Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Some Thoughts on MTV

Some viewing of MTV is helpful to keep a pulse on culture and the bizarre influences that undergird it.  MTV, however, no longer show music videos or performances, but mostly ‘reality shows’ and sophomoric documentary pieces.  Every show seems to either be about a junkie, a pornography actor, or some other sad situation.  Last week I caught part of a program called “I’m in a polyandrous relationship.”  This chronicles the lives of young people (early 20’s) being sexual with two or three or four other people.  The three people tracked in the program happened to be in homosexual polyandrous arrangements. 

I recently got in a discussion with a friend who is very much in favor of homosexual marriage.  I usually try to listen to the reasoning and justification, usually dealing with “civil rights,” “tolerance,” “discrimination,” and all the other key words.  These are the reasons why homosexual unions are to be legal and celebrated.  Because there are now also certain movements toward polygamous unions, both homosexual and heterosexual, I am curious as whether full legal “civil rights,” “tolerance,” and “understanding” should not be applied to them as well.  If marriage is not grounded in creation, given for a man and woman in holy union, why not extend civil rights to the broader communities of different lifestyles.  The same way that one may articulate and justify homosexual marriage, may as well apply to polygamy or other lifestyle arrangements.  If 3 or 4 people are committed to each other and love each other, who are we to deny them of their “rights” and be so intolerant.  Who says marriage is for a man and woman only?  And furthermore, why does it only have to be two people.  Why not three, or four, or more?  If you ask a proponent of homosexual marriage about polygamous marriage they will be unable to articulate a reason why polygmysts should not be able to enter into marriage.  For the same way to articulate homosexual marriage can easily be opted for polygamy or who knows what else.

It seems that if John Stuart Mill’ harm principle is thoroughly individualized and taken to its ultimate end - that people are sovereign and free to do what they please so long as harm is minimized, and that society must follow.  Mill writes, “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right... The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.[1]   

I don’t think Mill ever intended for the harm principle to be so thoroughly individualized and privatized from the rest of community.  Mill, and particularly Locke, as invested in liberal freedom as they were, were still committed to classical republicanism as the vehicle for civil rights.  If we take the principle of utilitarianism, that is “greatest good” for the greatest amount of people, and consider the historical definition of marriage, even the great liberal thinkers would likely NOT be a part of the current sexual revolution (gay marriage, transgender, body mutilation, etc). 

Most all thriving civilizations naturally are governed by the impulse of utilitarianism, long before the Scottish philosopher John Stuart Mill – they didn’t need him to figure this out.  A society that desires to survive, feed their families, and ward of both external and internal threats, knows that individual liberty and survival depends upon the survival of the greater community – that cooperation, good government, and utilitarianism has its place – thus guiding and supporting individual freedom and liberty.  Animal planet on tv is pretty good presentation on all this.

What’s interesting to me however, is this: why have virtually all religions across the globe and all civilizations in one way or another strongly discouraged homosexuality?  Is Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all religions of unenlightened, ignorant, and bigoted people?  Why has marriage always been between a man and woman?  Do the conclusions of the 60’s sexual revolution serve the “greatest good…for the greatest number of people?”      

Sex of course, when exploited apart from marriage (writing on marriage here) holds neither promise nor utilitity for society, family, or self.  Every European country presently has a birthrate well below replacement level.  Generally civilizations very rarely die from war or invasion, but most always from self-suicide in a Freudian death wish - decline of civilization is always self-chosen.  Likewise, the degenerate underbelly of culture in the United States is not so much interested in a culture of health, self-sacrifice, and life.  Abortion en mass, hatred of life, decline of marriage, and birth rate all testify to this.  The increasing welfare state, and the  matriarchal role of the federal government, coupled with deviant sexually will invariably lead to a European-style cultural decline and suffocation.  Hopefully the place of family and sexuality within the order of blessed marriage will continue to the curb the adverse effects of big government and cultural decline.                   

[1] John Stuart Mill (1859).  On Liberty. Oxford University. pp. 21-22.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bonhoeffer on Praying the Psalms

"The psalms that will not cross our lips as prayers, those that make us falter and offend us, make us suspect that here someone else is praying, no we- that the one who is here affirming his innocence, who is calling for God's judgment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering, is none other that Jesus Christ himself.  It is he who is praying here, and not only here, but in the whole Psalter.  The New Testament and the church have always recognized and testified to this truth.  The human Jesus Christ to whom no affliction, no illness, no suffering is unknown, and who yet was the wholly innocent and righteous one, is praying in the Psalter through the mouth of the congregation.  The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus Christ in the truest sense of the word.  He prayed the Psalter, and now it has become his prayer for all time...Jesus Christ prays the Psalter in his congregation.  His congregation prays too, and even the individual prays.  But they pray only insofar as Christ prays within them; they pray here not in their own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ..."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in "The Day Together"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pastor Anderson of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and School of Chicago, pictured with Lutheran comfort dog 'Tilly.'

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Righteousness of God

"But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed" (Romans 3:21a).

Over 500 years ago a young man was on horseback on the German country side.  It was dark and raining heavily, as the horse panted – heavily sloshing through the muddy path.  The young man was seeking to reach his university after a trip home to see his parents. 
This night the darkness loomed and a thunderstorm broke out and the horse began to gallop and splash through the slippery mud.  All of a sudden there was a loud crash and a lightning bolt struck near this traveler, throwing him off of his horse.
 He was so frightened and terrified of the righteous judgment of God who loomed darkly in the night, he cried out, "Help! Saint Anne, I will become a monk!"  He left law school, where he was studying to become a lawyer.  He sold his books, and entered a closed Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, Germany on July 7th 1505. 

This newly robed young monk dedicated himself to monastic life, devoting himself to fasting, long hours in prayer, and frequent confession.  He would later remark, "If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them." 
He described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair. He said, "I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul."  He feared the righteous judge.

This man is Martin Luther, the future reformer of the church.  For brother Martin, it was the righteousness of God that completely terrified him to no end.  It is precisely God’s righteousness and holiness that made him so so frightening.  It was for this reason that the young Luther joined the Augustinian order, and entered the monastery. 

He prayed without ceasing with the monks, diligently attended to his duties.  He scrubbed the floors and put all his energy and will into every task, whether great or small.  It was the young Luther’s great hope to seek holiness and righteousness – to dedicate himself to God.  To stand before God as a good monk.  To be holy and righteous in the sight of God through his personal discipline and sheer will.

Yet, the harder he worked and strived for righteousness the worse things became for him.  He felt the burning gaze and hammer of God as the righteous judge, breathing down his back, demanding perfect obedience from him. 

The more Luther sought to attain the righteousness of God – the more he sought to fulfill the law – the condemnation of the righteous judge became louder and louder. By seeking the law he ran headfirst into Satan himself, who accused him day and night, throwing his sins and failures into his face. 

Our Scripture reading for today says, “Because the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.”  That is, the more we know of God’s revelation of the law the more we realize that we are sinners.  When we speak about God’s law, we are not simply talking about the 10 Commandments. 

We experience the law every day when we are pressed in and squeezed by the pressures and powers of this world, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  We are constricted, assaulted, and overwhelmed by the attacks of the law. 

The law says this, “You are a poor mother, and you are a wretched father.  Just look at you.  Look how you have misled your children.  Look at the mess you have made.  And you call yourselves Christians!” 
Or the law may say to the young, “You are a hypocrite, you have strayed from the church.  You have not lived up to the expectations of your parents or God’s expectations!  You have fallen short.  You are a disgrace and unworthy of anything!”  This voice will always tell you that you are insufficient and that grace does not really apply to you.

This is the same voice that terrified the young monk, Martin Luther.  It is the voice that causes endless anxiety, for we experience God as an angry and righteous judge – not as a merciful Father – not as “Our Father.”  We live life and experience it as if we had no loving Father at all.  And when we do consider God’s presence, we see him with all his holiness and all his righteousness.  Then we see ourselves, our sinning selves, and feel that God is forever disappointed in us.

The breakthrough of the Reformation and the brilliance of Martin Luther is that the radical nature of the Gospel was rediscovered; in its truth and purity.  Luther found that God was not angry with him, but rather that He was angry at God! For he discovered in our reading today, that God’s righteousness is made manifest in Jesus Christ alone, as a pure gift, apart from the works and condemnation of the law. 

Hear this Word of comfort.  Peace be to you from Jesus Christ our Lord.  Be comforted and let go of the frivolous anxieties of this earthly life.  Be still and let our Lord remove from you all guilt and shame.  You do not have to “get right with God.”  Rather, “God has gotten it right for you” by becoming the guilty one, bearing your shame to His death.  The righteousness of God through faith means that God gives you righteousness, gives you himself, and gives you the faith to believe. 

Yes, in faith you may claim the righteousness of God as if it were your own.  This is the the breakthrough of Martin Luther and the Reformation - which directs us away from ourselves and toward Jesus Christ, whom releases us from the tyranny and power of the demanding law.   

Dearest Christians, be comforted.  God declares you righteous and blessed as His children.  Cast off your worries and fears.  Be still from the anxieties about what is and what is to come.  Be still and do not worry about all the expectations and demands heaped up upon you.  And do not listen to that angry judge anymore, who accuses you.   Jesus the Son of God, has revealed the Father’s tender and merciful heart.  He has no judgment left for you.  He’s judged, the deed I done.  One little Word can fell him.  Jesus Christ it is.

Rejoicing today on Reformation Weekend does not hearken us back to Martin Luther in 1517 posting the 95 theses to those wooden castle church doors in Wittenberg, Germany.  Reformation Sunday is not about potlucks, green bean casserole, or nostalgic thoughts about the Lutheran church in a prior era.  It is not German heritage day. 

Dr. Luther and the Reformers did not point to themselves but to Christ Jesus alone.  Jesus in preaching - Jesus in the Lord’s Supper - Jesus in the forgiveness of sins, Jesus baptizing his Christian church, and Jesus resurrected our bodies to live in perfect love and harmony. 

And today, Jesus the Son of the living God speaks to us and declares us righteous in His sight.  He speaks the final judgment day today – on this morning.  Forgiveness and eternal life. 

Listen to Him. For this is the God that Luther desired to finally cling to, as does the whole Christian church. The righteousness of faith – the righteousness of God - is received as a precious gift.  Not by your faith, but by the faith given to you, marked on your forehead, and planted in your ears.  It is eaten and drunk at this altar, along with the whole Christian church on earth, and also in the heavenly places. 

The righteousness of God is draped over you, as a Father clothes his child in a warm blanket.  Every sin has been passed over and removed as far as the east is from the west.  He who has ears let him hear.  Open your hand and your mouths and receive Jesus.  He has declared you righteous and holy.  In Jesus+ Name.  Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2009

We need more boys choirs in our churches! This hymn excellent!

Celebration of Reformation Hymn "Dear Christians.." (part I)

       1.  Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice,
           With exultation springing,
           And, with united heart and voice,
           And holy rapture singing,
           Proclaim the wonders God hath done,
           How His right arm the victory won;
           Right dearly it hath cost him.

There is no better way to greet each other than to address one another as “Dear Christian.”  Before I am Michael or “vicar” I am first a Christian.  It is the name that precedes any other name, “But You are He who took Me out of the womb” (Ps. 22:9).  For we bear the name of Christ and in faith are called to be “little Christs” to one another.  To greet one another with the name of Christ is to acknowledge that we exist, move, and have our being in one body.  Christians in the community of church may as well say “bone of my bone” and “flesh of my flesh” for we have our origin in the person and work of Jesus who weds himself to the church. 

The first stanza of this hymn works as a doxological opening to the larger narrative of the hymn.  This follows the common structure of the book of Psalms by opening with a celebration and remembrance of God’s work.  The pleas, petitions, and laments flow forth from the invocation of God’s action in man – the sacrifice and the victory won.  The “cost” and victory of God’s right arm is the Christ event. 

       2.  Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay.
           Death brooded darkly o'er me.
           Sin was my torment night and day.
           In sin my mother bore me.
           Yea, deep and deeper still I fell.
           Life had become a living hell,
           So firmly sin possessed me.

The second stanza plunges headfirst into story of captivity from birth.  This narrative stands in opposition to the broadly held assumption of the Enlightenment led by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom asserted that man is indeed free from birth so long as he is born in a “state of nature.”  The idea of the noble savage is that man is pure and good in nature, and that the blame for brokenness and war rests only in the dysfunction of society, arising from the less enlightened.  Rousseau, himself a Calvinist, repudiated the idea of original sin, writing in his famous novel Emile, "there is no original perversity in the human heart." 

Luther however, in this hymn of liberation begins from the starting point of bondage, rather than freedom.  After Luther’s doxological praise in the first stanza, he brings the hymn into a confession of the ravages of sin, death, and the devil.  There is no greater image for sin and hell than that of “being curved in on one’s self (incurvatus est).”  This torment, this “deep falling,” and “living hell,” are consequences of the inner dialogue of the law, being about by all sides.  It is the great paradox that the more one tries to become holy apart from God’s gift, the greater one falls into captivity.  The desire to ascend to the holy heights of Zion, when sought apart from God’s complete giving, hurls one into despair and hell.  This was the desire of the fallen angels, Lucifer, the devil himself.  It was the desire of Adam and Eve in the garden.  It is the desire of every human heart and the religious ego to carve out holiness and divinity for himself, to be something more than a child of God – something more than creature – something more than the crown of creation, which of course if absurd.             

       3.  My own good works availed me naught,
           No merit they attaining.
           Free will against God's judgment fought,
           Dead to all good remaining.
           My fears increased till sheer despair
           Left naught but death to be my share.
           The pains of hell I suffered.

One’s “own good works” and free will work in contradiction to the God, whom as Oswald Bayer observes is “categorically the one who gives.”  The good works and free will that proceed as a self-willed anthropocentric salvific activity are themselves damning and oppose the giving God who desires to be the one whom works and wills, “For I will surely save you” (Jer. 39:18).  Nevertheless, human free will, is not only neutral or opposed to God’s lavish giving but fights actively against it.  Certainly we see this most lucidly in the life of the early Luther, whose anfechtung increased in direct relation to his desire to turn God’s wrath away and merit one iota of divine favor and approval. 

This falling, fear, and pains of hell sung and confessed here is not outside of God's work or mercy but is a necessary and proper work that He carries out.  It is in mercy that He hinders and frustrates our heavenly ascent that he may descend in heavenly Word and Supper to raise us to life.  The only true comfort to the terrified conscience is found here, when the human heart as “actor” and “doer” is put to rest that God may work in us, “all you who are weary and heavy and burdened and I will give you rest.”  Our Lord is speaking about the burden of the law, the demonic judgment and oppression of human work and expectation that seeks to procure a peace for itself.  The greatest tragedies, events of human cruelty and holocausts proceed from the desire for a manufactured utopian peace – zealous endevour to bring heaven to earth apart from Christ’s incarnation.  The common phrase, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is therefore biblically and experientially rich and true. 

I have written about The Distinctive Nature of Lutheran Hymnody Here

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reformation Day is Coming

(Doors at Castle Church at Wittenberg where 95 Theses were posted by the blessed Dr. Luther)

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, he likely did know that storm that would be released upon the rest of the country and the whole world.  A simple monk refuted the use of indulgences and confessed that Christians are saved and brought into the Gospel through the merits of Jesus Christ alone; apart from works, apart from money in the coffers, apart from the Pope in Rome, and apart from human traditions. 

Luther confessed amidst the threat of death and torture that we are justified freely – that is declared righteous by God in heaven through the mediation and work of Jesus.  We confess that the fullness of God became man to suffer for our sins, to be tortured and die by Roman torture.  He suffers hell for us, drinking the bitter cup of God’s wrath in the wine at the cross.  He rises on the third day and ascends to heaven that he may be with his church in the His continuing ministry.  He gives His gifts to us freely without our work.  That is it. Plain and simple. 

A few years after Luther posted his 95, the reformation claimed it first martyrs, Johann Esch and Henrich Voes.  The two monks were burned at the stake in Brussels for confessing the salvation by grace through faith alone.  They refused to recant the simple and pure Gospel given to them.  Luther wrote a 12 stanza ballad to commemorate the young men, with the title “A New Song Shall Now Be Begun (1523).”  Here is the first stanza:

“A new song now shall be begun,

Lord, help us raise the banner

Of praise for all that God has done,

For which we give Him honor.

At Brussels in the Netherlands

God proved himself most truthful

And poured his gifts from open hands

On two lads, martyrs youthful

Through who He showed His power.

It is ever so alluring to sit back and insist that the Reformation has been wildly successful and that all is well.  We think of the Lutheran reformation as an old medieval battle, and now that it has taken place we ought to move on to other things.  The empire no longer outright kills those outside of the Roman church, but the devil continues in his assault against the pure and simple truth of the gospel.  He just will not let it be.  The fight continues.

God’s very essence is one of giving.  The Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost exists and works as one that gives, providing with all we need to support this body and life, defending from all danger, guarding and protecting from all evil.  He does all this only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.
All false teaching and heresy proceeds from a depreciated confession of God’s work and an inflated opinion on man’s work.  Calvinists combat synergism by stressing “monergism,” which is quite deficient given the limited atonement.  Lutheran laymen and philosopher, Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) preferred working with the theme “divine condescension” contra Immanuel Kant’s autonomy.   

Looking forward to Reformation celebrations…             

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Truth Shall Make You Free

"If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). 

The starting point of human freedom is to confess that we are in bondage and cannot deliver ourselves.  We do not come to church because we ‘have it all together.’  We come to church because things have ‘fallen apart’ and we are incapable of repairing all that which is fallen and not quite right.  We are a community that laments.  Laments our bondage, and laments our brokenness.  A community that laments wars, and rumors of wars.

We are a community threatened by falsehoods and half truths.  We are a people surrounded by false religions, man-made philosophies, and false messiahs, all delivering their own version of good news - their own gospel. 

In Exodus we read that “The children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Ex. 2:23-24).

We also sigh and groan in our captivity.   

The bondage of moral relativism says, “Well, truth is subjective! What may be your truth is not my truth…Jesus may work for you but crystals and Buddhist meditation works for me!”       

Therefore truth, for the modern age, is not an objective reality, but rather formed by a single person’s personal taste and desires.  The modern age, opens up the possibility and facilitates the ultimate quest to form our own personal religion, to support our lifestyle, and perceived wants and desires.   

The bondage of the sexual revolution says, “If it feels good, do it.  I need to do what makes me happy.”  We live in a time when marriages are dissolved simply because one party “is no longer happy…and does not feel fulfilled.”  After all, it is “my life” and “my body.”  I can do whatever I like.  These are the lies that threaten to consume us all. 

The greatest truth claim is that we are all autonomous.  That is that we are “a law unto ourselves…a truth unto ourselves.”  That we can determine our own rules, our own truth, and our own religion.  These truths are lies and are destructive of faith. 

But what is truth?  Is it an idea?  A feeling or state of mind?  Is truth a philosophy?  Is the truth a set of teachings?  Is truth mere knowledge?  Is it only that which can be proved scientifically verified, through a careful empirical process? Are there many truths…which are all equally true?

Jesus, speaking to His followers says, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  Jesus is talking about himself.  He is the truth - the truth and Word of God made flesh.  Truth is not an abstract principle.  Nor is it an idea or philosophy.  Truth is this and this only:

The fullness of God became man and was born to the Virgin Mary.  God invaded our world to speak mercy and to deliver us from our bondage.  This Jesus, the alpha and omega, the beginning and end, speaks our bodies into existence.  Who preserves us in body and soul to life everlasting.  There is no higher expression of truth that this: “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” 

Jesus is the truth, and therefore, the truth is a person – a man.  The only truth that truly matters.  For he holds the heavens and the earth together by His very breath.  He is the architect and artist of creation.  All truth consists in and of him.  He is the sum and substance of truth. 

To deny the truth of Jesus is to deny ourselves and to deny the existence of the whole created world.  And we can only understand the modern world when we are sanctified in His truth, enlightened with his gifts, and called by the power of the Gospel. 

He is the truth that breaks free from the tomb and destroys all the power of the great, ancient liar, the old deceiver, and the father of lies.   This truth sets us free.  Frees us from the old lies.  Frees us from willful disobedience.  Frees us from all the deceptions, lies, and promiscuity of the modern age.

Though there may be bondage to sin, God has broken in with his truth and ravaged the powers of sin, death, and the devil.  Though they may afflict us and give us the voice and sigh of lament, they have lost their power.     

He frees us by the power of forgiveness and new life to live in holy obedience.  To live and walk in His truth.  The truth that sets us free is Jesus on the altar.  Jesus in the font.  And Jesus in the pulpit.  We hear the truth in our ears and chew on it with our teeth.  We taste truth in the sweetness of the wine and drink a promise that fulfills itself today.  You are free.

This is the promise that is more real and true than anything else.  It is the truth that dries every tear and heals every broken heart.  To have truth is to hear Jesus and to receive His gifts.  This is it.  This is the foolishness of the Gospel and confuses the world.  It is the truth of Christ and the church throughout all ages.  It is the truth of the Lutheran reformation.  And it is the truth that is confessed as Saint Paul’s in Melrose Park.  We celebrate it today, in the years to come, and will do the same gathered around Christ’s table in heaven.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Enjoyed a craw fish boil a couple weeks ago with some fine friends

"The 'I am thine and thou art mine, and the foe shall not part us' must be the basic tone of every evangelical sermon.  Every sermon, if not totally, at least in one place, should contain the total, authentic, and deeply experienced salvation in Christ...the whole soul should be filled with one subject" (The Theology of Facts Versus the Theology of Rhetoric by August Friedrich Christian Vilmar, p. 119).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pastor Cornwell and I visited nearby grave site of Alphonse Capone

Wilhelm Loehe on Liturgical Freedom

"We must beware of misusing our liturgical freedom to produce new liturgies.  One should rather use the old forms and learn to understand and have a feeling for them before one feels oneself competent to create something new and better.  He who has not tested the old cannot create something new.  It is a shame when everybody presumes to form his own opinions about hymns and liturgy without having thoroughly looked into the matter.  Let a man first learn in silence and not act as if it were a matter of course that he understands everything!  Once a man has learned from the old he can profitably use the developments of recent times (in language and methods of speech) for the benefit of the liturgy" (3 Books on Church 178).

Monday, October 5, 2009

I recently visited Buddy Guys Blues Bar in Chicago.  I took this picture during the drum solo.  Great blues and lots of pool tables.  I liked it and will hopefully go again!

Homily on Mark 10:2-16

""But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mk. 10:6-9)

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.  When the Pharisees come to Jesus with their vicious and lying lips to trick him, our Lord does not indulge them.  In our own similar debates with God he is infinitely merciful.  He speaks His Gospel, “From the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female…the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’  

The Pharisees as spiritual deaf, dumb, and blind corpses in an old demonic debate – seek to separate God’s gift from its giver.  To pervert that gift, to hoard it and make the gift into their own fallen image: a scene of adultery, fornication, lies, and excuses.  

God is a man who does not divorce His bride.  Though he becomes flesh and blood like us…tempted and afflicted like us – suffers like us – he does not once entertain the idea of divorce or separating from us.  He is incapable of it.  In this way He is not like us.  He is bound up in His promise…I do…unto death…

In the sleep of crucifixion death, God forms His bride from the new Adam who never took his eyes off of his beloved.  And from his pierced side He spills out the heavenly flood of water and the drink of immortal life in his blood.  He covers the lying and deceitful lips of the Pharisees.  He covers our shame from the sins of our youth.  He quiets our troubled hearts and reclaims them by showing the loving heart of the Father, who sends the son, “Go bright Jewel of My crown…from sin and sorrow set them free”  
He cannot take his eyes off of you.  He says “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh!”  Now His love is not like ours.  He does not choose you as His beloved because of your faith or religious convictions.  He does not find those whom are pleasing to him.  He creates them.  He forms His beloved church – covers your imperfections with his holy perfection.  

He does not call it quits when the times get tough – in the bitter agony of death. He rebukes the devil, for a divorce certificate, “Father deliver us from evil…your will be done..forgive them Father”  Our Lord’s will is to suffer for your sins and shame…He marries His bride at the moment of the cross in which mercy flows through all eternity.  What God has joined together let not man separate. 

In this Holy Supper, Jesus Christ speaks the Last Day today, and in His body joyfully presides at the wedding banquet - distributing and lavishing His gifts on us saying “Take eat…take drink…all this is for you…for the forgiveness of sins…let nothing separate us.”      

As Ezekiel recounts the Lord's love toward Israel...we see the new promise in Christ opened up to us...              
And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I said to you in your blood, 'Live!'  I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. (Ez 16:6-8)

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Wilhelm Loehe on Doctrine in the Life of the Church

Concerning the Lutheran Confessions in the life of the Church, Wilhelm Loehe (1808-1872) writes:

Perhaps one could also say that the reformation of doctrine has taken place; but the church still does not rejoice in the riches of her pure doctrine as she should, and does not sense the significance which this gives her.  She still feels as if she were only tolerated, as if she lived by the grace of men.  She does not know that she has a letter of emancipation from God to live openly and freely by His grace and her faith and to make the whole world happy through her riches.  She does not recognize that, after she became the pure church, she became preeminently heir of all divine promises.  She still think of herself too much as mere dogma, too little as a person; she is too little conscious of herself, her grace, her worth, her powers.  In ecclesiastical consciousness, life, and work she is a long way from being again what the pure church of the first centuries was!  Here a reformation if still needed! (Carl S. Meyer, Moving Frontiers: Readings in the History of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, 70).   

Friday, October 2, 2009

Follow me to Jerusalem

Mark 10:17-22
“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and  knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him,"Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:17-22)

We know these commandments.  We have heard them many times.  You know the commandments.  Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do no bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.  It sounds easy.  It sounds like a manageable set of instructions.  We’ve heard them in catechism class.  And we do ok.  We are decent enough people. 

We’re probably doing fine.  We’re not murderers or adulterers.  We’re not thieves who steal.  We are not frauds.  And we treat our parents all right.  Good enough anyways.  We are church go-ers – the moral majority – we have it together.  We are good people.   

The rich young man says “but teacher all these commandments I have kept from my youth.”  He has done well enough.  This rich young man is good person.  He is a moral person.  He has a good reputation.  He’s well respected and professional.  He’s kind to his parents.  Doesn’t murder.  Doesn’t steal.  He probably supports or votes for the right political party.  He has everything right.      

The rich young man is looking for self-affirmation.  He is looking for a self help and positive thinking.  Likewise, we want to worship in a way that makes us feel like we are doing ok.  We want to worship so that we may be self-affirmed and self-justified.  We want approval from God about our lifestyle, and spiritual progress.  Like the rich man I may want God to say, “Yes Vicar Larson, you have done well enough, job well done, you’re a good fellow…”

Even if I somehow deceive myself to think this.  I am lying to myself.  We know the commandments.  Do not murder is the first one mentioned here by our Lord.  Goodness gracious, how often have we neglected those calling out in the darkness, all around us, even family even friends?  Failed to support them in every physical need?  Neglected praying for them, asking that God deliver them from whatever ails them?  How many times have we turned from the oppressed and the needy?  How many times have our hearts been hardened toward a fellow Christian, or any person for that matter?  How many times have we murdered in our hearts?  If we could see the carnage it would shock us.  Bodies strewn about as far as the eye can see.  
How many times have we closed our eyes or ears to silent pleas for mercy all around us?  Small, barely audible calls for help we have failed to hear or anticipate.  And failed to meet them in their deep and desperate need.  How many times have we crucified a neighbor, by violently lacerating them with our tongues, hurting their reputation, refusing to the put the best construction on things?  As Pastor Johnson preached a few weeks ago, our tongues start blazing fires of destruction and slaughter.    

Yet the law condemns. It does not comfort, or confirm any semblance of peace. These commandments break us.  And this is only one of the commands.  And we know from the Word of our Lord that if we break one we have violated and rebelled against them all.  They dash us to pieces.  They are not encouraging or inspiring, or helpful suggestions to live a better life.  They do not help the rich young man.    

The tablets of Moses will not save us.  They expose us and shame us.  They strip us naked before God.  They expose the Rich Young Man.  They expose his obsession with his personal possessions and his misplaced trust in his own self-righteousness.  He is left naked with his sin.     

Even in our self-righteousness when we cover ourselves up with the fig leaves, Jesus does not scoff at us or become frustrated.  He is deeply moved in his very body to call us to repentance and to spill out mercy.  

In our text for today, after the rich young man insists on his obedience to the Ten Commandments, we read that “Jesus looked at him, and loved him.”  The Greek word in the text for love is “agape.”  This word would does not suggest the mere feeling of love but an action – an event – an exchange of love completely consuming – a love withholding nothing – a love that is poured out – for all – especially for this young rich man.   

Jesus looking at His Church desiring her says, “leave these things that you cling to and cling to me alone.  I am the Good Shepherd.”  Jesus has one message for the self-righteous young rich man.  Leave your idols and FOLLOW ME.  Often times in the church this passage has been used to support a radical sort of discipleship.  A sort of false discipleship that suggests we go on some sort of super religious quest, in turn leaving our vocations, our callings, and abandoning our station in life to run after some spiritual quest or cause.  However, Jesus asks none of this.

He calls us to be near, saying “follow me.” In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is constantly moving, casting out demons, healing diseases, teaching among the people, praying and singing psalms.  But he is moving.  Constantly moving. And he is asking all of creation to follow him.  Jesus is moving in one direction to fulfill the scriptures.  He is moving toward Jerusalem.    

And by the sending of the Holy Spirit he takes us along for the journey.  He carries us to the waters of heaven in the arms of family or friends.  We are dipped in the promise of holy baptism. "Follow me," he says.  Go to where I am going.  I am going to make all things new. Our Lord invites us into a precious death.  He desires that we follow him.  That is, be present at the places where he promises to be.  Through the new life of baptism, through the hearing of His Word, through the singing of His hymns, and the feasting on the Supper of immortal life. 

The old world of disobedience is drowned to death.  The self-righteous old adam and old eve is put to death.  The self-righteous rich man in all of us is put to death and is buried in the crucifixion of Jesus.  This Jesus who became a curse for us, though it was He who was the only obedient one.  And he loved His heavenly father and loved his creation with a perfect love.  He was the obedient one unto death.

And in His gift to us we receive all that is his.  His holiness and righteousness is given to us as a gift.  So that when we are resurrected and are dressed and clothed in His holy gospel, God our Father says to you, “You are my dear son…You are my dear daughter with whom I am well pleased.”  

He does not see our self-righteousness, or arrogance, or adultery and sexual sin.  He does not see our drunkenness.  He does not hear the lies we told, nor does he hear our slandering lips laying waste to our neighbor.  He does not see our worst sins the plague off day and night.  Even those horrible ones that we think have cast him off forever.  He cannot leave you.  He has bound himself to you, as we heard in last weeks sermon.  For he says “at last bone of by bone and flesh of my flesh!”  

He sees that Jesus has made a follower of you.  Not by what you have done, but because who you are.  You are a follower because you have been shepherded by the Good Teacher, who fulfilled the commandments which we did not.

You have followed because Jesus has looked at you and loved you.  A perfect disciple before God in heaven because each and every sin is blotted out by the blood of his son.  And he sees Jesus in you and for you…and sees your good deeds and holy obedience for which you will be greatly rewarded in this life and in the life to come.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.