Saturday, August 23, 2014

Whenever the worship wars flare up, the battle seems always to be centered on text.  There are some on the far right who elevate the Common Service of 1888 as THE text par excellence (LSB Divine Service Setting 3) and who look down their noses at anything and everything but that specific set of words.  Rightly, there are those who bristle at the idea of taking any one snapshot in time and turning that into the rule that must govern the day.

There are also book people who are not what I would call liturgical but who follow the liturgy from the book zealously -- that is, they follow the text even though they may ignore the rubrics.  These are people who would not think of deviating one word from the book but who do not see how the liturgy is fountain and source of our lives in Christ, the sustenance of those lives in Christ, and the focus and anticipated future of those lives in Christ.  They are Lutherans and Lutherans follow the book.

Many of these people see the setting (building), the accoutrements of the setting, the ceremonial, the ritual, the church usages (you name the terminology) as something other than the liturgy so that it matters little to them if vestments are used or not, rubrics followed, ceremonial used -- except that usually they want minimal of these adiaphora about which nothing can be commanded.  Their freedom in the liturgy is not from the words or text of the liturgy but from the other stuff they have long ago decided is something other than liturgy and therefore irrelevant to the liturgy.

On the other side of the spectrum are the people who refuse the idea that worship has any texts.  They rewrite the "liturgy" week after week as if worship had to be reinvented Sunday after the Sunday.  They bristle at the idea of repetition and do not always use the Our Father or the Creed simply to shake it up a bit.  Even when they do use more sacred forms, they change up the wording week after week just so it does not get stale.  They evaluate liturgy by the book and deem it boring, irrelevant, and out of step with people in the pews.  So they reject the texts and therefore reject the liturgy (the ordo, if you will).  Some may loosely follow the ancient pattern of the Mass but their substitutions violate that form.

To some extent the problem is that we have reduced the liturgy or the Mass to a specific set of words -- to a text.  It is that to be sure but it is far more than that.  When we say liturgy we are not isolating a page number or a specific set of words only but the full measure of that which constitutes the Divine Service -- hymns, rubrics, liturgical year, gestures, ceremonial, postures, vestments.  All of these are part of the liturgy.  And more!  Art and beauty are certainly included here -- from crucifix to stained glass to paraments, etc...

Too many think it matters little if the setting or building is antagonistic to what is happening in the liturgy, the walls awful or empty of art, the music poor and an enemy of singing, the one presiding wooden and uncomfortable, etc..., as long as the text is there. Just make sure that the ministers pronounce the words correctly, read the text intelligibly, and the sermon is "meaningful" and all is well with the liturgy.  Except that this is as much an enemy to the liturgy as those who would ditch the whole thing in favor of entertainment!

The liturgy IS a text, rather, a series of texts, but it is far more.  I wonder if our people get this -- shoot, I wonder if our Pastors get this.  How easy it is to give no thought to the architectural setting, to the vestments, to the art, to the music, and to the gracious presiding of him who leads the Divine Service -- and to settle for a text, a set of words on a page and call it done.  I am NOT saying that all of these thing have to be right before worship is as God intends and His gifts bestowed upon His people according to His promise. Of course not.  But what we settle for, what we define as normative, should not be some minimalism of text alone apart from the piety and practice that naturally flow from the richness of the liturgical tradition, the sacred deposit and living tradition that connects us to the past as well as pointing us to the future in Christ.

Unless and until we recapture the idea that all of these things are in service to the worship of God's house and part of the whole liturgical setting and celebration, we will inevitably talk past each other, argue against straw men, and continue to wage worship wars without even addressing the full dimension of what is at play when we gather in the shadow of the saints before us and toward the future we anticipate with the foretaste of the feast to come as the Church, around Word and Table, in the clothing of the liturgy.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. . .

Take a gander at this GIF that shows the swelling and falling of the Roman Empire...

510 BC to 530 AD

In 500 BC, Rome was a minor city-state on the Italian peninsula. By 200 BC, the Roman Republic had conquered Italy, and over the following two centuries it conquered Greece and Spain, the North African coast, much of the Middle East, modern-day France, and even the remote island of Britain. In 27 BC, the republic became an empire, which endured for another 400 years. Finally, the costs of holding such a vast area together become too great. Rome gradually split into Eastern and Western halves, and by 476 AD the Western half of the empire had been destroyed by invasions from Germanic tribes. The Eastern half of the empire, based in Constantinople, continued for many centuries after that.

Here is the shape of the next empire that followed, the one created by Charlemagne.

 Historians generally refer to the Eastern Roman Empire after 476 as the Byzantine Empire. But this is an arbitrary distinction invented for the convenience of historians; it wouldn't have made sense to people living in Constantinople, the Eastern Capital, at the time. People in the Byzantine Empire continued to think of themselves as Romans, and their empire as the Roman Empire, for centuries after 476. In 527, the Emperor Justinian took power in the Byzantine Empire and began a compaign to reconquer the Western half of the empire. By his death in 565, he had made significant progress, retaking Italy, most of Roman Africa, and even some parts of Spain. While his successors wouldn't be able to hold these new territories, the Byzantine Empire would endure as a Christian empire for another 1000 years until it was finally overrun by the Ottomans in 1453.

Read more here. . . 

Fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice...

Donald Trump is reported to have said there is no such thing as bad publicity.  I doubt his veracity on this.  There is such a thing as bad publicity and Pope Francis had fallen into it multiple times.  It is not simply a matter of what he said but of supposedly what he said.  In other words, he has put himself into a position where his words have been reported in a provocative sense when they may not have been -- but who would know and who is to say what he really said or what he meant.

Point and example are his interviews with an interviewer who does not record the interview but relies upon his memory.  The Pope has sat down with this individual several times and in each case the interview (so-called) has resulted in confusion over what was actually said or meant and has made the Pope appear to be naive at best or completely ignorant of the consequences of such journalism at worst.  The point is not simply what he was said to have said but the whole idea that we do not know what he said and, it seems, never will.  He has enjoyed this style of vague communication in which implication, inference, and innuendo seem to suggest he is at odds with the Roman Catholic Church's stated position or desires to change it without directly saying it.  The problem is not the positions but the Pope.  If he is at odds with celibacy or he has inside information about the sex scandal problem or he desires to loosen the communion rules for the divorced, he should be honest enough to admit it up front instead of tossing out seeming tidbits of discord with the RCC's position in a less than forthright or honest manner that both confuse the world and scandalize the church.

So now the Pope is saying that 1 in 50 priests, bishops, and cardinals in the RCC is a pedophile?  That celibacy is on the table?  Well, who is to know.  The interviewer (Eugenio Scalfari) has no written or recorded notes to go by -- only his memory.  The Pope's or the Vatican's spokesman (Father Lombardi) says that the interviewer did not accurately convey the Pope's comments.  So what is going on...

My personal fear is that this Pope is in over his head.  He may be well intentioned but he is foolish and naive in the way he is using or being used by the media.  His ordinary method of a "studied ambiguity" is not how the Church should address the world and it is unworthy of those who would presume to speak for the Christian faith.  It makes a Lutheran long for the days of B16 and JP2.  It is not my church but a Pope's words cast a long shadow over Christianity as a whole and he needs either to be honest and unambiguously own what he is saying or he needs to shut up.  In any case he needs never to speak to Mr. Scalfari again without someone or some means to independently verify what he said and what he did not say.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  That is my Lutheran take on it...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Modern Day Renewer of the Church

Norwegian Bishop Børre Knudsen died quietly in his home near Tromsø Sunday morning, August 17, 2014,surrounded by his family. Norway’s most prominent pro-Life leader had suffered worsening Parkinson’s Disease in recent years. His passing sparked a wave of praise from Christian and even secular publications across Norway. An editorial in the Christian daily Dagen entitled “Heartfelt Thanks, Børre Knudsen” described him as “a unique person. His warm heart, his gentle zeal and his steadfastness stand as strong testimony to a life of selfless service for the Life that God created.”

“When the history of our times is written,” Dagen continues, “Børre Knudsen will be one future generations will hear about. Knudsen’s struggle is not driven by opposition to women’s rights or the preservation of traditional gender roles, but by a strong commitment to protect life itself.”

Vårt Land writes, “Børre Knudsen will go down in history as one of the most important churchly personalities of our time, but both he and his family had to pay a high price because he stood out front in the abortion battle.”

Bishop Knudsen was known throughout Norway and beyond for his gentle demeanor but uncompromising struggle against legalized abortion, beginning when the Norwegian law was adopted in 1978. Protesting the law, he refused to carry out government duties assigned to state church pastors, such as keeping official records, and refused his salary, but continued his pastoral service to his congregation.

Also, a movie, entitled A Priest and a Plague has been made about his life.  It was released in Norway and was shown on nationwide television there a few days ago.  It will be available in this country in October.

HT to Chris Barnekov

Or you could just call her Mom. . .

Having heard of the great and pressing need for a new term for the rather distasteful term surrogate mother, I have been appraised of its replacement.  Temporary mobile gestational carrier.  Ahhh, now that fall off the tongue about as naturally as the idea is unnatural.  But it certainly fits.  It fits a culture in which mom and dad are relative terms and families may have two moms or two dads or some other combination -- including trans-moms and trans-dads (for the transgendered).  It fits a culture in which babies are like possessions to be purchased by those desired and thrown away if the desire passes before the sound of the child's cry.   It fits a culture in which test tubes and medical procedure is replacing love, marriage and the baby carriage.  It fits a culture in which gender neutral terms are used in every possible way to remove the taint of gender from the public conversation.  Yes, I suppose babies need a temporary mobile gestational carrier.  They really do.  But more than this rather sanitized ideal, babies need a mom and a dad, courageous enough to marry and live together in fidelity and smart enough to know that parents are not puzzle pieces but essential and unique parts of the divinely intended and established ideal of family.  Imagine that instead of farming out the messy business of conception, pregnancy, and birth, a mom and a dad find this responsibility to be part of their sacrificial service to their children and a duty to be born by mom with the loving support of dad (a joyous duty at that).  Or is that too much to ask??

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Kind of Legoland

My kids have always loved Legos.  My oldest son is not too old to remain in love with the little colored bricks and the world of wonder an imagination can create with them.  My kids have made some awesome Lego builds but nothing like this...  Okay, so many Dad helped these kids out a bit.  Either way it is my kind of Legoland!

Note that this is a traditional church, cruciform in shape, altar ad orientum, with all the appointments, and, it appears, a processional in process, probably to a full, sung, liturgy (whether or not it is a Pontificial High Mass is hard to guage without seeing it in person).  Note the baptistry and confessional...  Hmmmm Very creative!

Now this is how kids ought to spend their creative moments!

You can read about it here... or look at the rest of the pictures below:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An embarrassment of riches. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 15A, preached on Sunday, August 17, 2014.

    I don’t think there is a family that does not have an uncle or grandpa or father who does not delight in embarrassing his kids.  My brother and I used to say it all the time. “Awww, Dad.”  Have you ever been embarrassed by the words or actions of a friend or family member?  Sometimes it is the truth that embarrasses us – the truth the everyone knows but no one says.
    Have you ever been embarrassed by the Bible?  Ever read something shocking to you that you wish God had not said?  Have you ever been embarrassed by Jesus?  Statistics tell us that one of the reasons people give for not inviting people to their church is the fear of being embarrassed by their church or their pastor.  Have you ever been embarrassed in that way?
    Today we found the disciples embarrassed.  They were embarrassed by this pest of a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who refused to shut up and leave them alone.  They were also embarrassed that Jesus did not seem to be bothered by this woman.  And they were embarrassed that Jesus did not do something about her and send her packing.
    They were even more embarrassed when the Lord stopped to listen to her, engaged her in conversation, and then gave to her grace they thought should have gone to more deserving folk.  Jesus listened to her.  She was not a follower of Jesus.  She was a woman with a past.  She was a pest.  She was bothering the Lord with her concern for her daughter.  This was embarrassing to them.  Why didn’t she just go away or Jesus send her away.  Even when Jesus insulted her, she did not deny it.  She was a dog, all right.
    But Jesus then gave her what she asked for – more than crumbs and a shocking display of mercy.  Jesus not only listened to her and talked with her but gave to her daughter the healing for which this woman had begged.  How embarrassing.  Jesus should have known better.  This woman was a dog and she did not deserve His kindness.  Yes, sometimes kindness embarrasses us.  Grace embarrasses us.
    Jesus transcended right and merit and worth to display the nature of God’s love and His kingdom and to give to her the grace she did not deserve and show her the mercy that was His gift.  It was an embarrassment of riches toward someone who did not deserve any bit of it.
    You worry about being embarrassed.  You are the embarrassment.  You are sinners.  Not just little sinners like the person who sticks a toe in to test the waters.  Nope.  You have jumped in head first to every kind of filth, evil, shameful, and scandalous sin.  You are an embarrassment to the Lord.  You have no right to stand on and your only appeal is the same as this woman's -- grace, pure grace, and grace alone.
    That is the gift of God.  God does not give His mercy to those who deserve it.  God does not reserve His grace for those who are holy or righteous or good.  God gives His grace to dogs.  He does so every Sunday.  We deserve nothing of His kindness and yet He is kind to us.  He forgives our terrible sins for the sake of Jesus Christ and counts us as His own righteous and holy children by baptism.
    Every Sunday we come and receive an embarrassment of riches from the Lord.  None of us gets what we deserve from Him – thanks be to God – and each of us receives what we none of us deserves.  Grace upon grace.  Mercies new every morning. Forgiveness for the dirty and shameful sins we commit.  The clothing of righteousness to cover our evil.  The flesh and blood of Christ as our true and glorious food of everlasting life.  The privilege of serving Him who served us by dying on the cross.
    You and I worry about what others will think of us but we do not fear God.  We act like we deserve what He gives to us.  We presume the right to be here in His presence.  We are an embarrassment to the Lord and still He forgives us and calls us His own.  Every week we face this same embarrassment of riches – more that we deserve or dare ask.  It is grace alone!
    We are all barking dogs who are not worth the crumbs but Christ has set a place at His table.  We are all mutts whom the Lord has given pedigree by baptism and faith. We don’t deserve to be heard but He hears us. We don’t deserve to be mercy, but He forgives us. We don’t deserve to eat but He feeds us.
    Grace is the surprise of God to all our sin and unworthiness. Every Sunday we face an embarrassment of riches.  We come with our money thinking we are giving God something big and He gives us His own Son that embarrasses our offerings.  We give Him our worship and think it is a big deal sacrificing a Sunday morning and He gives us our lives back from death.
    Every Sunday it is the same... we come deserving nothing, not even the crumbs due the dogs.  Every Sunday our Lord presents an embarrassment of riches to us. . . And too often, we walk out that door without a real hint of just what a lavish and giving God we have.  You ought to be embarrassed in Church – embarrassed that God would be so kind, so merciful, and so gracious to you, a sinner who deserves none of it.  Today we pray for just such a heart – shamed by mercy into joy!  Amen

Liberal Baptists... not an oxymoron

I had this passed to me. . .

When you hear the word “Baptist,” what ideas pop into your head?  Southern accents, Jerry Falwell, political conservatism, etc?  I suspect that that’s true for most people.  But the truth of the matter is that if you factor out the SBC, Baptists are some of the most ferociously liberal Christians in America, at times exceeding even the Episcopalians.

Case in point:
A transgender woman who attended George W. Truett Theological Seminary and pastored a church in Central Texas as a man has returned to the pulpit.

Allyson Robinson began June 23 as transitions pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington. The calling is temporary — helping with preaching, mentoring and pastoral care duties along with the deacons until the church names a longer-term intentional interim pastor — probably this fall.
Calvary Baptist reaffirmed Robinson’s ordination June 15, prior to Pastor Amy Butler’s departure to become senior minister of the historic and progressive Riverside Church in New York City.

“Allyson Dylan Robinson is a minister of the gospel, trained for the task, and ordained to the gospel ministry by another community in which she has served as pastor,” Butler said in an ordination litany later posted on her blog.

“Over the course of her journey, God has invited her to step into the faithful witness of a new identity, a true identity, and a new name,” she continued.

In an ideal world, liberals would all wear the same name, badge, or identity.  We live in a convoluted world in which, like politics, religion is filled with diversity within the labels.  Lutherans are all over the page.  Methodists, too.  There are fewer Episcopalians on the right but a few.  There are fewer UCC folks on the right, but a few.  But Baptists?  They are the iconic face of stern fundamentalism, right?  No.  We already saw how Baptists in the UK fudged things on same sex marriage.  Now we have Baptists in the US who champion a transgendered minister.  Wow.  How are you supposed to know who is who and what is what?  Since people in the pew can no longer simply trust the label, you have to find out what is believed, confessed, taught, and, now the new one, tolerated...