Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blecht

Some of you may remember last year that I dedicated one of our Bible studies to watching a video from Concordia St. Louis talking at length about possible changes in our Synodical structure which were in the process of being considered. The video may not have been the best introduction I could have given, but my goal was really to let you all know that the Missouri Synod is officially considering making some very significant changes to the way it is organized. In order to do this, the current administration has appointed a “Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synodical Governance,” which has been working for four years to propose changes to be adopted at the Summer 2010 convention. Those proposals were at long last released to the public this week.

The Final Report is a significant document, over 50 pages in length, including “21” recommendations. This is, in effect, the proposal of a new constitution for our Church body. You can view the report at our Synodical Website.

I have not yet had time to read the report in its entirety, in order to see how its final proposals have changed from the initial proposals and the various stages of proposals which have been released over the last year. What is important to know at the start is that this is a massive change. There are almost no corners of the church body politics and theological assumptions that will not be affected, from the name which we use (possibly “Lutheran Church in Mission and Service,”) to the realigning of all synodical ministries under the two new “mission” commissions, to the placing of future Seminary and Pastoral education directly under the Synodical President's office.

This winter there will be several special caucuses held throughout the united states for delegates to the national convention, at which time they will be able to learn more, ask questions, etc. Currently, the delegates from our area include Pastor Engler and Pastor Luke Zimmerman (Mechanicsburg) as well as two lay delegates. I will be encouraging Pastors Engler and Zimmerman to host an informational meeting following their return, open to our circuits, in order for all of us who hold a stake in the future of the LCMS to hear and learn from their study and observations.

Until then, I simply want to make you aware of these changes which are brewing and enable you to read the document for yourself.. Personally, I am disconcerted on a number of levels. Scott Diekman, an LCMS Laymen and pilot for Alaska Airlines has a slightly unrelated piece at his blog, Stand Firm, which does a nice job setting some of the tone and backdrop for the discussion.

Needless to say, I will try to keep you informed and provide you with other sources of feedback as they become available.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Festival of the Reformation - Pt. 2 - John 8






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Festival of the Reformation - Pt. 1 - Rom. 3






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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What's a Baby Worth?

Health care has been in the media and on our cumulative minds a lot these past months, and far be it from me to weigh in on that technical debate here and now. But I was shocked, struck, overwhelmed, bothered and concerned by a recent story I was pointed to in the news. This story is not about government or private, republican or democrat. This story is about the evil of our culture, where the weak are killed so that the strong may live.

The story is about Angel Jesus Candalario, a little boy born on May 18, 2009 to a Hispanic couple in Long Beach, California, Carlos and Nereyda. That's the good news. Angel was born. The bad news is he almost wasn't, not because his mother wanted a choice, not because she didn't want a baby, not because the father wouldn't be around, or because they didn't believe they were ready, but because the HMO of her workplace insurance told her that she needed to abort the baby ... or else ... they would not treat her cancer.

At the time when Carlos and Nereyda met Georgia Froncek (a lady who spends time praying outside of abortion clinics), Nereyda was five months pregnant and preparing to kill her baby because she truly believed she had no choice. Ironic that. Georgia, fluent in Spanish and trained to counsel people contemplating abortion, told Carlos that what the HMO was doing was illegal. Carlos rushed into the clinic to stop the process, emerging minutes later with his wife, who was in tears.

So, what to do when the HMO's play bad and greedy? First, they called a social worker. What did they receive? The same answer: the aggressive four-stage cancer could not be treated unless she received an abortion. An appointment for a consultation was set-up for ten days later, even though the couple, encouraged by Georgia, now were sternly refusing to abort.


At the consultation the thoracic surgeon, the internal cancer specialist and the high risk obstetric doctor all said that chemotherapy was the only option and that Nereyda would die in two months without it. The OB-GYN insisted that Nereyda abort the baby as soon as possible. But by this point, the parents weren't going to back down. They asked for another procedure, a drug treatment called Adiramycin, which will not harm in utero babies and can help delay cancerous growth. Though the doctors resisted, for it was not the most aggressive therapy possible, they at last agreed to prescribing the treatment along with an potent synthetic pre-natal.

The baby was born three months later (a month after Nereyda was supposed to be dead without chemotherapy,) and Nereyda has now entered more aggressive treatment. Though still far from in the clear, her tumor has shrunk.


There is much that can be said about this story, but the one thing that struck me as I first read it, and the one that strikes me again now, is the what amounted to a constant commitment by the health care systems, both public and private, to steal from Nereyda the choice to save the life of her baby. From HMO to government worker to doctors, every group with pinpoint precision were willing to cast aside the life of the weakest and most helpless human in the room, even though someone else in the room was willing to die to save that life. This shows us just how deep our culture has wallowed into the brave new world of “situational ethics” where “right” and “wrong” no longer have meanings and where some “all created equal” people are simply more equal than others.

I don't pretend that votes taken in our government this week will change this reality one way or the other. But I do know what did: there was a time when it was in God's best interest to abort you and me, in order to spare himself, and he didn't. He died, knowing full well why he died: to bring life. This is the reality that changed reality, and it is more than a potent example of the heroism that is the essence of our God. In his new world, living to a ripe old age and having all my dreams come true is the one thing that doesn't matter at all. What matters is people, life, others – especially those who have never had a chance to live, to be baptized, to hear about Jesus, and who he is, and what he's done.

If there is to be a culture in America that helps women choose life, it will be in America's churches and no where else. Mammon is not going to bring the pro-life cause victory any time soon. It will be among those who believe God's love is a love which dies to save that we can find hope for more stories like Angel Jesus Candalario, stories of men and women who sacrifice in order to confess the one thing that matters, the one thing that makes the trials and decisions of our decayed world secondary: Christ and him crucified for the forgiveness of sins, and not only our sins, but the sins of the entire world, even those babies being killed day after day in the clinics of our land.


My prayer for our congregation is that, steeped in his Word and the mercy of his Sacraments, we will continue to grow as an assembly straightened to stand against the tide of greed and death in our land, to become a shelter against all hopelessness and fear, to become a hospital for sinners, so that when we meet Carlos or Nereyda or whoever else needs us to tell them the simple Truth, and who then needs us to stand with them in that Truth, we are ready to say, “Now the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wisdom and Hope 10/11, Acts 10 (1 week late)













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Pentecost 20 - Hebrews 4






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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Learning to Be Prayed

The good news (with a little “g”) is that I'm feeling better. The throbbing throat is largely behind me, albeit I'm still rather weak and tire quickly. One of the assets to being sick for nearly two weeks is that I was forced to have a lot of “still” time, time when I'm not busy running like a headless chicken after every little next task that I think might need to be done. The end result of this was that I managed to begin reading a few books that I hadn't planned on. One of these books was the latest volume in the American Edition of “Luther's Works,” which has only just been translated (this is part of a new project by CPH to bring more of the nearly 2/3 of his writings that are as yet only available in German.)

It didn't take long before I had my highlighter out and was thinking, “wow, this is great stuff.” There is a reason that the Reformation rallied around this man – and it wasn't his charming good looks. The guy simply had a way of cutting through the pretense and the defense systems that we set up in order to lay bare the Scripture's Truth that we need to hear. How rare it is a man can tell you you're a sinner in a way that you say, “Yes, sir. Please, give me more.” But that's the gift this Doctor-Father was to the Church. Here's just a taste:

Our mind and thoughts are so uncertain, slippery, and inconstant that even if we wanted to begin to pray in earnest or to think about God without the Word and Scripture, it inevitably happens that before we realize it, we have strayed a hundred miles from our first thoughts. Let anyone who will, give it a try, and tell me how long he is able to stay with his intended thought. Or take one hour and promise to tell me all your thoughts. What will be the result?...Such a miserably divided thing is the human heart. It is so vacillating, so shifting, and changeable.... I must tell an example of this.

We read about St. Bernard, who made an attempt. He once lamented to a good friend that he had such difficulty praying as he ought that he could not even pray through the Lord's Prayer without having other thoughts intrude. This took the friend by surprise, for he thought it would take no particular skill or effort. St. Bernard wagered him to try it, with a good stallion as the stakes, if only he would speak the prayer straightaway. The friend presumed that he would accomplish it without any trouble and began to pray, “Our Father...”, but before he completed the First Petition, he was struck by the question of whether, if he won the horse, he would be due the saddle and bridle as well. In short, his thoughts strayed so far that he had to stop and admit that St. Bernard had won.

I confess I laughed out loud in the reading of this, and not because I am somehow above it, but because of the fantastic accuracy with which the story describes me. Week in, week out, even as I lead the entire assembly in worship to pray the dear words our Lord taught us, I ever find myself missing the greater portion of it. It vexes me, and fight to do better, only to fail before I've even begun. If I'm lucky I find myself drawn back in the knick of time so that I can manage to really, really mean the words “For thine is the Kingdom...” (which aren't actually part of the the prayer as Jesus' taught it) and then maybe the “Amen” (also, not in the original text.) But, oh, how impossible it seems for me to give to God the fullness of this Prayer! In the end I manage nothing more than a fervent wish that he, after all, knows what the prayer says, and will know that I, having been taught the matter, really want him to hear and answer it, even if I can't quite manage to spit it all out before him like any good, pious man should.

But as Luther tells us the story of St. Bernard, there is great Gospel for us and our vexing habits of the mind. What does this mean? It means that you are not alone. You, just like me and St. Bernard, are a only sinners. And our sin is no “pie in the sky” idea, but a real fact of who you are as a person – of what you are and are not capable of, especially in spiritual things. See how quickly Luther teaches us that in this horrible habit of ours, you are not alone and Jesus already knows it.

For Luther, all of this has been an introduction to Jesus' prayer in John chapter 17, for where our miserable attempts to pray are the problem, Jesus' prayer is the answer, for Jesus is, in fact, the one man who ever actually managed to pray his prayers all the way through, perfectly. He meant them, and he meant them in such profound and complete faith that they were always answered. He was the human we all ought to be before God. Even better, John 17 gives us even more comfort, for there we see that his prayer is not prayed for himself, but for us, for all who would come to believe that his Word is from God, and that he and his cross are the answer to all our sinful, desperate needs.

How much more enlivened by Jesus' perfection are our own rather white-washed attempts to pray the Lord's Prayer?! Next time you are struggling and kicking yourself to let his Word have its way with you for fifteen seconds during the height of being Church, relish that your struggle is the very fact that his Word is already having its way with you. His Prayer has refused to let go of you, even if you cannot quite hold onto it. As you chastise your wandering mind and heart, his Words are still there being prayed only because he has already prayed them perfectly, once for all, on your behalf.

He went to the cross with these same words on his lips, “My God, my God,” “forgive them,” and “into your hands I commend myself.” From beginning to end he was being who he is so that in the power of his resurrection these Words might come and pray us. Sinners that we are, we are gathered by the calling of these Words and we are prepared by their power to receive the answer to their petitions in the gift of the Holy Sacrament. In the body and the blood, in the bread and the wine, by Jesus' merit and from his grace, the Kingdom comes among us to do his will, which is to distribute the forgiveness we can barely bring ourselves to pray for and this is deliverance from evil once and for all. Faith, when it is born in us adds nothing. At best we meagerly nod, “Amen.” That is, “yea, yea, it is so.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pentecost 19 - Hebrews 1-3





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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Sickness and Guilt

If you weren't at Divine Service this past Sunday at St. John you missed something special. We had a guest preacher. Dr. Martin Luther (of blessed memory) preached to us a sermon which he once preached to his own parish some five hundred years ago. I am told that it was well received, both then and now.

Of course, this visit from the past was somewhat unplanned. I can only imagine the chagrin our Head Deacon, Steve Howarth, must have felt upon receiving a call from Meridith a little after 8 am to say those somewhat ostentatious words, “Pastor's sick.”

Yes. I do get sick...and apparently it can happen on weekends. And I'm still sick. The doctor believes it is a viral infection. It's located in my throat which has therein caused an “ulcer” (a fancy way of saying that it hurts like the dickens). He's got me on two types of medication (for what good it will do) as the only thing to do with viral infections is stay hydrated and wait them out. The good news is, it looks like I'm turning the corner. So says he: a viral infection takes about two weeks, including both build up and recovery, concentrating on about four days of intensely “not feeling good,” after which one is most likely no longer contagious. (It all seems very imprecise to me.) Nevertheless, what seemed a light sore throat last Thursday had blossomed into feverless fever pains Saturday night and was a raging “I'd feel better dead” Sunday morning should by now be “about” be on its way out. And though it still truly hurts, I do feel better today.

So...there you go. “The scoop.”

Perhaps the most amazing thing to me in this experience has been the amount of guilt I'm still able to bring to the plate. Like any good Lutheran, I carry a firm amount of guilt in general. If I haven't actually done anything to feel guilty about, you can bet I'll find a way to convince myself that I should feel guilty anyway. This in itself is a little bit ironic as, being a Lutheran, I also believe I have the purest and most free source of “anit-guilt” in the universe. I have Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of sins given for Christ's sake, both in Word and in the Sacraments. Why then the guilt? How do I manage to actually feel ashamed of not distributing Holy Communion when I know full well that to do so would almost certainly have passed on my virus to the rest of you? What a strange and flustering predicament!

There is not enough time in this little letter to delve into the great depths of “Justification,” but the long and short of it is that Christianity is simply too good to be true. And by Christianity I don't mean those moral realities we share with most other religions – I don't even mean the Ten Commandments. I mean the Gospel – that Jesus died for you – is too good to be true. It's downright hard to believe, even if you believe it! That Christianity is true and that you and I are Christians because (to some extent) we do believe doesn't make it any easier to believe. Quite technically, it's just not in our nature.

So, like the good sinners we are, we latch onto what is our preferred method of “justifying” ourselves. Having seen what sinners we are, we get hard to work trying to stop it. After all, that's only what Jesus would want, isn't it? But sure as the sun will shine, it doesn't take long before our newly awakened conscience pauses to take a survey of our progress, and, with a newly awakened honestly, is forced to admit that it looks pretty dismal. Whereas before we were Christians we were always failures at justifying ourselves, now that we are Christians the only thing that has changed is that we know it too.

We're not going to stop trying to justify ourselves. The “old Adam” in us clings to us and will never let our selfish tendencies go. But even that won't stop Jesus. Every time we hear about him – every time we receive Holy Absolution of the Sacrament of the Altar – all that guilt we carry around day by day, looking for someplace to dump it – all of it is taken away, again. It's too good to be true. It's unbelievable. The miracle of our salvation in Christ is that we're here because we believe it, not by our own reason or strength, but by the Holy Spirit who has called us by this very, unbelievable Gospel.

We will always have a long way to go in getting comfortable with our justification by grace alone – a whole lifetime. Yet the promise is that this justification is good enough, free enough, perfect enough, so great that even our own guilt and inability to believe it won't stop it from making believers out of us after all. Yes, I should have been at Church on Sunday, because, yes, I should have been healthy. The fact that I get sick is only one more proof that I am, after all, a sinner. But the reason I'm also a Christian is because no matter how great a sinner I might be, Jesus is an even greater Savior. He even pulled in a vacancy Pastor who'd been dead for five hundred years just to make sure you weren't asleep in the pews.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sick...

For those of you looking for a sermon this week, I have to apologize, for this morning as the people gathered, I lay in bed with raging pain in my head. It would seem I've a massive ear infection that is affecting my teeth, eyes and then some. That being said, I was not blessed to be able to preach today, and there is no sermon to post.

I am told that Martin Luther's sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, in Volume VI of "the Complete Sermons of Martin Luther" was very good to listen to.

Till next time...

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Wisdom and Hope 9/27













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Wisdom and Hope 9/20













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