Biting the Hand that Feeds You

Many years ago, there was a district with an unfaithful District President. He also had the misfortune to be wildly unpopular in the district. For the first time in many years, it looked as if the district could elect a faithful President. A pastor was nominated. Others eagerly campaigned for him. He warned them not to speak negatively against the current President. They could support him, speak favorably about him. But, he believed the 8th commandment forbade public ridicule of a man in office.

To be clear, they didn’t need half-f0rmed insinuations, as we are seeing in recent mailings. Neither did they make claims that were refutable by the Board of Directors of Preasidium of the district. There were clear cases of misconduct and false teaching. Congregations were being specifically and identifiably harmed. The temptation was too great. The well-meaning pastors went negative. Removing the man would be good for the entire church.

But not this way. At the convention, where he was almost certain to displace the District President, this pastor stood up, renounced the negative tactics of his supporters (who were his close friends), and withdrew his name from consideration. It was a shock, a terrible blow. But it was the right thing to do. Since that time, the President in question has retired, as has the pastor. The current President is a good man, as far as anyone in this world is able to be “good”. So, in the end, it worked out. But I will never forget the lesson of that district – which was not my own. I heard about it because of how odd it was. A man walking away from a position of power, because he did not want it if it could not be gained with integrity.

And I think about that incident, that pastor, that man, as I receive mailing after mailing opining about the terrible situation of our synod, and how it is the fault of one man, and how this other man will make everything better. And I wonder if the men being pushed on me worry about using such blatant violations of God’s Word to attempt to gain office in Christ’s church. They may not be doing it themselves. But I have not heard a single word in opposition to the tactics being employed.  Do they think that an office, if it is gained through such sinful means on the part of so many, can be a blessing to others? Oh, don’t get me wrong, God will work all the good for those who love Him, who are called according to his purpose. But I do not that think that any office gained by such skulduggery can be a blessing to the man who gains it.

I remember that long-ago and far away pastor, who stood alone and spoke out against such things. God has richly blessed him and his district in the years since. Today I pray that, if one of these men are elected, God will not hold the sins of their supporters against the entire synod. He would be right to do it. This isn’t just a coarsening of the culture of the church. This is playing with matters of sin and judgment. It is a most dangerous game.

And, being the optimist I am, I pray that the men receiving benefit from the sins of others will renounce that sin, in godly love both for them, and for the synod that they say they hope to serve.

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Sermon for Pentecost

A few typos, but you get the gist. The coming of the Holy Spirit is a good thing, and we give thanks to God for all his many gifts.  My favorite line (and it’s a tribute to an obscure line in a James Thurber piece called “Macbeth Murder Mystery”) is “No one says ‘Hey, those guys are on fire!'” Here’s the start, with more after the jump:

We finally come to Pentecost. We’ve spent the last six months covering the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord. The festival half of the church year now finishes with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the comforter. Today we celebrate and give thanks for his work in the church. And what is that work? What amazing things does he bring? We hear of the fire today. That must have been impressive. Strange languages. Also good. Miracles. Sure to impress. Jesus promises the disciples on ascension day that they will be poisoned and not harmed, the sick will be healed, demons will be cast out in Jesus name. We could use some more of that today – maybe with a healing ministry people would come to the church – at the very least the church could save a little bit on the pastor’s health insurance. Jesus promises such amazing things, and then it seems like today the church is so ordinary. Other churches have exciting programs, you feel like the Spirit is moving. Here we have the same people, the same old readings, the same liturgy, the same hymnal, the same reserved attitude. We could use an infusion of… something. A tongue of fire would be helpful. Maybe just one or two miracles. Something to let us know we are doing it properly.

But then, as Jesus says in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they hear even if someone were to rise from the dead. We have the word and promise of our Lord. And while on Ascension Day he gives some rather lofty sounding promises, they are all fulfilled in the time of the apostles. He never promises they will continue.

Even the tongues of fire – the most obvious sign of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the apostles, doesn’t seem to last more than a few seconds or minutes. How do we know? Because when the disciples go outside and Peter preaches, the response is “these men are drunk.” No one says, “Hey! Those guys are on fire!” The Spirit dwelling in them with tongues of fire on the heads was a sign for the apostles and those who already believed. It was not an ongoing thing. It was to indicate that now the preaching of the Gospel was to begin. And begin it did. Peter preaches his famous Pentecost sermon. 3,000 are baptized that day. Enough that, when they all return home, there are little churches scattered throughout the empire. So, when the Jerusalem authorities start arresting and imprisoning the Christians – and even killing them – they have places to flee to in other cities. And when they are suffering so much they don’t have enough money for food because of the persecution of the leaders in Jerusalem, there are churches in other towns and cities that can support them with their offerings. Don’t be fooled by that 3,000 number. Those were visitors, not residents. The Jerusalem church was not the world’s first mega-church, with programs and activities for all ages, and a barista bar by the entrance and a fancy lighting system.

The book of Acts continually says the church was blessed and continued to grow, but it also describes significant poverty on the part of many, and significant persecution for those who dared to confess the name of Christ. The blessing was in those who would hear and believe the word of God. And the power of the Spirit was not in miracles that made life easier for the disciples – they were actually arrested and beaten for healing people. Where God is active, there you will find Satan working to tear down what God is building. And let’s look at what Jesus promises in the Gospel reading today. He says:

The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

The great gift of the Holy Spirit is to teach, and to help them remember all he said to them. That may not sound like much, but it is a great comfort to us. Continue reading

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Hello again

A friend recently asked what my plans are, now that Catechetics has been published. I had already started working on it while I was waiting for the final part of the publishing process to wind down.

Now that it’s summer, it’s time for my continuing education project. I read and I write. And to give you a hint of what’s coming, I have the following books on the way:

Oh, and then there’s this – which is nearing the two decade mark, but worth a review as well:

It should be a good summer.

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Gifts for the seminary graduate

The perfect gift – A beautiful copy of Luther’s Sacristy prayer.

You can print and frame (8*10) this PDF. Luther’s Sacristy Prayer Decorated

If you prefer to use a different prayer, a different translation, or just want a different font, here is the Word File so you can edit it. Luther’s Sacristy Prayer Decorated

They are public domain. Use, change, or distribute them as you see fit.

Happy graduation to all of our seminaries graduates!

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Open Letter Re: COP & Unity

The Council of Presidents recently adopted a resolution stating that they are united in Christ – Wonderful news if it were true! A few thoughts, which I shared with other pastors in my locality.

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Open Letter Re: CTCR

The following is a letter I sent to the pastors of my circuit. I share it here, because I believe the CTCR has once again attempted violence against the Word of God. It seems to me, that’s not a time to remain silent.

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Making Choices Early

 

Owing to a lack of vacancies, and a very small district, I don’t have any newly-minted pastors to welcome to my own district this year. But that doesn’t mean that call day doesn’t make me think back to the early days of my own ministry. The most shocking thing to me early on: Everything I’d learned in 4 grinding years of seminary studies was preached in my first six months of sermons. I was fresh out of information to convey. That was when I finally started digging into the texts and learning how to really preach.

But early on, I’d made a choice that really helped me. Looking around at available resources, I realized that, if I used the three year series and I got into homiletical trouble, I would have Concordia Pulpit Resources to help me out of it. Not a shabby thing to fall back on, to be sure.

But if I used the historic lectionary, I would have two different sets of Luther (Church and House postils.) So, when the well ran dry after six months, I starting drinking from a new spring. Drinking deeply. And there is no better teacher outside of scripture. Practical without being shallow, deeply theological without being distant from the real struggles of the people in the pew, Luther tops anyone else I have ever read. There are a lot of books that pastors should read annually, or at least review occasionally: Law and Gospel, Sacred Meditations, and Hammer of God are some that I have heard and recommended myself.

But there is no book in my library so consistently used as Luther’s House Postils. At least monthly for the last 21 years I have read a sermon from Luther. Sometimes each week. A young pastor with nothing of his own to say can do far worse than just summarizing Luther’s sermon. I did it a fair amount. Each paragraph became a sentence in my sermon. I felt guilty at the time because I wasn’t actually writing my own sermon. What I didn’t realize then is that I had adopted an ancient method of learning from the masters. I was teaching myself how to exegete scripture and structure a sermon from the best there ever was, after the time of the apostles. And those lessons are still with me today.

My advice to young pastors: Follow the historic lectionary for at least the first five years. These are the years when you will learn the most about preaching – even (and especially) when you don’t realize you are learning. And these formative years can not be better spent than in Luther’s sermons. Added since those days is Walther and Gerhard. If your church has a budget for continuing ed, get those sermons first thing. Read them as well as Luther. The Baker set  of Luther’s Postils is no longer available. But Luther’s House Postils are available freely online in a late 19th century translation, as are the Church Postils. (Google books is your friend!)

You can argue all you want about modern scholarship, exposing people to more of scripture long-term, about the value of the three year series, etc, etc. But the one argument that trumps them all in my mind is that, if you give yourself five years of studying the preaching style of Luther, Walther, & Gerhard, then the rest of your ministry, you could preach on texts from the Boston Telephone Directory and the sermons will be among the best offered in the church. Because you will have been trained by the masters. At that point, switch to the three year if you wish. It won’t matter as much once you’ve learned from the best.

And if you’re in a situation (Ass’t or Assoc) where you don’t get to pick, cross reference and at every opportunity dig, dig, dig into the old masters. You – and your hearers – will be grateful you did.

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