Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sometimes Ya Just Gotta Laugh!

Headline in Ogden Utah's "Standard Examiner":

"Ogden Lutheran church welcomes a new 'pastor'"
"'Pastor' DanaLee Simon was just officially installed as pastor this month"

Bullets [Simon says]:

  • "A newlywed living in Salt Lake City, ... Simon's husband ... is a Catholic.... The two met on an airplane. He was coming home to Salt Lake City and she was headed to the area on a layover. 'It's definitely been a fun story to tell,' Simon said."
    [I'll bet! Gotta love those layovers.]

  • "The two had both a Catholic priest and a Lutheran minister presiding at their wedding. 'Catholics and Lutherans are pretty close,' Simon said."
    [Especially on a layover.]

  • "When she became engaged, she knew she wanted to live in the area. It was soon after that when she found the job opening at Elim. 'It just fell into place pretty organically,' she said. 'Elim was ready to have a pastor just dedicated to them.'"
    [And I was just, like, totally tubular, man.]

  • "Two successes Simon reported were the church''s vacation Bible school and an **energy efficiency project.**"
    [Ah, the sweet success of sharing body heat with those Catholics.]"

  • "'We're also addressing a lot of talk about global warming.'"
    [Of course, those layovers generate a lot of heat.]

  • "Simon said she appreciates [Elim's] tradition of prayer 'It's something the members do better than at any other church I've been to,' she said. 'Prayer is a great starting point. We ask God to be with us in everything we do.'"
    [And we juswanna pray you cease calling yourselves Lutheran.]

Where God Is to Be Found

How many times, especially from those who rarely if ever attend church services, have we heard something like: "It doesn't matter where I worship, or how I worship. God is everywhere, isn’t He? So all that really matters is that I have Jesus in my heart."

Martin Luther faced this same attitude and here was how he responded to it:

God through Moses had issued a most rigorous prohibition against the impudence of inventing new forms of worship, as when He says: “You shall not offer in every place but at the place which the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put His name and make His habitation there; thither you shall go, and thither you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices” (cf. Deut. 12:4––6). At that time the place appointed for worship was the temple at Jerusalem. The ark of the covenant was there, and God had promised that He would speak from the mercy seat to draw the people away from the diversity of idols to a united worship of God, to which He wanted to gather all together, if not in bodily presence and external works, at least in heart and prayer, if any were too far away from this place.

But the false prophets used to fight against this viewpoint and say: “God is everywhere; therefore He can be adored and worshiped in every place, both in Bethel as well as on any other mountain.” They did not have regard for the commandment of God. For when God fixes a certain manner and designates a certain place for His worship, it must not be said: “Wherever I will worship God, it will be pleasing to Him if only I do it in a godly and devoted manner,” or, “I shall make offerings to Him wherever it pleases me.” Isaiah, for example, censures this madness very severely, saying (Is. 57:5): “You burn with lust …… under every green tree.”

The Turks and Jews are accustomed to speak in this manner today, claiming that they are able to serve God outside of the unity of faith and the church of Christ. Mohammed claims that anyone is saved in his own religion if he prays, if he gives alms, if he does other good works. It is not necessary for him to be a Christian or that he should be in the unity of Christ and the church. In the papacy also all corners were occupied with chapels, convents, and idolatry of every kind. Therefore Hosea cries: “This example of Jacob by no means confirms your idolatry. He did, indeed, struggle with the angel, but you should have remembered that the Lord God of hosts led Israel out of Egypt through the prophet. But where is this God to be found? Where has He made a memorial for His name? Where is this memorial? Where the ark of the covenant is” (cf. Ex. 20:24).

This is true, indeed, that God is not bound, neither to Jerusalem nor to any other place, and that He is able to save also elsewhere. No one will deny this. But try it and see what you will get! If you invent forms of worship according to your own judgment, you will be in danger of God’s wrath. By His almighty power God could save the human race without Christ, without Baptism, and without the Word of the Gospel. He could have illuminated men’s hearts inwardly through the Holy Spirit and forgiven their sins without the ministry of the Word and of ministers. But it was not His will to do so. And God very strictly prohibited all erring forms of devotion and worship.

When hypocrites say: “Whatever is done with good intention is pleasing to God,” those self-chosen devotions are to be condemned, and men should be reminded that they should direct their eyes where God has revealed Himself. We must not say: “Paul preached at Rome, therefore Christ is there. James is buried at Compostela in Spain, therefore God should be worshiped there by the invocation of Saint James.” By no means! Yet [are not] many miracles are performed there?

My reply is that God abominates and condemns all erring thoughts outside the one and only revelation made in the Word and sacraments, to which He wished to gather us and in which He wished to include us. For this reason Christ sent His disciples with this command: “Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19––20), and “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

He wants us to be gathered in connection with the Word and Baptism as by a sure and infallible sign because He wants to save us and help us, just as He promised He would listen at the mercy seat among the people of Israel.

If you want to be absolved from your sins in this manner, go to your pastor, or to your brother and neighbor if your pastor cannot hear you; he has the command to absolve you and comfort you. Do not invent a special absolution for yourself. If you want to receive the Lord’s Supper, go to the assembly of the church and the public congregation and receive it there.

Do not devise a special administration and use of the sacraments. For God does not want us to go astray in our own self-chosen works or speculations, and so He gathers us together and encloses us within the limits of the Word so that we are not tossed about by every kind of doctrine (cf. Eph. 4:14). This happened to us under the papacy when we despised Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the remission of sins and made pilgrimages meanwhile to Saint James, Borne, and Jerusalem, as though God were not present in all the churches and congregations which have His Word and sacraments. Finally, there was an infinite variety of sects and orders, each of which had its peculiar, segregated ritual in distinction from the ritual and ordinance of God. Nor could those innumerable forms of fornication, as Holy Scripture calls them, be prevented except by casting off our own works. So God wants all these things to be removed, and He sets forth His Word, which says: “Here you shall adore, worship, and make offerings. In the Word, in the Lord’s Supper, and in Baptism you have the remission of sins. With these you will have to be satisfied if you wish to be saved.”

Martin Luther, vol. 6, Luther's Works, Vol. 6 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 31-37, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works, 6:127 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1970).

Friday, August 24, 2007

A God at Hand: One God, near and Far

Dear people of God,

I come to you with a confession this morning.

I have no special vison for you, this congregation, or our LC-MS.

I do not come to you with a message from my heart.

I do not come to tell you that now that you believe and are baptized that your life is going to be filled with nothing but peace, and joy, and success.

No, dear baptized, I come to you today with the prophecy given to Jeremiah. I come to you with a message of warning from the mouth of God to the people He dearly loves and wants to protect. I come to tell you that any one -- whether pastor, high church official, friend or family member – who comes to you with such special visions seen in, or messages spoken from, their own hearts; anyone who comes to tell you "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me," or "don’t worry, be happy, the Lord would never let anything bad happen to you and wants to do nothing but grant you success in your every endeavor."

Anyone who come with such messages does not speak for God, but for the Father of lies. This does not mean that they necessarily do so purposefully, or maliciously. But remember, even if they do so unknowingly, or with all good intent, accidents kill people just as certain, and just as dead, as do wanton acts of terror.

Therefore, in our Old Testament lesson, the prophet Jeremiah is inspired to write without error:
Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD. They continually say to those who despise Me, 'The LORD has said, "You shall have peace" ';and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, 'No evil shall come upon you.'" For who has stood in the counsel of the LORD, and has perceived and heard His word? Who has marked His word and heard it? Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD has gone forth in fury__ a violent whirlwind! It will fall violently on the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD will not turn back until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it perfectly.

"I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings.

"Am I a God near at hand," says the LORD, "And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?" says the LORD; "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" says the LORD.

"I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal. The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?" says the LORD. Is not My word like a fire?" says the LORD, "And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" Jeremiah 23:16-29

Now lest you think this is a message for those people of the Old Testament that no longer applies, hear again the Word of our Lord & Savior, Jesus the Christ, from our Gospel lesson:
"I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother_in_law against her daughter_in_law and daughter_in_law against her mother_in_law." Luke 12:49-53

This another one of those passages that causes us to say, this is the Gospel, the Good News, of our Lord?

But we must remember that ...

"... the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two_edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

"The LORD kills and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and brings up." 1 Samuel 2:6

In other words, the Law of God’s Word condemns and kills the sinner, while the Gospel of that same Word, forgives and gives life to the righteous. That is what happened once for all in Christ, and what happens once for each individual at the font of Baptism.

Our God is a god of opposites, things that seem incompatible to us, but that are nevertheless both true at the same time, as we have just heard.

Let me use an example from our Old Testament lesson to help you understand:
"Am I a God near at hand," says the LORD, "And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?" says the LORD; "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" says the LORD. Jeremiah 23:23-24

Now here God is not saying that He is one or the other, but both and – He is near and far at the same time.

I am reminded here of the Sesame Street character, Grover. He would introduce himself and say he was here to tell you about the difference between "near" and "far." He would stick his Muppet face up to the camera and say with his silly, simple voice rising, "Now I am near." Leaving his voice hanging, he would then run "clop, clop, clop" away to a spot maybe a whole three or four feet from the camera, act as if he had traveled a great distance, and in a descendo say, "now I am far." He would repeat this several times. Step, step, step, "Now I am near. Step, step, step,"Nnow I am far." it was quite cute and a quite funny. Children would learn the difference between the two words and concepts. They would also learn that Grover could not be in two places at the same time, yet, no matter near or far, in either place Grover is still Grover.
But God is different isn’t He? We say He is omnipresent, which is a fancy way of saying He is both near and far at the same time. The God who is at a distance from sin and in control of the universe, is at the same time near to hand to forgive sin and give His kingdom to those who believe.
This also helps us understand what God means by idolatry – we are to worship Him where and how He tells us to worship Him, not where and how our hearts desire to worship Him.

That is how the pagans worship, according to where they think God is, where they want Him to be, or where they build a structure for Him to occupy when they call upon Him. Now witness the golden calf as imitating the idolatry of the world – putting God in a box in which He has not put Himself.

Oddly enough, this in turn helps us understand such goodly worship aids as a crucifix that are visual presentations of the Word, and sacraments that are means in which God presents Himself to His people. It is not given to us to put God anywhere of our choosing, but God has chosen to put Himself in certain places according to His command. And that we might know where these places are, He gives us His Word, which promises He will be in those places.

Another Old Testament example is helpful here:
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." Numbers 21:8

So it is true that we are not to fashion graven images according to our own imagination and worship them, but God does condescend to use earthly images and means that He designates in order to deliver His blessings to His people. And only His people of faith know the difference, because they believe His Word that speaks of those things.

Now that Jesus, the Christ has suffered, died, risen, and ascended to fulfill the Scriptures, God’s people of faith are to know, with the apostle Paul, nothing but Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification before the Father. [1 Corinthians 2:2]
Yet, like the prophets against whom Jeremiah was sent by God to speak a dire warning, the false prophets speak a tempting message from their own hearts and dreams, rather than from the mouth of God.

The water of Baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the ones with special vision and messages from their own hearts say, are just symbolic representations. They would offer what God gave privately to them in the place of what God publicly offered for all. They explain away the greater gifts of God with human wisdom that explains logically: "The finite, created things of this world cannot possibly contain the infinite, spiritual things of God." But all the while what they forget is that

  • the infinite One is also infinitely powerful,
  • that infinity does not only stretch out into the vastness of space and in numbers too large to count, but that same infinity penetrates into the minuteness of sub atomic particles and in fractions for which there is always a smaller fraction

...therefore, if the infinite and all powerful God wills and causes it to be so, He most certainly can allow Himself to be contained in those things he has designated.

That we might know and believe in Him by those very things He has designated, He gives us the Word of the prophets and apostles who speak with one voice of these things and the grace they deliver. The infinite One, who is God the Lord, is at the same time both near and far; both Creator of and larger than the universe, and the Savior who enfleshed His Son in the atoms of a fetus 2000 years ago, and in the molecules of bread and wine today.

Yes, our God is a God of opposites, all of which are reconciled and only make sense to us in Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. Hebrews 12:2-3

The Baptism that seems so far away in time, is still at work today. The water lasted but a moment in time, but the Word that comes with it is for a lifetime. So we have a God that is ever far away unto the ends of the earth. Yet from His place far away at the right hand of the Father He wields His power to work ALL things everywhere for the good of His baptized children. And for His baptized children of faith, He is always a God near at hand to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth even as He forgives us all of our sins – in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sometimes Ya Just Gotta Laugh

Thanks to one of my dear brothers for the needed levity of this one. No explanation needed, but if you care to submit a caption via comments, feel free. Perhaps I can present some kind of Laughing Martin award for the best caption. An Izzy statuette perhaps?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Special Convention Tied in Blue Ribbon

Aside from questioning the urgency of changing a synodical structure that has served us well for some 150 years, and the spending of millions of dollars in financially uncertain times that could be better used in the mission of the church and the training of men to serve that mission, the problem with the proposed Special Convention of Synod, as I understand it, is that it’s predetermined agenda has been limited to address the restructuring of Synod based upon the Blue Ribbon Task Force Study on Synodical Structure and Governance. The reason this is a problem and not a solution is that Synodical structure is an adiaphora that, if it carries Christ and His Gospel is meet, right and salutary. If said structure, and/or restructure, proceeds from the passion, efforts, and love of men, and serves to place them at the center as those things by which the church and her mission will rise or fall, it is no longer carrying the Gospel but displacing it – and thus no longer adiaphora at all, but that which has indeed been forbidden by God and His Holy Word.

The Reformation in general, and Luther in particular, were not about restructuring the church by the creative, innovative practices of men -- however pious, educated, respected, or well-intentioned they may have been. Quite the contrary, they were about purging the church catholic of those innovations and getting back to the orthodox teaching and practice of every article of faith. The Pope and his priestly caste had taken the place of Christ as the mediator between God and man, and become the source of good works for the mollification of the Father’s wrath and remission of the common man’s sin. In an ill-conceived reaction to the hierarchy of Roman Catholicism and unfortunate misunderstanding of the Lutheran reformers, the "Protestants" restructured by replacing the works of the Pope and the priestly caste with the works of the priesthood of all believers.

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) stumbles upon the truth -- much like modern day screenwriters for movies and television shows like The Simpsons do when they pillory the hypocritical, self righteousness nature of so-called fundamentalist, evangelical, born again Christians -- when he opines:
"The Reformation was one of the most colossal failures in history; it threw overboard what makes the Church tolerable and even gracious; namely, its aesthetic appeal; but kept its barbarous theology."

Not that the Reformation of the Lutheran confessors was a colossal failure. But Whitehead hits the nail on the head in saying that the Reformation was about throwing overboard from the ship that is Church all those things that were based upon aesthetic appeal rather than theology, that is, the Word of God. And sadly, both the "Protestant" and ABLAZE! movements with their restructuring of the human authorities within the church on earth, seem to buy into Whitehead’s premise that the graciousness of the Church resides in its aesthetics rather than its theology. This mistaken notion is the product of a secular, ungodly culture and should not be embraced by any who consider themselves to be members of the body of Christ, lest they give the impression that theology is indeed barbarous.

I continue to be amazed and dismayed by how closely the events in our synod seem to mirror the culture, and how content and even desirous synodical leadership seems to do so, rather than to be the light and the narrow highway of our God that transforms that culture.

Here we would do well to consider this thought from a certain Congregational minister: "Contemporary servant leaders ... lead by holding aloft moist fingers to sense the changes in the wind. In all this they show themselves to be different indeed from the One who embodied what servanthood was intended to be and who never once tailored his teaching to what he judged the popular reception of it would be--unless he was an exceedingly poor judge of what the crowds and religious leaders had in mind when they heard him." [David F. Wells, No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 215.]

Instead of looking at our culture with its business and political models for the "solutions" to our supposedly unacceptable growth pattern, as the ABLAZE! movement and its handmaiden special convention proposal tend to do, perhaps we ought to look at it to inform us as to the emptiness and futility of adopting its methods and mores. Even apart from the theological flaws underlying the current synodical mind set

  • that bigger is better (the church has always been a remnant);
  • that the great commission is predicated on our missionary zeal (the mission is dependent on Christ being with us to the ends of the earth in the baptizing and teaching of everything He has commanded);
  • and that we must somehow make the Gospel more alluring to the world (we are not to conform to the desires of the world for flowery words and miraculous signs, but to bring the transforming power of Christ crucified even in our own weakness) –

a look at what our culture has wrought should be enough in and of itself to give us pause in pursuing its methods.

I couldn’t help but see these items from a recent Patriot Post,, as relevant to the current sitzenleben of the LCMS. The first, by radio talk show host Dennis Prager, is something of a diagnosis and treatment regimen. The second is an observation from WorldNetDaily columnist Henry Lamb about our secular government that is also descriptive of our synod. And finally, a prescription from the pen of novelest and playwrite Honore De Balzac as brief and pointed as any written on a doctor’s pad.

The malady presented by Prager is this: "Today’s young people have the ability to experience excitement more than any generation in history. Outside of school, excitement is available almost 24/7. MTV is exciting (MTV has done far more damage to this generation than has the tobacco industry); video games are exciting... The list of exciting things many children experience is as long as there are hours in the day. But all this excitement is actually inhibiting our children’’s ability to enjoy life and therefore be happy. All this excitement renders young people jaded, not happy... All this excitement in their lives bodes poorly for the future happiness of millions of American children. Real life, let alone daily life, will seem so boring to them that they will not be able to enjoy it. And more than a few of them will opt for lives of constant excitement, often in ways destructive to themselves and others."

And he goes on to say: "The solutions are as simple to offer as they may be difficult to enforce. Limit the amount of excitement in your children’’s lives: the amount of video games, the amount of non-serious television, the amount of music whose only aim is to excite. If they are bored, they will have to remedy that boredom by playing with friends, finding a hobby, talking to a family member, walking the dog, doing chores, reading a book or magazine, learning a musical instrument or foreign language, memorizing state capitals, writing a story or just their thoughts, exercising or playing a sport, or just thinking. The younger the age from which children are deprived of superficial excitement, the longer they will remain innocent——i.e., not jaded——and capable of real happiness."

Broaden Prager’s point to speak to our whole culture rather than just children, including a philosophy of education (seemingly adopted by our "mission" minded synodical leadership) that is largely based upon entertaining/exciting/luring people to learn, and substitute the idea of faithfulness for happiness and innocence. Now what does this say about the incessant preoccupation with being ABLAZE!?

We would be wise as a synod to learn from Lamb’s observation about elected officials: "Society has been successfully engineered to believe that the goal is no longer freedom, but the control of government, which means the control of society, to fit the agenda of the controlling party. The idea of entering public service as an elected official in order to limit the power of government, and maximize the freedom of individual citizens, is an obsolete concept."

The Blue Ribbon Task Force’s Study Document, after offering a litany of "basic theological principles," presents a summary and conclusion that has virtually nothing to do with those principles other than to draw on our Christian liberty to do as we see fit for the sake of carrying out an undefined mission. Its Hypothetical Case Studies, and Exploratory Questions have nothing to do with theology, and everything to do with suggesting a shift of earthly power:

  • away from the local congregation in calling a pastor;
  • away from a representative form of government that balances the unique assets and needs of smaller, single pastor congregations with those of larger, multi-staff congregations;
  • away from the checks and balances of having equal delegations from the ranks of trained and ordained to service in the church, as well as of vocations that place the priesthood of all believers out in the world;
  • away from being an advisory body that relies on the free will offerings of its members.

My understanding is that our walking together as Synod was never meant to be a lockstep obedience to a hierarchy or its humanly devised, felt needs programs for fund raisers and membership drives. It was established in order to ensure that God’s people

  • would always be able to practice the orthodox faith free from those who insisted on deviating from it;
  • would have a pool of pastors trained in everything God has commanded from which they could call a man, by the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to rightly preach the Word and administer the Sacraments in all their purity and efficacy whether in the congregation or the mission field
  • would have an organization by which they could be accountable to and responsible for one another in maintaining good order and discipline among congregations, as well as assisting congregations in need, so that wherever one worshiped one could be sure to find a Divine Service that rightly proclaimed the Word and administered the Sacrament in the truth and purity of the Lutheran Confessions.

Our District and Synodical officials are well on the way to usurping the autonomy of the local congregation and its authority as holding the office of the keys – witness the current dispute resolution process, the new covenant congregation program that establishes a synod within a synod, and the Strategic Ministry church growth program tied to the distribution of monetary assistance. Furthermore, as soon as a congregation is required to pay a minimum membership fee (as per trial balloon #1 on p. 23 of the Blue Ribbon Document), or if they fail to comply, face users fees for the privilege of having insurance programs and other resources for which they already pay the full and substantial cost -- synod will no longer be advisory and it will have made the freedom of individual congregations obsolete.

The solution to what ails Missouri is not forced compliance, whether by hierarchical governance or revenue taxation. What is true in the secular realm, according to De Balzac, is most certainly true in the churchly realm:
"To live in the presence of great truths and eternal laws, to be led by permanent ideals——that is what keeps a man patient when the world ignores him, and calm and unspoiled when the world praises him."

If only Missouri would once again

  • corporately recognize the centrality, and agree to live in the presence of Christ that is conveyed in our liturgical, sacramental structure;
  • submit to be led by the permanent ideals as expressed in our Confessions;
  • and recommit to proudly proclaiming and practicing them in front and in the midst of the world instead of apologizing for and hiding from them --

then perhaps we can once again be a church that is content to rely on God’s ways and not man’s ways and thus provide a patient, calm, and unspoiled port in the storm of a world ablaze with their own lusts and passions for self gratification and enhanced size.

Unless a Special Convention targets such a theological reformation, rather than the political restructuring proposed, I urge you to vote "no" when the CoP meets to determine whether a Special Convention is to be called.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Abominations 'R Us

In the most recent addition to the Laughing Martin Hall of Shame, aka, "Reasons for Closed Communion,"
a "Lutheran" Church body permits the office of the keys to be held by practicing homosexuals:

Lutherans to allow pastors in gay relationships
Sat Aug 11, 2:00 PM ET
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Homosexual Lutheran clergy who are in sexual relationships will be able to serve as pastors, the largest U.S. Lutheran body said on Saturday. . . . []
To which, Laughing Martin replies:
There is nothing Christian, let alone Lutheran, about such an abomination. The Word of God says:

  • homosexual relations are wicked and have no place in the kingdom of God [1 Corinthians 6:9-10;

  • a bishop must be the man of one woman [1 Timothy 3:2b; ]

  • when you see the abomination that causes desolaton in the very sanctuary of God you should flee from it without turning back or trying to salvage anything [Mark 13:14-16]

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hidden with Christ, Rich toward God

Vanity! What a funny word. Vanity, vanity, vanity, vanity, vanity. It is one of those words that sounds funnier the more one repeats it. It is also a one word oxymoron – a contradiction that at the same time means both that which is most important and that which has no importance at all, that is, our own self perception and quest for significance and/or fulfillment.

"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever. Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

That is to say, those things that we spend 90%, if not 99.99999%, of our time, money, and effort on won’t do us any good in the end. In fact they do not even do us any good before the end inasmuch as soon as we achieve or accumulate those things, we find that we have to continue their pursuit or they are gone!

It is just this truth that lies behind the Word of our Lord in today’s Gospel lesson:
"But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'
"So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:20-21

It is tempting for the pastor to make this primarily and or exclusively into a "stewardship" sermon – especially when he doesn’t know from one month to the next whether there will be a sanctuary that is any shape to hold a worship service because of health and safety concerns like that section of tile up there; whether there will be power for light so that people can see to worship and for heat/cooling so that the health of the worshipers is not compromised; whether or not he is going to get paid enough to pay his own bills and support his own family.

Those are all things that need to be taken care of in order to for a congregation to continue to function as a sanctuary for the baptized and an outpost for the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ. So I lay them before you this morning.

Yet, while stewardship is indeed an issue with which the church on earth must struggle, there is a greater purpose for preaching this text than simply to awaken and inspire you to greater, more faithful and fruitful stewardship of your earthly blessings.

As with all parables, what is true of the earthly message is even more true of the spiritual message it is meant to carry with it. If you think about it, who of us is not more concerned about taking our ease, eating, and drinking and having fun than about our life with God? You say you that your spiritual life is more important? But I would ask you this – who of us here today does not spend ten times more of our time, money, and effort on fun, entertainment and worldly comfort than on seeking the things of God? Who spends more time in hearing, reading and praying God’s Word than on watching TV?

Now that is not to say that those earthly things or our participation in them, are in and of themselves evil from which we must flee. The Seventh Commandment validates that these things are a viable part of our lives here on earth. But the fact that we people who can afford beautiful homes with every convenience, a vehicle for every person in the family, recreational vehicles and vacations, computers, cable/satelite/teevoe, are so reluctant in our earthly stewardship of the time, the ability, and the money with which our Lord has blessed us is symptomatic of problems far greater than a building that is falling apart, goods and services that we are using but not paying for, and disregard for the physical well_being of their hired servants. [Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18]

That these problems exist among us should serve as a warning to us that maybe our faith in Christ to provide the most needful things for our eternal welfare and the salvation of our souls is not all that it should be either. This is the point our Lord Jesus Christ makes in another "stewardship" parable, the parable of the talents or minas:
"He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" Luke 16:10-11

If we cannot trust the Lord to provide for our own physical welfare and pursuit of happiness any more than to devote hand me downs, leftovers, and spare change to that which God has instituted as the mother of our eternal souls after we do all the other things we desire and store up all the things we think we need – well, what does that say about where our faith really lies? If we don’t have much more than pocket change left for the offering plate because we are so worried we will miss out on something the world has to offer, if in our concern for earthly welfare and desires we are reluctant to set apart first-fruits from our labors and trust that our Lord will still provide the necessary means the earthly needs of the people He gave His own life to save, do we really believe He’ll just give us eternal life without our working, and scrimping and saving and striving and hoarding?

You were created to live forever. And make no mistake about it, you will – one way or the other. However, if you live your life in this world relegates your pursuit of the things of God to a place that is second to, and only after your pursuit of happiness and the collection of wealth and all that it can purchase, that forever life will reflect your priorities, That is, it will be without God and all the benefits He so lovingly wishes to lavish upon each and every one of us.

This message is consistent in both Old Testament and New as we hear in today’s Scripture lessons:
"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever. Ecclesiastes 1:2-4
But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'
"So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:20-21

And make no mistake about this either, vanity hurts the one who is living the life of vanity most of all. All that stuff you are enjoying, all the fun you are having now, where will it be and what good will it do you even tomorrow? You’ll just have to get up in the morning and seek after it all over again. Such a life is no better than that of a gerbil on a wheel.
Sure God wants you to enjoy and employ the gifts of this world He has given you. But remember those lilies and sparrows of which Jesus speaks. [Matthew 6:25-29] They do not labor after the things of this world, yet as they do the things for which they were created, they have all that they need for each day – for themselves and for beauty, joy, and sustenance they provide for the crown of God’s creation whom He created in His own image and redeemed with the holy precious blood of His one and only Son.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what type of government the Constitution was bringing into existence. Franklin replied, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

You dear children are the baptized of God. You have been given a citizenship in heaven that begins even now for you and all that abide in God's holy Christian Church. While that church is built on Christ and found wherever His Word and Sacraments are observed in all their truth and purity, these things must have a home and pastor provided and cared for by the people who receive them. And while God has promised that there will always be a church as long as this world exists, unless you are willing to support it by the offering of a portion of your earthly gifts from God, you may find that you are unable to keep it -- at least here in this place. There are already far too few places, even among those called Christian, wherein a soul can find the forgiveness of sins proclaimed and the body and blood of our Lord served according to His gracious and powerful Word and work rather than according to the self serving and vane words and works of men.

Lord grant that you never forget, or fail to value His greatest gift to you: that you have been buried into His death and raised to a new and better life – not a life of vanity that is here today and gone tomorrow, but a life of substance, of value, of benefit to one another, now and forever -- a life that shows what vanity all those things which we value so highly and pursue so mightily in this world really are. For you have been given a life that abides in the glory of the very Son of God.

"If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory." Colossians 3:1-4

You have His never failing, always faithful promise on that
– in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.