Shallow Postmodernism Redux

A couple of months ago, in the midst of a long post on another topic entirely, I made an aside comment about “shallow postmodernism” cropping up in a book. Certain persons took very significant umbrage at this, and ignoring the rest of the post, fixated on those words. A few back-and-forths yielded no agreement, and I didn’t have time to fully respond then. Lent was coming, so I moved on. But a few words are in order to explain why post-modernism by definition results in a shallow theology.

Shallow-postmodernism does not mean lack of scholarship. It does not mean that a person does not engage the text in the original language. It does not mean that the work is not perhaps useful in some way. Many statements of the author may be correct, or even insightful. It is in no way a slight against the intellect of the author.

Rather, it is a argument against the philosophical approach of the author. The conclusions reached, though valid, will always be somewhat lacking. Post-modernism, because it rejects the concepts of authority and the objective meaning of words, thereby reduces the power of The Word himself and the significance of the doctrine which He teaches. It will always be an insufficient approach to scripture. It elevates narrative, but it does so not for the sake of the narrative. It does it at the expense of the doctrine.

The greatest problem with post-modern philosophy being imported into theology is that while the post-modernist will affirm practically anything, he will not reject anything. So, (as an example) we are assured that drink means drink. But “intinct” – which does not involve drinking – will not be thereby rejected. We are assured that day means 24 hour day. But “millions of years” is also possible. We are assured that Law and Gospel are an especially brilliant light. But their insufficiency is also possible. This is acceptance of all and rejection of none, which ends in the destruction of everything.

Scholarship does not matter in this case. Intellect can be used for good or ill. Knowledge of languages is not the issue. Credentials are not in question. And in a debate with some of our most brilliant minds, I would certainly lose badly. I am not in their league. But effectiveness and ability are not the same as faithfulness. And post-modernism is unfaithful to the Word of God. It, like all human philosophies that contradict the clear testimony of scripture and that would deny the power of the Gospel (even while outwardly affirming it), is a shallow philosophy. And, more so than most of them. It is unsustainable philosophically, morally, theologically, and practically. It will fall. The end result if it were allowed to its logical conclusion would be a total inability to communicate because words would have no inherent meaning. (We are seeing some of this even today, e.g. male and female as mere social construct, “Easter Worshippers”, etc.)

When it falls and is replaced, assuming humanity doesn’t accidentally blow itself up because we no longer could tell the difference between Brawndo and ‘launch code’, those who engage in this as theological method will then be seen to be quite shallow in their approach. That we live in this cultural moment tends to blind us to the reality of how very shallow post-modernism is. Narrative theology is one branch of it; it divorces doctrine from scripture. This can not be allowed in the church. As a friend posted earlier today on FB:

Rhetoric without dialectic is sophistry. This is why if there is to be a “narrative theology” it must never be separated from dogmatics. Our story is no better than the unbelievers’ story if it isn’t true, and to know whether it’s true or not requires the use of proposition. This isn’t the Enlightenment or modernism; it’s how Christians have done theology since the beginning. Notice that even in the Books of Moses and in the Gospels, which are mostly narrative, you have important and long sections of teaching.

Attempts to divorce the teaching from the narratives make a mush of both of them. It is post-modernism at its most subtle. And it results in a shallow theology. Insofar as the scholars and authors in our synod engage in narrative or other post-modern theologizing, the result is a shallow theology, no matter how erudite the presentation may be. I stand by that claim, because it is the truth.

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Easter Sermon

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The day of weeping is past. The day of rejoicing has come. Today, we put away the sackcloth and ashes of repentance and sing again the joyous Alleluia. The angel rolls the stone away, and sorrow turns suddenly to joy. The grave wrappings are empty – and tears turn to laughter. He who was dead is now alive. The one who was gave himself into death has been raised. The power of death is broken, and life rules forever and ever.

Today we rejoice with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. We join in the feast of victory for our God. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!

Sin has been swallowed up in the death of Christ, and now the power of death is no more. The chains which bound us in sin have been broken. The bars of hell have been burst. The gates of Satan’s domain have been torn from their hinges. All the armor in which he trusted has been taken, and his head has been crushed. We no longer dwell in a land of deep darkness for the light has come, and now shines upon us. For Christ, the Passover lamb has been sacrificed and raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father. The night of judgment has ended, the time of deliverance is at hand forevermore.

And this day of rejoicing is for all who would hear and believe the promise. Those who kept Lent with fasting, prayer, and almsgiving – rejoice! Those who did not, rejoice as well. For today the bridegroom has come, the wedding feast is at hand. Those who labored hard to prepare are rewarded with the time of celebration. Those who have lately come are invited to join for this is not a day of regret over what was, but a day of celebration for what is. Today the church joins the heavens in declaring the glory of God and the firmament in proclaiming his handiwork. All those who come are welcome to rejoice with us as we celebrate the end of death, the final destruction of the grave.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

The women come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus properly. Too late. He is no longer there. That’s so far from how things work in this world, that they can not believe the report of the angel. They disbelieve their own ears. There eyes deceive them. Something else must have happened. What would you think, going to the tomb of a loved one and finding the dirt piled next to the grave, the casket opened and empty, and a man dressed in white says that they have been raised. “Who has taken the body?” You might wonder. But “Well, we better be going, so we can see them later” would not be the first thought in your head. So also the women. They don’t know what to think. Because this is so different than all that has come before. Jesus has broken death for all time. It can not hold those who have been joined to his death in the holy waters of Baptism and who fall asleep in faith. Today we hear news that over a hundred have been killed in terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka as they joined to celebrate the resurrection. The throng of holy martyrs increases, and their souls call out from underneath the altar, “O Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” They have been given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. Blessed be the name of the Lord, for the holy martyrs this day are joined to the throng that no one can count, from every tribe and people and language. They have finished the course in faith and have been given the crown of life, which no one will take from them.

Back in this world, we who are baptized and still struggle in the church militant have already died to this world. You live in a world that is strange, and foreign to your sinful flesh, but is more real than this world of sin and death and darkness and shadows. That is what this world is – a world of shadows and deep darkness. A world of sin and death. Jesus says whoever does evil hates the late and will not come into the light for fear his deeds will be exposed. That is how this world is. And we are used to living in that darkness, in the shadow world is sin.

But whoever lives by the truth comes to the light that his deeds may be seen to have been done in God. The shadows of this world flee before the light that comes out of that tomb. It says the women were afraid. They would soon be consoled. The demons flee in a terror that never ends; Jesus is the light. He shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome him. The darkness has been utterly destroyed by the light. And now, Jesus offers to you a real world. Not a world of shadows and darkness. But a world of consolation, of light and of peace. A world more real than this world – though we only see it now with the eyes of faith. Just as he offers food more real than any food of this world. He offers food that does not spoil. Food that feeds more than the belly, food that remains to eternal life. And yet we must receive this food as well with the eyes of faith. For all that our mortal eyes can see is bread and wine. But under that bread and wine are a reality more real than grain and grapes.

The world of the resurrection is the real world. This world is passing away as a shadow at the rise of the sun. The world which Jesus gives does not pass away. In this world moth and rust and fire destroy, thieves break in and steal, our health is a mere vapor. Our life a mere breath away from death. Put your faith in those things, and you are chasing after the wind. Trust in them and you are trusting in a god that can not save.

That’s the world our flesh wants to live in. Adam and Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, and that it would make one wise. It broke the fellowship with God that he had given to humanity in the creation, he saw that everything he had created under the heavens was good, and he rested from all his labors on that seventh day. The fruit from the forbidden tree did not make them wise, and, as God had warned, they died – even that same day. Their bodies died some years later. And we still chase after such false gods of man’s devising. We have so much in this world in which we trust, we do not have much left for the things of God. We want to live in the shadow world – this world – according to this life. But such a life is not real. It appears so to our flesh. But it is an illusion of sin. You can live in the shadows of this world and distract yourself for a time. And you can live in this shadow world and try to have little bits of the real world of Jesus and the resurrection around you. But it will not work. The shadows will push out the reality of the resurrection. It does not fool God when we lie to ourselves. The hard reality of the resurrection world is too much for the things of this world to bear. It is a reality beyond the vapors of this life. A reality that will not end. This shadow world comes to a crashing halt at the gate of death. We see it in those who can not bear the world funeral, who refuse to even speak the word death. And call it a celebration of life. But that is a celebration of the life in this world only. It is a celebration of a life that is no more. The church boldly stands at the grave and calls it funeral, it stares death in the face and calls it by name. We do not celebrate a life that was but is not more. We rejoice in the life that goes on for those who have died in the faith. The body that we lay in the grave will be raised as surely as Christ was raised. Death can not end the hard reality of Jesus resurrection world. Those who live by faith in this world, not by sight, still bear the sinful flesh. It is not easy. It means that each day the old Adam – the shadow man – must be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires. And then the new man – the reality given in Christ – must arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. The resurrection world of Jesus changes everything. The disciples would willingly go into death for the sake of the name, and their blood would be witness to the hope that is in them. The holy martyrs of Sri Lanke of this Easter in the year of our Lord Two Thousand Nineteen join the thousands upon thousands and millions upon millions would have been killed for the faith. They sacrificed the life of this world – a life that is barely more than an illusion – for the life that Christ gives that will not end.

But more than just a willingness to die for Christ, those in Christ are willing to live to him as well. To no longer walk according to the pattern of this world. But to live according to the pattern of Christ and his work. To hear and learn the word, to come often to receive the body and blood. To live according to the love of God in Christ Jesus as they show love to all those around them, forgiving them as God in Christ has forgiven them, and living as a part of the holy church, the bride of Christ, who brings the message of salvation and life through the word preached, through the sacraments offered. That is the real life which Jesus gives. Not a life that is already passing away the moment of our birth, but a life that is only beginning in earnest at the moment of death.

This is a hard saying, few can accept it. But those whom God has called according to his purpose in Christ Jesus, hear the word, receive it and bear fruit – even in this world – with patience. Daily growing in the renewal of life given in Jesus death and resurrection. And the truth is that the resurrection must change everything. The old way of doing things disappears in the light of resurrection morning. The world’s pattern is shown to be shallow and insignificant. The firm ground of Christ Jesus and what he has done for you takes the pre-eminence in this resurrection world.

It isn’t an easy path. It is narrow and difficult and few find it. The path to destruction is wide and easy. But that narrow path is the path to salvation. It is illuminated by the Word of God. It is a path that leads to life. A life that is without end.

Before Christ appeared to the disciples, he descended to hell, where he announced his victory over Satan. He went into the enemy’s domain and made clear that the power of the enemy is finished. Hell thought it had conquered when it took Jesus into death. But it was not a body that the grave held. It was God. And God can not die. Death was vanquished once and for all. And this life is only prelude to the life of the world to come. Do you see how that changes things? To live according to the old pattern, to live for the things of this world, is to go through those broken gates of death, past the fallen bars of hell, to find the chains that once bound you, and to sit among them once again, saying, “I can not get out of this open cage, I am stuck in this insecure citadel, I am bound by these shattered chains.” It is to place yourself once again under the curse of death. We do it. Our flesh is weak and, like Israel of old, we want the security of those Egyptian meat pots and the safety of slavery and bondage again to sin. The shadow world is soft and we want to sink down in it and lose all thought. The reality of the resurrection world is a hard one. It is far harder and more real than this world. And our sinful shadowy flesh has trouble with the how real this new world is. Were it not for the gift of faith given by the Spirit, no one could believe.

That is why we continually give thanks to God for all he has done. We shout today Alleluia, Alleluia! We return often to be fed with real food at the altar, where the veil is torn, and we join the martyr throng in their Holy Holy Holy to the Lord the God of hosts. And we see the reality of the resurrection presented to us. We come so that this world that is passing away would not entangle or enthrall us.

The resurrection is the life Christ gives. It is the only life worth living. May God grant to us the strength to hear and receive this word, to behold the resurrection of Christ and in faith to turn away from this world of darkness, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the unchangeable truth of the Word of God, who was crucified for us, who has been raised to a new life, and who now reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God world without end.

He is Risen! He is risen Indeed! Alleluia, Alleluia!

Amen.

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Sermon for Holy Tuesday

In our Lenten Journey to the cross, we don’t “go” anywhere. Jesus comes to us in his Holy Word and in the Blessed Sacrament. More on this, and on finding the truly sacred things, in today’s sermon. For some reason, the text is no longer available to me on my computer. So, today’s in audio only. But it’s only seven minutes. Well worth the time, as we continue to ponder the Holy Passion of our Lord.

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Palm Sunday Sermon

With extra travels, I get behind on things like posting sermons. But here is my Palm Sunday sermon. It is a reminder that we can never trust in our own strength, but rather in the Lord’s promise, proclaimed in His Holy Church. It also includes a brief run-down of how Satan convinces us we should give up on the faith, and ourselves. Don’t fall for his lies! Believe the promise given in the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!

It’s available in both text and audio.

There’s a lot going on today. Every Sunday of the Church year we hear of the words and deeds of Jesus. But this is the only Sunday when we hear of the crucifixion itself from Holy Scripture. It is preached each Sunday. But only on this Sunday is it read. And yet, today is also Palm Sunday – the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Tomorrow the Gospel reading is of the anointing of Jesus feet with the sweet perfume. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday are the passion accounts according to Mark, Luke, and John. The institution of the Sacrament of our Lord’s most holy body and blood is Thursday. The death of Jesus is preached Friday. We have too much to consider today in our Gospel. But with all that will be covered later in the week, there isn’t much reserved just for today. Even the triumphal entry is repeated in Advent – so we’ve already considered it this year. With so much being presented at once, we can’t consider everything fully. So let us focus on a few words near the beginning of the long reading of our Lord’s death. And let us reflect on how we should consider ourselves as we enter this most holy of weeks. Continue reading

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First World Pastor Problems

During Lent I listen to the Saint Matthew Passion when writing sermons. This means that on Palm Sunday, I spend the entire time reading the passion account saying to myself, “Don’t break into song, don’t break into song, don’t break into song…”

As my musical friends can probably understand, this becomes almost unbearable during “Let him be cru-u-u-u-u-ci-fied…”

It’s not a bad problem to have, actually.

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Sermon for Laetare

Here is this week’s sermon, in which I exhort to church to be the church, and attend to the Word of God:

“Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.” And that’s all we hear about testing in today’s Gospel. Historically, the first part of Lent is about testing and temptation. Jesus tempted in the wilderness, the Canaanite woman who is tested by Jesus and is an example for us of great faith, the people who try to test Jesus by demanding from him a sign. And now, Jesus testing the disciples by asking how to feed 5,000 with only enough food for a small boy. But there is no word of judgment against them. No rebuke for their lack of faith, as Jesus does to the disciples after the resurrection. Just the quick comment – he already knew what he was going to do. Jesus didn’t ask the question because he was lost and confused about what to do, but to test the faith of the disciples. Left unsaid is how badly they fail at this test. “We would need so much money!” “The food supply is limited, we can’t really do anything!”

Also left unsaid is how much it doesn’t really look like a test. We think of tests as great moments of decision or anguish. A loved one who is sick or dying. Loss of a job or failure of crops – or as we are seeing in Nebraska, perhaps as many as a million calves lost to flooding and snow. Those are great tests of faith. Will we cling to Christ ever tighter in times of trouble, or will we be so offended by difficult times that our roots wither for lack of water, and we dry up and bear no fruit in keeping with repentance? We think of Saint Paul, who asked  three times that his thorn in the flesh be removed, but was told each time, “My grace is sufficient…” Or of Martin Luther, who was given the death penalty for teaching the Gospel, and lived under that sentence of death each day.

Today’s Gospel reading is a test, but the test is “So, dinner plans?”, followed by a free meal. Even though the disciples don’t do well on this test, it is followed by a feast. Everyone had their full, with food to spare. If only all tests could be so easy.

Today is the fourth Sunday in Lent. It is a day of spiritual rest before diving into the season of the Passion. Talk of fasting and demons is finished. Next week we turn our attention to the cross. For today, it’s a day to rejoice, to hear of the goodness of the Lord, and to be reassured before Holy Week and the cross come on us. The readings are a bit lighter. The mood less somber. “The Lord who feeds us” is the theme of the day. And yet, even today is not without talk of testing and trial. We are still in Lent. The good news is that for today, the Lord does not rebuke. As the Old Testament reading for Ash Wednesday says:

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? Continue reading

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Run Away!

Actual photo of my face when the movie screen was deployed.

In the past, I have taught that if you are visiting another Lutheran church and see Arminian Worship, Open Communion, etc., you should run away. I confess now, I did not follow my own advice.

This past weekend we were on vacation on the west coast. We took an Uber to Local Lutheran Church. It was a beautiful building – fine Gothic altar, stunning stained glass. We had missed the “traditional” service, but heard the praise band gearing up for the next one. I looked at the bulletins to see how bad it would be. No liturgy at all. The announcement made clear that communion was open. Grape juice would be offered. And then, as I looked at the front of the church in horror, a movie screen descended from the rafters – entirely covering the beautiful rose window in the front. I had already paid money to get there, and I didn’t want to waste it. We did not run away.

We walked. Calmly, collectedly, all the way back to our Air-BnB. Then we went through the readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer on the Android App, followed by a good discussion of the readings. It’s not how I wanted to spend Oculi Sunday. But it was better than nothing, and far better than the offense of the service at Local Lutheran Church. On the walk out, we had a good discussion about what worship should be, and why the Arminian style is not for use in Lutheran Churches. So, it worked out, in its own way.

But I have changed my advice. If you find a Lutheran church that is not Lutheran, you do not need to run. You can walk to the nearest exit. And just keep walking.

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