Monday, May 2, 2016

Can you guess the author?

Prescient words. . . written more than 85 years ago but ever contemporary:

America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It is suffering from tolerance: tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broad-minded. The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broad-minded...

Another evidence of the breakdown of reason that has produced this weird fungus of broad-mindedness is the passion of novelty, as opposed to the love of truth. Truth is sacrificed for an epigram, the Divinity of Christ for a headline in the Monday morning newspaper. Many a modern preacher is far less concerned with preaching Christ and Him crucified than he is with his popularity with his congregation. A want of intellectual backbone makes him straddle the ox of truth and the ass of nonsense, paying compliments to Catholics because of “their great organization” and to sexologists because of “their honest challenge to the youth of this generation.” Bending the knee to the mob rather than God would probably make them scruple at ever playing the role of John the Baptist before a modern Herod. No accusing finger would be leveled at a divorce or one living in adultery; no voice would be thundered in the ears of the rich, saying with something of the intolerance of Divinity: “It is not lawful for thee to live with thy brother’s wife.” Rather would we hear: “Friends, times are changing!” The acids of modernity are eating away the fossils of orthodoxy...

The final argument for modern broad-mindedness is that truth is novelty and hence “truth” changes with the passing fancies of the moment. Like the chameleon that changes his colors to suit the vesture on which he is placed, so truth is supposed to change to fit the foibles and obliquities of the age. The nature of certain things is fixed, and none more so than the nature of truth. Truth may be contradicted a thousand times, but that only proves that it is strong enough to survive a thousand assaults. But for any one to say, “Some say this, some say that, therefore, there is no truth,” is about as logical as it would have been for Columbus who heard some say, “The earth is round”, and others say “The earth is flat” to conclude: “Therefore, there is no earth.” Like a carpenter who might throw away his rule and use each beam as a measuring rod, so, too, those who have thrown away the standard of objective truth have nothing left with which to measure but the mental fashion of the moment...
In the face of this false broadmindedness, what the world needs is intolerance. The world seems to have lost entirely the faculty of distinguishing between good and bad, the right and the wrong. There are some minds that believe that intolerance is always wrong, because they make “intolerance” mean hate, narrow-mindedness, and bigotry. These same minds believe that tolerance is always right because, for them, it means charity, broadmindedness, and American good nature...

The Church is identified with Christ in both me and principle; She began thinking on His first principles and the harder She thought, the more dogmas She developed. She never forgot those dogmas; She remembered them and Her memory is Tradition. The dogmas of the Church are like bricks, solid things with which a man can build, not like straw, which is “religious experience” fit only for burning. The Church has been and will always be intolerant so far as the rights of God are concerned, for heresy, error, and untruth affect not personal matters on which She may yield, but a Divine Right in which there is no yielding. The truth is divine; the heretic is human. Due reparation made, the Church will admit the heretic back into the treasury of Her souls, but never the heresy into the treasure of Her Wisdom. Right is right even if nobody is right; and wrong is
wrong if everybody is wrong...
Though written in 1931, they speak just as clearly today to a situation in which tolerance as false virtue has been set against truth to lead us to believe that there is no truth -- only the morass of desire, feelings, choice, and preference.  In case you cannot figure out the author, this little gem comes from the Archbishop who had a program on ABC TV in the 1950s....  None other than Fulton J. Sheen...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Lutherans -- the odd sort. . .

Lutherans are the odd sort, so often accused of a secular or at least invisible piety.  We have seemed to the world to be a bit too comfortable in the world and maybe a bit too at ease of the world.  With brat and beer in hand and an oompah band too loud to ignore, Lutherans appear far too at ease with their seemingly shallow piety.  So it is natural that some Lutherans would react to this by adding in a piety that makes the sacred and secular distinction a bit more plain.  It also stands to reason that, although Germans might warm up to this pietism, the Scandinavian Lutherans would turn up the heat on this pietistic reaction. 

I am not at all sure that such a characterization of Lutheran piety is all that accurate or that Lutherans needed the pietism to manufacture holiness not inherent to our Confessions and worship.  In fact, I believe just the opposite.  Lutherans have a profound piety, rooted and growing from a vibrant understanding of Scripture as the living voice of God addressing His people and from a vital sacramental life in which the signs actually deliver what they sign (without a need for much in the way of explaining the mystery).  Our sacramental theology is incarnational and our liturgical theology begins and ends with Christ delivering His gifts to His people with the response of those people, at the Spirit's prompting, hidden in the midst of it all.

Luther's two kingdoms of church and state is no attempt to neatly divide sacred from secular but polar extreme of our modern penchant for the naked, secular public square and the quiet privacy of faith.  No, indeed, Luther's two kingdoms infuses both church and state with the divine presence and authority (and not in the least, accountability).  He merely attempts to distinguish them so that neither preoccupies itself with the other and therefore neglects its own domain and purpose.

In the same way, the recovery of vocation as the order of God in creation recaptured in Christ and restored to God's people in baptism reflects the same antagonism against such neat distinctions between the sacred and secular.  God's people manifest their vocation not in mimicking the role and work of the priest or pastor but in husbands devoted to their wives and wives who are devoted to their husbands, parents and children living in sacrificial service, neighbors living not merely in the world but manifesting mercy to a world that finds mercy foreign and irrational, and citizens whose duties before the law are the obedience also of faith.

Lutherans, however, are stuck between two worlds that are ever distant from each other and more and more at odds with one another. On one hand, the Lutheran finds himself within a broadly secular culture, largely suspicious and indifferent to the claims of the transcendent.  The eternal values of this culture are in counted in increasing denominations of money, pleasure, and power -- though not without some guilt or at least fear that there needs to be a spiritual character to such indulgence. We Lutherans find ourselves surrounded and outnumbered by the voices of this broadly secular culture --  in mass media, on the internet, in patterns of permitted public speech, in the social expectations of the ordinary domestic orders and institutions of society, and in the aims and operations of governments that largely do what the Christian and the Church did in the past. Lutherans living in modern America are awash in a secularity that we find disconcerting and yet strange.  Some have chosen to accept it all and redefine both church and gospel in terms of social advocacy and a changing landscape of what sexuality, family, and goodness mean.  Others are tempted to the Amish option and wish to disappear from the landscape of the world.  Some are trying to find a renewed voice through which to speak the Gospel and a renewed sense of mercy in which to live it before the world in the hopes of recalling our wayward future back to some semblance of its original order.  If nothing else, it is an attempt to preserve the presence of the divine, though different and for different purpose, in both church and state.

We have come to sound shrill and uncaring to a world already thoroughly invested in the supreme value of pleasure, the sacred gift of preference, and their peace with death.  That is not necessarily because we are this way or because the piety and obedience of faith must appear this way to the world but because this is how the world has characterized us.  Like living with the name Lutheran, this has stuck to us and it does not appear it will change soon.  Yet that cannot keep us from speaking and we must not abandon the cause of true piety -- vocation.  Living within the home as those who love others before self and manifest this love with willing sacrifice, living within the neighborhood as people of charity, mercy, and truth, and living in the nation as honest and honorable citizens will probably not win the world but it is how we live our faith.  Living within the Church with the means of grace as the fountain and source, summit and goal of our lives, we will probably always appear strange before the world but this is how we live out our faith.  With man it is impossible.  It always was.  But with God all things are possible.  More than that, God is faithful and God will do what He has promised.  This is not merely our comfort as we lick our wounds from the world's bite, it is our confidence as we persist for the faith, endure in the kingdom, and remain faithful until Christ comes in His glory to finish His new creation.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Learning a lesson from our forbears. . .

In the US few seem to grasp the appeal of a Donald Trump.  Though I am not a supporter of Trump, it is not difficult to understand his appeal.  We live in a nation in which change has become rapid and in which we feel distant from our past and from the institutions that provided an anchor for our lives and a direction for our hope.  The cultural elite have promoted a political correct kind of nation in which choice is devoid of moral value except the need to disdain the sins of our past (mostly oppression).  In this vacuum there is little for the ordinary American to hold onto -- until someone comes along who speaks out loud what many have whispered, who does not seem intimidated to the gods of diversity and politically correct speech, and who dares to throw it all in the face of the media and the powerful ruling class which decides what ideas will and will not be tolerated.  It is a culture of outrage from folks who feel like they have few places left to express their indignation.

What is happening in other places (in England, for example, and the working class there apt to blame their plight on Thatcher's resurgence of the free market), is happening in America as well.  Schools are talking more about bathrooms for transgender than about teaching children the three R's.  Workplaces have become battlegrounds for existence.  Police and legal authorities have been painted with the broad brush of bigotry and oppression.  Food police are telling us what we can eat and drink.  Obamacare defines what we want from the health care system.  Even though a woman may very well become President and a Black is our President, we are everywhere charged with mysogyny and racism.  Certain lives matter but not the unborn.  Religion is better not seen and best not heard in the public square.  Businesses are shut down for refusing service to people who could easily find others to satisfy their wants without much trouble.  Terrorism that is clearly born of one religion and one ideology is treated with kid gloves.  In Cuba the arrest of dissidents is deemed the equivalent of a lack of jobs or health care for all and our own President does not disagree.  What are we to think?

Immigrants are doing better in all of this because, unlike the white working class, immigrants have retained the social and religious institutions that promote cohesion, identity, and provide them support.  While I am not unsympathetic to the challenges faced by blue collar workers and their families, I wonder if this dearth of social and religious institutions to support them and sustain their identity is not one of the bigger challenges to face us as a nation.  As a nation we no longer enjoy unanimity when it comes to our values.  Diversity has left us unsure if we really do have things in common and the result is suspicion and fear.  The campaign of the progressives to allow religion only to challenge their definition of oppression has left us feeling isolated and without a voice.  The pace of change and the marginalization of once important institutions like the church have left many of us angry, frustrated, and fearful.

The decline of the neighborhood, the disbursement of the family across the nation and globe, the challenges to family, the myriad of choices that pull us in different directions, and the individualization of faith are all as significant as the economic troubles that face the working class.  Add to that the weakened structure of the family, the absence of strong male role models, and the negative portrayal of masculinity and we are ripe for an election that is more than anything else a protest and the outcome which will inevitably satisfy few of the voters who cast their ballot for change.  Obama's promise of the change you can believe in left us more divided than ever.  We want America to be great again but I wonder if this is possible unless and until we address the lack of social and religious institutions and structures that are essential to the well being of any group but especially at a time when the white working class fears their place and dreams are slipping away from them.  The answer cannot simply be economic.  It must also address the common values and the common esteem for church that once marked Americans across the board.  Fixing the wallet will not repair the isolation, end the reign of fear, and turn off the anger against those who have decided that faith is only good if it is private and silent.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A video tribute to Elizabeth II at age 90. . .

Keep us sober. . . and on the horse. . .


Good words from our Synod President:  Keep us sober. . . and on the horse.

Keep Us Sober and on the Horse

by Matthew C. Harrison
“The world is like a drunken peasant. If one helps him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off on the other side.” — Martin Luther (Luther’s Works, vol. 54, pg. 111).
Sometimes the Church can be “like a drunken peasant” too.

Jesus says, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). This text comes at the end of the account of Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus was just the sort of unlikely character that Jesus sought out, and boy did the “religious experts” complain about it (v. 7). But Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (vs. 9–10).

Luke’s gospel makes a particular, joyful emphasis on the “the lost who are found.” In the parable of the wedding feast (Luke 14:7–11), the “master” invites the guests to the great banquet. Those invited repeatedly come up with excuses, so the master commands that his servant go “to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23). Then follows the sobering teaching: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). And after that comes the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7). The point? “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Next the woman finds the lost coin. “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost. Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:9–10). Then the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) with its fabulous conclusion: “‘This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’” (v. 24).

Throughout all of these, who does the finding? It is certainly God the Father and also God the Son in these and many other texts.

How did Jesus in His earthly walk “seek the lost”? He went! He preached! He healed! He also appointed apostles (“sent ones;” Luke 9:1–6), and the 72 (Luke 10:1–12). The Book of Concord rightly states, “The office of the ministry [preaching office] stems from the general call of the apostles” (Treatise 10, German). But folks who encountered Jesus and who did not have a vocation as an apostle also had a tremendous hand in “seeking the lost.” Think of the woman at the well. She went home, told others about Jesus and “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). Or consider the Gerasene. After Jesus sent the demons named “Legion” into the swine, “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away . . . And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:38–39). These lives were radically changed by Jesus’ Gospel, and they stayed in their communities, told others and many believed.

Here’s the “drunken peasant” part. We are prone to pit the glorious gift of the spiritual priesthood of all believers (with its right and privilege of speaking the Gospel in the context of everyday life) against the Office of the Ministry, which has the responsibility of serving at the behest of Christ through the call of a congregation. The former exists so “that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). All of us as spiritual priests have the right and responsibility to speak of Jesus to those in our lives and communities and to invite them to church! As pastors, some are given the responsibility of shepherding, proclaiming the Word and giving the Sacraments to the gathered flock. Both activities are part of the mission of Jesus “to seek and to save the lost.” When we pit these two offices or vocations against each other, we are on the wrong track.

To fall off one side of the horse is to say, “Lay people don’t have the right and responsibility of speaking the Gospel” or worse, “The Gospel is only effective when spoken by a pastor.” To fall off the other side is to assert, “We don’t need pastors. And men who are regularly preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments don’t need to be pastors.”

God keep us sober . . . and on the horse!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Late Birthday. . .

From History
On this day in 4977 B.C., the universe is created, according to German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, considered a founder of modern science. Kepler is best known for his theories explaining the motion of planets.
Kepler was born on December 27, 1571, in Weil der Stadt, Germany. As a university student, he studied the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ theories of planetary ordering. Copernicus (1473-1543) believed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system, a theory that contradicted the prevailing view of the era that the sun revolved around the earth.
Johannes_KeplerIn 1600, Kepler went to Prague to work for Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, the imperial mathematician to Rudolf II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Kepler’s main project was to investigate the orbit of Mars. When Brahe died the following year, Kepler took over his job and inherited Brahe’s extensive collection of astronomy data, which had been painstakingly observed by the naked eye. Over the next decade, Kepler learned about the work of Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who had invented a telescope with which he discovered lunar mountains and craters, the largest four satellites of Jupiter and the phases of Venus, among other things. Kepler corresponded with Galileo and eventually obtained a telescope of his own and improved upon the design. In 1609, Kepler published the first two of his three laws of planetary motion, which held that planets move around the sun in ellipses, not circles (as had been widely believed up to that time), and that planets speed up as they approach the sun and slow down as they move away. In 1619, he produced his third law, which used mathematic principles to relate the time a planet takes to orbit the sun to the average distance of the planet from the sun.
Kepler’s research was slow to gain widespread traction during his lifetime, but it later served as a key influence on the English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and his law of gravitational force. Additionally, Kepler did important work in the fields of optics, including demonstrating how the human eye works, and math. He died on November 15, 1630, in Regensberg, Germany.
There is one more thing you should know about Kepler.  He was a Lutheran!

Though science does not pay all that much attention to Kepler’s calculation about the universe’s birthday in our modern age.  Cause we are smarter.  For we have determined a hundred years or so ago that Kepler got it wrong.  Our scientists invented the Big Bang theory, which says that Kepler was close, in fact, according to modern day wisdom, his calculations were only off by about 13.7 billion years. 

What means Jesus' mercy to the sexual sinner?

Often Jesus is seen as sympathetic to those caught up in sin.  The adulterous woman from John 8 is usually cited with the words "then neither do I condemn you..."  But it is too quickly forgotten how Jesus follows that with "Go and sin no more."  Jesus' outreach to sexual sinners such as this adulterous woman is often understood as some putative license to sin sexually.  In fact, it is not at all permission to continue in that sin.  That Jesus ate and drank with sinners, in particular those sexual sinners, is testament to the judgment of Jesus they, every bit as much as the exploitative tax collectors, were also in dire need of being called to repentance.  Apart from this repentance, they would not inherit the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed first of all by His very presence. No, Jesus did not relax the commands with respect to sexual sin but intensified God's ethical demand for holiness even as He reached out in love to those who violated this demand most egregiously.

The popular image of Jesus is that, unlike the keepers of the Law and the custodians of the moral requirements of that Law, our Lord shrugged His shoulders at sin and wickedness, that He was rather sympathetic to those who found the requirements of the Law too burdensome, and that He was willing to disregard the Law in favor of a higher principle (love, for example).  In fact, our Lord Himself addresses such misunderstanding in Matthew 5:17-20 (not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it).  Furthermore, the fulfilling of the Law does not eliminate it.  The Law remains to curb in the extremes of human sinful desire for the protection of all people and it continues to mirror to us our lack, our failure, and our sins -- thus pointing us to Him who has no lack of righteousness, who did not fail to obey it perfectly, and whose only sins were those borrowed from us so that He might pay for them once for all.  Finally, the much misunderstood and maligned third use of the Law guides the hearts of those whom the Lord has redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit not to fear holiness but to love it and to seek it with all heart, mind, body, and strength (though always understanding it will be an imperfect obedience always and ever fully dependent upon the alien righteousness of Christ).

Rachel Held Evans has written often and more recently upon the subject of Jesus and those who live upon the fringes of Christianity, due, in her mind, to the narrowness of churches that seem to forget Jesus' concern for those far removed from sexual respectability.  I am suggesting, however, that Jesus didn’t die on the cross to preserve gender complementarity. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to ensure that little girls wear pink and little boys wear blue. Jesus lived, taught, died, and rose again to start a new family in which Jew and gentile, slave and free, male and female are all part of one holy Body. Certainly there will be those who reject the gospel because of the cost of discipleship, but let it be because of the cost of discipleship, not the cost of false fundamentals, not because they've been required to change something they cannot change.  (emphasis hers)

Not because they've been required to change something they cannot change...  But surely this is exactly Jesus' point.  Scripture often has lists of sinners who shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.  They must change.  Though they may be powerless to change, our Lord is neither powerless nor unwilling to effect the change.  Our Lord connects us to His death and resurrection not for symbolism but to kill what is already dead and to bring new life from that death.  It is a regeneration only our Lord can do for we have no power except to live the death that is our fate chosen by our first parents, condemned by our sins and miserable in our inability to redeem ourselves.  He changes us, who belong to Him now, who are not our own but His, to glorify God in our bodies.  If this is true for thieves, liars, coveters, murderers, idolators, adulterers, and the like, why is it not also true for those whose desires do not mirror God's creative purpose and plan?  Jesus is replete with calls to deny yourself and follow Him and St. Paul insists that self-denial is the hallmark of God's redeemed people (Titus 2:11-14 and Colossians 3:1-17). 

The ethical calling of Christian life never reverts to the desires unworthy of the Kingdom but transforms His people through the renewal of mind and heart to reflect the desires born of life in this Kingdom by the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord's mercy for the sexual sinner is in no way a justification for continuing in this (or any) sin but the start of the conversion which is never complete until God brings it to completion in the life which is to come.  If Scripture would caution us that giving and taking of a spouse and having children belongs only to this life, then surely it means also that sexual desire itself is temporary.  The burden imposed upon those whose desires do not reflect God's will and purpose in creating them male and female is not eternal for this too shall pass away when our desires are fully and finally fulfilled in Christ alone.