Friday, October 31, 2008

Reformation History

Once again, it’s October 31, a day when we Lutherans reflect on our glorious history. It was on this date in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed the pope to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and then went begging door to door for candy to give his children after his family had enjoyed a dinner of slow-roasted savory papal bull of excommunication.

As we all know, this took place during the “Babylonian captivity” of the papacy, when Vatican City was moved brick by brick from Rome to Avignon by the Babylonians using forced European peasant labor. This understandably angered the poor Germans, who were not in an economic situation to buy “indulgences” to get out of the heavy lifting. The arduous journey took its toll and many fell by the wayside, crushed under ancient relics, statues of Mary, Sistine Chapels, PopeMobiles, and JohnTetzels.

Fortunately, Luther prevailed and by 1580, he and the other reformers (whose names aren’t important) were able to eat a Thanksgiving meal of barbecued papal bull of celebration in Concordia, MO.

History’s all fine and good, you say, but what does this mean for us in 2008? Well friend, we now have the Freedom of the Gospel. How wonderful! About this time every year, we have the freedom to hear the Roman Catholic church bashed from our pulpits during our “special” Reformation worship services, where we show we’re free to treat the Divine Liturgy like a tower of Legos: we can knock it down, take it apart, and rebuild it however the mood strikes us and still consider ourselves “liturgical” and “confessional” “Lutherans”. We can have an Invocation, Kyrie, general Confession and Absolution (or the popular non-confession and limp “assurance”), Prayer (Hey, the Gloria takes too much time), Lessons, Hymn, Sermon, Offering, (everyone knows the Creeds and more time was needed for the Sermon-it’s a pulpit-poundin’ festival service), Hymn, Prayer, Benediction.

What’s missing from that “liturgical” service leads to our next freedom: Freedom from the Gospel. As Lutherans, we were taught that we have the Meansofgrace. The Meansofgrace, also known as WordandSacrament, are three (and only three) equal and to some extent interchangeable ways we receive God’s grace. They are Baptism, God’s Word (as contained in the NIV), and the Lord’s Supper. Now, you don’t want to go overboard here. If you have one Meansofgrace on a Sunday, you’re doing fine. However, an infant Baptism doesn’t really count, so on those Sundays, it’s safest to have two Meansofgraces. What you really want is God’s Word, not Christ mind you, but the BIBLE. That’s why you hear a sermon every week, though you don’t necessarily hear about Christ every week, except maybe in a “Gospel paragraph” if the preacher remembers to include one. If you have a sermon weekly, the Lord’s Supper becomes superfluous. Yes, yes, there’s some rule about having to go four times a year, but receiving the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every week is just showy. Do you really sin so much that you feel you need the Sacrament that often? If your sins are weighing that heavily on you, maybe the problem is your weak faith. If you can’t work this out by yourself sitting at home with your NIV then fine, go to a church that offers the Lord’s Supper twice a month, but when the pastor stops in front of you and says, ”The Body of Christ given for you”, don’t you dare give your “Amen” while the host is in midair in front of you (Obviously, you also would not have kneeled, bowed, genuflected, or made the sign of the cross within three feet of your or anyone else’s body at any time during the service either). Certainly, we are plagued with some Romanizing guys and gals in the Lutheran church today who will try to convince you that these ceremonies are “Lutheran” and “catholic with a small ‘c’”, and they might try to show you in some overly large book what our church officially teaches, but really, what are you going to trust: some book written hundreds of years ago or your own feelings and memories of what you were taught growing up?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Early Christmas Shopping

Something about this and this is a little disconcerting...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ya Take Yer 2 Pieces Uh Wud ‘N Ya Nail ‘Em In Da Middle Er So

Much is made in confessional Lutheranism of the Theology of the Cross. This is good. However, even among those who have the best intentions, sinful natures will subtly steer some to vain glory disguised as cross.

True Theology of the Cross is found in weakness, if able to be pointed out and named specifically at all. When we are weak, then we are strong. The elderly man whose family tries to spare him heartache by withholding a diagnosis of dementia from him, who experiences the fear of confusion and darkness where there once was clarity; the woman who is so weak from illness that she can do no more than wait patiently for release in death; the pastor who quietly fights through exhaustion to minister to those who have no earthly support and no earthly hope; this is the Theology of the Cross. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The Cross you bear is not of your own making. Sometimes the crosses you can identify are not true crosses. The pastor who is too lazy to tend to his responsibilities and then, in his opinion, receives mistreatment at the hands of his flock, has made his own cross. The church-hoppers who claim to just want a church where their kids are welcome, but have had screaming matches over relatively unimportant issues like the kids’ Christmas service with almost every pastor in a 50-mile radius, have made their own cross.

The same goes for the complaining and playing for sympathy that goes on among those who work in the Church. Many times (though definitely not all) a bad situation is at least partly of your own making. It seems some at Church gatherings wish to be Chief Martyr: the most persecuted person in the room. Keep in mind, there is always someone who has been treated worse and has deserved it less than whatever happened to you. Your sufferings are not that important. They are transitory. They do not compare to the glory that will be revealed.

Young pastors, take a cue from your older members: suffer in silence. If your suffering is of your own making, seek forgiveness and see to your duties faithfully. You probably won’t be rewarded. You’ll get no exhilarating rush like you do when successfully attacking or arguing in the relative safety and anonymity of cyberspace. Yet, it is while faithfully carrying out your vocation that you will find the true Cross. It will hurt. It is not pleasant. Through it you will be blessed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Spiritual Gift of Bassackwardness

Many of us have been forced to participate in spiritual gift inventories. They were all the rage a number of years ago and have been mercifully fading from the scene with the advent of newer, similarly meaningless, fads in the Church. These asinine activities were sometimes given in conjunction with personality profiles (most of which are transparent enough to fake your way through and end up with a different personality every time you take them—try it, you’ll amaze the more simple-minded and trusting of your friends and/or coworkers).

The exclamations of those around the table upon discovering their personalities and spiritual gifts can make dull meetings momentarily entertaining. “I’m a lion!” “I’m a shepherd!” “I’m a badger!” “I’m an evangelist!” “I’m blue-green!” “I’m a leader!” “I’m orange!” “I’m a prophet!” “I’m an osprey!”

All this looking inside yourself to “find” your gifts is misguided. St. Paul is usually cited in connection with this nonsense, yet he did not go around handing out multiple-choice surveys, nor did he encourage anyone to look inside him/herself to discover hidden spiritual gifts. Our spiritual gifts do not come from inside of us but from outside of us. Paul did not wander around the ancient world trying to find someone with the gift of shepherding, and upon finding someone possessing that gift, then ordain him/her (yes, there’s been many a woman who finds that, lo and behold, she’s got the gift of pastorin’ upon completion of a spiritual gift inventory) into the office for which he/she has the gifts. Rather, those gifts were given to the person in ordination. This does not deny the importance of training and education or do away with Scripture’s clear qualifications for candidates, but those things, along with inherent personality traits and aptitude do not in themselves make someone worthy of the pastoral office. Who among men is fit to stand in the place of Christ? No one. That is why the gifts to be able to carry out the ministry must come from outside the person.

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:6-14)

“…if ordination is understood as carrying out the ministry of the Word, we are willing to call ordination a Sacrament. For the ministry of the Word has God’s command and has glorious promises, ‘The gospel…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16). Likewise, ‘So shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose’ (Isaiah 55:11). If ordination is understood in this way, neither will we refuse to call the laying on of hands a Sacrament. For the Church has the command to appoint ministers, which should be most pleasing to us, because we know that God approves this ministry and is present in the ministry (that God will preach and work through men and those who have been chosen by men).” (Apology XIII)

Obviously, the gifts given in ordination do not make your pastor into some sort of SuperMinister, nor are they a reason for him to become arrogant or dictatorial. He still serves in weakness in the Church Militant, as do all until the End. This is not an excuse for the laity to disrespect the Office or the gift you have been given in your pastor (Eph. 4). Nor does it give an excuse to pastors to be lazy or persist in improvable weaknesses. Don’t tell your people that you are just not very friendly or punctual or well-prepared and they’ll have to get used to it, even consider it their cross to bear. If you do, they will have every right to beat you over the head with the nearest cross, preferably the big empty one from the front of church. Then, your replacement can have the Ladies’ Aid donate a nice crucifix to put in its place.