Sunday School

What I won’t be seeing this year.

It’s that time of year again, but now it’s all different. Normally, I would be unpacking the box full of Sunday School packets. Always a happy event. But not this year. Earlier in the year, I cancelled our auto-renew subscription. I had intended to check back and see if my concerns were addressed. I had sort of assumed that we would hop right back on the bandwagon, because I’ve been impressed with the materials for many years.  The best laid plans…

Now, with budget shortfalls and red ink dripping from the page, we must go with a different supplier – one that is “Free”. Of course, you get what you pay for. When we looked at it last summer, it was agreed that if we switch, there are enough instruction materials, but the extras are not there. Craft, activities, etc. The things that keep little hands and minds busy and out of trouble during the hour. We will have to put together our own stuff for this. And doing so within our budget constraints (free) will be a challenge. We have a couple of large cabinets of craft supplies collected over the decades. We will tap into those, and hopefully keep this from becoming one of those penny-wise and pound foolish situations. But we can’t spend money we don’t have. And while we could have as many as 8-10 kids, and so need 8-10 packets each quarter, we almost never have everyone here at the same time. It happens maybe once a year, if that. Most Sundays we have packets for 10, and only use materials for 3. Sometimes, if roads are bad or visits to grandparents ill timed, we have packets for 10, and use 0. This way, we can scale it up and down quickly and easily.

And as I’ve gone through the materials we’ll be using, putting together a Scope and Sequence, I’ve actually started to get kind of excited. Because there was another limitation to the materials we bought – it’s hard wired into the system, there is no way around it. We have a schedule that works for our parish. We don’t meet in the summer. We don’t meet during vacations. We have voter’s meetings on Sunday after church. We have to scramble to squeeze in the Holy-Day lessons every year, because for some reason, Holy Days always happen on holidays. We skip and jump around a bit.

Also, we’re on the one-year series. There is a particular rhythm to life on the one-year series that is not reflected in the three year. And it’s not entirely reflected in the materials we were purchasing. Oh, the major things were there: Christmas, Easter. But Transfiguration always came three weeks late. The subtle change from Epiphany, where we focus on the miracles of Jesus, to the Gesimas, where we are exhorted to attend to the Word in preparation for Holy Lent is… just missing. Lent as time of testing and temptation comes through more clearly in the one year than in the three. (Personal opinion. Your mileage may vary.)

I was able to put some of those things back. What I have isn’t perfect. But if you, like me, find that your number of students varies wildly from the number of possible students, and if you, like me, use the one year series, and if you, like me, end up having to shuffle lessons around anyway to squeeze them all in every year, and if you, like me, are looking at other options (even though it’s sort of late in the game), here is my scope and sequence for 2018-2021. It’s what we are planning tentatively. We may find it doesn’t work at all. We may find it’s just not what we need. We may decide to go back to the happy parcels filled with bible stories that used to arrive once a quarter. But, for now, this looks like where we’re heading. And if it’s of use to anyone else out there, feel free to use it as you wish.

It’s keyed to the materials from the Church of the Lutheran Confession. They are freely available. My plan follows the same basic pattern we’ve been using for years: Old Testament in Fall, Life of Christ in Winter and Spring. For the Old Testament, It goes in chronological order (except for Job at the end of year 3). For the New, it skips around quite a bit. Firstly, because the Gospels need not necessarily be read / learned in order. The parables and miracles of our Lord can be learned out of sequence and still make sense. It allowed me the freedom to match the basic tone to the sequence of the 1 year lectionary. On occasion, the Gospel readings match. When they don’t, it still follows the basic rhythm of life in our parish. I think that’s important, and I think this will be helpful. I’ll be going over this a bit more closely. I want to add some catechism connections, some bible memory verses, and I’ll need to tie the hymn suggestions to LSB. My crafty lady has her work cut out for her. There will be challenges. It will be a lot of work. But I think it will be a good thing overall. I may post more as we move through this new adventure. We’ll see.

If some of this sounds good to you, feel free to take a look. Use or adapt freely:

Trinity Scope and Sequence 2018

 

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Sermon for Trinity 11

Here is today’s sermon. It’s got a couple of typos that sneaked through the editing process. But I think you’ll get the gist.

***

Today we hear from God’s Word about true and false worship. As usual we see it first in the collect – the prayer that we pray before we even hear the readings. Why is that? Why is it ordered that way? Because without the Spirit to open our hearts, we can not even hear the Word of God to our benefit. The Spirit works faith where and when he chooses in those who hear the Gospel. And so, before we even hear the Word of the Lord, we pray that we would hear it rightly, that it would dwell in our hearts and minds throughout the week, and bring forth abundant fruit. Today, our prayer is that we would be forgiven the sins that trouble our conscience, and that we would receive the good things God promises that we are unworthy to even ask for.

Troubled consciences – that is what forgiveness does – it brings peace to a troubled conscience. When we commit real sins – sins that offend against our neighbor, and that means family too – sins that cause trouble, that break up relationships, that cause us to wish we could go back in time and undo the damage that we have done. Those sins – the ones that come in the dark of night and plague our thoughts and minds – that is a guilty conscience. God wrote the law on our hearts when he created us. He gives us a conscience so we would be able to know and use that law. That makes us different from animals. A lion or monkey can not evaluate conduct and feel remorse. We can. When animals act, they act according to how God created them to be. Dogs as companions to man, Lions as hunters, mice as scavengers, and so on. They don’t reflect on what the things they have done. That is unique in humanity. And it is because God gave us a soul, a mind, a conscience. And when we offend against that conscience, we can tell ourselves everything is ok. But the heart knows the pain it caused another. It is not so easily dismissed as that. Days, weeks, years, even decades later the regrets come pouring in.

That’s what we see in the tax collector in the reading for today. God be merciful to me a sinner. This man when home justified – forgiven, says Jesus. God gives forgiveness to all who believe on his name, without any work or effort on our part. Jesus won the forgiveness with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death – we can’t add to that. God’s blood poured out on the ground for you. Your little efforts to earn his favor just look petty by comparison. And so we ask forgiveness for the things we are even too ashamed and afraid to ask for forgiveness. God gives a wonderful treasure in holy absolution – the ability to confess the specific sins that trouble you and receive forgiveness from the pastor as if from Christ himself. That’s the grace and mercy of God. That the sins that make us most aware of our unworthiness are the sins he especially forgives. So that our conscience would be cleansed from dead works to serve the living God. What does that mean? That’s what our readings teach us today.

In the first article, we confess that everything we are given – body soul eyes ears, reason and senses, as well as food clothing, house home, and all we need to support this body and life is a gift from our heavenly Father “without any merit or worthiness in me.” There is nothing God gives us that we are worthy to receive. And yet, in his Fatherly Divine goodness and mercy he provides for all our needs of body and soul. For all this, we are to thank and praise serve and obey him.

What does it look like when we do that? In the readings we hear of two pairs of worshippers. In the Old Testament reading, we heard of Cain and Able. Able’s sacrifice was received by God according to his grace and mercy. Cain’s was not. The difference between their sacrifices was not that God prefers sheep to fruit. But Cain brought some fruit – begrudgingly, only as much as he had to. Able brought the fat portions, the good stuff. He came with a faithful and loving heart before God. And so his sacrifice was accepted. Cain’s, offered out of obligation and the belief that if he did this, he would have fulfilled the law and earned the favor of God, was not.

We see the same sort of response in the parable. The Pharisee comes to fulfill his duty – not in faith, not to receive the gifts which God promises to give. He comes on his own merits, and with no faith in God to save. He is convinced of his own righteousness. And so, he receives exactly what he requests – nothing. He has asked for nothing. He only brags about his accomplishments. “I fast, I give tithes of all that I get…” You see, even the unrighteous, even the non-believer can fulfill the outward show of the law – fasting and tithing. It earns nothing. God does not such a sacrifice. He does not need your possessions or your praise to make himself a bigger God. He is already the maker of heaven and earth, he reigns enthroned in glory. There is nothing we can do to make that more majestic. We don’t polish his throne with our praise and offerings. What he wants from us is a humble and repentant heart. “A broken and contrite heart oh God, these you will not despise.” It’s the same thing we heard in the account of Cain and Able. God doesn’t have regard for an offering made in unbelief. It does nothing for Cain to sacrifice fruit, for the Pharisee to give money to the temple. Because neither of them are doing it from a pure heart. They are doing it with idolatrous intentions. It earns them nothing. It profits them nothing.

As Saint Paul says in the Epistle – this is not your own doing. It is a gift so that no one may boast. If you think it your work, you are looking in the wrong places for your salvation. And your works will earn you nothing. By grace are you saved through faith. That is the path to a cleansed conscience.

And that’s the difference between the upstanding Pharisee – who followed all the laws, but went home without forgiveness, and the hated tax collector, who was not even supposed to be in the temple, who was considered outside of the community because of his very public sins against the nation. The Pharisee figured he was going to earn it all. The Tax Collector came in humility and did nothing more than plead for mercy.

Very often, God gives us what we ask for. The ambitious are given careers of ambition. The Greedy are given wealth to chase after. Those who are angry are given things to be angry about. The Pharisee valued his works – so he was given many works to value. But they earned him nothing. Being given the things we ask for is not always a blessing – it can be a punishment. So the greedy are never satisfied with what they have – they always need a bit more. The Ambitious need to move just a little bit higher up the ladder. Those who keep account of sins committed against them, instead of forgiving, become bitter and resentful. And those who trust in works become judgmental of others, and also proud and arrogant about their own works.

The Old Testament and Gospel readings are a warning against such things.

And the Epistle reading explains to us how things should be. We can not trust in our works to save. Forgiveness, life and salvation are a gift of God. Jesus says it explicitly in the Gospel reading – The tax collector is forgiven in spite of his unworthiness. That’s the point of forgiveness. You can not earn it. The grace and mercy of God is given freely to those who believe. To receive the gifts of God, to believe his promises – that is true worship. It is what we see in the Tax Collector. It is what we see in Able. It is what we don’t see in the Pharisee and in Cain. They think they earn something. You can’t earn anything before God – not the smallest part of your salvation.

So the Pharisee, with his fasting and his tithing, was wasting his efforts – because his efforts don’t get him anything.

But that’s not the end of the story. After Saint Paul says we are saved by grace, not works, he also adds – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God does have work for us to do. He calls us into various stations or in life. We begin as children – son or daughter of parents, oftentimes sibling as well. We are to obey parents, show love to those around us, learn from teachers. When we grow and get jobs, we are to work hard and honestly for our employer. You are to be good citizens; if married, then faithful and loving to your spouse, a good parent, etc. The ten commandments guide us in all of these different callings in life. God places us in the world so we can do those things. So we can follow his holy ten commands, showing love to our neighbor, as we receive by faith the forgiveness of sins. If we think we are earning something, then we have nothing. Like the Pharisee – his many works earned nothing, because he thought they earned everything.

But for those of us who are reconciled to Christ through his work on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins, we have been given work to do. Now, our worship and our tithes and offerings, now our fasting and prayers are good works – redeemed by Christ – and so we do those things which “God prepared for us in advance.” They aren’t incredible hero of faith things. No walking on water, or speaking in strange languages required. We simple live lives of humble service, knowing that in Christ our work in this world is given meaning, and God is well pleased with us as his dear child. This is a grace and mercy. God commands us to do good works, not that we would be saved through them, but so that we would be given the opportunity to support the work of the Gospel, given the opportunity to show love to a neighbor.

Outside of faith, your and tithes and offerings, your acts of love and sacrifice get you nothing. But done in faith, Luther says that even changing a child’s diaper is better than all the works of the monks. Because it is done in response to the love you have been shown through Christ’s death and resurrection. You have been forgiven your sins. And now you can do the works God has prepared in advance for you to do. The things commanded in the Ten Commandments. Fasting and tithes now are of great benefit – not because you earn anything by them. But because they are done out of joy, not obligation. Because they are a response to the love and mercy of God.

If we want to make it our work and earn it, then it is still done in our sin. The works mean nothing. But if it is done in faith, then it is a good work in Christ – whether it be a parent cleaning up after their child, or supporting the church with our tithes, or offering, or prayers for those in need. That is the grace and mercy of God in action through you.

May God grant unto each of us such a willing heart of service, in humility and love, for Jesus sake and in his name. Amen.

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Catechetics Update

Writing is a strange thing. I’ve been working on Catechetics for at least 6 years now. It’s been sort of always there. I’ve read, studied, formulated, written, re-written, sent for review, made changes, pondered, made more changes…

It’s been a good experience. I’m a better pastor for it. (That’s why I do these projects. They are my “Continuing Education.”)

It’s been two years now since the first draft was finished. I’ve been through it several times. After a long hiatus, I’m back at it for the final edit before it (hopefully) goes off for some final polish and then printing!

The problem is, the final edit is tough. You’ve already gone over things several times. You know what you want to say. But it’s not ready yet. And if you don’t go after the bad parts ruthlessly, it won’t get there. So, the read pen comes out, and one slash after another cuts, changes, and reorders. But the personal affect is that you come to hate your book. “This is a terrible book!” It really isn’t. But you are looking very closely to spot any flaw. And that sort of close look will reveal them. But it’s a tough slog.

I’m moving through. I need to add a section about the new catechism. I have some references to track down. (Thanks to 2013 me, who didn’t include them, and now I have to search.)

But overall, it’s coming along nicely. Thanks to those who have supported my gofundme. I know I’m asking for funds from pastors. Like seeking blood from a turnip. But if you know of someone who wants to support good Lutheran theology, maybe point them here. It’s been over a century since the last comprehensive look at teaching the faith. And it shows. When I called it a “crisis”, one theologian in our synod said, “More than crisis. It’s a catastrophe.”

We can make it better. You can help. Click HERE. 

 

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Big Time Endorsement for My Book!

Today I received a yuuuuge endorsement for Evolution: A Defense Against. No, it isn’t Donald Trump (although I would gladly send him a copy if he wishes to read it.) It’s someone who is even bigger in the world of Confessional Lutheran Radio Game Shows!

The one, the only, the amazing, the Iron Preacher himself… Bryan Wolfmueller!

And what did he have to say about it? Well, I’ll let him speak for himself.

 

 

 

That’s right. The Bryan Wolfmueller, the man who is so cool he once wore a parachute harness to speak at an Evangelism conference, the man who is so suave he once had to download his own videos from Youtube because he had deleted them on his computer, the legend himself, has ordered a copy of my book.

If you were waiting until it became the cool thing to do, it just did. Order today!

In Paperback at Lulu, and for Kindle at Amazon. 

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Refuge

I was recently on vacation, and attended another LCMS congregation in a different state. There were screens. Lots of them. Front of the church. Back of the church. Sides. narthex. Screens, screens, screens.

What was on the screens? Words. The words of the liturgy, the readings from scripture, the hymns. They used page 151. It was what you would call a “liturgical” service, as far as it goes. But the liturgy and hymns were posted on the screens. Hymnals mostly stayed in the racks. But there was one thing that – although I can’t prove it scientifically – seemed overwhelmingly obvious to me anecdotally.

No one sang. The organ played beautifully. It filled the space with sound. And the people sort of mumbled along. It was… disappointing. At my own parish, without stellar acoustics, a pipe organ, trained singers, or a choir to lead us, we have at least as much volume as this church – with its high ceilings, powerful organ, young energetic crowds – could muster. They have all the advantages. But we out-sing them. Lutherans are known as the singing church. To go to a Lutheran church with  so little singing was like getting suger-free rock candy, or vegetables with the nutrients removed so you can just enjoy the flavor without all that pesky nutrition.

As the service wore on, I started watching. The people were staring at the screens above. But they seemed content to barely mumble the words. Few opened their mouths. And interestingly, the open mouths I did see were face down in a hymnal. There were a few who refused to give in to the spirit of the age, who steadfastly insisted that they wanted to read it from a book – these were the ones who sang. And they were mostly older. Many children were in church that day. But they weren’t being taught the church’s song. They were staring mindlessly at the screens. Their brains were entirely disengaged from their bodies as they absorbed – with no thought or reflection at all – whatever passed in front of their eyes in the lighted tablets hanging on the wall.

One other observation from that service: those who did look up and open their mouths had their throats at a terrible angle for singing. Sure, you don’t want to look at your toes – that will kill the volume as you collapse the natural resonators in your chest and throat. But if you strain your throat too high, you pinch the windpipe and vocal cords. What sound does emerge is weak and thready. It also makes singing uncomfortable. It takes too much energy to force the air out. And so, you learn to be silent. Which is what the screens naturally teach the people anyway. You can teach someone to hold the hymnbook up properly, and sing aloud. You can’t move the screen down. It naturally and irrevocably teaches people not to sing.

And, as any one of the hundreds of studies of TV will tell you, the screen disengages the mind. I saw it. Children were not learning hymns. The parents were not trying to teach them. They were all zombies before the altar of convenience and technology.

I’ve always been rather old fashioned – and the accusations of it often come my way. But new is only better if it is better, if there is some advantage. A system that, by its very nature, encourages people not to sing, that shuts off the parts of the brain associated with learning, that disconnects the people from their heritage, that turns us from the singing church to the zombie church – how is that in any way beneficial? It wasn’t as if they didn’t have the funds to buy hymnals – they had them in the pew. At some point, someone must have said the magick words, “Evangelism! Visitors!”

But the church is not an outreach organization, as if we need to keep building the pyramid to be successful. The church quietly confesses the truth against the prevailing wisdom. In it we offer the forgiveness of sins. We offer a refuge from the day to day thorns and thistles of the world. Screens on the wall is to bring those thorns and thistles right into the holy place and offer them on a shiny 80-inch light-up platter for the people to digest.

If I were new in town, and just stopping by churches, I wouldn’t go back. I want to see a church where the people engage themselves in the service: the divine conversation between pastor and people drawn from Holy Scripture that echoes across the centuries. This didn’t even echo across the nave. The historic poetry which has been gathered from the pens of saints gone by, coupled with the music of the church, fell flat. The great artistry was lost amid the confusion and inappropriateness  of the medium. There is no way to fix it, to solve that, to make it better. The screens need to stay out.

It’s not a problem in my church. No one here suggests screens. It isn’t our thing, and it won’t be. But as I watched the people turn from engaged Christians to mindless consumers of new media, I wondered why anyone anywhere would suggest such a terrible judgment be imposed on their parish. Why anyone would seek out this frightful and subtle apostasy, and use good money to install it? It entertains. It amuses. It does not teach. And it confesses all the wrong things.

To ask the question is to answer it I suppose.

And, as with many things vacation, it made me glad to come home.

 

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Another Commercial

My posts the last few days have been generating a lot of FB discussion about catechizing. The most common one I hear from pastors is, “Why don’t we just use the LC to teach the SC?” That was my question. It’s why I wrote Teach These Things. And, it’s why I have spent the last decade working on Catechetics (Help bring that to market HERE!)

The kids who take catechesis from me can’t list the attributes of God. We barely even mention them. My older members remember having learned them, but they can’t list them either.

But what my catechumens can do is consider their place in life according to the Ten Commandments. This my older members can not do. The old system (1912, 1943, 1992, 2017) taught all sorts of technical detail about the commandments – details which were eminently forgettable. By following the outline of the Large Catechism, Teach These Things helps children relate the commandments to their lives. Having been at it for a little over a decade, the difference is stunning. My young adults have the ability to think about what God’s Word says they should do, and then compare it to their own conduct. Even if they forget the order of the commandments, or can’t recite them as well as they once could, they remember the content.

The genius of the Large Catechism is that it takes the word of Holy Scripture, and instead of trying to instill it in the head, it instills it in the heart.

If you’d like to try teaching scripture and the catechism the way Luther did, why not try Teach These Things?

And, once you fall in love with it, consider clicking HERE to support Catechetics: Fixing Confirmation. Together, we can make things better.

 

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That Time Again

It’s the time of year when curricula begins arriving in the mail. CPH’s Sunday School materials are being shipped. There are ads in my inbox for various Catechism teaching materials, etc.

And so, it’s time for my annual commercial.

Do you say to yourself, “How about instead of teaching all this other stuff, we just teach the catechism?”

Are you dissatisfied with the overly academic nature of other materials?

Are you wondering how your parish will afford all the materials, and the health insurance increase that is also being mailed out?

Have you found good materials that are designed for day schools, buy you only have an hour one day a week?

Well, my friends, I would encourage you to give “Teach These Things” a try. I’ve heard from pastors in Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook, and they’ve all said that it was really great. (Ok, would you believe, Wyoming, Indiana, and Illinois.)

It’s an all-in-one package. Nothing more to buy ever. Only $19.99.

It works with any version of Luther’s Small Catechism you like. (1943, 1992, 2017, ELS, WELS, Triglotta, etc.)

It teaches via scriptural narratives, catechism recitation, and theological discussion, instead of memorized lists containing the word “omni”.

It follows the pastoral pattern of instruction in the Large Catechism, not Melanchthon’s academic treatise “Loci Communes”.

If you click any of the links above, you can sample or order Teach These Things.

You can also look at other resources that are available, including a defense against the dangers of evolution, a book about Christian Living that clears up a lot of confusion about Law and Gospel, a biography of Luther

PLUS, the following FREE resources:

Catechism Review Game Show

The Promised Savior: A Christmas Program for Small Parishes (YES! FREE!)

Luther’s Latin Litany, IN LATIN (It’s harder to find than you might think!)

And MORE!

Check out my companion site, Teach These Things, TODAY!

 

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