Monday, May 25, 2015

Remember. . .

On this Memorial Day weekend, two scenes are etched into my memory.  At my father-in-law's funeral a single row of war veterans, the same vintage as Al, made their long way down the aisle before the funeral began and solemnly saluted their fallen comrade.  At the cemetery they took turns firing the rifles whose sound shattered the silence.  And they stood in rapt attention as the flag was folded and on one knee presented to my mother-in-law in recognition of Al's service to his country and from a grateful nation.  Little did I know that the whole thing would be repeated seven hundred miles away when my own father died.  Honor guards, soldiers folding a flag, and a bended kneed holding forth that folded flag in honor, thanks, appreciation, and gratitude from a grateful nation -- this time for my own father.  They are two poignant moments of very emotional times.  But this is not about emotion.

We spend too much time talking about and paying attention to feelings.  We are more consumed with how we feel than just about anything else.  Those soldiers who served without hesitation, who paid the cost with haunting memories, the loss of friends and family, chronic wounds and loss of limb, and especially those who died on hills, in fox holes, in the air, one the sea, so far from home. . . they deserve more from us than good feelings and even gratitude.  If their serve and their sacrifice means anything to us, then it calls us as a nation to stop the foolish feeding frenzy of presumed slight, to demand an end to the crazed reaction to injustice that loots, steals, and destroys, to refuse the senseless litany of rights demanded by those unwilling to pay even the smallest cost of liberty, and to challenge the selfish slavery of the moment by remembering those whose support of freedom was paid in blood, sweat, pain, and death.

Our political conversation is dominated by questions of what the candidates will do for me.  Our terrible treatment of those who would be candidates almost guarantees that the best people will not seek to run. Our fear of the future betrays the America that led countless soldiers to defend freedom on every field in unpopular conflicts amid the worst possible conditions.  Our nation is only as strong as those who will hear and heed the call to service -- formally in the armed forces or informally as responsible citizens.  Our punishment will be to get the kind of society we fought to prevent -- unless we are willing to work together as hard as those who are working to tear down and destroy the fragile liberty but one generation away from surrender to those who refuse to follow where our ancestors walked.

Just a few thoughts on Memorial Day as I remember two of the greatest generation and pray that they and their like are not the last. . .

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Of two minds. . .

The etymology of the word “doubt” is from the Latin word dubius meaning “uncertain” (also a word in English).  Look more deeply, however, and you find the word rooted in the Latin word duo (two). Dubium means a choice between two things. Another way of looking at this is to compare doubt with double, a word that comes from the same Latin root (dubius). To entertain doubts is to be undecided, to have two minds on the matter.

This is useful because it well describes us as Christians today.  We say we want the truth but the truth is we run after every falsehood that appeals to our minds and hearts.  We say we want to be confident of that truth but we allow every naysayer to disarm this truth and leave us with uncertainty.  We say we want to hold on to that which is larger than the moment and even eternal but we cave to the whim of desire nearly every chance we get.  We insist that we are our own people and go our own way but seldom risk this lonely path without the support of others.  We insist we are individuals but we walk in herds -- in step with those ahead of us even when we fear they are going the wrong way.

We are like this not only in the matter of religion and faith but life itself.  We love and hate our jobs.  We love our friends but spend most of our time with them filtered through media.  We love healthy food but give into our guilty pleasures.  We honor people of principle but we tend to surrender our principles on the altar of desire and go for what feels good.  We want accountability in government but only if our politicians tell us what we want to hear.  We want the rule of law to apply equally unless we are guilty of an infraction and then we have all sorts of reasons, excuses, and justifications why it should not apply to us.

I am just as guilty as the rest of us.  Doubt is the fruit of sin.  Before it stains us with guilt, before it marks us for death, before creation has become a battleground, and before God became our enemy, it all began with simply doubt.  Did God really say. . . Does the Word of God really mean. . . Does God really want you to. . .  These became the cracks filled quickly with guilt, shame, regret, and bitterness.  We became of two minds toward God back in Eden and it has not changed.

The Christian is the new person, created in Christ Jesus from the waters of new birth in Baptism, as a child of God and heir of salvation in whom the Spirit lives, works, and speaks.  But the old Adam has not shut up and continues to plant doubt in our minds about God's promises, His reliability, His trustworthiness, and the certainty of His grace. 

These doubts either drive us into the arms of Christ or out of them.  No one is ever brought to more certainty by abandoning the fellowship of God's people gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord.  No one is ever made more secure in the arms of God's grace by getting what they want, what they pray for, or what they think will make their lives perfect.  Adversity does have the power to drive us from the sufficient grace of God but it also has the power to drive home the truth that this sufficiency is the only security we know this side of glory.

We lie to ourselves by insisting God would not want us to suffer and so we indulge in what we know is evil and wrong -- choosing a moment of sinful pleasure over an eternity of joy.  We lie to ourselves that if God really loved us then all these bad things would not be happening to us -- choosing to believe that God's purpose is merely the clean up crew who fixes our own self-indulgent wrongs and the struggles of living in a sinful world clearly at odds with His purpose and plan.  And then we feel justified in rejecting God while finding that such rejection has not authored any word of peace for our hearts but only the poisoned fruit of bitterness and despair.

What will you do with your doubts?  That is the question.  Will we stew and fret in them until the only thing we know is uncertainty?  Or will we surrender them to meet the Lord where He will be found -- in the rich green pastures of His Word and the still quiet waters of His Sacraments.  This is what I struggle with every day and, I suspect, it is where you live also.  If I have learned one thing over my life, doubt offers me no refuge, no peace, no promise, no future, and only the most painful regret.  Faith is always a risk but its risk cannot be as empty as the alternative of doubt, despair, and death.

On this Pentecost morning we rejoice that God has sent to us the Spirit of truth to make known to our fearful and double hearts the true Gospel and to break down the walls of our hearts to believe.  On this day we pray as a Church and as individual Christians:  Lord, I believe. . . Help Thou my unbelief.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pastoral words to pastors from our Synod VP

Pastor Mueller offers words of
encouragement and comfort for pastors

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6–11).
Brothers in Christ:
Grace and peace to you in Jesus, the Living One, who died and lives forevermore, who holds the keys of death and hell (Rev. 1:18)! We are writing specifically to pastors today, but much of this applies to all of us, brothers and sisters alike.
Every three to six weeks, I sit down with my pastor. Generous with his time, he usually gives me 90 minutes or more. We talk about our families, about our joys and burdens, about our temptations. We then read and discuss Scripture, pray and, if necessary (when is it not necessary?), confess and speak Christ’s word of forgiveness. I do not believe it is possible to serve very long as a pastor without hearing for yourself the precious word of Christ on the lips of your pastor, “Your sin is forgiven you! Go and sin no more!”
Why? Simply put, as Peter writes, the devil is prowling about, seeking someone to devour. Does that include pastors too? Oh, yes, it does—in spades! And if you think it doesn’t, you are actually in even greater danger. Time and time again, we’ve seen how both the devil and the world target pastors and their families. If they can take a pastor down, they can often take others down with him. What is more, we pastors, like everyone else, have beating in our own chests a heart full of sin, “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Why so negative today? Jesus explains: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20–23).
So when Satan comes with his temptation, he has this natural ally in me, in my heart. In other words, my sin problem is not merely a surface anomaly like a skin blemish easily removed with a laser. Instead, it’s like a metastasized melanoma, not just on the surface, but infecting the whole body with its deadly effects.
What are some of the tactics Satan uses to play with our sinful flesh, often when we least expect it?
  • He almost always takes our pride and twists it to his purposes. “It won’t happen to me.” “I’m immune to these temptations.” “I have progressed beyond that.” “I’m on to the devil’s schemes.” “I’ve got this licked.” “Let’s focus on the good things, not the negative.” “I’m okay. At least I’m not as bad as . . .” “You work for the Synod. You’re good!”
  • Sex is like a powerful river. Within its proper banks, within a marriage of one man and one woman for life, it is a glorious gift of God. Outside these boundaries, it quickly becomes destructive, narcissistic. Used as God designed, for husband and wife to give themselves to serve each other in love, it is a source of great joy and blessing from God’s hand. But when our appetites lead us to use others for ourselves, it turns into an idol that often runs wild, becoming an all-consuming desire that is never satisfied. With the Internet, accessing debilitating pornography (debasing to women and men alike) has become so easy. We toss God’s gifts into the trash, causing great pain to ourselves and those we love.
  • Sometimes those with great intellect are tempted to think that they can solve just about any problem if only people will listen to them. When people do listen, we become enamored with our own wisdom. When they refuse to hear us, we blame it on their “stupidity” or “hardness of heart,” claiming that they have thereby refused to hear Christ. We become proud of our accomplishments. Or when we suffer, we blame others.
  • Great wealth or lack of possessions, take your pick. The devil can use either one to consume our hearts and minds. We don’t have enough. We are blessed, but we want more. We focus on what we don’t have, instead of receiving in thanksgiving all that God has given us. But the thing about idols and obsessions is that God has a tendency to grind them to bits. He tolerates no rivals!
  • The devil tempts us with the fear of man. We know the right thing to do or to say, but we are afraid people will not like us if we say it, so we soft peddle. We compromise. We give in. Pray God would instead give you both the wisdom and discernment necessary, as well as the Spirit-worked courage, to speak the Word of God with loving boldness. Let the fear of God drive out the fear of man.
  • Can pastors develop a haughty spirit? There are many opportunities the devil takes to play on our sinful flesh in this regard. “This church is growing because of me.” “If everyone followed my methods, this Synod would take off!” “My people are a bunch of dumb sheep who know nothing of the Word of God.” “They’re not worthy of a man of my talents.” Any one of these thoughts will indulge our sinful pride, but each of them is deadly.
  • We could also write volumes about the tongue, what James calls “a fire, a world of unrighteousness . . . no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6, 8). Heed his warning: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue [or his fingers on the keyboard!] but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
What a list! And I’m only scratching the surface. Satan’s purpose in all of these temptations is to separate us from Christ, to drive others away from Christ or to destroy our ability to serve in the pastoral ministry. What is God calling us to do?

First, repent. Turn from the lies you tell yourself. Turn from following your own desires. Turn from the idols you have created. Turn in the pride. Give up to the Lord in confession all those sinful thoughts. Turn away, by the Spirit’s power, from those sinful actions. Give up the sinful, prideful words. Put away the fear of man (again, idolatry) to fear, love and trust in God alone.

Second, even more importantly, remember that the Church lives only by the forgiveness of sins. You and I need Christ’s forgiveness as much or more than our people. Hear for yourself the poignant words of John: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2). That’s how you can be sure this is also for you.

God in our flesh and blood, Jesus, became the sacrifice that takes away our sins. He soaked it all up. He is the propitiation, the sacrifice that made us whole. He absorbed all that sin and death could do. All the wrath, all the destruction—He took it all for us. He did it all for real sinners. He did it all for you and me.
All this works a wonderful exchange, an exchange actually finished from the cross. When we come, stained and dirty, dying with our sin, Jesus says, “Here, I will take what is yours, will take all your sin, I will become the sinner for you, in your place!” He gathers all our sins, carries them all and is nailed up to the cross for every last one of them. Now raised from the dead, Jesus says, “Here, now let me give you what is Mine, My life, My peace, My mercy, My grace, My heaven, all for you, for you are my beloved!” And the Father looks at us and sees only Jesus—for us!

All this is delivered to us in our Baptism, in absolution, in the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us. As a pastor, you deliver these gifts to your people in the Word of God. But you need the gifts too. No one, including you, can live without them. The greatest help in temptation is our Lord’s promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). You are loved in Christ, washed clean in His blood.

Forgiven by the Word of the living Lord Jesus, we are now called to be “humble . . . under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We are to be “sober-minded; watchful” against temptation (1 Peter 5:6–8). In essence, by the Word of God and prayer, as we are accountable to one another, we are to guard our hearts. We take seriously the warning, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). This is why God provides you with brothers in the ministry, with a board of elders, to help you stand. This is why God gives His Spirit, in His Word: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Look for it. Look for the way of escape He gives. Trust Him. Know that Satan is already defeated. He has no power unless we allow it. That’s why Peter tells us to “resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:9–10).

When you sense you are being drawn into temptation, get help. Don’t fight alone. Call a brother pastor. Talk to someone. The devil loves loners. They’re easier to “pick off.” Guard your heart. Watch what you take in. Be careful what you look at. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). Be accountable for your devotional life. Call your circuit visitor. Visit regularly with your pastor, your father confessor. Put safeguards on your computer if you haven’t done so. Start or become part of an accountability group. Ask a brother pastor to hold you accountable. Talk to a Christian counselor (many districts provide help in this). The Concordia Plan Services Employee Assistance Plan can help too (1-866-726-5267). No matter what, remember this promise: “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

Why are we belaboring this? Satan has two more dastardly tricks. He will often lead you to think it’s no big deal, you’ll get away with it, no one will know, no one will recognize you. He will tempt you to become what you most despise. And then he will turn around and accuse you: “You think God can love you after you did all that? You’ve got to be kidding!”

But hear and take to heart God’s Word: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:32–34). And that also includes you, whoever you are! Trust Him. Lean on Him. He will never fail you.

One more thing: You can stake your life on these words. They are trustworthy and true. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).
May that peace of God be with you all—in Jesus!

The Rev. Dr. Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Ah, we once knew how to build churches. . . too bad we forgot.

Compare and contrast. . . St. John Lutheran, Forest Park, IL (Chicago):

And this. . .

You pick the one that is consistent with Lutheran Confessional, liturgical, and sacramental identity. . .

Friday, May 22, 2015

Under the sign of the cross. . .

Sermon preached to the Circuit Brothers, upon the Commemoration of Sts. Constantine and Helena, based on 1 Corinthians 1:22-31 & John 15:1-11.

Today we remember and given thanks for Emperor Constantine, Christian Ruler and Helena, Mother of Constantine.  Constantine I served as Roman Emperor from A.D. 306 to 337. During his reign the persecution of Christians was forbidden by the Edict of Milan in 313, and ultimately the faith gained his full support. Constantine was not inattentive to the teaching of the faith and called for the Council of Nicaea in 325 to bring an end to the challenge to orthodox Christianity by the Arians.  His mother, Helena (ca. 255-329) was a strong influence on her son’s life and she was one of the first Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land.  Her visit led to the identification of many of the holy sites we acknowledge in Jerusalem and Bethlehem to this very day.

According to the tradition, while at war with Maxentios, Constantine had the vision of the Holy Cross and fighting under the sign of the Holy Cross, he won his battle. Though Constantine was not baptized until close to death, this was not an uncommon practice of the day, preferring a baptismal date which would preclude major sins that would defile the baptism.

It's an odd story, to say the least.  Today we are hardly bothered by the idea of sins that would stain our baptismal new life.  In fact, we expect it.  We tend to see sins as our job and forgiveness as God’s.  The pursuit of holiness is not a high priority on our daily lives.  We Lutherans in particular are often seen as having an invisible piety – that is, we live relatively anonymously in the world with little to draw attention to our faith and lives in Christ.  To live under the sign of the cross is not only to rejoice in what Christ has done for us but to endeavor by the power of the Spirit to live the new life baptism has imparted to us.

The world is looking for signs, that is surely true, and we live in an age that runs to every story of a boy who visits heaven to every other strange anomaly as perhaps proof of the divine.  The sign, however is simply Christ.  His death as the payment for our sins and His resurrection as the promise of our own resurrection to eternal life – this is what God has given us. As good as this is in theory, when life comes crashing down or guilt continues to shame us or we shudder from persecution for what we believe or we simply call evil good, there is a voice in us that continues to ask for something more than Christ crucified and risen, for a sign, any sign, that will bolster our believing and make faith less risky.

Constantine fought under the sign of the cross.  Victory meant God was good, was on his side, and even an emperor knew enough to pay back a debt.  Well, brothers and sisters, you fight under the sign of the cross, too.  It is not a symbol but a sacrament, water and the word.  You were crucified with Christ into His death and you were raised in Christ to His new life.  That is your sign.  That is my sign.

When you were placed over the water, when the sign of the cross was made on your forehead and heart, you were marked as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified, the Spirit was given you to break through the barriers of your heart and plant faith where doubt and fear once reigned supreme.  In your every day life as husband or wife, parent or child, employer or employee, you fight the good fight of faith under this baptismal sign of the cross marked on you.  You belong to Him.  Your life right now is hidden in Christ and one day it will be revealed to the world that has rejected Him and in front of them God will lead you to the heavenly place prepared for You.

Until Christ comes again to finish His new creation, you conquer under the sign of the cross.  You live successfully by living faithfully.  Your piety is repentance lived out within the boundaries of the church, where you confess your sins, where you receive absolution, where you recall your baptism, and where you feast upon Christ’s flesh and blood.  Would that we took this more seriously.  For then we would honor our baptism with a bit more effort at holiness than our usual half-hearted attempts to refrain from sin.

Now don’t get me wrong – your confidence does not lie in your life of holiness and it should not ever.  But if we fight the flesh, if we fight the world, and if we fight the devil with the sign of the cross, we have the power in Christ to do better than we have done at manifesting the new life Christ has imparted to us.  And God has good purpose in seeing us live the new lives of self-control, of holiness, and of obedience.  For He has placed us as His people to be signs to the world of His grace, mercy, and power.  Where we live out our lives in repentance, clinging to Christ and Him crucified, and living by the Spirit the new life of our baptism, God is at work showing the world His gracious character through us.

The sign of the cross is on you.  The Spirit of Christ is in you.  You are in Christ a new creation.  Take up the sign and show it to the world.  Live not in fear of your enemies but in confidence of Christ by the Spirit.  Cast off the works of your old life and live your new life in Christ.  Live not in the darkness of yesterday but in the light of the eternal tomorrow.  And then, brothers and sisters, whatever happens to you, you will conquer.  Amen.

So fearful of things catholic that we cease to be Lutheran. . .

A recent discussion of the practice of raising the chalice and host within the Words of Institution, at the Per Ipsum, at the Pax Domini, and finally during the Agnus Dei brought forth the fear on the part of some Lutherans that this bordered on idolatry.  I was shocked as I heard Lutherans fear that raising the chalice and host where the Church has raised it for century after century would be equated with idolatry.  Shocked because this fear represents a misunderstanding both of the elevation and a misunderstanding of the adoration rightly offered to Christ who is come to us in the bread which is His flesh and the cup of His blood within the mass or Divine Service.

I would quote a couple of folks in response.  First is the Rev. William Weedon, now Chaplain at the International Center and Director of Worship for the LCMS.

Where the Lutherans continued the elevation it had the meaning of a confession of the real presence of our Lord's body and blood. Dr. Luther spoke of it this way: "We do not want to abolish the elevation because it goes so well with the German Sanctus and signifies that Christ has commanded us to remember him. For just as the sacrament is bodily elevated, yet Christ's body and blood are not seen in it, so he is also remembered and elevated by the word of the sermon and is confessed and adored in the reception of the Sacrament. In each case he is apprehended only by faith; for we cannot see how Christ gives his body and blood for us and even now daily shows and offers it before God to obtain grace for us." AE 53:82.

Where [elevation] really came into force and into its own was in Lutheran Brandenburg, where in the 17th century the prince tried to smuggle in Calvinism. The Lutherans there insisted on the elevation as a vital confession of the real presence of our Lord's Body and Blood and even added some words to the action: "Dear Christian, this is the true body of your Lord, born of Mary, and this is the true blood of Christ, poured out for you upon the cross." This was called the Ostentatio. The Calvinists, of course, screamed bloody murder over the practice.

In our day and age, the elevation with the adoration of the Lord's body and blood, is a fine protest against "receptionism" which would teach that our Lord's almighty words do not effect His presence until the bread and wine are bodily tasted. Rather, the Lutheran Symbols, quoting St. John Chrysostom, speak of our Lord's body resting upon all the altars of Christendom! Thus, we kneel before Him to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, and we confess - as Luther says - that though hidden from our eyes, He is present in His body and blood among us, just as He has promised.

Let it be clear here that the folks who objected to the elevation and adoration were not the Lutherans who feared transubstantiation but the Reformed who refused to locate the presence of Christ in the bread and wine.  Some of the Lutherans also felt uncomfortable about this and receptionism tried to distract the attention away from the consecration and onto the actual communion itself.  Luther is no friend to this movement.   "For as soon as Christ says: 'This is my Body,' his body is present through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. If the Word is not there, it is mere bread; but as soon as the words are added they bring with them that of which they speak." AE 36:341

" one, unless he be an Arian heretic, can and will deny that Christ Himself, true God and man, who is truly and essentially present in the Supper, should be adored in spirit and in truth in the true use of the same, as also in all other places, especially where His congregation is assembled." (Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, VII, The Lord's Supper, 112, 126)

Luther, writing only a few years before his death, makes it even more abundantly clear:  If Christ is truly present in the Bread, why should He not be treated with the utmost respect and even be adored?" Joachim, a friend, added: "We saw how Luther bowed low at the Elevation with great devotion and reverently worshiped Christ. (Mathesius, Table Talk, Leipzig, 1903, 341)  Writing a year later, calling the Sacrament of the Altar the adorable sacrament, Calvin directly accused Luther of idolatry.  

What are we doing when we sing "O Christ, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world; have mercy on us"?  These words are addressed not to Christ in general but to the specific Christ who is present according to His promise where He has pledged to be -- the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. “There is no question that the Agnus Dei is specifically a prayer of adoration to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Here it is not incorrect to defy even the externalists, and kneel. The Agnus Dei is certainly not a joyous hymn of praise. It was rejected only by those who feared that it might lead to an adoration of the Host, rather than of the Saviour Himself” (F. R. Webber, Studies in the Liturgy, 153).

Finally, we would be careful about attempting to separate, even though we might distinguish, Christ's flesh and blood from the earthly elements of bread and wine, to which He has attached Himself in the Holy Sacrament.  For such separation of the Lord from the mortal flesh and blood of His incarnation is gross heresy and the denial that He is one Lord and one Christ.  Such is the problem with consubstantiation as an attempt to replace transubstantiation or as a short hand way (wrongly) of describing what it is that Lutherans do believe and confess with regard to Christ and His presence in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

When the fear of giving offense distorts the Gospel. . .

When I was in seminary (too long ago) it was common for the tone of the preacher not to be accusatory.  The "you" of the sermon was customarily replaced with the royal "we" that made sure everyone knew the preacher included himself in the indictment of the Law.  Sort of like that scene from the old movie Mass Appeal when the seminarian was counseled by the priest [Jack Lemmon as Father Farley] to do just that:  When giving a sermon, never say "you," always say "we." Less confrontational that way.  The seminarian replied that he did not have blue hair (his was an accusation aimed at grandmotherly types -- today their granddaughters have the blue hair). I must admit the idea of being non-accusatory has sat so deeply in me that I have to almost force myself to use the word "you" when preaching that which indicts, convicts, and condemns. 

Now as we wind our way through the Easter season and the bits and pieces of Peter's sermons in Acts (the first lesson for the season of Easter comes from Acts), I am mindful of the fact that the apostles had no such directive from their seminary homiletics profs.  Rather, they pointedly and unashamedly use the word "you".
Acts 2:23, 2:36, 4:10. . . and Romans 10. . . "whom YOU crucified. . . " 

Now it would seem that a more winsome witness would be to include the royal we there since indeed Jesus was crucified for the sins of all no matter who actually gave the directive to the executioner.  But Scripture does not do this.  Scripture is blunt about sins and blunt about the indictment of the Law.  We [speaking with the broad swipe of Christian preachers today) are not so clear in our preaching today.  We speak of sins more in terms of failings than sins and we do not speak of the eternal consequences as much as we tend to emphasize the momentary consequences.

When the preacher preaches the accusatory voice of the Law, it is the blunt voice that demands the clear and unabashed pointy finger.  The preacher is not excluding himself from that verdict even if he uses "you" instead of the royal "we".  I wonder, however, if our preaching has not lost some of its edge and bite in particular because we do not address sin directly nor do we speak with the forceful and pointed voice of the Law in directing the force of that Law. 

Surely the Gospel has little impact where sin is not felt, where the sinner finds little need of repentance, and where excuses, denials, and justifications have blunted the force of the Law to accuse and convict us with respect to sin.  Yet where the sinner is laid bare by the all-seeing eye of God in His justice, there is both the desire and the plea for the only covering that counts -- the cover of forgiveness which cleanses us from all sin and the righteousness of Christ that is our clothing in the new life Christ has bestowed upon us by baptism.

The more we blunt the voice of the Law, the more distant the urgency of and the blessing of the Gospel of Christ crucified.  We have learned to speak in rather broad terms but the consistent preaching of the early Church is blunt, specific, and pointed.  It is this blunt character of the preaching and confession of the church that is missing and perhaps is one reason why it seems so easy for the world around us to dismiss our proclamation.  Good preaching -- both to the faithful and to those not yet of the faith -- is provocative, pointed, and professes without embarrassment the fullness of the message of Christ crucified.  Any talk of sin is offensive to a world which chooses to turn wrong into right, hide sin, and excuse it.  But unless we risk giving such offense, we risk preaching a homogenized and pasteurized Gospel that has little to offer sinners in the clutches of death.  Faithful preaching is confrontational -- at least as the world interprets it -- but just as it bluntly confronts sin so it deliberately confronts the repentant sinner with the healing balm of Christ's wounds.

I note that this hesitation to speak so bluntly the force of the Law is less apparent from more recent graduates of our seminaries (at least in my limited experience) and this is a good thing but I fear the burden of speaking pointedly of sin and its consequences is still hard for preachers.  God asks us for nothing less than the full witness of Law and Gospel from the pulpit and has promised where this is faithfully proclaimed, He will work through the Spirit to engender faith, to comfort the sinner, to restore the wanderer from his error, and to equip His people to do the good works of Him who has called them from darkness into His marvelous light.