn will never see the light of day because of it!
As a nation, we submit to the rule of law. We pray for our president and participate in the process in order to effect a change, especially to protect the powerless and the disenfranchised. We even have a Synodical president who speaks up for them!
Who speaks up for the sheep being tempted by the ways of this world, watching as pastors lead their congregations to conform to worldly tastes and preferences in order to grow? Who takes as firm a stand against the errors of our Synod as we have seen and heard taken against threats to the lives of unborn children? Who speaks firmly against open communion and the ways in which pastors are deposed and then neglected? Who will stare down even the heads of state and synods in support of what we say we believe, teach and confess – but which we are denying in the ways we put laity into service as if they were ordained? Who will pound a resolute fist before proponents of women’s ordination and actually exercise the ecclesiastical supervision they have been given?
It may simply be left to pastors in the parish, because, despite what Rev. McCain says above, we DO tolerate the likes of unrepentant errorists like Carol Schmidt and Matthew Becker. They continue to be communed at our altars and we are in fellowship with them!
According to Opinion 11-2610 of the Commission on Constitutional Matters re. LCMS Self-Understanding of Fellowship, it is the self-understanding of the LCMS that all of its pastors and parishes are in fellowship with one another. Accordingly, we must either accept the likes of Carol Schmidt and Matthew Becker and commune with them, or depart the Synod.
Synod . . . love it or leave it! Synod . . . where red states and blue states have to get along. Synod . . . where we just need to learn to lean across the aisle and compromise a little . . . on open communion, contemporary worship, lay ministers, living situations outside of marriage, homosexuality and women’s ordination! Let’s all just get along!
That is the state of our dis-union which every pastor must now address when serving at the Lord’s Table. Visitors may be Missouri Synod. They may also be open and unrepentant proponents of “teaching contrary to the Word of God”! They may be living together outside of marriage, though regularly communed by their pastor, who knows of their living arrangement. They may be actively homosexual and still be members in good standing at an LCMS congregation. They may be actively working to promote women’s ordination and open communion, with the blessing of their pastor, congregation and District President. The Synod says . . . Commune them!
Um . . . I’m with Sasse on this one. Every pastor knows better, or should!
Every pastor in the parish knows that when members rebel against God’s Word, he is not obliged to admit them to the Table and commune them to their judgment. Neither is he required to put membership in a Synodical congregation over faithfulness to protect the innocent from brazen and open rebellion against God. He is a shepherd.
It won’t be easy for him to be that in our Synod today, but he must be, as Pastor Jim Gier touched on in his reply, some comments below Rev. McCain’s. Pastor Gier asked: “So when does the Synod say ‘Be gone, Satan’ to Carol Schmidt and Rev. Matthew Becker? Where does church discipline take place in the Koinonia Project? Are we to continue to commune with (should occasions arise) such false teachers and advocates until, if and when Synod takes action?”
The Synod and its commissions may say “Synod Uber Alles,” so leave the unrepentant among us; commune them with the faithful. Not so the parish pastor. He knows better, or should. If he doesn’t, he is no shepherd . . . and every faithful one will lie awake at night wondering if he has been! No, this ain’t easy at all, and it will only get harder.
Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church & School + Flowood, MS
One of the dads who sees me manning the school’s front desk from about 7 to 8 a.m. noticed me reading one of Luther’s House Postils this morning, on Luke 16:1-9. “Got some words of wisdom this morning, Preacher?” he asked. I was trying to decide.
Actually, I knew they were wise, but I was wondering whether I could get away with preaching such a sermon in a Lutheran congregation today! In fact, I wonder whether I would get a passing grade if I handed in such a sermon at one of our seminaries.
It seemed . . . so . . . un-Lutheran! I mean, where was the Gospel; not just the text from St. Luke, but the actual preaching of Christ and the Blessed Sacraments? Luther’s second sermon for the day in 1533 starts off like this . . .
“Today’s Gospel is a sermon on good works – especially against greed – teaching us not to misuse our property and wealth, but to help poor, needy people with them, as the Lord himself explains and concludes in no uncertain terms, ‘Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness,’ that is, assist the poor with your money and goods.”
“Today’s Gospel is a sermon on good works . . .” and Luther’s preaching of it is true to form! Luther’s sermons often preach as we may have grown less accustomed to. For one, they are longer than mine. By rough estimate, the second sermon he preached on the 9th Sunday after Trinity in 1533 was nearly 3,000 words. I try to keep my manuscripts to about 1300 words, though I extemporize often and I’m sure I easily break 2,000.
Time, however, would be the least of my worries with a Luther sermon. Luther preaches on good works so that the Christian is actually addressed as if we are not sons of this world, and so not to be doomed for destruction. Why, then, do we live as if that were not the case? Luther preaches the Law requiring that we love our neighbor as our self, not passing him by, but using what God has given for his aid and support. When we don’t? Well, Luther doesn’t hesitate to leave us with the fearful prospects of judgment, that on the Last Day, we will be shown to be the shameful niggards that we are!
I said, niggard, so don’t freak out. Whoever translated Luther’s sermon used that word, so I did, too. It’s a good word, with a bite to it. “You God-damned niggard!” Chill! That just means a selfish, self-centered, stingy person who is damned by God. Actually, don’t chill over that at all, since the good Doctor Luther is trying to rescue his hearers from what is TRULY offensive.
To be niggardly is to be greedy, which is different from being beggarly. We are all beggars before God. The parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16 would rescue us from greediness and make us all genuine beggars before the Lord. I’m going beyond Luther’s preaching now, but I think it’s necessary. As a Lutheran pastor, I am not bound by everything Luther preached, and he would agree with me, I think, that even a 3,000 word sermon has not yet said it all! So, borrowing from Luther’s final words this side of heaven, the Unjust Steward means to make us all beggars who take seriously the Master’s judgment of our account books. Epic fail! That’s the judgment! Major Feck up! Chill again! That’s not a typo, just a reference to that poor Olympian’s backwards belly flop.
God’s Judgment of our stewardship of His earthly gifts is as bad as Stephan Feck’s Olympic score after his now infamous dive. He got a big fat goose egg from every judge! We get even worse, as Feck still walked away, with at least a little sympathy from those who are thoughtful enough to chalk it up to an extraordinary and likely not to be repeated fluke! We, on the other hand, are repeat offenders, earning by our unrighteousness and greed what our Lord says elsewhere, “I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny” (Luke 12:59). Ouch! Where’s the love, Lord?
The Love is in His truth, even if it hurts! And Luther preaches it plainly . . .
“Our wealth will not help us get to heaven. But when we make righteous Mammon out of unrighteous Mammon, that is, when we make proper instead of improper use of Mammon, and with the wealth and possessions God has bestowed on us come to the aid and assistance of the poor who are unable to earn their own livelihood, we thus give evidence of our faith and testify that we are upright Christians and heirs of eternal life. In this way, also, the poor, and Christ himself, will commend us publicly on that day because of what we have done. For in no wise can it be that Christians use their money and possessions only for themselves, for their own vain purposes, honor, sensuous desires, and pride, as we see burghers and peasants doing; it proves the axiom by which such skinflints live: ‘I have corn and bread for myself; if you want these things, then work for them.’ This is called unrighteous corn and bread, unrighteous Mammon, and by it they commit sin, to their own destruction, when they could be using it for good purposes in the service of God and to his pleasure, were they serving their neighbor with it.” – M. Luther, Ninth Sunday after Trinity, Second Sermon - 1533 (House Postils)
I like the fact that Luther says “burghers and peasants.” He doesn’t mean a double patty of ground beef between two buns, but if I put a picture of a “burgher” at the top, you’d have no idea what it was. Plus, you wouldn’t care to find out. We live for our belly and are attracted by the eye that sees what makes us salivate. We are as much Pavlovian as we are peasants, and seeing the stuff of this world is like ringing our bell!
But Luther’s inclusion of both burghers – the hardworking businessman – along with peasants – the day laborers who live from hand to mouth – is important. His sermon can sound a bit one sided, but that’s largely because of the times in which he preached. Remember feudalism, with lords and masters and serfs and whatnot? There wasn’t a social aid system then as there is today. The poor couldn’t apply for food stamps. They looked to the Christian and merciful for help. The maimed could not apply for disability. Social and class limitations were difficult to overcome; more difficult than they are today when even our nation’s poor have access to – if not the best – at least education that is paid for. They have much more than in times past by which to raise themselves up, with the help of others.
We certainly see the poor on streets and intersections today, but they are not denied treatment in an ER. They may wait for long times, but then we all likely will and often do even now, insured or not. The most privileged are usually excepted to some degree. That is nothing new. Nor is it new that some get better than others. Even as Luther preached, the burgher lived better than the peasant, and the somewhat poor peasant lived better than the really poor peasant. As each was to be mindful of his neighbor in need, there was no argument, by Luther or anyone else, that every house should be the same, or that just because we all would like a chicken to be in every pot, each of those chickens needed to be free-range or ought to be subject to the requirement that none could have more than another. Even our Lord said, “The poor you will always have with you,” (John 12:8), and that was as much a promise as it was a prediction, for not only does the Lord know that the inequities of life are part of the futility to which the Lord has subjected His creation, by which it learns to yearn for the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8:20-23), but we also, as those sons, learn by such inequities to let go of our idols – our money and possessions – and rule over them by putting them into services of love, even as we believe God’s Promises in Christ, that we are already eternally provided.
Luther is right that one of the greatest threats we face is greed. We want for ourselves, and this afflicts the poor as well as it does the rich. I have met many poor whose only thought of needing a pastor came when the rent was past due, or the utilities were about to be turned off. Too many of our nation’s poor have no need of a shepherd of their souls. Like the people who followed Jesus in John 6, they are eager for a free-lunch program, free health care, a little more of what the rich possess, but when the Preacher starts to talk about the necessity of eating Christ’s Flesh and drinking His Blood – through the Word and Sacraments – orally as well as by faith – too often the response is, “I don’t need that; I’ve got a good relationship with Jesus already.” In that, they make Him into a Bread King, and show themselves as greedy as the rich who are niggardly hoarding their wealth.
Luther includes the peasant as well as the burgher when preaching on Luke16. The focus of the text is on those who are unfaithful in what belongs to Another, and that condemns us all. We didn’t create the air we breathe. We didn’t make the sun. We may have a deed to the land we till, but God has made it all; good gifts coming down from the Father of Lights. So, we confess in the Catechism that “God made me and all creatures,” and that He has given me all I possess, “all that I need for this body and life.” Instead of ruling over creation, subduing it and putting it to godly use, we have made ourselves slaves to it. We are always pressed for time, especially if we are wealthy. So much to do – to keep our stuff coming in as we want! Who has time for God and His Word, much less our neighbor in need? We are poor stewards, enslaved to the want of more. We get and are not satisfied. We never have enough. It takes so much for us to get where we are that when God happens to present us with someone in need, we are tempted to say, “Get a job!” At least I am! We are such niggards that we think we’ve done this on our own – getting what we have, I mean, though we are so impressed when Olympic athletes “give all glory to God.” J. S. Bach used to do that, too. “Soli Deo Gloria” at the end of his masterpieces. Somehow, we forget that we are all beggars before God, no matter how hard we happen to have worked for the things we have achieved.
Luther doesn’t mind taking us all down to size, and he does so with the words of Christ. In the ways of this world, we are focused. In the ways of God, we are slovenly and poor stewards. We behave more as the sons of this age than we do the children of light. So, what we hear is: “You’re fired! Come, show me an account – every idle word, every gesture, every moment you failed to use wisely, every penny you lavished on yourself and every cent you withheld from Me – not just in terms of not supporting the Gospel but in not giving to the poor.” Luther wouldn’t deny that we help the poor through our taxes, and so, by hard work and effort, many are fed who would not otherwise, simply because we go to work and send our money to the IRS. Those “government programs” or “state-financed aid” are only possible because of able-bodied and responsible people who, despite their inclination toward laziness, nonetheless get up and go to work each day; and despite their greed, nonetheless keep the law by paying what they owe in taxes. The fat-cat politicians who take their cut and so live in big mansions, enjoying extravagant vacations on the public dole, while the poor suffer, will have an account to give as well. It’s not just the corporate Wall-Street crowd. It’s those who engender the Occupy Wall-Street crowd as well. And it’s the entertainers who can’t keep their bad behavior out of the news; you know, the fancy, fast cars they pile up because they’ve got enough money to not only buy them but enough to drink themselves into a stupor and keep piling them up. They always have money for lawyers, though sometimes even they can’t protect them from the consequences of tax evasion. It’s not just conservatives, it’s liberals, too! It’s not just burghers, it’s peasants. It’s everyone and Luther doesn’t deny that in his sermon. Neither does God’s Word.
We all will have to give an account, and in view of that, there is only one thing to do: “Repent and believe the Gospel!” That is the example of the unjust steward, who takes his master’s judgment as the serious thing it is, and begins to provide for himself by way of his master’s money! There’s great Gospel content in that, though Luther doesn’t mine it so much in his second sermon on the 9th Sunday after Trinity. He likely did more of that in the first sermon that day! I know he did more of it in the first sermon of the day he preached a year earlier, wherein he wonders aloud where the Christian is “who jealously walks a quarter mile to church in order to hear the Word of God, as a merchant travels far and wide in order to become wealthy?” He also wonders, “Where do you find the person who finds joy in helping the poor, needy fellowman to the best of his ability, as a wealthy moneylender rejoices when he cuts a good deal in profitable investments?”
We are all guilty! We all need the wealth that God has provided in His Son, Who died and rose and in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). He takes His creation – even our mammon – and puts it to salutary use. He takes our bread and wine, or our offerings – yes, even those bills perhaps carrying still some residue from whatever service some cocaine user pressed or rolled them into – and by them makes sure that we not only have mere bread and wine, but His Body and His Blood in bread and wine, and His Gospel preached, that we may not eat and drink and die, but eat and drink and have eternal life!
Luther doesn’t run things quite so far in the sermon he preached in 1533. He was preaching at home, for one thing, and was talking as a father to those who had come to be treated as sons of light, rather than as damned and niggardly children of this world. So, he tells them the truth, in a fatherly way, from which we all, who would live daily from our Baptisms and from the Eternal Gifts God has given in His Church, may learn to be good stewards of the lesser gifts this side of heaven. As Luther concludes . . .
“Therefore, it is necessary that in order for a man to be a faithful pastor and preacher he must also personally be a diligent listener of the Word of God and learn to shun this vice called greed. For more than anything else, it hinders the gospel when either the pastor or the listener is greedy. A greedy pastor does not preach the Word sincerely; by the same token parishioners do not listen to it earnestly either. The former preaches for no other purpose than to profit from it and have a good life; the latter do not pay attention to it as they should. That is why, when greed is in control, the gospel wanes and founders. A greedy peasant or burgher says, I must attend to my farm, to my business; I cannot take time to listen to preaching. A greedy preacher says, I cannot preach any more, for it brings nothing into the larder for me. As a result, therefore, so many preachers and hearers today are such pathetic Christians and have such a low opinion of the gospel because they are such greedy tightwads.
“So much, then, for Mammon. The Lord gives it a shameful name and calls it unrighteous Mammon, because whoever loves it uses it solely to his own glory and pleasure, and thereby sins against God and his neighbor. In short, it is an accursed thing, not because of its nature and essence but because of the unrighteous use to which it is put.
“For this reason we should make righteous Mammon out of unrighteous Mammon, and use it properly and in God-pleasing manner. Whoever does that will on Judgment Day have many friends and testimonies to his faith. Whoever does not do this, however, will find that no one will bear witness that he has with his deeds given evidence of his faith; yes, he will be forced to listen to many a sorry testimony against him, to the effect that his faith was not genuine but merely an empty husk. This will be the fruit and reward for shameful geed and slavish devotion to Mammon. May our dear God, for the sake of his Son, Jesus Christ, grant us his grace and through his Holy Spirit rouse our hearts to lay hold on this teaching and live our lives in accord with it, so that we may manifest that our faith is upright and finally be saved. Amen.” – M. Luther, Ninth Sunday after Trinity, Second Sermon - 1533 (House Postils)
Around 3,000 words. About what Luther would have preached to those who wanted to be faithful in receiving, at least in his second sermon! But then, one could afford to preach a little shorter the second time in a day!
Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church & School + Flowood, MS
. . . still, my hands will go no further than the top of your head!
That’s because a visit to your pastor, the physician of your soul, is a whole lot different than a visit to the doctor who takes care of your body. With the pastor, there are no rubber gloves. No examination table. No stirrups. No one telling you to take off any of your clothes. Please, remain clothed at all times! The ONLY nakedness allowed before your pastor – beyond maybe taking off your sandals because you’re on holy ground - is the honest confessing of your sins before God.
The pastor isn’t interested in any orifices other than your mouth and ears, and he won’t pry his way into them at all. No opening wide to say, “Ahhhh!” No tongue depressors or lights that peer into your ear. Whatever invasion takes place, the pastor leaves to the Word of God – which is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). Such things are left to God, not to the pastor.
Oh, the pastor will have additional things to say on the basis of God’s Word. He will guide you into properly confessing your own sins and not those of others. So, if you start by saying, “Boy does my wife make me mad!” expect the pastor to gently wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. He will urge you to leave the confessing of your wife’s sins to your wife. Adam blamed Eve, even God Himself! But you, you will hear from the pastor that it is safe to come out from behind the bushes of blaming and rationalizing and simply stand naked (metaphorically speaking) before God, trusting that He has better clothing to provide than fig leaves that quickly shrivel. He will clothe you with the forgiveness of Christ, which is spoken by your pastor.
Can all of this sting a little? Sure. Can it be a bit embarrassing? Sometimes, yes. Can people fear it like a visit to the doctor? Obviously, since pastors who sit vested before the Lord’s altar ready to hear confession and pronounce the absolution in order to fulfill God’s will often times sit alone, for a long, long time! On the other hand, the doctors of our bodies have waiting rooms jam packed! It seems they cannot keep us away!
Of course, we don’t all go regularly to the doctor, do we? Take me, for instance. My mom took me to the doctor while I was still in utero. That was nearly 52 years ago! I got good prenatal care. I got good post natal care as well. My first pediatrician was Dr. Blok. He both delivered and then circumcised me. I remember many times laying on that crinkly clean white paper stretched over his examination table, with smells of alcohol and whatnot making my pulse race and probably raising my blood pressure. Every kid knows that the sound of that paper and the smell of those smells means the likelihood of getting a SHOT! I remember the pants pulled down, my mom and a nurse standing by, the alcohol rubbed on my tush with a cotton ball and then the pinch of a needle invading my flesh.
It was all for my good!
So were my visits to my second pediatrician, ironically named, Dr. Sawyer, though without any relation to my family that we knew of! He gave me my physical when I wanted to play sports as a teenager in school. That was the first “turn your head and cough” experience for me, along with the invasion of that rubber-gloved digit, the value of which remained vague to me, but the embarrassment of which was profound. Getting a lollipop from the nurse after THAT visit just didn’t seem to be enough!
Maybe that’s why I made only general use of medial care for about 20 years of my 25 years in pastoral ministry. No, I wasn’t scarred by my prior experience. I just didn’t want to go to the doctor. Didn’t think I really needed to. I felt fine, despite the fact that my dad has diabetes and my brother, too, and my other brother has high blood pressure. But, what did I need to visit a doctor for? I can just tell Jesus about my aches and pains, if I have them! I can just trust Jesus to heal me. He can, you know! Besides, I had nurses in my congregation, a radiologist, a pharmacist, a general practitioner, a cardiac surgeon as well as a vet! They all seemed to think I was doing fine, and if I needed to ask a question, I could. I did. And they provided general help for me.
For the majority of my 25 years in the Ministry, I have been – with respect to the care of my body – what most Lutherans are with respect to the care of their souls; namely, completely satisfied with general care while foregoing any kind of individual examination and care of a physician. With respect to the body, I ask: Was that wise?
Of course, I did my own self-examinations. If I had a headache, I took an aspirin or Tylenol. Doctor approved, you know. I ate right – sort of! Got exercise – somewhat. If there was something more I needed, I could speak with medical folks in the congregation. But not until last year did I get around to making an appointment with a GP, giving myself over again to that dreadful rubber glove and that other invasion of privacy which people over 50 now typically receive! Yes, at 51, a doctor finally went where no man had gone before, at least not past the second joint of a gloved finger!
Why am I airing such things about myself? Because everyone goes through the same things. Everyone reading this has probably been there or done that. Women visit their gynecologists, which is, I dare say, far more uncomfortable than what we men go through. Mothers go through even more when giving birth. We make visits to the ER. We undergo bypass surgery, angioplasty, you name it. We submit ourselves to the BAM-BAM of giant magnets scanning our bodies head to foot and inside out! We receive barrages of chemicals that attack even good cells, all in an effort to get rid of the bad!
We do it all, and even pay out the nose for the privilege. It’s just that important to us; our physical health, that is.
Why, then, does it so frighten us to think of going to our pastor for Confession and Absolution?
Is it that we are more concerned about physical health than we are our spiritual health?
Is it that we've forgotten our Lutheran confession, that while we have direct access to God in Christ Jesus, Christ Himself mediates His care and cure of us through the Word and Sacraments, which are administered by pastors as by nurses who give us what the Doctor has ordered?
Is it that we forget that while we can shoot our pleas and confessions heavenward, God desires us to HEAR that He has forgiven our sins, and Luther noted that even the general confession which we do in the Lord's Prayer provides us a kind of absolution in the forgiveness we speak to another, since we forgive even as we ourselves have been forgiven?
Is it that we don’t know what to expect, or how what the pastor gives us can really benefit? I mean, we go to the doctor expecting the bad stuff to be gone soon afterward. The pastor is going to speak the Word of God to us and apply God’s forgiveness. But the cancer will still be there and the grave will still be waiting.
Of course, the grave will still be waiting even after the doctors have done all they can do! And that’s the reason we go to our pastor!
The pastor will provide us care that extends beyond what any man can give. The pastor is giving us what Christ gives, what Christ says. Christ is the Great Physician, and He has entrusted His care to the hands and mouth of pastors in the parish.
But, can’t we just open up the Great Spiritual Medical Book and read it for ourselves? Can’t we visit blogs and websites and Face Book statuses and get help there? Can’t we pray the Catechism, sing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in our private devotions? Can’t we listen to the Corporate and General Absolution at the start of the Divine Service, listen to the sermon and attend Holy Communion on a regular basis?
YES! Of course! So also, we should inform ourselves of good hygiene and health practices. We should be mindful of healthy living and lifestyles. The general care provided by the medical community is beneficial to all of us, and for some 20 years that’s mainly what I lived from. You won’t hear me speak against general care – physical or spiritual – ever! However, there are times when general care won’t do. Thinking we don't need private or individual care can be downright life-threatening! There are times when the aches and pains of the individual demand individual care. Also, there is sound wisdom in not just relying on our self-examinations. Maybe these reveal something we need to have checked out by one who knows more than we do, one who can confirm or deny our fears, and provide healing if our fears are justified. He will do his own examination, even if it’s just routine. This is all very good – physically and spiritually!
God provides us pastors not only for the general and corporate care provided in the Services, but also for hearing our confession, applying God’s Word and helping us deal with what is really ailing us. It’s not that spouse that keeps getting on your nerves, you know. It’s the fact that we don’t receive such a person as a gift from God. It’s not our jobs or our circumstances. It’s our unbelief in not trusting our heavenly Father, who cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, so why won’t He also provide for His dear children?
The pastor hears our confession and He applies God’s Word. He helps us see that our problems are more profound than we’d believed, but that God’s cure is more than we ever imagined. He will ask us if we believe his forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness, and then he will apply it! Christ’s own forgiveness over all that assails and worries us. And even though death will still lie ahead, we will rise having heard that Death’s teeth are knocked out and so the grave has no power over us. Neither does our sin!
All we may hear as we leave is our pastor saying, “Any time,” in response to our “Thank you, Pastor,” but what will also be echoing beyond our hearing in the spiritual realms are the agonizing cries of that crazed and despairing Serpent, the Devil, who wanted us to keep our sins silently to ourselves, fearing they were too terrible to speak aloud, convinced that the pastor really didn’t have anything to give that would make a difference. For a long while, we believed the old crafty snake and so our sins and false beliefs ate away at us, so much longer than they should. They corroded our confidence and peace. They burned through our joy and our relationships.
At some point, they became too much even for us, and we came to the Physician of our Souls, our pastor – who stands in the stead of and speaks in behalf of Christ. We opened our mouths, and the sound of it did not destroy us! Maybe tears were shed, but then, maybe it was time for them! The pastor sat there, vested before the Lord’s altar, head bowed. He was praying – for us and for himself, that he would have God’s Word to speak and we would hear it. He prayed the Our Father for us as our confession broke forth.
Maybe our pastor laid the edge of his stole on our shoulders as he rose to give the absolution. Maybe he placed his hands on our head, reminding us that we are baptized in Christ and bear His name, watered over us. Then He spoke: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We whispered, “Amen.” Then, “Go in peace. You are free!” And we are, because Christ has said so!
Our medical privacy is protected by HIPAA laws and the professional ethics of our doctors and nurses. However, our sins are buried in Christ’s wounds by the Absolution spoken by the pastor. He has taken vows to leave those sins buried there and he will not speak of them again. He will not speak about our visit to his wife. He will not even go home to her and complain about having such a day, with so many patients coming to see him. This is not a job or a profession. This is sacred ground. It is a holy thing. As St. Paul did not repeat what he heard in heaven, so a pastor does not repeat what he has heard when heaven and earth intersect at the point of a sinner coming to Christ in repentance, needing to hear the Voice of the Savior speak from the throne of God.
I tell you, such a moment is profound for the pastor, far too holy to speak about in casual conversation. It is Christ Who does the speaking, and when He absolves, the matter is ended – blessedly ended in peace that passes understanding. Your pastor believes this, or should. If he does not, he should be removed. But any pastor who takes Individual Confession and Absolution as seriously as we confess in the Small and Large Catechisms and elsewhere in the Book of Concord knows this to be a most sacred service.
So, he may be subdued when you leave. No lollipop! But he will urge you to come soon to the Table of the Lord. There will be no one to take your insurance card before you leave. No one will make the next appointment for you, but the pastor is always ready to provide the Savior’s care. Come as often as you need! Chances are, there will be no waiting when you do. Our pastors seem to be in much less demand than our medical doctors, though our medical doctors tell us how stress and anxiety and the cares of this life can be the cause of much that physically assails us. So also our gluttony and lack of self-discipline and godly control also wreak havoc. Is it possible that if we learned to recognize, confess and do battle with the sin better, we might head off at the pass some of our physical pains? Perhaps. Maybe even divorce, addiction, bankruptcy and so much more! Yes, before we need lawyers and doctors, chances are often that we were in need of the Voice of Christ to diagnose more fully what only He can cure.
The next time you hear your pastor’s general absolution in the Services, give thanks for it, but recognize it as the general application of care that is akin to what we all receive from doctors when living generally from over the counter drugs and general instruction and advice. None of us would disparage that, I’d hope. But neither would we argue that general medical care suffices when your personal health is at stake. Nor should Lutherans mistake the General and Corporate Confession and Absolution for that which the Fifth Chief Part of the Small Catechism and other parts of our Confessions teach us to make use of and retain.
Perhaps, for too long, we’ve made use only of the General Pastoral Care of our Physician. Perhaps we’ve confused the two. We don’t when it comes to our bodies! We shouldn’t when it comes to our souls!
So, consider making an appointment with the Physician of your soul. Tell him, “I need a check up, Pastor!” Or, “I’ve got some things I think run deeper than I realize, and I need God’s Word applied. Mostly, I need you to fulfill God’s will and speak the absolution.”
He’ll be glad to oblige, not just once or twice, but as often as you need! He’s got the Word of God, after all, even as you do. But as the doctor of your body does more for you than what you can get off of Wiki-Medicine (or wherever), so your pastor does more for you when you come to him in person. He provides generally for you in the Service, but we all need the care of Christ individually, as we received it in Baptism, as we receive it at the Lord’s Supper, and as Christ is eager to provide it the man Luther liked to call a “Seelsorger” – that is, a Curer of Souls. Your pastor will serve you with the Voice of Christ. Not a single surgical glove will be in sight!
Pr. Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran + Brandon, MS
I’d thought of just titling this, “Happy Fourth of July!” But something kept coming to mind that squelched that. On my FB wall today, I put a link to Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” performed on guitar by Guy Van Duser. Seemed upbeat. Positive; just what a patriotic day set aside for barbeques, concerts, get-togethers, flag waving and fire works called for. You know?
But I saw another status update by a friend who raised the specter of freedom’s loss or at least freedom’s threat by means of various hot-button issues in our country which I won’t mention here, lest this come off as something political. You know what they are, probably, and people can disagree about them. The reason I mention them is they got me thinking about vigilance vs. complacency, as another friend’s recent post got me thinking about security as a trap; you know, “As long as I’M secure and taken care of, I’m not much interested in what is going on outside my doors.”
The above heading or title comes from a famous quote attributed to Edmund Burke, who allegedly said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Maybe it came from Tolstoy rather than Burke. Or maybe it transmogrified from something else Burke wrote, which went like this, "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." Whoever said what, the sentiments were raised in me recently how fragile freedom can be and how important it is for wrongs to be addressed and evil resisted, if genuine love and peace and mercy are to prevail.
Security in Christ is not something to take for granted. Our Gospel freedom is not something to simply wave about with hands held high as we sing along to lyrics and styles which subtly and yet persistently as waves lapping against the sand erode and change the very nature of this thing we proudly and almost patriotically celebrate as “Lutheranism,” or “our beloved Synod.”
Personally, I am glad for the statuses I have read recently which were in stark contrast from the one I posted. We cannot afford to be lax or lazy. There really ARE enemies who despise us and want to take away what has been so hard earned by the blood and sacrifice of previous generations, and not all those enemies are “out there.”
To be fair, there are genuine differences of opinion and perspective right here in the good ole’ LCMS; differences in theology, if you will.
Some believe there is no harm in borrowing from theologies and liturgies which are inherently opposed to our Lutheran Confession. Time will tell. Maybe it already has.
Some believe that we have to contextualize outreach so that it looks and feels as comfortable as possible to an unbelieving world. I’m still trying to find in Scripture an example of that. Sure, Timothy got circumcised, but where did Israel ever rightly reach the world by importing from it; you know, measuring the winds of change and accommodating to them in order to be more successful? Where did the New Testament Church conform her worship to the patterns of this world in order to win it?
We have good examples from the Fathers, who point out the tactfulness of the apostles in dealing with the erring and who modeled the same when explaining the Faith to pagans, that we may admit that our style doesn’t have to be coarse and abrasive. The Founding Fathers of this country tried diplomacy, and even when declaring independence, showed courtesy and a consideration for lawful conduct. The American Revolution was not the same as the French Revolution! But the Founding Fathers knew when enough was enough! They knew what Burke expressed above . . . Either we stand together or we hang separately. Not sure who borrowed from whom, Burke from Franklin or vice versa!
In our Synod, there is a slouching toward the Gomorrahs which are slowly taking over our nation today. OUR nation! The Good Ole’ USA – where many hot-button issues we take for granted would astound our Founding Fathers. I wonder how Luther would react to what has come of his championing the freedom of the Gospel! Oh, wait, he saw the abuse of that as early as Karlstadt’s radical reworking of Wittenberg and then the Peasants’ Revolt in 1525. Luther hardly took an idle stand in relation to abusing the Gospel, any more than St. Paul did in Romans 6, where he raised his mei genoito in relation to the question, “Shall we sin all the more?” It’s not a new thing that the devil raises up an opposing message as soon as our Freedom in Christ is established. In the Garden, he asked, “Did God really say,” after God had just declared Adam and Eve in His image! So it has gone since the beginning, and so it goes today.
Whether Burke said it or not, it’s true. The constant onslaught of evil requires of those who would hold to the good of Christ’s Gospel to be something other than idle, complacent, casual or carefree. This is WAR! Or, have we forgotten the Shot Heard Round the World and the years of fighting that followed in order to secure what we now watch tread underfoot? This is war, and it has been fought since the moment God spoke in no uncertain terms that He would send the Seed to undo the Evil One, crushing His head, even as His own heel was being bruised! It has been war, and much of it – if not most – has been fought behind the scenes, St. Michael and all angels warring in behalf of Christ’s Israel, casting down the ancient serpent and continuing to pursue and subdue him, even under the feet of God’s elect in Christ!
St. Paul said that we do not war against flesh and blood, but against angels and principalities and forces of darkness. We war against them in ourselves most of all, in our desire to do nothing – as long as it doesn’t directly affect us.
I hear that today. I hear that in myself. Who cares what the future holds for our children’s children, as long as I am comfortable and secure right now?!
Would we be chiming our Happy Fourth of July FB greetings today if that had been the attitude of those who preceded us? Would we be speaking of our “beloved Synod” or sporting our blue lapel semi-crosses if our forefathers had sought a comfortable life above all else? Of course, the Lord is Lord of His Church, even if a thing like this man-made Synod fails, and the Lord will still have that Church despite who may falter. Our Christian history has those who stood firm and witnessed to the point of shedding blood along with those who renounced Christ, turned tail and ran, until it was safe again to come back to the Fold. This isn’t about OUR doing battle. It is the Lord who fights!
He turned over tables in a rage one day. He called would-be followers the equivalent of “rice Christians” when all they wanted was a fully belly, and when they would not have His talk of flesh and blood, He did not alter it one whit but turned to His disciples, as if they would leave Him, too. St. Peter gave us our banner to wave as well as live and die beneath: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
So, we wave that banner before a world which does not want it and will increasingly despise it. Do you really think we can win the world by becoming its friend? By catering to its demands? By altering ourselves so that the world finds the Gospel more to its liking? Before long, a spoiled and demanding world will ask for more and more, and this Synod will go the way that others have gone. It is going that way already.
There are those who raise the hue and cry, often at their own expense. Watchmen shout, but sleepers prefer their beauty rest! In and outside of the ACELC, you can hear the voice of those who see the idolatry of rah-rahing synodical affiliation while tolerating doctrine and life which are contrary to the Scriptures and the Confessions. Damn the bylaws and resolutions, along with CCM rulings and CTCR opinions which would torpedo our faithful walk together! This is war!
Of course, people are trying to raise such a cry in love and with the same kind of courtesy and lawful considerations as our Founding Fathers who signed such a document as they did on July 4, 1776! Of course, we aren’t declaring independence, unless it is that independence every Christian must maintain against the tide of compromise, complacency and abdication of responsibility. We are not free from the burden of calling sin what it is or warning against the dangers that are even now facing us all.
Does it matter that our Synod still struggles in its confession of the Office of the Ministry and continues to put laymen into the work of publicly teaching and administering the sacraments without a call, contrary to AC XIV? YES!
Does it matter that our Synod’s pastors and congregations are practicing open communion? YES!
Does it matter that more and more of our people find the liturgy alien and strange, preferring patterns imported from non-sacramental, non-denominational sources? YES!
Does it matter that ecclesiastical supervision and church discipline are too often sacrificed on the altar of legal expediency and a misguided notion of what love and mercy really are? YES!
Does it matter that we change our terminology to fit with the demands of the IRS? YES!
Does it matter that we are so concerned over money that the place where a viable and vibrant congregation lived from and bore witness to Christ’s Gospel in Word and Sacrament was sold out from beneath them, as was done in the case of University Lutheran Chapel? YES!
Does it matter that faithful pastors are deposed by their congregations on grounds other than doctrinally legitimate; that these men and their families suffer because of faithfulness to Scripture and the Confessions, and that a cult of personality and affability has arisen amongst us that likely would have had the prophet Isaiah deposed for walking about naked and barefoot, along with St. Paul for using such harsh and unfriendly language as he did toward the Circumcision Party, not to mention Luther himself for some of the things he said – or rather, HOW he said them!? YES!
Does it matter that our people see these things going on, tolerated, uncorrected, and wonder why they should continue to buck society and fight against an overwhelming tide toward indecency and compromise, and so they go along with the world and live together apart from matrimony, figuring that no one will say anything – not friends, not parents, not parishioners, not even pastors? YES!
As a member of the Missouri Synod . . . I tend to want to say . . . SHOW ME where the Scriptures and faithful example of those who have come before have taught us to be anything but direly concerned when evil continues to erode our legitimate freedom in the Gospel! That freedom not only has us coming out from behind our individual fig leaves of self-denial, it has us coming out of our closeted compromise with sin, death and the power of the devil. It has us admitting the truth about our being poor, miserable sinners, each one of us. Then, in the forgiveness of sins and in the life and salvation of Christ, it has us rising to walk about in His newness of life.
The devil, the world and our own sinful nature are ever at the ready to strip that away, or try to. So, the daily life of the baptized is war. It is dying and rising again. It is painful and hard and ugly and unpleasant. It has me bound and going where I do not want, at least according to my Old Adam! It allows for glad thankfulness, but never at the expense of vigilance. It requires honesty, truth, as well as mercy, patience and love.
War isn’t pretty. It can look and feel like hell. But it’s necessary, as the Scriptures and our Confessions show. In the end, we can’t make treaties with sin. When we do, claiming, “We have peace in our time,” we are as wrong as Chamberlain was when he naively declared that after Munich!
If you aren’t part of the ACELC, please – join!
If you haven’t taken time to read our documents, please do!
We aren’t trying to be mean or nasty. We are just taking the erosion of our life together seriously, while praying for our President, Matt Harrison, and others who are in positions to help right the ship of Missouri!
Red stripes on Old Glory bear witness to the fact that freedom wasn’t bought without a price, or by men afraid to finally draw a line in the sand and devote themselves to the defense of what is right! Stars bear witness to the fact that a union stands together. We are more than just a Synod. We are members of the body of Christ and voluntarily united in the Missouri Synod as those who are supposed to be walking together in the same faith and life. Our purity rests in Christ alone and not how well we may walk, together or otherwise. But it behooves us, as a union of pastors and congregations, to thumb our noses in the right direction – at the King George of lawlessness and unfaithfulness to what we have agreed to – and not at the very fabric of our syn-hodos, that is, the Scriptures and our Lutheran Confessions!
Please, join the ACELC! If you can, consider attending The Augustana Ministerium conference, August 7-9, in Elk Grove Village, IL. Find info here . . . http://www.augustanaministerium.org/
Oh, and did I say . . . Join the ACELC?
Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran + Brandon, MS
Yesterday, a brother called me and I repented. He’s called me before and he’s a nice guy, so I didn’t mind talking with him. However, he was asking for my congregation’s statistical report, which I haven’t filled out. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve filled one out in about 18 years, maybe more. But I’ve decided to repent and fill it out this year, not because I think it helps our Synod. Actually, I think it may hurt by catering to our fixation on numbers. But my brother is clearly concerned over such things, and he’s likely getting pressure from higher up, so I made a conscious decision to alleviate his suffering. Call it love, compassion, mercy, a kindness . . . or a calculated effort on my part to end my District’s requests for things I really don’t want to take time to worry about! How’s that for honesty?
Don’t get me wrong. The brother is likeable and has been nothing but polite and kind in his importunity, which makes it easier for me to comply, I guess. And that gets me to the topic of this blog. In all the times I’ve been contacted by my District’s desire for numbers, I can’t remember once being contacted by them asking if I’m using the liturgy and hymnal or if I’m practicing closed communion or preaching the Gospel purely. Surely, those are more the essence of our agreed upon walk together as a Synod than filling out statistical reports!
All this got me on the road to thinking about the fellowship we keep in the Missouri Synod, and why it is that we concern ourselves so much over numbers but shun the practice of closed communion. I do think the two are related, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. What I’m asking is: Why do we practice open communion in Missouri? Be honest, now. I’ll go first.
I’ll start by admitting that if people didn’t mind it, that is, if they respected our desire to fully bring them in to all that Christ has given us to give, we’d all shun open communion and start practicing as the Lord has taught. The reason we practice open communion is that it saves us embarrassment, ridicule and pain. If we didn't pay through the teeth for practicing closed communion, we'd do it.
As proof, I put before you my personal observation that even the most open communion pastor and congregation among us likely practices closer to what is correct when it comes to children. We instruct them for a period of years, usually ten or more, though I tend to lean toward the sufficiency of 8 to 10, as long as the children are of faithful parents who have brought them regularly up in the Liturgy of the Church, not despising preaching and His Word but gladly hearing and learning it, taking our Lord’s “often” as “often” instead of “occasionally.” If parents are catechizing their children and are willing to sit with their kids through my instruction, I tend to think 8 years of waiting is probably uber-sufficient for our children. Actually, I get them to the Table in First Grade when possible, and did just that with one this year!
As they wait, they give us SUCH good examples of humility and faith, don’t they? They actually make being faithful easy on us pastors! They don’t get mad when we bless them instead of communing them! They don’t storm out and refuse to come back when they put out their little hands but aren’t communed just because of that! They express their desire to have what others are having, and what the Lord intends for them as well, but they wait to be admitted. They don’t insist on being the ones who admit themselves. Who can’t be faithful then?!
I truly believe even the most open communion pastor and congregation in our Synod probably has such pious examples of godly living in their congregational children and likely won’t do anything to change that any time soon! The kids just plain make it easy for us to remember that Our Lord warned against taking the seat of honor and urged instead that we wait to be invited up. We are not to presume or posture at the Lord’s Table! Our kids demonstrate that and don’t seem to mind, either! Oh, they stretch out their little hands and ask to be served, but they aren’t put off that Our Lord bids them wait a little while, as He did the Syro-Phoenician woman who begged Him with such importunity and was willing to grab Him by His harder Words, saying, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master’s Table!”
The Lord called that great faith! Is it any wonder that the Lord put a child before a crowd of adults, saying, “Unless you receive the kingdom as a little child, you shall never enter in”? So, even pastors and congregations that regularly admit non-Lutheran adults to Communion, despite having only a smattering of Lutheran doctrine, out of concern that they might storm off in a huff and raise a ruckus if they weren’t communed – have in their midst the wonderful example of our youngest saints, who are willing to wait in humility and faith!
So, why is it that we practice closed communion with respect to our life-long Lutheran children, but convert to open communion when it comes to serving adults? Why aren’t we comfortable serving adults the kingdom of God in a way that teaches them to receive it like little children; patiently waiting, not making a fuss?
Oh, but children DO make a fuss, don’t they? We see it all the time in Wal-Mart; not usually in the pharmacy department over the medicine the doctor prescribed, nor in the produce department over broccoli and spinach. Usually it’s in the toy department or the candy aisle, or when checking out and those brightly packaged items start working on our kids’ impulses and our own desire to quickly stem the tantrum and the glaring glances of irritated shoppers.
If Jesus had given Beyblades for our salvation, our kids WOULD make a ruckus at the altar! But that He gave His non-battery operated Body and Blood, which He poorly and unspectacularly packages in simple bread and wine, well, the children don’t seem to mind waiting. Adults, on the other hand, seem to be a different animal all together!
Is it that they just can’t wait for that wonderful bite of Christ’s Flesh, given into death for us, and that gracious draught of His Blood poured out for our salvation, and the life, forgiveness and salvation which are freely given in these? In some cases, the answer is, YES! People do come in desperation, like that Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter was demon-possessed. They need the Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament, and they may be sorely disappointed not to receive it.
Of course, no pastor worth his weight in salt is going to want to deny that to anyone. I know I don’t, and by that I mean the children as well as adults. In fact, I am far more conflicted over telling a faithful child of my flock, who regularly hears his Shepherd’s preaching through the pastor, to wait a little longer. Yet, in faithfulness and love, I do that all the time, even as our Lord made that woman wait a little while. As she waited, she continued to cling to Christ, no matter how He seemed to treat her. When He spoke, even His harsh words were filled with eternal life!
I don’t think I’ve ever treated anyone at the rail – child or adult – as Jesus treated that woman. I’m not Jesus, after all, and even He didn’t treat everyone that way. That woman had a pair of spiritual brass ones that put the Twelve to shame. She makes make me feel like a regular eunuch! The Lord treated a woman of great faith in such a public fashion so that we all can see what great faith looks like. For the rest of us weaklings, He doesn’t behave quite the same way and certainly doesn’t teach pastors to behave as He did when people approach the altar! For that reason, I have never given anyone the cold shoulder at the Communion rail, as Jesus gave that woman. I acknowledge every one personally and kindly. I bless the children, placing my hand on their heads. If they smile at me, I smile back. I’m not Jesus. I don’t know who could take it if I didn’t smile, so I smile. If they are a visitor and haven’t spoken with me, I take the occasion to speak with them then. Yes, that’s risky. Children can take it, but adults often cannot, even though I’m way nicer than Jesus. I don’t lean over to the people kneeling next to the visitor and say, “I wasn’t sent to any but the members of this household.” Honestly, I don’t WANT to be as rude as Jesus seemed that day when He spoke like that in a poor non-Israelite woman’s hearing. It’s much easier for me – and ON me – if I’m nicer than Jesus, and Jesus hasn’t told any of us to behave exactly as He did that day. So I try NOT to do what Jesus would if someone not of the flock shows up begging for His mercy. I’m gentle and kind and I smile when I speak. I ask where the person attends and who his pastor is and when was the last time he communed. It’s the least I can do, really, and far from what I should!
Keep in mind that pastors serve as physicians of men’s souls. We aren’t the Doctor, but His male nurses. We administer the Medicine of Immortality, but we aren’t the ones issuing the Prescription. He has done that and has put pastors in place to administer it according to His Divine Command and example, and the Lord’s example in the Scriptures is always to gather, not scatter; so when strangers and aliens wanted to partake of the Lord’s Passover in the Old Testament, the Lord prescribed that they first be cut off from the world of darkness and be grafted into the people of light. Children went through that without prior instruction, but I guarantee that no priest administered the Old Testament sign of circumcision to an adult male without first answering the catechetical question: “What does this mean?” Catechesis came later for the infants and preceded circumcision and admission to the Passover Table for the adults. Clearly, the Lord wanted all together in the Faith, and none were then to depart that Faith to join in fellowship with what was contrary to it. The Lord wanted all together.
So, the Lord wants all together at His New Testament Table. He instructed His own for three years before communing them, though we are not bound by that time frame. Even on the night of their first communion, they needed instruction. Catechesis is life-long. We don’t graduate from being His disciples, His students! Peter nearly didn’t get confirmed that night because he didn’t want Jesus to absolve his toes, which continued to step in “it” over and over. When Jesus threatened excommunication, Peter relinquished his dirty feet to the Savior!
When children approach our rails, they don’t mind if the pastor makes them wait, or makes them memorize, or corrects them when they aren’t behaving. Children receive the kingdom of God in humility, and so Jesus gives them to us all as an example. We adults can sometimes get a bit embarrassed, impatient, put off when things don’t go our way. This is sin, for which Jesus died, and which He is constantly trying to drown in us, so that the New Man comes forth! That’s what Jesus was doing with Peter, and Jesus must have smiled a bit when Peter went overboard (yet again!), saying, “Not just my feet but wash me head to toe!”
Wouldn’t that be a great thing for a pastor to hear from someone? Instead of being angry that the pastor wants to wash us, to cleanse us, to instruct us, to actually BE our pastor – the way our doctor actually wants to do more than just write us a prescription and send us on our way – wouldn’t it be great for him to hear, “Then teach me everything you’ve got, Pastor! I know you’re not trying to spoil my day! I may have felt a bit embarrassed at first, but you have what I need! If I have to drive an hour for it, I will! If it takes me a little while to be instructed in it, I’m willing! In fact, can we get started this afternoon!? I want to receive the kingdom like a child – not like the spoiled ones we see throwing tantrums in Wal-Mart, but like the child of God He says I am! Please, Pastor, help me to be that!”
I can’t imagine any pastor – in the ACELC or outside of it – not cracking a smile to hear such a thing! It would be like finding a rare first edition of some priceless book! We’ve heard such a thing exists – such great faith that is not put off simply for being told to wait a little while, be instructed, discipled, and then the Lord will give us everlasting Joy, trusting that He is giving it already, even as He bids us wait! We’ve heard of such faith. It’s just so rare to see!
I imagine I’d bet tempted to confirm and commune such a genuine and humble child of God right then and there, the way Luther said a person who could rightly divide Law and Gospel should be immediately made a doctor of Holy Writ. But I don’t think I’d want to taint such a grand confession. I’d treat it like the rarest of finds and say, “I am humbled at the Spirit’s work in you, and I cannot imagine it will be long at all before you are at this rail! Let’s meet this afternoon, as you suggest. And as often after that as you like. I will teach you to hold all that Christ commanded, and that will take a bit, but it has already begun. God’s people need to see and rejoice in this wonderful thing that God is doing, and they will rejoice all the more to hear you make the good confession and join in the Communion Christ intends for all!”
Too often, we are confronted by the tantrums; the person who can’t see that the pastor is trying to be faithful and that there are things the visitor doesn’t yet understand. The pastor would teach them if he can. He’d be willing to bring that teaching to the individual’s home, even if it’s an hour a way! He hasn’t risen on a Sunday thinking, “How can I spoil someone’s day?” Really. He hasn’t! And he knows you didn’t rise with that thought, either.
Actually, he knows that it may be that you are part of the Fellowship called the Missouri-Synod where pastors don’t teach what I’ve outlined above. They struggle with closed communion, because it seems unloving to them. They tell the children of their congregation to wait many years, but somehow they can’t see that it’s no more unloving to say that to adults than it is to say it to our children. Both need instruction, and adults need it a lot more than kids! This isn’t about mastering the Lord’s teaching, but being mastered BY it! It’s not about our understanding, but about the Lord giving us repentance and faith, drowning the Old Man that the New Man may come forth, living before God in faith and before our neighbor in love – especially if that neighbor is a pastor trying to be faithful, or a congregation which wants to hold to the Truth. It’s not even about each one believing in his own heart and then communing where the Faith of Christ is denied. When our LCMS pastors admit people on the basis of their heart-felt faith instead of on the Confession they make, they teach our own that it doesn’t matter where you commune, as long as you know what you believe personally. That causes great harm at the rail!
So many of our sheep have never been taught properly! It’s no wonder they get blind-sided at the rail. I truly feel for them. I work hard to be kinder and gentler than Jesus was to that woman long ago. I smile. I ask if it’s OK to bless people and then talk about their joining our Communion after the Service. I offer to sacrifice time with my family and flock to accommodate them. I apologize, knowing that I am not thereby acquitted just because I think I did everything right; I can mess up without knowing it. I wish I were omniscient and could anticipate every event that might embarrass someone. I also wish people would understand that if the pastor could have done better, so could they. We’ve got these wonderful devices called smart phones, but they only work if we’re smart enough to use them: “Pastor, maybe we need to talk before I come to the rail Sunday. Some things have changed and people know about it, but you don’t. Can we speak?”
If I didn’t answer immediately, it would be because I’d be in awe, having encountered once again that rarest of finds! A faith which trusts God’s Word, wants what Jesus has to give, and demonstrates that in a little thing called love! Wow! You just can’t touch that, folks!
So, why DO we practice open communion in the LCMS, and don’t even say we don’t. We do. We do, in my opinion, because we just want the loud and uncomfortable, unpleasant and painful stuff to go away. “Send her away Lord, for she’s bothering us!” “OK, here are my statistics; now, don’t call me again!” We want to spare ourselves the agony of being genuine fathers in the Faith, and so, like Dad at Wal-Mart, we give in so the tantrum ceases, or is avoided all together.
Of course, we DO care for people and would spare them hurt. It’s not all crass and calculated on our part. A child crying DOES melt a father’s heart; sometimes to the point of giving what should be withheld. What father hasn’t spoiled a child in such manner at some point? But if a doctor gives out meds because he wants a happy patient, he may end up sending off an addict with one more fix satisfied but still far from a cure. It’s hard to say no, but it’s often the only loving thing to say. We can say it better. We can say it better than Jesus, if we want! It won’t keep us from coming off as big meanies at some point, though that’s not our desire. And when the sheep who feel a bit sheered of their pride at the rail have a chance to cool off, by God’s grace, they will rejoice to receive the shepherding they need; if the Spirit has done His work. They will say, “Dear Pastor, I know you aren’t perfect, but neither am I. I’m sorry I put you in the spot I did. I’d like to do better. You offered at the rail to instruct me further and bring me into this Communion. I really want that! So, when can we start?”
And that, dear people, is how the Lord grows His Church! You just can’t script these things! Or manipulate them or predict them or plan for or project them! I honestly don’t even want to reduce them to statistics, if you want to know the truth! You just have step back in awe of them, because they are the bona fide miracles of Christ giving us His Kingdom!
Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Brandon, MS
Honestly, I have NO good reason why Boy George and the Culture Club’s song Karma Chameleon should have come to mind when heading this blog entry. I am just WEIRD that way. I admit it. And since I am, we might as well all settle in and make the most of it, ‘cause this one’s longer than just a three hour cruise!
There’s been a good bit of discussion regarding the COST of dealing with the aftermath of the tragic foundering of the cruise ship Costa Concordia a month ago. What to do with the capsized hulk? Right it or scrap it? How to make sure a devastating human tragedy doesn’t also become an environmental one? Not to mention, of course, the rescue efforts and legal claims of those who lost loved ones, and the future prosecution of Captain Francesco Schettino, who is held on charges of manslaughter for having made the unauthorized and wreck-causing change in course - to grandstand and impress island residents! - as well as abandoning ship before all passengers had been evacuated.
The wreck of the Costa Concordia cannot help but evoke a certain sad parallel with the foundering concordia of what has been fondly referred to as the good ship Missouri! Of course, the Missouri Synod is not the Ship of Faith called the Church. She is a man-made and arranged collection of pastors and congregations who originally came together because they recognized in one another a common walking together in faith and life, in doctrine and practice, and committed themselves to continuing in and preserving the same for the benefit of future generations. The world needs concordia; not concord in its error and darkness, but concord in the One True Faith which Christ entrusted to His saints, which is revealed in Holy Scripture and confessed by our forefathers in the documents collected in the Book of Concord; even prayed for by Our Lord!
Concordia is an important word for us Lutherans, but it is more than a name; more than something to call our colleges and universtities, despite their often allowing the inroads of feminism, worldly worship forms, alien doctrines, the teaching of women’s ordination, evolution, and open communion. Remember that Concordia – as a name – is still applied to that hunk of metal lying on its side off the coast of Italy, in whose hull those who did not escape still tragically remain, most likely lifeless, unless, by some miracle they have beaten the odds and survived. God grant it, for mercy’s sake! Hope, as one family member put it, is the last thing to die!
So also, hope in the future of the concordia that is called the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is still living. It is living amongst the member pastors and congregations of the ACELC. It is living in those of other confessional groups and efforts in our Synod today. It is living in those who hold office, such as our President Matt Harrison and others of his staff. It is living in many pastors and parishes which have not yet joined the ACELC formally, but pray as we do, that the once good ship may be righted and not scrapped. It is even living in those who are safely on shore and praying from the outside for us who remain.
Can righting our ship still happen? More surely than that the Costa Concordia will sail again! But the cost of getting Missouri to that point will be daunting! It will require what we call in church terms, repentance! That’s the big one, and it is Christ’s alone to give!
Remember in the movie, The Poseidon Adventure, when the two parties met each other, one heading toward the top of the ship and the other heading toward the bottom? Both groups were convinced they were heading the right way. They HOPED they were heading the right way. Only ONE was heading the right way! Presumably, those who were convinced of their wrong direction and remained in it died.
In our Synod today, there are groups convinced of the direction they are taking; a change of course not unlike that tragically and theatrically made by Captain Schettino. They have introduced worship practices borrowed from heterodox traditions, which are designed to attract and impress "island residents" by conforming to worldly patterns, but which are alien and even hostile to the orthodox faith and life we have received from our forefathers. It is a remarkably sharp and dangerous change of course. Just consider what passes as worship in some of our churches! I’ll admit that it can be entertaining! I happen to like rock music myself, and so I watch a video like this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1odf46sQEUE) and think . . . Cool band! Cool technology! Poor execution of choreography, but it IS impressive, and anyone in tech and multi-media will tell you that this is more than your grandma sitting with her gal friends to glue some felt banners together for a mission festival! Still, is it worship?
Art can convey meaning, don’t get me wrong! Movies can be art! MTV videos can be art! Plays and many other performances can all be art, and art can be used in the service of God! But that’s true even when it’s a Super Bowl half-time performance by Madonna! It doesn’t HAVE to be ripped out of its proper context as entertainment in order to be in service of and to the glory of God! After all, aren’t the crayon drawings our children make, which we post to our refrigerator door, in service to the glory of God? Unless we’ve forgotten what Luther taught against the rank monasticism of his day, we have GOT to answer: “Of course! Just because it isn’t happening behind monastic walls or being done by clergy or in the Lord’s House doesn’t make it less than holy! After all, if one’s whole life is holy in Christ, then all that we do in Christ is pleasing to God and in His service, even if only entertaining to our neighbor or our parents who happen to be watching us play at the Lego Table. What we do for our neighbor as the Baptized, we do it to Christ.”
That’s what Jesus said. Luther was just repeating!
So, we can let football be to the glory of God on the football field, and entertainment be entertainment in the movie theater, our living rooms, on a bikini laden beach or anywhere else. We don’t have to bring these in and force them into what they aren’t by nature, and they are NOT the Divine Service! But many are setting THAT aside to make ROOM for impressive displays of techno-entertainment, which most properly glorifies God when it is evoking a “WOW!” from us – because that’s what it was meant to do! You know, like the fireworks displays at Disney World and Epcot Center! WOW! COOL! AWESOME! How much money do you think they spent on that!?
Nothing’s wrong with being moved by entertainment – even to shout out a “Praise Jesus” around the lake at Epcot after the laser lights, music and smoke have cleared! But when we set Christ and His Service aside, which historically haven’t gotten quite the applause given to coordinating iPads and music like a Christmas light display choreographed to TSO’s Wizards in Winter, when the historic liturgy is set aside for what most in the world would admit is entertainment, something’s terribly wrong. It's only a matter of time before it becomes clear that our behavior is criminal, in a spiritual sense.
I realize the other string of passengers on the good ship Missouri don’t agree. They’re heading one way, and it’s not the same way we are! They want to look more and more like the world, and it’s attracting more and more of the world as people look for an exciting, entertaining, moving worship experience. They know people want to see the impressive sight of a huge luxury liner pass perilously close to their island, and they're willing to give them a show! They’ve got numbers on their side, too! I didn’t count, but maybe those heading in the wrong direction in the Poseidon Adventure also had more in their queue than those heading in the right direction.
Numbers don’t matter in this. Jesus is the one who said that the way leading to hell is wide and easy and there are many on it; while the road to heaven is narrow and hard and there are few upon it. Numbers just don’t make it when the Word of God has spoken clearly. Over and over in Holy Scripture, God speaks an unpopular Word which itching ears don’t want to hear, and hardened hearts don’t want to believe! We are driven, according to our fallen nature, by FEELology rather than THEology; by how we FEEL when something moves us instead of by what God actually says!
I’m still waiting for someone to show me where God says to measure the popular tastes of the world and meet them in order to win the world over. From what I recall, that was always where Israel got things wrong; namely, by wanting to be like everyone else, when God was calling them to be separate and distinct; not what everyone wanted, but what all people need, a Light shining in dark places, even though men prefer the darkness to the Light. Is this really anything new? Or hard to grasp? It’s not rocket science, but it DOES rock the boat! It rocks OUR boat, like Jesus calling Peter out on the waves! I think Jesus knew what He was doing when He did that. Peter needed to go down before being raised up. Peter needed to quit thinking he was a wave-walker like his Lord (though it WAS Cool, Awesome, Impressive - I wonder how he did that?) and start crying out, “Lord, SAVE me!” Peter needed a Savior, and so do we!
We can see throughout the history of the church how the Lord continues to captain His Ship, the Church. He is no Capt. Schettino, either grandstanding or saving himself at others’ expense! Jesus doesn’t go down WITH the Ship, but FOR it! He goes down and comes back up again, and then He entrusts to His Church His Word and Sacraments, sound doctrine, faithfulness and love, firmly instructing AGAINST changing course to put on a show for those who want it!
Nadab and Abihu changed course. Turned out badly for them! Aaron let the voice and wants of the people force him to change course too, and the first ever alternative worship service turned into quite a nasty gulp of water for the people!
When the Lord sends out His Church, He bids us teach the nations to hold to EVERYTHING He has commanded, knowing that many won’t want it. They didn’t want it from Jesus in John 6. They didn’t want it when they persecuted the apostles and martyrs. They didn’t want it from Luther. In none of these instances does Jesus teach us to run after the world and try to become what it requires of us in order for it to stay!
And so, the pastors and people of the ACELC are indeed heading in the opposite direction of many! It may seem like the wrong direction, the way heading to the bottom of a ship seemed counterintuitive for those convinced otherwise. The way heading to a cross seemed counterintuitive to those who wanted Jesus to put on a big show! But it is the direction clearly given us in God’s Word and in our Confessions! It may not make as much business sense as giving people what they want, but that’s not what the Lord has called us to do. He’s called us to remain afloat and on the right course, because the world needs the Church and Faith and the Gospel of Christ as surely as people bobbing in the midst of an angry sea need a sound ship, not a foundering one, to come along and rescue them!
Lest it be forgotten, WE in the ACELC aren’t the ones making unauthorized changes in the course of the ship we call Missouri. Others are doing that. Others have done it already, compromising our worship forms, urging the ordination of women, having laymen serve as pastors before they are called and ordained, practicing open communion, leaving the unrepentant in their sin instead of calling them to change direction and follow the AUTHORIZED course given by the Lord. You see, changes in direction ARE permitted, especially when God is redirecting us from death to life. We call it repentance. That’s the costliest thing about righting the concordia of Missouri, if that’s even still possible. We pray it is. It would be a sad thing to see things scrapped, cut up, sold off. It would be a sad thing if all the living needed to abandon ship, leaving only the dying and dead behind. Could that happen? It’s happened before! If it happens again, the Lord will still be Lord of His Church, wherever that is found in those who are gathered by Him around the Gospel purely preached and the Sacraments rightly administered; where error is contended against and not allowed to gush in as through a hull whose side has been ripped wide open. We pray for the righting of our Synod. We are working for it, and urging others to change course and return to the right path. We know many others are urging the same and watching – and hoping – that concordia may still be saved!
The second annual free conference of the ACELC is now over! What a great theme it was! Christ FOR Us: The Lord’s Supper! Can you get any more full of Jesus than that?
That’s what I asked in my opening remarks, and it’s true. We are given the Lord’s Gifts to administer faithfully and it behooves us as pastor and laity to consider how that is being done in our congregations. The Lord’s own example was to call men from their former ways and instruct them in the Faith He Himself was fulfilling and giving to His Church. When Judas left the building, not a single one knew that he was any different; they thought he was going to help the poor, not betray the Savior for silver.
In that we learn something; in fact, we have what the Lord has always taught. Namely, that when He calls us, He cuts us off from what we were and grafts us into what He Himself is, and in Him is no darkness, no error, only Truth, and Light and Life! So, when the Lord gave His Word to Adam, that was to keep Adam and his bride steadfast in their oneness with the Father. When Eve let go of that, where was Adam? Where was her pastor when the Church first stretched out Her hand to commune where God forbade?
Was he standing idly by and watching? Where are the Church's pastors now when our people commune where they ought not? We heard a good bit of how pastors and laity both should care about not only what the Lord provides us at His Table, and about helping people approach that rightly. It is not OUR Table, to do with as we please. It is the LORD’S Table, by which He cuts us off from all that is dead and false and grafts us into Himself, in Whom there is only Light and Life.
So, He gave the Word and Promise to Adam and Eve that they might not only be reconciled to one another after their fall but also to God; the Promise of the woman’s Seed, born under the Law, to redeem us from under the Law. When God gave Israel a foretaste of that in the Passover, He told them explicitly that ALL should be included. The Lord, Who desires ALL to be saved, wants NO ONE left out of His Communion. If an alien or stranger wants to partake, they SHOULD! Only, as God says in Exodus 12, let them be cut off from all that they were before and be grafted in – AS Israel! No aliens or strangers at the Lord’s Table. No lightly treating what God is giving, as we do our Happy Meals at McDonald’s! No coming and going and then running off to a place where that is denied. Communion Fellowship IS Church Fellowship, after all; and to be united together at the Lord's Table is to be cut off from all that speaks in any way against it.
I doubt any priest went up a man’s skirt to circumcise him without first explaining what was being done and why. What does this mean? That’s catechesis! And that a man should so desire that for himself and his family, well, that’s a miracle of the Holy Spirit, Who works faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. When such has been worked and a man has so been cut off and grafted in, he doesn’t lightly forget. He doesn't receive from the Lord and then run off to where another priest says, "Well, that was just symbolic! That didn't really count! There's really no difference between that over there and this over here!" Such was forgetting one's circumcision and being conformed to the pattern of this fallen world.
The Lord’s been cutting men off and grafting them in for a long time. At the Table of the Lord, the night before the Promised Seed was cut off for us all – that we might be grafted in – He sat down men whom He had catechized for years. No fast-food Happy Meal, this, but the Table of the Lord! So, the Lord washed them, and if Peter didn’t want that – even though the Lord was not going up his leg as far as priests had gone in the Old Testament – then Peter had no part, no participation, no communion, no fellowship, no koinonia with Jesus! Peter had already been washed and was clean, but he had stepped in “it” since then, and needed absolution. They all did. WE all do! So, our churches confess that no one is admitted to the Lord’s Table before he is examined and absolved. No one gathers at what is the Lord’s unless the Lord has cut him off, grafted him in, cleansed him with the word of Christ’s forgiveness. Those who were communed by Christ that night were ALL the same. And if Judas was communed? No one knew he was NOT together with them all. When he left, no one said: “There goes the stranger; the alien; the one who really does not believe this.” They all said, “He goes to help the poor.”
Our Lord did not teach any of us to admit sinners on any other basis than He Himself admitted and had been admitting all along. Our Lord teaches us to admit on this: Such and such a one has been taught, and against all odds, actually believes and WANTS this! In fact, he rejects and desires to be cut off from all that is contrary! That’s a miracle of the Holy Spirit! This one is together with us in the One True Faith, and no one has heard from his lips or seen in his life any cause to say any different.
That’s how the Lord did it the night of His betrayal. That’s how St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians, when he tells them they ought not even eat with a man who wants the name Christian but also insists on going on in unrepentant sin. Unlike Judas, the congregation can SEE that such a man, despite his saying one thing, is in fact an alien and stranger, as long as he does not repent. So, St. Paul tells them to treat him as such, as Jesus told us to treat the unrepentant as a tax collector and sinner. That is, cut him off and leave him to his sin, if that is what he wants – and pray that, like the Prodigal Son, he will finally come to his senses. And when he has, and when he wants to depart and be rescued from his ways, then rush to meet him, with open arms! Put the festive garments of salvation on him and shod his dirty feet with the beautiful sandals of the Gospel of Peace, and have him back again at Table with the family, where he belongs, and where God wants us all!
Our Confessions testify to the fact that this is how the Church, when faithful, always practiced before God’s Table. So, Chrysostom reports that the priest daily stood before the altar, telling some to come and warning others to stay away! Like the physicians they are, pastors want those who come to be cured, not further damaged. After patients examine themselves, doctors examine them too, lest they receive to their harm and not their good. We would be guilty of malpractice if we gave just because someone demanded! We would not be good fathers if we spoiled children by catering to their wants rather than teaching them the true table manners of God’s Kingdom; i.e., humility (“Please, may I have something to eat and drink?” rather than, “Serve me or I’m outta here!”); repentance (even of beliefs contrary to Christ’s Gospel); faith (in clinging to ALL that Christ commanded as to a life preserver in the midst of an angry sea).
God wants His children gathered HIS way, not ours, which are selfish and self-chosen. His ways are full of Jesus! That’s why Nadab and Abihu, in treating the Lord’s liturgy as their own, were incinerated. If they thought they could come up with their own incense, God could come up with a new blend of HIS own choosing! And He did that day! Doctors and nurses today know better than to play fast and loose with proper medical care. If they think medicine is theirs to dispense as they want, regardless of that authority by which they have their license, they won’t be serving long! Even a bartender cannot serve anyone he wants to, disregarding age or other factors.
We pastors are stewards of what our Confessions call the Medicine of Immortality, and that is not dispensed at our personal whim or in ways that will please a world that shows up demanding service. It is dispensed as the Lord has been teaching for a long time, since He intends ALL people to be cut off from ways of death and to be grafted into His Way of Life, and that even means those fellowships which contradict or deny what the Lord has spoken and given in His Word! Thus, if we simply welcome because we want to be liked and considered welcoming and winsome and friendly, we are not rescuing as the Lord rescues. We are leaving people in their sin. That is a damnable error in many of our LCMS churches, and must be repented of, else - how can light have further fellowship with darkness?
The Lord has been at this for a long time, and He will continue to be at it until He has gathered in all of His elect, who look forward to eating from the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God, the foretaste of which we are getting even now at the Table of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.
All of this was unpacked marvelously this week in Lincoln, NE by our presenters. Thanks to Pastor Poppe and the people of Good Shepherd for hosting! Thanks to our presenters for excellent papers and good table talk! Thanks to our vendors and all participants! There is more that I will unpack of last week in blogs to come! For now, it’s off to Table Fellowship with the Lamb tomorrow at His High Feast!
Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran + Brandon, MS
OK, first off . . . He ROCKS! Literally! I mean, David Ellefson, bassist for heavy metal group, Megadeth. He just plain rocks!
Second, I would SOOOOOOOO much like to have the chops David does – on guitar, I mean. He plays an awesome bass. I wish I had half the chops he does – a quarter – even a tenth – on guitar! Maybe we’ll end up in the same circuit one day and he can give me a lesson or two or three!
Third, if we DO end up in a circuit together, as fellow pastors, I’ve got some things I’d like to talk with him about. Such as . . . Can we please let rock be rock and the Divine Service remain the Divine Service? I mean, I wouldn’t want anyone coming in to change a Megadeth concert, and none of those who attend would want some pastor changing their music or anything else about the genre or concert experience! Could you imagine if I showed up and wanted to make the mosh pit liturgically correct? I think not!
While David, who is a Lutheran Christian and now a student enrolled in the SMP program of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, studies to become a pastor in the LCMS, I seriously doubt he will be letting his aspirations to be a pastor affect what is integral to his playing with Megadeth. Oh, he won’t be going wild with the types of things often associated with touring rock groups. By that, I mean groupies and what many of them aspire to if they happen to be lucky enough to party with the band backstage! Neither a Christian nor a student of Concordia Seminary would want to be involved in such (how shall I put it?) SINanigans! But, those really aren’t integral to what it means to be a rock star, are they? Even Ozzy Osbourne is cleaning up his act, and plenty others have or are following suit. Sex, drugs and rock and roll may go together in many instances, but consider how many mega-stars have cleaned up their lifestyles and yet are still rocking!
So, David won’t be changing anything about Megadeth just by being sober and self-controlled, any more than Metallica stopped being Metallica when they cut their hair! Lots of rock stars have gone the short look these days, but rock nonetheless!
David won’t be changing anything about Megadeth by studying online for his seminary classes, either. The crowd that shows up won’t notice anything different. The music and lyrics they are familiar with will still be there. Both Davids (Ellefson as well as Mustaine) and the rest will give them the show they want. If they didn’t, the fans would complain. They’d stop coming. I’m sure few if any mind both Davids being Christian, as long as it doesn’t affect the show they’ve come to see. If anything, it helps make sure the shows go on even longer, since sober and self-controlled rock stars don’t tend to wind up choked on their own vomit as often as do those who lose control. I’d even say a fair amount of fans think its cool that their rock heroes are Christian, like many of the fans themselves. Just as long as it doesn’t change the music, right?
That’s kind of the point in all of this, and it’s something I’d want David Ellefson to consider as he aims for the Holy Ministry in the LCMS. In an article about David’s schooling and aspirations toward the Office of the Public Ministry, which you can read by clicking bit.ly/wGuzF1 , you’ll read that David believes he is able to keep the two worlds in which he lives separate. I commend him for that. We all have to do that to some degree, especially when a pastor has had a career before entering the Ministry.
St. Paul was a tent-maker. He used his craft to help support himself, so as to take financial pressure off the congregations he served. St. Peter was a fisherman, as were James and John. Matthew had been a tax collector. David was a shepherd before becoming king. Christ Himself had been a carpenter before the beginning of His public Ministry. So, the fact that men enter the Holy Office having been something else is not new. What IS new is the degree to which what a pastor was before effects a change on what is integral to the life of God’s people as they gather around Word and Sacrament.
Now, remember, Megadeth fans wouldn’t want their music changed just because David is aspiring to be a Lutheran pastor. I’m sure they may not mind his lyrics maturing. All artists mature and if what they sing about in their later years is somewhat different than when they were strung out and barely out of adolescence, well, what of it? Growth happens! Music styles too can change. Just go back and listen to any band whose career spans multiple decades and you’ll know what I’m talking about!
So, can the same be said of the Church and her worship, her liturgy? If so, in what way?
A very well-beloved former professor of mine penned the following words, which appeared in the introduction to the Lutheran Worship hymnal years ago . . . “Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise. . . We are heirs of an astonishingly rich tradition. Each generation receives from those who went before, and, in making that tradition of the Divine Service its own, adds what best may serve in its own way – the living heritage and something new.”
I suppose that many may immediately conclude that bringing a music style that the world already loves is simply adding something new and not necessarily changing our rich tradition. Some might even argue that it isn’t altering what is integral to the Church as she gathers around her Lord. There’s some truth to that.
It is certainly true that as rock groups change over the decades, the Church has also gone through her liturgical and musical changes over the centuries. We once sang in Hebrew, then in Greek, then in Latin, while retaining what was unique to each. Many other languages have been added, as God brought into the Church those who were being saved. German speakers, English, Spanish, Russian, Asian, as well as African and so many others. All nations – being gathered in and baptized; being taught to hold to everything Christ commanded! None of these have come in without adding something new to the living heritage. I don’t think anyone would disagree.
It is also true that how the Church has gathered around Christ’s Gifts of Word and Sacraments grew! God did not prescribe a specific form of music or liturgy, but these grew up naturally around the Gifts as Christ gave them. That growth happened over time. It happened naturally, as Christians of one generation arose from previous ones, and as those who came in were conformed to the historic patterns, even as they brought what was distinct to themselves.
However, what occurred naturally and slowly and with great care for preserving what we have received while resisting the intrusion of what is alien or hostile is arguably different from the attitude we often see today in people who approach the Lord’s Service as they might a rock concert! Or, to be a little kinder to a world that often doesn’t know any better, the environment in which the Church’s liturgy grew out of Old Testament types and then further grew up around and out of the Lord’s giving in the New Testament is quite different from today’s church leaders – chiefly her pastors – who look at the world, lick a finger to determine which way the liturgical winds are blowing and from that determine what changes will result in the greatest amount of numerical growth!
The Church is not blind to the fact that people like to be catered to and made comfortable. People today are as likely to show up at church wearing a Slayer t-shirt as they would to a Slayer concert! They aren’t being intentionally rude by that. It’s just that we’ve gotten used to having things our way. When I look in the mirror, I see someone with headphones on or ear buds, listening to a playlist of my own creation, or a Pandora channel that suits my preferences and tastes. Even at 51, I think I’m fairly typical!
The Church sees this and wonders what it has to do to meet people where they are. So, we figure if we change how we worship, we’ll attract those who might not come otherwise. And there’s truth to that! I’m not sure I’d be blogging on this topic had an LCMS pastor not given Ellefson the chance to work on a service designed for an audience looking for something other than the traditional Liturgy of the Church! I’ve had conversations while waiting for my BBQ at a local restaurant wherein a very nice young lady told me: “I just couldn’t go to a church where the music wasn’t exciting!” One of my member families has a neighbor who even decided on a church based on this: “They have the best sound system around!” Maybe the most comfortable seats, too! And some of the best lighting, from what I’ve seen, as well as the biggest TV! Yes, there ARE some things that will have a better chance of attracting the average American male, and making the church look, feel and sound more like your living room on steroids is one of them!
But, I always wonder where we are taught in Scripture to approach the world this way? It is a good marketing strategy, if that’s what we’re taking our cues from! It certainly has advocates and the benefit of statistical support, if we’re into numbers! It certainly can be said that God has even used such methods to bring people near, as in the case of David Ellefson. However, God can use most anything, as Scripture tells us that ALL things work for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. That’s why some of the greatest witnesses come out of the most tragic, horrid, sad situations. The devil and the world mean it for evil, but God means it for good, as He did in the life of Joseph. I seldom hear people arguing that we ought have more brothers selling their siblings into bondage, though, since God worked such wonders from that in Joseph’s life!
God can, indeed, work even in and through the most tragic of circumstances, so I have no doubt that the Lord is going to remain Lord of the Church, even though we conform ourselves to the patterns and styles of this world in hopes that we will win it. Only, when our daughters start changing who they are and how they look in order to attract guys who are so shallow that they’ll only stick around if they’re being given what they want, well, dutiful dads usually have something to say about it! Pastors should too. God sure did!
When Nadab and Abihu played around with the incense one day, God made sure Israel had to scrape them up with a dust pan! Talk about a pyrotechnic display! What God put in place was pointing to Christ and keeping His people safe in the forgiveness of sins. When Aaron’s sons started treating it like their own private playlist, God short-circuited their iPod! Before then, Aaron had given in to the demands of the people for a golden calf, and that first blended worship was described in Scripture as the sound of war in the camp; of God’s people dancing to a different tune and giving in to the world rather than remaining a light in the midst of the darkness. God made sure the people got the worship they wanted! He crushed it up and made them swallow it! Gut-wrenching!
None of this means a pastor has to worry every time he serves before God’s people, but he should serve as one who is a servant and not the master. He should serve in the greatest humility and with a proper fear and trembling. This isn’t his Service, but the Lord’s, and while there is great freedom in the Gospel, there is also great responsibility placed on those who render that service, as well as on those who call them to serve.
I’m sure David Ellefson has already considered much of this. I’m sure his professors will make sure he does, although, I must admit that I regret he has chosen to go the SMP route! I wonder why one of our Synod’s seminaries thinks a man who has achieved a considerable amount of fame (and likely some fortune) needs to be fast-tracked into the Holy Office? It took David longer, I suspect, to become a rock star than it will to be a pastor, a seelsorger; a curer of souls. That’s unwise, in my opinion, and in the opinion of our Synod’s first president, who wrote . . .
“What if someone comes along and claims to be a doctor, but no one knows whether he is or not, and they tell him, ‘There are many patients in this hospital; go ahead and treat them, and then we’ll see what you can do’? Now, if that fellow is not really a doctor, he’ll soon be treating all his patients in the cemetery. “It is much more dreadful if someone is allowed to become a spiritual physician and he undertakes the cure of souls, for this is understood only by those who know what pure doctrine is. It alone is the medicine that gives life to us human beings who are sick, yes, dead in sins. False doctrine does not give spiritual life, but imbues people with a false spirit and leads them astray on a path that leads to hell.” (“Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod” in At Home in the House of My Fathers, trans. by Matthew C. Harrison, pp. 238-39)
I know our Synod worries about growth, about numbers, and so we rush men into the Office and fast-track them, when they really need more – and the congregations they serve need more – in the way of working the rock star out of us all and making us servants, in service to and not masters over what God has given and said! It’s for that reason Walther continues what he said above with this . . .
“When a synod promotes into the office [of the ministry] someone of whom it knows in advance that he does not have a firm grasp of sound doctrine, and when that person subsequently misleads a congregation, then the synod is the temptress, and not only the heretic but also the synod will be held accountable for those poor souls. Of course, this applies primarily to the synod’s officials. However, they are only servants of the Church, and that is why the congregations must see to it that pastors are acting in conformity with the Confessions. “Therefore we want to solemnly vow: We will exercise every possible precaution in the acceptance of pastors, and not think, ‘If we grow a bit, then we have gained something.’ It is better for the synod to remain small and stand correctly than to be large and have in its midst those who mess around [herumwirtschaften] and do not bring the bread of life. That results in damnable false teachers, and that is precisely why they must first be thoroughly tested, as 1 Timothy 3:9-10 says: Those who have a clear understanding of ‘the mystery of faith’ should ‘be tested first; then let them serve … if they prove themselves blameless.’ In other words, first test thoroughly!” (“Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod” in At Home in the House of My Fathers, trans. by Matthew C. Harrison, p. 239)
None of this means that I question Mr. Ellefson’s faith or sincere desire to be a faithful servant. I don’t, and it’s because I don’t that I expect that he’d be glad to hear what an elder brother has to say; one who has served a quarter century before God’s altar and still has bunches to learn! THIS seelsorger would urge Mr. Ellefson to use his high profile to make a wonderful testimony; that is, to say something like this: “You know, in retrospect, other men gave up careers far less prestigious than mine and had far less money in the bank than I do, and they came to the seminary to be formed here by it. I need to be formed too! There are men who cannot afford a full-time seminary education, but I can; and I really need to get more rather than less. I have lots of eyes on me, just because of who I am. I’d like to lead the way in doing things right. Playing in a rock band isn’t something I achieved by giving myself half-way to it. I was all in. Being a pastor – while less glamorous – has a weightiness about it that will take me a lifetime to learn. It’s not just about getting educated. It’s about the Lord taking me out of the world and consecrating me for service which is not mine to play around with but to faithfully deliver. I want to go all in on that and help others do that, too!”
Maybe it seems presumptuous of me to put words into another man’s mouth, but this is a rock star who is wanting to become the most humble of servants! The world will be watching as he does! Kids may well show up at his church based simply on who he is. That has its dangers for every pastor, and much more so for a Megadeth rock star! Of course, I’d expect his own pastor to be telling him this, and I imagine David knows it already. However, what he may not know is that the state of our Synod today has many pastors capitalizing on the very things that attract a shallow, fickle world, and that’s the real threat for David! I mean, we figured out that the world will come if we give them the music they like. Is it such a leap to consider that the world will come if the pastor of such and such a place is the bassist for Megadeth? Being that is not David’s fault, nor is it particularly a problem. They knew Jesus as the Carpenter from Nazareth, too, and people flocked to Him for all the wrong reasons. When they did, Jesus told them they were coming for the signs but not for what they were pointing to, and He moved on!
Hmm . . . Imagine a Synod whose pastors would actually say, “You’re coming for idols and rock, but not for Christ’s Gospel taught in its truth and purity!” Maybe David will be mature enough to say that, but in a Synod where congregations intentionally change their style to accommodate a world that clamors for a head-banging good time, I wonder who is going to teach him? I’d be happy to do my part in that . . . and maybe he can give me a guitar lesson or two, or three! And get me backstage to a Megadeth concert!
Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Brandon, MS
That we see His light, and that His light should so enlighten and bring us! That His Light should shine so that even the darkness cannot overcome it!
On the one hand, the Word of God makes sure that things happen at the speed of light! Or, at the speed of His Word, our Light and our Life. For that reason . . . in the beginning, God said, "Let there be light!" And there was! Immediately! Post haste! Spread from one end of the universe to the other . . . in the speed of light!
When God promised our first parents that He would send a Savior, it took awhile for the Light which was coming into the world to actually get here in the way promised. Yet, He came! In the fullness of time! Born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law; to rescue us out of the darkness!
He came, and immediately the heavens opened and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were afraid! Light into the midst of darkness can be blinding and downright scary!
But, in the speed of God’s Word, Light shone for the sake of sinners and the angel said, “Be not afraid.” So, the shepherds came and beheld – by virtue of the benefit of light – that what the angel had told them was true! To US a Savior has been born! And they saw Him as they had been told they would, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger; and when they left, they told everyone what they had heard and seen!
Today is Epiphany, on which we rejoice to hear again that the God Who made the universe, made sure His Word was spoken amidst the nations, even by His people in exile, even by the likes of Daniel, who was in charge of the magi when Israel dwelt by Babylon’s sad waters. Despite the darkness there and then, the Light still shone! Even through many generations, so that magi from the East, when they saw the sign which God had put in the sky, observed that a king had been born. THE King had been born! And so they came. Because of the starry light? Yes. And also because the promise that was given to our first parents in the Garden lived and dwelt among His people by virtue of His Word, and that Word was even carried into exile, where Daniel confessed it before kings and was not put to shame! In fact, He was guarded and kept by the Word of God when Daniel and the three young men were kept from flames by the One in Whom all light has its being!
It took that Light awhile to come into our flesh! When He did, God hung a star up in the sky, and His Light shone from West to East as fast as . . . well, as fast as light! How long did it take the magi to see it? How long did it take for it all to sink in? For the Word that had been spoken before to raise them up to come and see the Light that scatters the darkness? The Gospel of St. Matthew tells us that the Christ child was already in a house when they arrived, and we learn that Herod aimed his sword at little boys 2 years of age and under! Did it take the magi two whole years to travel? Sometimes, it takes that long for the Light to capture our attention, to have His way, to convert us, to bring us in repentant joy and faith!
That the Light shines and that God’s Word works at His own speed, as the Spirit works faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel – that’s a given. As sure and certain and unchanging as the laws of physics that dictate how fast light travels. What is always uncertain is only so to us, from our dim perspective! How long will it take – for hearts to change, for men to be moved, for a Synod to be whole again? How long must the saints pray, “How long, O Lord?” and how much must we put up with – in ourselves, in the world and in each other?
Epiphany leaves us wondering a thing or two, but these are not the point. The Word came! The Word gave His life and took it up again! The Word shone and shines, and as that Word directed magi who had overshot the little town of Bethlehem, so it still is guiding us and people everywhere, from all nations – to where the Christ is dwelling still! To His Church! To His Holy Ministry within that Church! To the faithful preaching and teaching of the Gospel in all its articles! To the Font of Holy Baptism! To the pastor’s Absolution! To the Table of the Lord, where the Word of God gives Christians to eat and drink of His Body and Blood!
How long, O Lord, before Your Light reaches all of the elect of every nation? How long before it reaches all the dark recesses of our hearts, teaching us humility, repentance, faith and love? How long before it has its way with all who would be Christian and Lutheran and Missouri Synod Lutheran?
As I say, Epiphany leaves us with a few questions! What is sure and certain is that the Light and Word of God is working at His own speed and in His own way at His own time! And so we pray that it may come and work among us also – especially in our Synod and her congregations and pastors – so that we not only bask in His light as those who have been called and gathered, but also as those who are enlightened with His Gifts, including His own Spirit, that we may believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives according to it, here in time and there in eternity!
A Blessed Epiphany to all!
Pr. Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Brandon, MS
I must admit, despite the Scroogey Old Adam in me that still likes to balk and complain, I do truly enjoy serving before God's altar here at Good Shepherd! It's not just because I think we have a very lovely altar. (We do!) It's not even because I think it makes a wonderful testimony to all who enter this place that sacred things go on here, in sacred time, making this sacred space. (It does!) The real reason I ever get rejoicing right in my life is because Christ keeps raising up the New Man in me!
Thank God for my baptism! It makes serving before God's altar on a Christmas morning a greater joy even than handing out gifts under a Christmas tree. At least my NEW Man thinks so! So does yours! That's what your baptism says!
And so, serving before God's altar IS a joy to me! Our altar (shown to the left) has Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus! on its mensa, which is covered now by the frontal cloth. It has icons of Peter and Paul, Gabriel and Michael, Mary and Joseph, a reminder that when we gather, we are together with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. Our altar makes that wonderful witness to all who enter our nave. Their eyes are drawn immediately to it, and they know - "This isn't what I'm used to."
I remember the young neighborhood boy who once dropped by for a visit, and upon entering our nave, he asked: "Where's the drum set?" He was used to the church next door. I told him that we had something else front and center; SOMEONE else even better than a motivational speaker or an inspirational band of talented singers and musicians. We have the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the World. We have our High Priest, Who continues to serve us at His altar with His Gifts, His very Body and Blood in bread and wine, for our life, forgiveness and salvation.
The boy never came back, unfortunately, though I'm sure the Lord's not finished with him yet! The world looks to many things this time of year especially. Sunday morning will be Christmas, and while many strive to keep Christ in the midst of it all, it can all too easily just be a mess of presents and wrapping paper and gleeful indulgence in the good gifts the Father of Lights is glad to shower upon us, even without our prayer, even to all evil people, as we confess in the Small Catechism.
For too many, it will be Chris'mus, or Chris'mess. But it's still - even for a world oblivious and chasing after things that are passing away - Christ's Mass, the Word of God Incarnate! True God made Man for our salvation! The Bread of Life come down from heaven, once laying Himself inside a Virgin's womb, and then into a manger, the place where creatures went to eat! And having passed even into a baptism meant for sinners, He - the Lamb of God - carries our sin away with Him to His cross - and lays His life down in place of every sinner.
He laid Himself into our grave, and then, getting up again on Easter, He makes sure that He is laid into the ears and upon the heads of sinners, raising up from the nations a people of His own; filling the earth with those who bear His image by grace, who are Named with the Name that is above every other Name – who hold to everything He commanded, and therebye, rule over the earth and subdue it, being fruitful and multiplying, even as He promised; even as He works in them.
In His Baptism, we decrease and He increases in us. The Old Adam dies daily and the New Man in Christ continually comes forth!
At His Table, the Christ Who washed and cleansed us, Who circumcised our hearts with the circumcision done not by human hands only but by His own through His disciples - that One feeds us, serves us, cares for us. He lays His Body and His Blood into our mouths through bread and wine as surely as He laid Himself into the Virgin's womb, a manger, a cross and then a tomb! And as He once brought life and light out of death and darkness, He even makes sure that out of our messes we are gathered into His Mass, so that, from thence, even our messy lives are hallowed, holy, His!
Yeah, I could hear a drum roll and a trumpet peal and a really cool power chord and guitar solo in glad exclamation of what I just said! Honestly, there are lots of ways I could think of extolling such Good News, including the giving and receiving that we do this time of year, which always requires a few large garbage bags on hand, just to keep us all from being lost under the mess of torn up wrapping paper!
My family and I always enjoy some treats and mixed drinks after Service Christmas Eve! That's extolling the Gift too! But I wouldn't bring such into the Service. There's a time and place for everything, even clinking party glasses, but it's good that the world comes into our sacred places where their eyes are lifted up to see that there is something different going on, something holy, Someone Who has wrapped Himself up for Sacred and Divine Service of those who are being gathered into the choir of angels, singing, "Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to His people on earth!"
If you want some extolling apart form the Divine Service, you can visit my YouTube channel by following this link -
Yes, I'm against turning the Divine Service into a rock concert! Yes, I'm totally opposed to trying to conform to the pattern of the world's entertainment in order to attract and keep more! But we in the ACELC aren't being Bah-Humbug Scrooges in that! We aren't trying to be Grinches, either. We'll have our messes to clean up Christmas, like anyone else! But we'll also have the MASS, and we want all gathered into it, as into someplace that is blessedly different than this world which is passing away! Many of our churches will have special music and even instrumentation other than the organ on Christmas Eve, not in an effort to look like the world, but in an effort to help the world recognize that it has come into holy space and time where holy things are given by Christ to His holy ones, who can still get Scroogey about wanting things our way, but whom the Lord loves and is turning, always turning, back to Himself!
There's a difference, I believe, between changing our forms to make the world comfortable and lifting up the worship of God's people so that the world knows, "We're not in Kansas anymore!" but that heaven itself has come down to earth. Shepherds out in the fields weren't exactly cool with that at first, remember? They were SORE afraid! And the world can get SORE at us when we try to teach them better than they've previously learned. That may happen for many at Christmas, when the world just wants to belly up to the Lord's Table as if, well, since they can belly up to the bar anywhere else, why can't they here? Instead, we'll try to teach them that this isn't like their local watering hole! This is the LORD'S Table, and here He would call us out of our darkness into His marvelous light. So, we want to teach the nations to hold to all that Christ commanded, and in that, we want them coming, in genuine repentance and joy over what they have been given!
The shepherds came when they heard what the angels said. They found Christ where no one expected. What a shocker! Not at all like the world anticipates a King of Kings to be! Wraped in cloths and lying in a manger!
It's a shocker when the world finds out where He still is for our salvation, but there is great joy in that! The shepherds were shocked. Then the angels comforted them. A neighbor boy once looked at our altar and wanted the comfort of what he was used to. I gave him the comfort the angels once gave to shepherds: A Savior is born for you, and here He gives Himself to you in the ways He has wrapped Himself up for sinners and our salvation!
I haven't seen that boy again, but I keep praying, and trusting the Lord to work faith when and where He pleases. Maybe the boy will visit my YouTube site. If he does, he'll see that this pastor likes some cool juxtaposing of video and contemporary music, even Pachelbel rocked up a bit by TSO! There IS a time to rock the house and head bang for Jesus! I do it all the time - at home! Sometimes even in my study at church! But when I'm serving before the Lord's altar at the Feast of the Lamb of God Who takes away our sin, well, it's time for Him to lift us up out of our scroogey demands to have things our way and give us a taste of Eternity, and that's what He does.
Why do I love serving before the Lord's altar? Because the Lord keeps having His blessed way with me! Because it is the Lord's own service and not mine! It's Christ's Mass, wherein He gathers His own and tends them like a shepherd, feasting us with His flesh and blood in bread and wine for our salvation! The Wounded One, risen and ascended, pouring out His Gifts.
And now, I think I'll go watch that video. I kinda feel like some power chords and a cool guitar solo!
A most blessed Christ Mass to all, and God's blessing to all His earthly angels serving before His altar this weekend, telling a confused and sometimes sore world, "Be not afraid!"
+Rev. Rick Sawyer, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Brandon, MS +
I remember watching the movie, Tora! Tora! Tora! when I was twelve years old. My grandfather had been stationed at Pearl Harbor in peace time, but he told me stories of men who were there during the attack. Through his stories, I appreciated why the radar blips showing the approach of the invading air force were dismissed. Every strafe depicted on screen recalled to me my grandfather’s telling of the friend of his who bore the scars of near-misses along one side of his body. I watched that movie and knew men had really died. This wasn’t just Hollywood!
It made all the more poignant to me seeing the telegram informing of the impending attack misdirected and arriving too late; heads of state and military personnel alike relaxing on a Sunday morning in 1941 as the enemy drew near. Men about to die were asleep to that fact, through no fault of their own. Men must sleep, after all, and those who keep watch are far from perfect. Still . . . What if the information available had arrived in time; had been taken more seriously; had been acted on? What if?
It’s been 70 years since Pearl and nearly 40 years since the first time I saw Tora! Tora! Tora! I’m still saddened by what resulted from men’s imperfect responses to the forewarnings they had of an impending fate, and inspired by how men rose to the occasion despite that! This past Sunday, many of us heard our Lord speak of the foreshadowings of the Day that will find many unprepared. He tells us that when we see the things we see – tragic things, frightful things, things that live in infamy and cause men to tremble and faint over what is coming on the world – what should we do? Christ says . . . “Straighten up and lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near!”
Our Lord does not want us asleep to the coming of His Day! He wants us ready and prepared! He does not want us fearful of His wrath or beside ourselves with worry over what that Day may mean – or how we should navigate the days ahead which are leading up to it! “Your redemption is drawing near” means your Jesus is drawing near, and that is meant to comfort, encourage, even make us endure! What Christ did in dying is the Victory we need! The war has been fought and won! Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will indeed come again! We who are kept by Him will be caught up – even in the resurrection of our bodies – and receive an eternal inheritance which shall never fade!
In view of that, we take to heart our Lord’s words this past Sunday to “watch yourselves;” to avoid getting caught up in the dissipation, drunkenness and cares of this life. There’s a lot to distract us and separate us from what Christ has put in place. There’s a lot to dilute our resolve, devotion and faithful attention to the Promise of His Gospel!
When times are rough, it’s easy to turn to other things to take our minds off our worries. We panic, don’t we? I do, at least! We seek to allay our fears with one more this or that, or something done newer or better, with more energy, excitement and in a more upbeat way! What we need is what we have been given, and that is the Gospel of Christ in its truth and purity, and the Sacraments administered rightly according to it.
What happens when our gaze is not in confidence and hope on His coming, but instead is marked by panic and desperation over what is coming on this world – over what we see going on in our own pews, lives and Synod?
It may be helpful to remember that yesterday was also a date worth remembering; Dec. 6 – St. Nicholas’ Day. Most of our children only know him through that transmogrified image of a jolly old elf climbing down chimneys. What they don’t know is Church history and the Bishop who not only took care of the poor through earthly giving but made sure God’s people were served the Gifts of Life everlasting! When Arius came and taught a gospel which is no Gospel at all, denying Christ’s divinity, the story is told that St. Nicholas punched Arius in the nose at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.!
How’s THAT for a jolly old elf!?
When I watched Tora! Tora! Tora! I didn’t get a romance but a war story. It may not have been completely accurate, but it was a story of men who woke and rose to battle.
If our kids watched a movie of the Council of Nicea and saw “Santa” – not kissing Mommy – but hitting Arius for denying the Gospel – what would they think!?
Maybe they would have similar thoughts as I did when I watched men race to a smaller air field – not to escape the fight but to rise and meet it!
Maybe they would react as I did, having heard my grandfather and father tell of “Dorie” Miller – a cook on the USS West Virginia – who manned a .50 caliber machine gun he’d never operated before and fired on enemy planes until he ran out of ammunition. He would die two years later in the line of duty while serving on another ship.
Maybe they would be impressed by Cornelia Fort. In the movie, she and her flying student are overtaken by a squadron of Japanese Zeros, close enough in speed and proximity to exchange glances. In reality, Ms. Fort had to evade a near head-on collision with an incoming Zero, and not long after Pearl, she would be the first woman aviator to die for her country when her plane crashed on a routine mission.
I wonder what difference it would make if our children really knew their history – and not just what has been dissipated, diluted and dumbed-down for their entertainment!
What if they learned that the man behind their Santa stood up for the Faith and punched a heretic in the nose for drawing many aside by his false teaching and practice!?
What do our people think today when their pastors rise to arms and warn them of the dangers of false doctrine and false practices in the liturgy and before God’s holy altar?
What do people think when we punch the spirit of this world in the nose for telling them that anything goes, that times have changed and the words of our Lord – which He says will outlast heaven and earth – are less relevant or authoritative now than when our grandparents were dealing with things like marriage, divorce or sexuality?
In a remake of Miracle on 34th Street, someone asks which is better: a lie that draws a smile or a truth that draws a tear? Which do you think people prefer these days? Isn’t it easier to go on sleeping; to pretend the threat isn’t real? We hear the warnings. We see the signs. But if we take them seriously, then this is war!
The ACELC is just one voice in our Synod reminding us all of the real and present danger whenever our desires are catered to and the things of God get altered for public approval and appeal. We may strike some as just a bunch of cooks who have no business making any noise, but then I think of “Dorie” Miller. He had many reasons NOT to take the position he did that day – but he rose to the occasion, nonetheless.
Sometimes I wonder who St. Nicholas would be bopping on the nose if he were here? What enemies threaten to keep God’s people from knowing the truth about what we actually believe, teach and confess? Are the real Luther, the real St. Paul, even the real Jesus and the Faith He once entrusted to the saints as un-marketable today to the masses as the real St. Nicholas?
70 years ago, Pearl Harbor woke a sleeping giant. The Day will finally come when no one will be able to slumber. Until then, Christ continues to tell us our Redemption is drawing near. In fact, it has never been withdrawn! The Enemy won’t want you believing this, but in and through the Promise of your baptism, the forgiveness of Holy Absolution, and the Life and Salvation Christ feeds you at His Holy Table, our Redeemer is keeping His Bride, the Church, until the Day He comes in glory! And that’s a Day not to live in infamy, but in which God’s saints will live eternally!
Pastor Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Brandon, MS
An interesting discussion ensued after my last ACELC blog was posted by someone over at the Brothers of St. John the Steadfast. You can check it out here http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=2094#comment-221452
I've said what I'm going to say in that forum. There are those who continually cast the ACELC in a bad light, accusing us of what they themselves won't do! But, you can determine that for yourself. See if any of the pastors have refused to admit fault or failing. We can all do better. My own blog, which occasioned the discussion, I believe was inclusive in its use of pronouns; carefully so. The masks need to come off us all! CAN we do things better? Of course! Are we trying? We can always try better, with God's help! But no matter how much we snap our fingers, WE cannot effect the salvation of a single soul! We can effect the increase of numbers on our roster, of course, and many do - by watering down, by dumbing down, by presenting a version of the Truth that is culturally appealing. Cross-marketing strategies call for such methods, but they aren't given to the Church; not that I've seen! It's not what Luther modelled for us! Unless I'm wrong!
Always willing to repent, if shown from Scripture and sound reason! (Now, who taught me to speak that way?) And I'm not being brazen in saying that, but honest. My last comment to the above thread is below. Feel free to chime in on this. We ARE wanting genuine conversation of these matters, no matter how difficult they may be!
My last post to BJS . . .
Since it was my blog posted here, I’ll make my final comments. I’m happy to further discuss what I’ve written and what the ACELC is about. I’ll post this also on our own blog, if anyone’s interested in speaking further. I’ve no interest in continuing with one who shows himself too much a pontificator, and a pompous one at that, and so little of what truly becomes a pastor. And so little of what he demands from others in the way of humility.
Despite that, I want to thank the brother for making so much of my point. He'd be one of the first to blog to Luther: "Who set YOU up to be judge of the Church? Stay in Wittenberg and keep your opinions to yourself! There’s an elected Pope overseeing things! Let him do his job! You, little man who are only a priest, keep quiet! Stop your yapping and finger pointing and let the Big Dogs do the talking!”
For those who disagree with the ACELC’s efforts, let me say that in so far as it depends on any of us, we should live peaceably with all! I am far more willing to converse civilly and rationally with those who oppose me than apparently they are in return. We should bear with one another's weaknesses, flaws and failings. That includes the fact that some are more excitable and some more irenic. The church of the Reformation has had her Luther types and her Melancthon types. For many, Luther is just too unyielding; too apt to see a fight worth fighting. There IS a place for such differences, and we ought not be quick to dismiss either. The Body needs all of her parts!
This whole thread has shown, however, how easy it is for one side to criticize the other for being what the one criticizing actually is. It's like one political side in the US screaming for tolerance when they themselves are intolerant of the side that is taking a principled and unyielding stand. We see it all the time. We've seen it here!
My blog expressed my own dismay that over 25 years in the Ministry, I have had to fight a number of battles over what should be basic for Lutherans! Closed communion, the liturgy, pure doctrine, the Office of the Ministry, even more mundane matters such as making the sign of the cross. Mercy too, as well as love, patience and forgiveness, are all ongoing struggles for pastors in the parish, as we try to teach and model how spouses should love and cherish each other and not go the way of divorce.
In 25 years at one place, I've tried to bring the flock here along in what genuine Lutheranism is. As an editor at CPH once told me, “Most congregations of the LCMS aren’t as far along as yours is.” I can’t say for sure how accurate she was, but experience has shown me that she was bang on! Faithful pastors struggle to bring their flocks along in the Faith. That covers both Tables of the Law and all the Articles of the Creed! It's no different than St Paul telling Timothy that genuine worship has to do with caring for widows, or the Romans that it has to do with not being conformed to this world, or our Lord and St John teaching that believing isn't about our hearts but about Christ's words!
People intolerantly cry out against that, in my experience. They feel threatened. They want to defend themselves, their places of honor or security, their fiefdoms, their own religion, so they cast aspersions and stones. Nothing new in this. We all do it, as my blog said! Yes, we ALL do it!
I realize the ACELC comes off to some as stone throwers. Every pastor who has spent more than a few years in the parish knows that conversation where someone thinks the pastor was preaching at them. Getting personal. Meddling. I've been told to butt out by a few in a quarter century of seelsorgering! I’m sure some of that was my fault, too!
We DO have to be careful, patient, loving, humble, did I mention patient?! But those who are given to preach cannot be silent about sin. There will be critics, and we need to be ready to repent where we ourselves have erred. As the pastors in this discussion have readily admitted, we can always do better. We live with that thought daily, more than the stone throwers realize. But Christ spoke in a way that people didn't always like, and the prophets, apostles and fathers too! So did Luther! In 25 years, I’ve yet to have anyone plot my murder (that I know of), so I pretty much figure I’ve not yet spoken as forthrightly as our Lord, but I keep trying! :-)
Even when Luther wasn't being acerbic, he can rub Lutherans wrong! We rah-rah being Lutheran, but too many of our folks have been denied so much of what we actually believe, teach and confess. When pastors try to teach it, as I have here, people may find that they weren't very Lutheran after all. I’ve heard from a few, “Not everyone believes what we teach, you know, Pastor!” My response? “They SHOULD!” And when they realize they really don’t and don’t want to? They may up and leave, giving ammo for those who like to slap onto firearms the insignias of those who really DID use their swords in defense of the truth! I mean, not metaphorically, but really used their swords, even at their own expense!
How much easier it would be, numerically speaking, for pastors to take the mile wide and inch deep approach! To leave their people where they are comfortable; where our Lutheran confession really doesn’t interfere with their ways of living – or doing “ministry!” How much harder to take up the sword of the Spirit and speak the truth, in love, of course, no matter what the cost!
We speak a word that the Old Man doesn’t want to hear. Die, Monster! Die! (Remember, I happen to LIKE Halloween and Boris Karloff!) :-) We truly are at war, as St. Paul reminds us in Ephesians. That may not spill blood physically, but it does get messy, at least in the parish where the trenches are! I remember when Dr. Scaer used to say we in the LCMS are all a bunch of Methodists! More than a few years in the parish will teach you how right he was! The battle going on in our Synod right now is between those who know genuine Lutheranism won't appeal like pseudo-Luthero-Metho-Bapti-Costalism will and those who say, "Let God give the increase as HE will! Ours is to sow the Good seed, knowing that some will grow and some will not, and some will hate us for what we do. They hated Him first, so, what of that, and what of that?"
I'm not blind to the need for patience when moving people from the status quo to what the Lord has given and put in place! Gentleness IS needed! So is firmness, and wisdom to know the difference.
Years ago I spoke with a CPH editor about the VBS material we’d used. I was incensed! Why, when teaching the Flood account, was there NO mention of baptism, when that’s where the New Testament goes with it?! Know what I was told? “We’re trying to cross-market to non-Lutherans, and they won’t buy our material if we’re too overt about things like that.” And there you go! The marketing mentality vs the “But this isn’t a business! It’s the Church of Christ, and where have we been taught in Scripture that we have to water things down in order to succeed?”
Some ARE in the business of marketing, of course, and they have their eyes on the bottom line and spread sheets. Pastors worry over those things too; at least I do, and we DO have to be mindful of how much people can handle at one time. Did I mention we need to be patient? (My mention of 25 years in one place is not bragging; rather, I’m hoping it testifies to how I feel about patience!) But, the prophets weren’t killed because they employed marketing strategies. Christ wasn’t crucified because someone higher up decided – “After 3 years, he’s only got 12 disciples, and one of them is selling him out and all the rest will beat a fast retreat, and most of those who had been on his roster are now crying for his crucifixion!” Nope. But that’s how business models and large holdings as incorporations teach us to think. Fire the CEO! It’s how we’ve learned to think as people whose Lutheranism is largely cultural; you know, “My Grandfather’s Synod,” et al. I’m not dismissing our history and heritage. I've been in this Synod nearly 51 years!
I'm just saying that’s not what Luther wanted it to be about, but about Christ and His Gospel, for which St. Paul was ready to speak some pretty strong words in Galatians, and for which men have actually gone into battle and given their lives. Not something to sell or water down for the sake of cross-marketing to those who wouldn’t have it otherwise. I just can’t find where the Scriptures or our genuine forefathers ever taught us such. But, I could be wrong!
Rev. Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Brandon, MS
Lots of masks at my front door last night! How about yours? Happy post-traumatic Halloween to us all! No more door bells setting the dog to yapping! Just a few artificial cobwebs still hanging from my neighbor’s trees (she likes to go all out!) and too much candy left in my house for me to consume!
Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve. Of course, it was also the Feast of the Reformation yesterday, though most of us likely observed it Sunday!
So, are the masks off yet?
What I mean is, do we rah-rah being Lutheran on Reformation Sunday without the Faith we believe, teach and confess actually going further than skin-deep?
If we observed the feast of the Reformation, chances are we heard from John 8. Have you noticed that Christ is speaking to “believers” in that chapter?
ESV John 8:30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
As if it weren’t enough to say it once, the Evangelist makes sure we hear it twice; after all, what unfolds next will make it easy to think that Our Lord wasn’t speaking to believers at all! So, John writes . . .
ESV John 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. . .
Unfortunately, what John 8 reveals is true for all of us at one point or another. It was true for St. Peter at Caesarea Philippi, where he made the good confession and was commended by Christ. Then, after hearing the precious Gospel preached, how the Son of Man must be crucified and rise again, Peter lets his heart get the better of him and he rebukes the Lord, saying: “This shall never happen to you!”
The Lord pulls the mask off rather abruptly after that, revealing who is really speaking in and through the passionate eruption of Peter’s love for his Savior. With a bluntness that would get the average LCMS pastor in some pretty hot water if he spoke to any of his members in the same way, Jesus says, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” You no longer have the things of God in mind, but those of men.
If Peter’s mask can come off that quickly, anybody’s can! So, when the believing Jews start turning, well, rather more into a mob of the Walking Dead than the living disciples of Christ, it shouldn’t surprise us! One moment, they’re described as having “believed in him,” and the next, as if hell had burped out a host of zombies!
ESV John 8:33 They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"
Umm, apparently zombies don’t remember their past life, ‘cause the Old Testament’s FULL of God’s people being enslaved – by Egypt, Babylon, not to mention their own persistent tendency to take what God gives as a Gift and turn it into the works by which men think they can carry on in their own ways, having put on the right costume, rung God’s doorbell and run off with His treats to play all the tricks they want on their neighbor! As if God’s going to be fooled by our veneer-thin plastic masks!
Jesus isn’t fooled. That’s why He puts no stock in the believing of men, but pokes His finger through our molded make-up and touches on the heart of the matter. “If you remain in – abide in – My Word, THEN you are truly My disciples; you will know the truth and the truth will set you free!”
It’s not about our hearts, but about HIS mouth! You know, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by Christ’s preaching!”
The problem with us, however, is that we’re so sure of our believing that we really don’t like the words coming out of Christ’s mouth! What’s this about calling us slaves to sin? What’s this about Jesus talking as if everything depends on Jesus! Aren’t we something, in and of ourselves? Can’t God see that we believe!?
When Luther posted His 95 Theses, the first of which said that when Christ said “Repent,” He meant that the whole life of the Christian should be one of repentance, Luther was trying to get us off US! It’s not about me! It’s about Jesus!
When we say, “Sola Fide” at Reformation, we’re not saying that I’m saved – as long as God can seen in my heart that I believe!
We Lutherans do a lot of rah-rahing without really paying attention to the Scriptures or what our own Confessions say on the basis of them!
It’s not what I say I believe, but what Christ speaks, does and gives; and what He goes on giving and doing and saying in and through His Holy Ministry in the Church (which Luther called the Larvae Dei - or Masks of God through which CHRIST is at work to save us)! Nothing skin deep about them! No way! Scratch beneath the water of Baptism and . . . Jesus! Scratch beneath the preaching, teaching and absolving of your pastor and . . . Jesus! Scratch beneath the bread and wine of Holy Communion and . . . Christ's own Flesh and Blood!
It’s about Jesus! Or as Jesus puts it, “If the SON sets you free, you are free, indeed!”
If the SON says you’re forgiven, your forgiven! If the Son says it’s finished by His dying on the cross, then it is! Forget about what YOU say and listen to God’s Son!
That made the Pope on his throne just a little nervous! It made the Jews in John 8 rabid! Today, someone would tell Jesus He was speaking as if only Jesus is going to heaven and everybody else is going to hell! They’d say He needed some work on interpersonal relations; needed to work on speaking in a way people can hear!
Jesus would say: “They’re hearing me just fine. They just don’t like what they’re hearing! Their problem is that they are not of My Father but of the father of lies! They are sons of darkness and hell, not of light!”
Yeah, that’ll get you a visit from the District President or Circuit Counselor, for sure!
You might hear the letters CRM float around! Maybe a nice vacation, Jesus, or a call to a congregation where you’ve got a better fit with the people!
Instead, Jesus stuck it out and they crucified Him. He went the distance, despite all the outcries against Him, all the acrimony and hate. He did it in love – for their salvation!
1500 or so years later, Luther got excommunicated. He didn’t play the political game. He didn’t play nice with error. He spoke the truth – in love, and those who were against it heard him loud and clear. Luther was willing to discuss and debate, of course, but he would only be captive to God’s Word and sound reason. He stepped on some pretty big toes when he said that councils and popes can err. That’s like saying Synod in convention can err! I wonder if anyone told him he wasn’t following the agreed upon way of voicing his dissent? Luther just wanted the Church to get back to its proper moorings. If he was wrong, he was willing to listen. But he wouldn’t be quiet.
Neither would Our Lord! Christ kept speaking until the masks of those who believed came off and their unbelief was revealed. He wasn’t being mean or cruel or intentionally divisive; not in a bad way, at least. He was being their Savior; stripping them down until there was nothing left for them but Jesus, along with everything He said, commanded, did and put in place for their freedom! To oppose that isn’t of the Spirit, but of the Father of Lies. So, Jesus called Peter “Satan.” And Jesus told the Jews who had believed in Him that they were the spawn of hell, as long as they kept opposing what He said.
By that, He meant to save them! Sadly, instead of repenting and being His disciples, instead of being set free, they chose slavery to their own sins, desires and opinions. They chose to keep Christ at arm’s distance and so picked up stones to kill Him!
What a lesson for us all, now that the rah-rahing of being Lutheran is over and the costumes are put away!
We say we are Lutherans, but that is no child’s game; no costume party! What the Lord says to us is not always easy to hear! It calls us all to repentance, for feigning love of Christ but then, not trusting what He has given us, not even wanting to hear and learn it as we should! We bandy about the name of Luther, but if he were our pastor, preaching how the false teachers should be pelted with dung and driven out of the church, how many of us wouldn’t be phoning someone to complain about how unloving Pastor Martin is!? Would we be unsure about associating with someone who is, well, that volatile, impassioned, whose convictions run so deep that he doesn’t seem to pull his punches, but even dares speak out against what synods had put in place long before?!
Do we still have the depth of Luther’s conviction? I wonder. I wonder how many of Luther’s sermons I could get by with in today’s Missouri Synod; how many times the term “damnamus” would be permitted before someone said we needed to play nice. I wonder how many who take pride in the Reformation would have a fit to hear Luther urge them to private confession or to make the sign of the cross? I wonder how many of us who loudly assert our agreement with the Lutheran Confessions don’t really care to hear what they have to say or look beyond a bare surface treatment of their words? I wonder how many of us prefer them not to interfere with our way of doing “ministry”?
Yes, Halloween’s over and the masks are off! But Christ and His Word remain, and He would have us remain in them! Only in the external Ministry of the Faith He put in place, which Luther boldly confessed, do we remain His disciples – and truly free!
A Happy post-Reformation – All Hallow’s Eve to you! And yes, that would make this a Happy All Saints’ Day to one and all!
Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran Church + Brandon, MS
I really wasn't an Apple fan, though I had a bit of Apple envy! In the dorm at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, there was one guy that first year - back in 1984 - who had a Macintosh! WAY cool, for someone like me, who had always thought punching holes in computer cards was just for the nerdy kids who wore white shirts and had pocket protectors filled with pens. Then I saw a Mac! WAY cool!
'Course, I never could quite afford one, and while I've had a number of computers through the years, whenever it came to buying a computer, my lack of funds always made me choose something other than Apple!
Overcoming our lusts is what separates us from those who bury themselves in debt, I guess! But I'm not too proud to admit I have them. Lusts, I mean! The more acceptable of them are what make my Bucket List! My "I gotta do before I die" list. Even my "I wanna do today, right now, regardless of the neighbor God has given me to serve or the duties He would have me attend, or the money I can afford to spen!" list.
Man, those lists can get long!
Sunday, I had no idea that Steve Jobs might be about to die - his health wasn't even on my radar screen. Still, this phrase came up in my sermon Sunday . . .
"One more thing. . ."
What I preached is this . . .
"Have you ever felt like you’ve reached your limit? The widow in Zarephath had. Until the Lord sends her one more thing! He sends her a prophet!
1 Kings 17:9 'Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow to feed you.'
Doesn’t the Lord know she is POOR? Hungry? Ready to die? What is the Lord saying by sending her a prophet to feed? He is saying that His Word and Ministry aren’t just 'one more thing' to deal with! They ARE The ONLY thing that will help you deal with everything else!"
We get so preoccupied with living, we forget that there will come a time when only one thing remains on our Bucket List, and that's . . . "Kick it!"
Steve Jobs is getting a lot of attention today, for obvious reasons. His life ended up being iconic. Sadly, I understand that while he began his life catechized and confirmed in a Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod congregation, he did not remain faithful in that.
Maybe life got in the way. I don't know. I know it gets in my way all the time. I fail to rule it as the baptized child of God I am. Instead, it rules me; my desires to have or do what I want rather than living from the Word of God, pursuing the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, as Jesus puts and as I've been preaching to the school kids in Matins all week.
Matthew 6:33 is the children's memory verse this week. Last night at Vespers, I told the few gathered in pursuit of God's Word that this verse still has a long way before it sinks sink in as it should for me! I hadn't even heard yet that Jobs was dead. Still, I used the "One more thing" phrase again last night.
May I confess something?
I didn't even know until this morning that that was a phrase he liked to use! Despite my Apple envy, I just never bothered paying much attention to the man behind a brand I wanted but didn't have the money to buy. Then, today, in reading of the man, I learned that this phrase was his way of leading to the next big, exciting, eagerly anticpated thing!
How I pray God's people learn to treat God's Word as "one more thing" THAT way! But I know it seems it's just "one more thing" among many too often. There’s just SO much going on! Not enough time! More important stuff to attend to and deal with! A pastor’s urging us to pursue the Kingdom of God – which comes when He gives us His Spirit so that we live from His Word as our MAIN thing – a pastor’s urging toward that can come off too often as burdening us with just one more thing, in a negative kind of way.
Sigh! If only the Lord had told us pastors to hand out free iPads rather than the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through His Word!
If only the Lord had made living and dying in His Word exciting, as exciting and attractive as all the things on my lists of what I’m willing to spend time and money and energy pursuing with a frenzied passion!
Our Lord was right when He said that the children of this world know better how to make use of the stuff of this world than the Children of Light know how to make use of the Things that will outlast this world! Sobering, is it not?
If I may be permitted to learn from one who apparently forsook his Lutheran faith and upbringing (though I pray it may have had its way with him in the end!), I'd like to leave you with a quote from Mr. Jobs. In 2005, having begun his fight with cancer, he delivered Stanford University's commencement speech, in which he said . . .
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life," he said. "Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."
One more thing to do, and that's to die. It certainly sobers a person! It does me!
The Widow of Zarephath thought she had one thing left to do, and that was to eat her last meal and die with her son. God's Word broke in and said, in more of a Steve Jobs way than even Mr. Jobs could have imagined . . . "One more thing! You are NOT going to die, not yet, not now, not like this . . . for the Word of the Lord says something else entirely!"
And so it did!
So God's Word came into this world of ours and spoke "One more thing" over and over! Forgiveness in the place of our sins! Light in the place of our darkness! Communion and fellowship with God into the despair of our loneliness and separation! Life into the face of our death! Christ in the place of every sinner, for our salvation!
On the cross, He said, "It is finished!" - but with that, He declared a new beginning! Having risen from the dead, He goes on speaking and serving us in His Church, as He once baptized and fed Steve Jobs in his youth.
In death, Mr. Jobs reminds me that we, as Christians, do not just live constantly in the face of earthly death but in view of God's Mercy that speaks us alive even on the day we die. By that Word, God will raise us up again when Christ returns for the TRULY Last Thing . . . the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!
I pray that Mr. Jobs is in that resurrection to life. That will just have to be left to the Lord, Who once put His Name on him and fed him the same Communion I will partake of this coming Sunday. The sobering reality that Mr. Jobs did not remain in that throughout his days - though who can know what God may have done with it in that man’s final hours? – the sobering reality of that reminds me now in the wake of his death of the importance of remaining steadfast in the Faith and not being pulled away by the world's never-ending "oh, by the way, one more thing . . . and another one more thing . . . and, here's one more thing . . . " – charging me for every single one more thing until I’ve nothing left to give!
There will be a long, long string of one more things to tempt me and want me to turn from and let go of the One Thing Needful. One day, that string will snap and I'll be at the end of my bucket list. Steve Jobs says, that's when you're faced with only what is truly important, and it’s not the next iPhone (which I finally own now - well, the G3, after the price dropped!) or iPad. No, what is truly important won't be the next whatever Apple or anyone else has to offer, but what Christ has put in place in His Church. Eternal things, never to be improved on, never to be replaced with the next version, but outlasting everything else and making those who live from them last as well - as I preached Sunday. And these are not ours to begin to live from only in the last few moments, when it’s clear – even to us – that they really are all we’ve got left. Rather, they are ours to make all our living in this life genuine, real, selfless instead of selfish or self-serving. They are ours by which we learn to manage all things accordingly, rather than be ruled by. They are ours by which to live this side of eternity in Christ and even "into the ages of ages."
Rev. Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd Lutheran + Brandon, MS