Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sermon for St. Michael's and All Angels

29 September 2009 – Holy Mass 7pm – Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church
Fr. Gary W. Schultz

Only do not Thou forsake me, for if I am left to myself, I will surely bring it all to destruction.
In the name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.
      We confess in the Nicene Creed that we believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.  In the Church, we recognize many days throughout the year for the work of the saints.  Not all saints are human.  We are surrounded by a great invisible host of Our Lord’s creation in the order of angels, His holy messengers.  This day is set aside in the church to commemorate the work of angels and especially of St. Michael the Archangel.
      There are lots of false teachings concerning angels.  Some are so obsessed with angels that they make them into something that they’re not.  You don’t become an angel in heaven, nor are our loved ones departed in the Faith floating around as angels.  Angels are not bare-bottomed babies or feminine fairies.  Angels are described as mighty warriors who serve Our Lord and protect and defend His church.
      There is also the tendency to dismiss the work of angels altogether, to think that educated and sophisticated people in the twenty-first century are above such silly myths.
      Angels, however, are throughout the Scriptures and are present throughout the events of Christ’s life.  It was the Angel Gabriel who brought the message of the Holy Ghost to the Blessed Virgin Mary that conceived Our Lord in her womb.  The host of angels sang praises at Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem: Glory be to God on high, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.  Angels attended Our Lord after His temptation in the wilderness.  At the resurrection, angels were present at the tomb.
      Today’s Gospel tells us of our need for the ministry of angels.  Jesus said, Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Angels defend God’s “little ones,” His Christians, like you.
      The Christian Faith is a child-like trust in Jesus and His work.  It is not naive or uninformed.  But it is a Faith that believes because Jesus says so.  It is faith that forgets human reason, our desire for control and power, and forgets about how things “seem” in the world.
      See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.  We are the little ones, who are protected by Our Lord’s angels.
      The Christian life is not easy.  The devil, the world, and our own flesh promise to make it difficult.  Life for a Christian in this world is a battlefield.  Satan and his demons work with all their might to attack Christians, to drive them away from the Faith.  It always is his aim and pride, Thy Christian people to divide.  Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking whom He may devour.  He seeks to destroy your Faith, the Holy Christian Church, and this parish.
      The reality of the battle is taught by Luther.  In the catechism, the core of the Christian Faith, he teaches that we are to pray each morning and each evening: Let Thy holy angels be with me, that the wicked foe may have no power over me.  Or as the Church prays at bedtime prayer: Visit, we beseech Thee, O Lord, this habitation, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy.  Let Thy holy angels dwell herein to preserve it in peace and let Thy blessing be always upon us.
      But watchful is the angel band / That follows Christ on every hand / To guard His people where they go / And break the council of the foe. (TLH 254:7)
      What are the weapons in this battle? Satan and his demons fight with words – lies, half-truths, and deception.  They speak words of accusation: “How could you be forgiven after what you’ve done?  Do you think God could forgive you?”  Or words of temptation: “Did God really say, You may not eat from any tree in the garden.  You will not surely die.  Doesn’t God want you to be happy?  Why don’t you just do whatever would give you pleasure, and get whatever your flesh desires, and put yourself ahead for once.”
      What do the angels fight with?  As we sang in the Introit: Bless the Lord, ye His angels, that excel in strength: that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word.  They fight with the Word of truth – not just any true statements, but with Jesus Himself – the Word of God in the flesh, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  They fight with the Word of God, who created them.  The Word knit together in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Word who was tempted by Satan for us, the Word who touched death to defeat it, the Word who went to the cross for the payment for sin, the Word who rose from the tomb to crush the ancient serpent’s head.
      They fight with the Word, who comes to us this day in His Holy Body and Blood.  We join in this saving meal with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, singingHoly, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth, that is, Lord God of angel armies!

      Dear Christian, God hath given His angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways 
      For this, now and in days to be, / Our praise shall rise, O Lord, to Thee, / Whom all the angel hosts adore, / With grateful songs forevermore. (TLH 254:8)

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

is Christianity a Western Religion?

Bonhoeffer on Suffering

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in "The Cost of Discipleship..."

“The cross…is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ…The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die…It is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man…Only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and…the baptism in the name of Christ means both death and life…Baptism sets the Christian in the middle of the daily arena against sin and the devil…The wounds and scars he receives in the fray are living tokens of this participation in the cross of his Lord…While it is true that only the sufferings of Christ are a means of atonement, yet since has suffered for and borne the sins of the whole world and shares with his disciples the fruits of his passion, the Christian also has to bear the sins of others…but he would certainly break down under this burden, but for the support of him who bore the sins of all. The passion of Christ strengthens him to overcome the sins of others buy forgiving them. He becomes the bearer of other men’s burdens – “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). As Christ bears our burdens, so ought we to bear the burdens of our fellow-men. The law of Christ…is the bearing of the cross. My brother’s burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share…Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christian’s duty to bear.”

Something to consider when looking for a church

I am sometimes asked questions concerning how one finds a ‘good’ church.  I will of course do some quick research and point them to the closest confessional Lutheran parish near them in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments correctly administered.  Furthermore, I would hope to find the availability of private confession and absolution which lies at the very heart and center of pastoral care.  Among the Lutherans, “The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence (AC XXIV).” 

One thought I often hear is “I want a church where I feel comfortable,” or more specifically “I want a church that fits my lifestyle.”  I suppose I can agree that it is right and good to have a comfortable church, especially for family, children and so forth.  A church family ought to be friendly, hospitable, and loving.  However, I do wonder how this squares away theologically if we make “comfort” a fixed and primary principle when it comes to prayerfully finding a church and desiring membership.   

Being in a Christian community however, is not so much “comfortable” in the sense that we desire.  It is not “self-affirming.”  True preaching of the Gospel does not build up my “self-esteem.”  The preaching of God’s law doesn’t not support my “lifestyle” in any way whatsoever.  I am not “accepted” the “way I am."
True preaching breaks us.  It exposes and shames us.  It is devastating.  Self-righteousness, self-esteem, my lifestyle, and the flesh are crushed.  The Christian life is not especially comfortable.         

In Peter’s first sermon when he preaches Christ crucified we find that those listening, “were cut to the heart.”  Then those hearing desperately cried out to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself" (Acts 2:37-39).

The act of preaching and hearing of the Gospel involves a crucifixion of Christ.  Those hearing are “cut to the heart.”  Preaching lacerates the human heart which is a factory of idols.  It exposes shameful sins, and vice, and brings them to the light of Christ’s cross.  This is not comfortable.  In holy baptism the old adam, the old sinful being, who desires self righteous comfort and inner security “should be daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” 

That we are to be drowned and killed is not a metaphor for some new-age spiritual quest.  Saint Paul writes, “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).

We ought to desperately approach a faithful church community that confesses the work of Christ and disperses his Holy gifts in Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Preaching, along with God’s Word of Absolution – that is Jesus.  The flesh wants none of these things however.  The old man does not want to be crucified.  He does not want to be exposed.  He does not want to be shamed.  He does not want to risk “being cut to the heart.”  He was to be “accepted as he is” and this old man goes to great lengths to find or develop a church community that reflects his own image rather than God’s. 

One of my favorite theologians of the church Hans Iwand (1899-1960) provides an excellent commentary on Luther’s theology on faith as relates to the first commandment.  Iwand’s very insightful reflection here may be a helpful consideration when considering where to worship and receive the gifts of Christ.   

“True faith has to do with being confronted with Another who makes us relinquish our own calculations and thoughts, wishes and hopes, and who breaks into our lives as a foreign reality, insisting that we recognize him as such.  God judges over the world and over all people and faith means to make this judgment one’s own.  But the judgment of God over people and their, their will, and their inner life is diametrically opposed to what people want to believe about themselves.  Thus whenever God’s Word meets us, it meets us as the enemy.  For, wherever God’s Word is portrayed so as to be in accord with people’s hopes and desires and wherever it is accepted as a truth that corresponds with their preconceptions, then we know right away that is not God’s Word we are dealing with.

The adjusting of the Word to man and to his preferences Luther sees as an immediate and general sign of heresy.  To the degree that men align God’s will with their own and his revelation with their own wishes and desires, they cancel out the concrete reality of God and make him into their own likeness or what they’d like him to be.  Luther calls this the annihilation Dei, or the annihilation of God.”[1]    

[1] Hans J. Iwand, . The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2008, p. 22.
(I took the picture at the top somewhere near Armitage and Hoyne in Chicago - I cannot remember the name of the church)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

J.S. Bach's Coffee Cantata

Thou naughty child, thou wanton hussy,

Ah, when will I achieve my way?
For me, off coffee lay!
Dear Father, do not be so strict!

For if I may not thrice each day
My little cup of coffee drink,
I'll turn indeed to my distress
Into a dried-up goat for roasting.

Ah! How sweet the coffee's taste is,
Sweeter than a thousand kisses,
Milder than sweet muscatel.

Coffee, coffee, I must have it, 
And if someone wants to treat me, 
Ah, my cup with coffee fill!

Get plenty to eat and drink

Table Talk recorded by John Schlaginhaufen.  Spring, 1532.

Those who are assailed by doubts should be given plenty to eat and drink.  Early this morning the devil was disputing with me concerning Zwingli, and I discovered that a person who is well-fed is better fitted for disputation with the devil than a person who is fasting.  Think, for example, of the bishop who, when his sister came to him troubled with such great thoughts that she could not free herself from them, have her plenty to eat and drink.  Three days later he asked her how she felt.

'Very well,' she replied.
'What has happened to the thoughts that before troubled you?'
'I have quite forgotten them,' she answered.

Accordingly you should eat and drink and enjoy yourself.  Those who are afflicted with spiritual temptations should be given plenty to eat and drink, but whoremongers and those assailed by lust should fast.

(From Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel.  Translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert)
(painting from Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a detail of 'Peasant Wedding' 1568)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I have been enjoying Bach’s Brandenburg concertos this week. J.S. Bach presented them in 1721 while “Kapellmeister,” the music director in the small town of Coethen. I have the recording from the English Chamber Orchestra - Benjamin Britten. I think I have neglected Bach's "secular works," - though I am sure he saw all his music as reflecting the glory of God and Christ's incarnation - so am looking forward to exploring more.

The Loving Practice of Closed Communion

The confessional Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, as well as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities all practice the historic practice of “closed communion.” This means that Pastors in the church are to catechize and shepherd Christians to the altar by lovingly examining and hearing the confessions of members who desire the precious gift of the Lord’s Supper. The Lutheran church believes, teaches, and confesses that the Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the bread and wine given for us to eat and drink.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat, this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Everything about the early church we know is that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We must know that eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ is not “metaphorical” of some alternative activity. Jesus is the sacrifice to be eaten and drank. He says, “This IS my body…This IS my blood…eat…drink…for you.”

“Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drink without the recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:26-29).

The admonition from the apostolic teaching is that we drink “worthily” when we confess what this precious gift truly is along with our desire to receive it for the forgiveness of sins. It is the loving pastoral practice of the church to examine or ascertain that a Christian desires this promise, along with the bodily eating and drinking of the sacrament. If we approach the altar and reject the Lord’s real physical presence , “without recognizing the body of the Lord” we eat and drink judgment against ourselves. That is the sacrament can be harmful to our faith if we partake of it in unbelief. This is why pastors, for love of the people, so desperately desire their people to know what a holy and precious gift this is.

The practice of “closed communion” does not mean that the orthodox church is sectarian or exclusionary. The loving practice of closed communion is precisely because we believe in fellowship – that we gather around the risen Lord Christ and receive His gifts. We all have a common confess, we confess the same faith, the same baptism – we believe in the one holy Christian and apostolic church. If we admit everybody and anyone who randomly walks into church to the Lord’s Supper, we are neither treasuring the precious sacrament, nor are we loving those people receiving the sacrament.

If a Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist walks in off the street and we immediately bring them to the altar we are breaking the fellowship of that particular congregation and the larger Christian community. Those who gather around this Holy Supper find their unity and fellowship precisely because they confess the same Lord who lavishes upon us forgiveness, peace, and the resurrection of the dead. The Lord’s Supper is for baptized Christians who desire the bodily eating and drinking of heavenly food and drink, along with the heavenly promise that comes along with it. For in the Lord’s Supper we ENTER HEAVEN ITSELF through Jesus our high priest (Hebrews 10:20-22).

As Martin Luther keenly observed, “the altar rail is the pulpit of the laity,” meaning, that this is where the Christian community preaches to one another – confessing to God and before the whole world the faith in which we shall live and die and live again. Kneeling at the altar in anticipation of the heavenly feast is where we confess and preach that which we will be doing in eternity. If we take this precious gift seriously and truly believe what our Lord says about it, it would be foolish to treat it just as if we were getting together to have a little “spiritual love fest” – a “feel-good” spiritual snack.

As Dr. Edward Veith writes, “Not only is Christ present at the altar, He gives Himself to us. As we eat the bread, we are receiving, in an intimate and personal way, His body that was broken on the cross. When we sip the wine, we are receiving His blood that sealed the covenant, assuring the forgiveness of sin. We are literally united with Christ – Christ crucified, resurrected, ascended – bridging the gap between here and Golgotha, now and eternity.”[1]

It comes as a necessity that the church must identify heresy and false teaching regarding the sacrament, that we may truly have “fellowship.” and "unity." The church cannot be ecumenical if she does not reject, correct, and rebuke false confessions of the faith out of love for the purity of the Gospel.

[1] Veith, Edward, Spirituality of the Cross, 51.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Sermon by Pastor Gary Schultz

15th Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 6:24-34)

The Rev. Gary W. Schultz, Pastor
Mount Calvary Ev. Lutheran Church - Eagle Grove, IA
Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church - Rowan, IA

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

We have a lot of things that we think we need. We cling to things that it seems we can’t live without. For example, probably all of us have some savings or investments set aside somewhere. This is really a remarkable thing in the history of the world: for regular, common people like ourselves to have extra money – money that we really don’t need right now. And so, we set it aside. And we watch it. And we become anxious over it. When the stock market falls, or interest rates go down, we become very anxious.

It’s true of other things, too. We all – children and adults – have toys. We have collections of things and possessions that are our pride and joy. If they are taken away, we feel we’ve lost something great. Yet, life still goes on.

Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “No one can serve two masters, for wither he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” It’s a matter of what our god is. It’s a matter of what we look to the most for peace of mind and comfort.

Jesus does not say that we have to get rid of all of our stuff. But we do have to get rid of our trust in those things. We have all learned the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods,” and that we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. This is commanded for our own good. Our wrong trust in other things actually causes our anxiety.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Jesus knows that anxiety plagues us. He uses the word “anxious” six times in this short section. Although we believe that God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayer, even to all evil people, we pray that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. We still doubt. That’s the work of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. We always think “Oh, if I could just do it myself, If I could just have this one more thing I want, just a little more money,” I would not be anxious.

There is a lot of doubt about these words of Jesus: Do not be anxious. “Oh, sure, Jesus, that’s easy for you to say. You have connections. Oh, sure, Jesus, that’s easy for you to say, you don’t know about my bills, my credit card statements, my doctor visits and medical problems, the bullies I deal with at school, the jerks that I work with, how difficult my life is at home or with members of my family. God, you really have no business telling me not to worry.”

And that’s where we go wrong. For Jesus does know how things are here.

There is a big error out there that says the Gospel, the good news of the church, is basically that God is nice, like a kindly old grandfatherly person smiling down from the clouds. There is a big error out there that says that the Gospel, the good news of the church, is that the Gospel is about warm and fuzzy things, pleasant things, or witty sayings like in Reader’s Digest.

I often receive these calendars in the mail, with nice pictures and Bible verses on them, like this stream and beautiful white rocks and the fall leaves beginning to change. And at the bottom it says, “The Lord showed miraculous signs and wonders – Deuteronomy 6:22." But if you look up Deuteronomy 6:22, it is talking about the miraculous signs our Lord did when He delivered the Israelites from bondage and slavery to the unbelieving heathen Egyptians.

We do not look to nature to find God, like this beautiful picture from New Hampshire, or in sunsets, or the Grand Canyon. Those are wonderful things, but they are not the Gospel.

We can’t say “God, you don’t know about my life, You have no business telling me not to be anxious.” Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost by the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried. The third day He rose again from the dead.

The Gospel is not separated from Body and Blood. God became Body and Blood in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is the incarnation: God became man. The Gospel is not separated from Body and Blood. This is why Jesus offered up His Body on the cross, for the atonement – the payment for sins. As the Israelites were delivered by the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes so that death would pass over, so Jesus’ Blood is painted on the doorpost of your heart, that death passed over you. This is why the crucifix is such a wonderful Christian symbol, the center of all Christian art and images.

The Gospel is not separated from Body and Blood. The night before He was betrayed, our Lord said: “This is My Body, this is My Blood, shed for you for the remission of sins.” His Supper is the Gospel delivered to you. “This Sacrament is the Gospel” (Luther). Jesus’ words: “This is My Body, This is My Blood” are the sum and substance of the Gospel (Luther).

Dear Christians, do not be anxious. Jesus took all anxiety and the sin that causes it into Himself. It was crucified with Him on the cross and buried with Him in the tomb. He takes your anxiety and gives you His perfection. Jesus walks with you through this life. That’s why we pray in the Introit: Be merciful unto me, O Lord, for I cry unto Thee daily.

As He sent miraculous signs and wonders to deliver His people Israel from slavery and bondage to the unbelieving heathen Egyptians, so He sends miraculous signs and wonders to you, in His Word and Supper, to deliver you, the true Israel of the Church from slavery and bondage to the Egypt of the devil, the world, and the sinful nature.

Jesus delivers His Church – His Israel. You are in His church. As we prayed: O Lord, we beseech Thee, let Thy continual pity cleanse and defend Thy Church; Jesus gives His help and goodness to you.

You are in the church. Saved. Worry-free. Amen.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Michael Jackson and Cult of Youth

I have been grappling to understand the obsession over Michael Jackson. I am fairly certain there is a general consensus that he was an extremely talented performer. Nobody could captivate an audience like him. I have a vivid memory of watching a Michael Jackson concert on television with my parents and sister as a young child. At one point in the show he was propelled by a zip line with a rocket pack strapped to his back, emitting a flame, as if he was blasting into outer space. I am not convinced however that his extraordinary talent can fully account for the praise and ecstasy over the last months - the bizarre workings of a messianic deification directed toward the person of Michael Jackson.

It is not that we "looked past" his bizarre lifestyle - pedophilia, mutilation of the body, the Peter Pan obsession, and were enraptured purely by his music and dance. No, it was his androgynous sexual ambiguity, his test tube designer brave new world children, his bodily disfigurement, and his Neverland quest that embodies and highlights a dark psychological and spiritual trauma in our culture. Secretly, under the radar, the Jackson obsession reflects a bizarre attraction - a celebration - a peculiar admiration for the freak show drama of launching into outer space to transcend race, gender, sexuality, age, and death itself by any means necessary: bleach, mutilation, and constructing a city called Neverland.

A wicked current of American culture has a religious devotion to what Michael Jackson represents: a refusal to grow up, an insecurity and hatred of the human body, a death denying hatred of the human life cycle. Cosmetic surgeries, face lifts, nose jobs, lips, and virtually every part of the human body can now be altered to fit with ones questing for youth, 'beauty,' or a shifting along the 'gender continuum.' These sorts of cosmetic surgeries are increasing exponentially for those who have the means and wealth to further a neverland fantasy, worshipping at the fount of youth.

Brooke Shields in the memorial for Jackson with tears flowing said "we need to look up where he is undoubtedly perched in a crescent moon, and we need to smile." The mystic projection that Michael Jackson is perched like a bird on a "crescent moon...smiling" taps into this infantile, perverted and depressingly comical world view that is so devastatingly twisted and confused to posit such a bizarre metaphysical contemplation of life after death.

In the Neverland desire to stay young we have cast off childbearing, and now desire a greater Matriarchal role of the federal government. We desire a youthful community organizer to the run the show and create a nanny government to suckle at the teet, as infants. The hope of using human embryos for research is that we might dissect the great riddle of everlasting life, to skirt by death, and stay in Neverland forever. The living memory of Michael Jackson serves as a sacramental image of the death denying, cult of youth.

Jackson's life is tragic, equal to the greatest of mythological tragedies. The cost of feverishly trying to escape our own bodies, transcend creation and life itself, is a route filled with such pain and spiritual affliction that it takes a cocktail of opiates just to temporarily numb the pain. The cult of perennial youth is itself a lie, and will run headfirst into death with a less than beatific conclusion.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rev. Dr. John Kleinig on Spiritual Warfare

Yesterday evening I had the honor and privilege of attending a presentation by the Reverend Dr. John Kleinig on the much misunderstood topic “Spiritual Warfare.” If you are not familiar with Kleinig, he is the author of Leviticus (Concordia Commentary), as well as the more recent book, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today. Dr. Kleinig has served as lecturer and Dean of Chapel at Australian Lutheran College in North Adelaide, South Australia.

The presentation yesterday was at St. John’s in Wheaton, Illinois. The following are notes that I scribbled down...

Christians by the very nature of baptism are enlisted on the front lines of spiritual battle. Though it is commonly thought spiritual warfare is waged outside the boundaries of the Christian community, it is more so within the Christian community. Spiritual affliction (tentatio) is not just for new converts coming to spiritual truths but is more so for those maturing in age and faith. Temptation and affliction gets worse.

Neglect of the elderly who are at forefront of spiritual battle is troubling. In the church we are often obsessed with meeting the desires of the youth at the expense of the elderly.

“Fighting the Good Fight,” in reference to the words of St. Paul is not “out there” but is local – holding on to faith itself. The battleground takes place in the conscience of every Christian. Who rules the conscience – Satan or Christ? Satan hurls condemnation at us for a bad conscience.

In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus prays “Deliver us from the evil one.” However, Jesus, has no sin, therefore he has no need for this petition in and of himself. Jesus, however, identifies himself with us, “Deliver us(in union with church)” from the evil one. Jesus condescends to do our bidding and fight and win the battle “for us.”

In reference to Revelation 12: The woman (church) is unassailable by Satan. The man child born of the woman (Christ) “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night” (v. 10). The accuser is always Satan, who targets the church and always accuses.

The church however, is unassailable, and Satan goes after Christians – to isolate them – and separate them from their faith. He attacks those first who are faithful and confessing. “We are under enormous spiritual attack for being a faithful Christian congregation” – Dr. Kleinig.

Satan disorders all things – creates disunity – chaos – enmity – aims to deceive us. Satan knows Scriptures inside out and makes them a lie to us. Satan even uses the great Reformation breakthrough, “Justification by grace through faith in Christ alone,” twisting it to mean, “Do not do good works!” “Satan” comes from the Hebrew word, meaning someone who prosecutes. Devil from Greek “Diabolos” means “slanderer.” Satan slanders – lies – twists – Christ and the truth in order to destroy and separate us from faith.

For unbelievers Satan “excuses sin.” For believers he condemns/accuses us of sin, “You are guilty, not saved, and you are a fraud.” He gets us in our vocations, “You are a hypocrit and fraud of a seminarian..etc.. (my modification from Kleinig’s example), son, student, worker, etc.”

Based upon Rev. 12 the two weapons by which the church “overcomes” Satan – by the Blood of the Lamb and holding to the testimony of Jesus (v. 11).

Satan uses guilt to attack the conscience and anger to destroy faith. Anger creates “collateral damage.” We reply offenses in our heads – I think of offenses of another – and we makes enemies of one another – hate each other.

I sit in God’s seat and pronounce judgment on others by slandering and condemning person – and I murder them in my heart – I execute with my tongue – condemn to death. When we hold to anger we cannot act lovingly but lash out indiscriminately. Satan is behind these reverberations and behind all fallout.

Satan loves isolating us from Christ and other Christians. We are easy to pick off. Dr. Kleinig makes observation from personal pastoral care that most Christians leaves church based upon what Pastor/or other Christian says or does – some sort of offense, however petty it may be. Therefore, we are capable of actually destroying peoples faith (though Satan is behind this).

Saint Paul makes an allowance for anger, “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). We sin when we “hang on” to anger. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” – do not carry anger day to day. Anger is the “root cause” of depression. Anger rots the inside. When we hold on to our anger we say “Come on in devil, make a home in my heart.” Satan feeds on anger – don’t let anger live and Satan has nothing to feed on.

Satan digs up the dirt on us, exposes it, magnifies it, and throws it at us. 10 Commandments serve as spiritual examination/diagnostic tool to confess sins I commit, also with an awareness of sins committed against me. Take that which is in the dark and bring it to light of Gospel.

Concerning spiritual warfare, “We are not involved in a search and destroy mission.” We do not need to go out on a spiritual crusade but rather “man our post.” We are to take up our post as “sentry guard.” We guard our post, the holy plot of territory already won for us by Christ. We protect the place where God has “put us” (vicar, son, student, friend, member of congregation – my insert here). I do sentry duty here.

Satan tempts us to go out and fight elsewhere and neglect our post/station. We need to attend to our posts and stay awake spiritually in them – attending to spiritual concerns of those around us: guilt, shame, anger etc. And we attend not with Bible bashing but with prayer in daily life and prayer at the altar when we receive the Lord’s Supper.

In reference to Ephesians 6, we “borrow” all weaponry from Christ. Spiritual warfare and sentry duty are done through prayer, praying for those around us. We are not called to battle the enemy – Jesus Christ does our fighting for us – we plead that Christians may be called to repentance and preserved in the Church.

Spiritual warfare is not “out there” in politics, society, etc but close. First enemy that Satan seeks are pastors, followed by teachers and leader in the church. With sentry duty we pray for family and friends and bring their names to the altar and communion rail – into holy space.

Four key points: 1) Satan keeps us away from church. 2) Satan aims to separate us from the Word and prayer. Prayer is supernatural power which routes satan – we cannot by our own faculties/cleverness outsmart satan. 3) Satan seeks us in the bed room – in marriage – by getting between spouses – thereby hampering faith. 4) Pastors often loose footing through Satan’s attacks in and among their family.

Closing Luther idea/quote “The devil is the comforter of the faithful.” Luther struggled with believing sins were forgiven. Temptation is comfort because it is proof that I am saved and brought into Christ. That is why Satan sets to work so hard on us.

The devil is comforter of the faithful.
The worst temptation is no temptation.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rob, Ben, and myself at Central Park

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ephphatha, Be Opened!

“Taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mark 7:31-37)

Be opened. Hear the Word of God. He has done all things well. As Isaiah prophesized "In that day the deaf shall hear" and "the eyes of the blind shall be opened" and "The captives will be set free" and "those who sit in darkness will be released into a glorious light." Amen.

Like the deaf man my hearing is not so great. Now don't get me wrong I can hear noises just fine. When my alarm clock blasts off in the morning it pierces my ear with a terrible beeping that pounds my eardrums. When I pray a morning prayer and psalm I can hear the words that I am speaking. I can hear the cascading water in the shower and I can hear my cereal being poured. I can hear my coffee brewing - the hot steam, the sound of baking roasted Columbian beans, and the dripping into the pot.

As much as I hear however, my ears are closed. And my heart turned inward. I am not open to God’s creation with a thankful heart. I am concerned about my reputation, my own self preservation, my own desires and personal plans.

I need help to hear God calling into being each new day. I need eyes to see the sunrise and hear the breaking of the morning light. I cannot hear, nor see, nor feel, nor smell if he does not first come to me. I need him to move me out of my own self interest. Cut me down in my personal ambitions and free me to live among the people of God. I cannot truly see and hear the students of Saint Paul’s filing into their classes without God’s help. I need the fingers of our Lord, His touch, and his speaking to set me free.

Like the deaf man, man we need to be brought to Jesus and rescued. This rescuing, however, I think, hardly comes in the way we think it does. While we may expect a spiritual experience or awakening, or maybe a reconversion, or a flash of lighting...he comes quite unexpectedly in another way.

God does not just sit up in heaven and look down on us and think that we are special. He loves us in a completely different way. In Mark's Gospel Jesus receives this deaf man that is brought to him by the crowd. He gently takes him aside and plunges his fingers into the man's dirty ears, spits, and touches the mans tongue.

Now this is actually pretty darn gross and just plain strange. God is supposed to be holy and the king of the universe. He is supposed to be sitting on a throne in heaven with armies of angels. He is supposed to be commanding the winds and the seas in his glorious splender. Spitting and puting fingers in the ears of a deaf man does not really seem like something the mighty God we imagine might do.

Though he is certainy these things - holy and powerful - we must know that his holiness and glory is not about being in far places in the lofty heights of heaven. His holiness is not because his sovereign might and omnipotence. He does not look at us from a distance and play with us as if we were his mere play things for leisure.

His holiness and comfort for us is that he is a man. He makes himself accessible - to be heard, seen, tasted, and felt. He approaches his church on earth - approaches the deaf man - approaches us - He comes as our Lord who is so comfortable in His creation. He comes as the Lord who walks with us in the noisiness and cool of the day. Our Lord is actually one who spits.

As a baseball player confidently steps toward the plate to bat, he spits in the dust, readying his arms and hands for working a miracle. All is being made ready by his moving toward Calvary. Carrying the cross he moistens the the dusty path with tears and blood. Arms and hands are stretched out to part the red sea and his opened side floods pharoah and all his armies.

On Christ's Holy Cross He lays hold of us. Lays hold of our ears and eyes. Lays holds of our mouths so that we may glorify him by hearing and speaking forgiveness and love to one another. He puts himself right in between us. In the dirt and muck of our lives he attends to us. In the brokenness of our relationships, in the depression in our families, even in the horrifying stories on the nighttime news He makes a home for himself and sets to work by opening us all up.

And he is not afraid to get down and dirty. Our Lord is not a germophobe. He comes as one who washes dirty and calloused feet. The Lord makes Peter blush as he stoops down low to unbuckle dusty sandals. He does not ask that we clean up our act before we can stand before him. He does not ask the deaf man to clean out his own ears. He does not ask him to dedicate himself to any political or spiritual cause. Jesus simply grabs the man without any proper introduction. He spits – touches the man’s tongue – and says “Efeta – be opened!”

He speaks the very first words of creation again, "You are free to eat from any tree of the garden..Take eat...take drink."

Our Lord descends into the river Jordan not to be cleansed but rather to bathe himself in the brokenness of the world - its cursed stains - to take our brokenness into his own body - which shall not be broken on the cross - but resurrected and ascended into heaven. He carries us to church, opens our ears and hands that we may lay hold of him and one another. He comes as a servant, who sets the table, folds the napkins, arranging a spot for us. He prepares the meal and fills the glasses which runneth over.

At this place, our Lord is actively at work here. He opens himself up on the cross, pours himself out for the redemption of the world. In the Holy Gospel we read "And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly." To be freed and to speak plainly means to speak back to God what he speaks to us. To have our tongues loosed from bondage means that we speak truth. The truth which sings of our faith together, thus saying "Lord have mercy....we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves....we have sinned in thought word and deed...please hurry and help us."

He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and ears of the deaf unstopped; the shall the lame man leap like a dear, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Bishop instructing me in the fine art of brewing beer. Adding hops to a double IPA.