Kavanaugh, the LCMS, and Not-Beanbag

There’s an old saying “Politics ain’t beanbag.” I suppose today’s hipsters would say “cornhole.” But either way, politics is a dirty game. Skulduggery is common. We saw it with the Kavanaugh hearings (on both sides). When this happens, the losing side says “They played dirty and won, they haven’t seen anything yet. We’ll go even lower.” This results in an endless cycle of racing to the bottom, with both sides fighting each other in the mud. Lost in all of this is that they were never supposed to be fighting against their opponents, they were supposed to be fighting for the people they rule over.

And now, we see a similar thing happening the LCMS. A new campaign website is up. It is anonymous. it makes vague charges about power hungry officials, but gives not one example of misconduct. The charges are so vaguely written that you could apply them to congress, the Supreme Court, your local town council, or my parenting style.

If you click on the donate button, it used to say the donation was going to a specific congregation. Now it has an anonymous contact form, and they’ll let you know if they want your money. I used to live in Chicago, where the story was told of a campaign volunteer who showed up and was asked, “Who sent you.” Eager to help, he answered, “No one”, only to be told, “Go away. We don’t want nobody who don’t know nobody.” Apparently this campaign is being run the same way. Our Lord’s word, “who ever does evil hates the light” comes to mind here. Each election cycle the descent continues toward the mud.

Years ago, there was a district, led by a less-than faithful district President. A challenger was found to stand against him in the election. The general consensus was that the challenger could win. He warned his friends not to go negative. If they wanted him to run against a sitting District President, they could talk about what his vision was for the district. But they were not to talk about errors his opponent had made. Vague charges, uncorroborated stories which would damage the reputation of this churchman – these were the hallmarks of the world, not the church. His friends, in their zeal, ignored his advice. On the floor of the convention, he apologized for the negative campaign, and withdrew his name. In so doing, he made clear that, in the church, we behave as if we are in the church.

Now, there is an anonymous website, with vague charges against a sitting President, and a campaign to challenge him. If that is the way some wish to campaign, so be it. But I hope it fails. I hope that the candidate they are promoting publicly states “This is not right. I will not run under these circumstances. I have differences with President Harrison. I would do things differently. But we both believe the church should be above anonymous and petty charges and insinuations.” He could lay out a vision of what he sees the church doing – publicly for all to see. President Harrison did that 9 years ago, to great effect. He didn’t bring vague charges. He didn’t go negative. He laid out a vision for what he would like to have happen. Some ideas worked: He said he thought that 85 percent of the synod could come to agree on worship. At the last convention close to that number voted that Lutheran Service Book was a wonderful resource for the church, and that the Divine Service was neat (NB: This may not have been the exact wording of the resolution). No one can say, “This guy said we would come together on worship, and now he’s got the synod publicly endorsing a hymnal! Where did that come from?” Based on the website for the challenger, it seems the 15% are less satisfied with this outcome, and perhaps want a more divergent unity in worship. But it’s hard to say. So far, the candidate has been silent.

Similarly, President Harrison said he was opposed to the structural changes, and wanted to see changes in oversight. The synod told him to implement those changes anyway, which he has done as best he can, and he has worked to make changes in oversight. No surprises there. He did what he was told, and did what he said he would do.

Other ideas have been shown in time to have been… overly idealistic. The Koinonia project seems to have stalled with little to show for it. As a participant, I can say that some seeds have been sown. But it will be decades before we see if that scattered planting bears any fruit among myriad weeds.

But in all these things, President Harrison has basically done what he said he would do. Some are unhappy with the pace. Others don’t like the direction at all. But the direction is not a surprise, and the pace is what happens when ideas come up against reality.

As for the challenger… I would love for him to lay out his vision for the church so all can see. Be specific. Don’t just say, “listen to all voices!” Don’t just say “Congregations are important?” What does that mean? How do you see that being carried out in an administration? When the synod has “Changed horses midstream” it’s because the challenger clearly laid out a vision for a different synod administration, not because of vague anonymous charges from shadowy websites. J.A.O Preus spoke and wrote about the importance of scripture. Dr. Barry toured the country speaking to churches; many of his writings were published for all to see. Dr. Harrison published “It’s Time” – practically a manifesto of churchmanly vision. He has hewn to that, by and large.

Most importantly, President Maier must decry these anonymous attempts to smear the administration with vague charges. It is not churchly. The only way to avoid the mud-pit is if those in a position to benefit from its use renounce it. If there are ungodly things happening at 1333 S. Kirkwood road, then state them publicly and explicitly. Many objected to President Kieschnick’s sale of KFUO. One of his Vice Presidents – usually very supportive of him – even wrote an open letter against it. And he signed his name. District Preisdent Maier could learn a lot from Former-Synod-Vice-President Maier, his uncle.

A specific act, deserves a specific charge. If there are specific sins of the Harrison Administration, what are they?   Absent those charges, publicly made, I am content with President Harrison. As I see things, the bar for un-electing a man in the church is high. Even if I would prefer someone else and think they would do a better job, if the person in office is faithful, I will vote for them if they are willing to serve. So, I don’t see President Maier getting my vote at this time. President Harrison has not been unfaithful. I have disagreed with him at times. But elections in the church should never be an opinion contest. He is the President of our Synod. He is worthy of our respect, and unless he has been unfaithful, our votes. I would say the same if President Maier were in office. I’m glad he won re-election in Michigan with 78% of the vote. It means that 78% of the district agrees you should not depose a man without reason. (I don’t judge whether the other 22% had a reason. I’ve been gone too long to have informed opinions about my home district).

Applied to the synod, this means that, absent a specific and public charge, I will vote for President Harrison. In an open election, things might be different. If President Maier were to lay out a vision of the synod that is faithful to scripture and our confessions, I would certainly perk my ears up. But if all I have to go on is unsubstantiated rumors, vague assertions, and anonymous websites, with no renunciation by the man who is endorsed by that website, then I have an insight into his character. It’s one thing to put together a shadowy list. That’s been happening in our synod for years. I wish it didn’t happen. But at least those lists (on either side) put forward qualified men to serve. They don’t tear down the opposition.

If District President Maier wishes at some point to become Synod President Maier, I would encourage him to do the churchly thing, the honorable thing, the Christ-like thing. Don’t let shadows tear down a good man. Stop the skullduggery. The church is better than that. And I pray you are too.

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Sermon for Trinity 19: Healing of the Paralytic

In the prayer of the day, we asked that God would keep us safe in body and soul, , so that we can do works pleasing to God. In the Gospel reading we see an example of that – Jesus shows us what it is we are to do. Because yes, Jesus is the Savior from our sin. His death on the cross paid the penalty – we can never repay that, and the forgiveness, life and salvation he gives is given freely to all who believe in his name, without any merit or worthiness in us.

But there is another aspect to Christ’s work – and it’s one we must never forget. He not only fulfilled His heavenly father’s will on the cross, he was obedient to that will his whole life. The technical term for this is the active obedience of Christ. It means that as Gods Son, Jesus was not subject to the Law. He reigns at the right hand of the Father in glory. And yet, he willingly subjected himself to it. He not only allowed himself to be crucified, before that he actively feared, loved, trusted in his Father above all things, and loved his neighbor as himself.

When we talk about doing the things of God, there are two realms to consider – the church and the world. That is how God gives us his law. The first three commandments require that we Love the Lord God, the last seven require us to love our neighbor. When we break the commandments, we are not trusting God for all things, and we are not loving our neighbor.  Jesus keeps all of these commandments – and he does it not out of compulsion, but in love to you and to his Father in heaven.

So, how does Jesus do that? He helps those in need, and he brings them the Gospel of forgiveness. Now it’s true that Jesus does these in an extraordinary way that is not open to us. He forgives sins directly, and on his own authority as the Son of God. And he can take away even sickness, undo even death with only a word. We obviously have not been given that power. We can not heal with a word. False teachers pretend to do it. But it’s a scam. Not that the apostles didn’t occasionally heal. Not that it can’t happen. We pray that God would heal those among us who are sick. We trust that he will hear our prayer and respond according to his merciful will. But we can’t just walk up to someone who is paralyzed and say, “Rise take up your mattress and walk. We could bring them food to help them. Drive them to the doctor or to Physical Therapy while they learn to cope with their disability. There are a thousand ways we can show love to them, but we don’t have the raw power Jesus did. God doesn’t expect us to do things at the level Jesus did – it is not given to us to do things like that. They are miraculous. They may happen, oftentimes medicine can come up with no logical reason why someone was healed. But we do not assume that they will. We do not walk up to the sick and command that the illness leave them. That is God-territory. Jesus wields it in love to his neighbor. All of which really just means, “In Today’s Gospel reading he heals the guy.”

But he does something else for that man – and he does it first. He forgives the man his sins. This is also God-territory. Man can not just go around declaring forgiveness of sins in God’s name, any more than anyone here can randomly appoint members of the Supreme Court. There’s a process. President appoints, Senate gives their consent. So, forgiveness is God’s to give. When the people hear Jesus forgiving sin, they think it’s blaspheme. Calling yourself God, pretending to have his authority. But Jesus shows them he has the authority, by showing them he has powers reserved only for God. The man walks.

And that is a great comfort to us. Because Jesus can forgive sins. He has the authority. He is the one who earned the forgiveness by his death on the cross. And he now comes to us with that forgiveness.

And he does it in a tangible way. It isn’t just forgiveness as thoughts in the heart. Jesus actually gives the authority to forgive sins to the church. He tells the apostles after the resurrection, “Whoever sins you forgive they are forgiven, whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained.” The church is given the authority to forgive and retain sins on Jesus behalf and at his word. That’s amazing. God power, given to man. And it isn’t just given to one or two. All Christians can forgive sins. Not standing in the chancel, not publicly on behalf of the whole church. But every Christian can speak the forgiveness of sins to their neighbor. Husbands forgive wives, wives forgive husbands, parents forgive children, children forgive parents. Friends forgive friends. Each Christian can speak the word of absolution to his neighbor when they are sinned against. Saint Augustine used this example: If two men are stranded in a boat on the ocean, one a Christian, the other not, one man could baptize the other. And then the newly baptized Christian could absolve his baptizer of his sins. That’s the power Christi gives the church – that any baptized Christian can forgive sins privately in the stead of Christ. Publicly, on behalf of Christ and his church, he gives pastors to do that. To preach the good news, to pray for the saints on earth, to forgive and retain sins on his behalf. The entire church is ordered so that sinners would receive forgiveness. That’s what we do.

The works of mercy flow from that forgiveness. We show love to our neighbor as we help him in every bodily need, defend and support his marriage, for those who are married, love and honor for the spouse, help him to improve and protect his possessions and income, defend his reputation, all while living in godly peace with our neighbor, and praying for those who rule over us. That’s the pattern of live for the Christian. We see that in Jesus work in the parable today. He forgives the sins of the man brought to him, because that’s our most desperate need.

He also heals the man, because that’s the physical need that the man has.

We look at this and are tempted to see it the other way around – as if the healing is the important thing, and the forgiveness something small. But that’s a sin clouded picture. Forgiveness is what we need. Its our sin that earns us the judgment of death. And not just death in this world, eternal death. Jesus comes with forgiveness by his death, so that you would not die eternally.

In this world we still struggle with sin. Our flesh is corrupted by it. We see that working itself out in our own bodies. They fail us. But the real corruption is in our souls, which are by nature turned away from the things of God.

Jesus forgives your sin, and brings you back into the loving arms of your heavenly Father. That’s the wonderful gift he gives – that you are no longer an enemy of God. And he even sends the Spirit so that you would have faith to believe the promise. So that you would receive the gift he gives. So that you would turn back from your sin, so that you would turn to God. So that you would again fear love and trust in him above all things.

And now, renewed by the Holy Spirit, you can do the works of God. Oh, not god-works – like healing. You don’t get special powers. But you do get – as we are about to pray – a clean heart, a renewed and right spirit. A beginning is made in you through Baptism. You are joined to Christ’s death, you are brought into the kingdom of his grace and forgiveness, and you are now able to desire the things of God. To love and trust in him for every good thing. Your heart is made alive. God has taken from you the heart of stone, and replaced it with a heart of flesh.

Thanks be To God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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Sermon for Michael Mass

Today’s sermon is available both in print and audio versions. Be sure to collect them all! Trade with your friends!

Audio here:

Text is after the jump…

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Sermon for Trinity 16

As I prepared for this week’s sermon, I read through Luther’s House Postil for the day. There must have been some sort of problem in Wittenberg that week, because his first sermon is about the comfort of the Gospel, and how even parents disciplining their children with a switch is a comfort, and so we should receive such discipline with thanksgiving. Reading through the Gospel reading, I didn’t read much about switches and rods, so I left that part out, and went with the outline for his second sermon: The comfort of the Gospel when facing death. Below the jump:  Continue reading

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Hermeneutical Principles

The less clear sections of scripture must be explained by the more clear sections, not the other way around. No one claims that the parable of the unjust steward is the Sedes Doctrinae for the doctrine of justification. For that, we turn to the parables one chapter prior. Absurd example, of course. And yet, the Lutheran Church has long had to contend with those who claim that “This is my body” must be interpreted according to a less clear word of the Lord. The correct method is to interpret Paul (or, if one is inclined toward a sacramental interpretation of John 6) or the word of Christ, “I am the bread of Life”, in light of that clear and unambiguous word of our Lord.

The example of the unjust steward shows the folly of such an approach. And yet I have seen a disturbing trend toward using examples of scriptural conduct (less clear) to interpret Divine Command (more clear) regarding matters in the church. This is nonsense.  No one would say that the commandment “Thou Shalt not Kill” does not apply to Christians because God said Joshua must kill the Canaanites. No one would claim that wives should take side jobs as ladies of the evening, because God commanded Hosea to take as a wife a woman who worked in that profession. And no one would claim that sacrificing children was only forbidden in the Old Testament (Molech) not the New, based on the example of God himself, who sacrificed his own Son for us.

Yet there are those who claim that the clear command “husband of one wife” must be interpreted in light of the less clear example of King David. Those unfit for ministry especially like to make this application. Similarly, there are those who claim that the more clear command “those who work of the Gospel should live of the Gospel” should be interpreted in light of the less clear example of Saint Paul, who worked as a tent-maker. The church is commanded to behave a certain way in both of these matters. If it fails to do so, it is in violation of God’s command. Those responsible will reap the reward for their fleshly pursuit.

Yes, God is able to grant exceptions to any or all of his commandments according to his good and perfect will. But those exceptions are sui generis. They do not become examples for us of godly conduct, unless God says they are to be used that way. This is especially true when there is a clear command of God concerning these matters. In those cases, we had better stick to the clear command of God.

Anything less, as the Apostles says, would be a deception. After all, God is not mocked. And I’m pretty sure those words mean what they say.

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Sermon for Trinity 15

Stewardship sermon? If you want to call it that. It’s still the word of God.

***

You can not serve God and money, says Jesus. It’s true. To serve God, you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. You must also love your neighbor as yourself. That leaves little room for love of money.

No one sets out to serve money. Money exists as a convenient way to exchange goods and services – it was developed to help make it easier to acquire daily bread. Which is to say, money exists to serve and support you. But it’s easy to become enthralled – always after that next little bit of wealth. Until your stuff isn’t supporting this body and life, this body and life are spending their time supporting all the stuff. Idolatry to wealth is an easy entanglement to fall into, especially in a country as wealthy as ours. And it is difficult to stop idolatry to wealth once it starts.

That’s why scripture warns us so often against it. Jesus today points out how foolish it is to worry after money and other things. Look at the flowers – God provides for them, and they literally never move. Or the birds – they work to get their food for the day. But they don’t have a storage pantry. They just trust each day that food will be provided by God. And you know what? It is provided for them.

And what good does worrying after those things do? Does it improve your stuff? Does it lengthen your life? The Gentiles – Jesus means those outside of the church – chase after stuff. Why would you want to model your life on that? Last week we heard Paul talk about how, when we were of the world, we went after worldly pleasures. But now, directed by the Spirit, we look after the things of the spirit. As Jesus says today, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What things will be added? The things we need to support this body and life. Don’t spend your life grasping at those things. Instead, trust that God will provide them, and spend your time seeking the things of God.

Luther instructs the children in his small catechism, telling them that God provides for all our needs of body and soul. When it comes to daily bread, he says, God provides it even without our prayer, even to all wicked people. And so we pray in this petition that we would receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. Giving thanks is something else we heard last week – the Samaritan leper that returned to give thanks to Jesus when he was cleansed. When we chase after wealth for wealth’s sake, it’s impossible to be grateful for what God has given. We are sure we will be thankful once we achieve more. But there is never quite enough for that thanks. We always need to be go after just a little more. And so, worry fills the heart of the greedy, instead of thanks. And it’s that worry that Jesus warns against. Because when we worry about the cares of life, it means we aren’t trusting in God to provide. And the first commandment requires that we trust in him above all things. It is trust that makes something a god. If our trust is in wealth, then that becomes our God, not Jesus and his work for us on the cross.

As one pastor put it, Jesus is risen from the grave, has ascended into heaven, and now reigns at the right hand of the Father. There is no such thing as an emergency in the life of the Christian. We hear that word of the Lord at Ascension Day. We’ve spent the last 17 weeks learning that lesson in its fullness. It’s easy to say, “Don’t worry. We’ve got the resurrection.” It’s harder to remember it when the cares of this world pile up on us. When health turns to sickness, when sickness turns to death. When we lose someone close to us. When our life’s work is consumed in a week of wildfires. When a job disappears. When friends abandon. When family is broken apart by sin. That’s why we must continually hear of the death and resurrection of our Lord. We preach Christ Crucified. Because this world rejects that truth utterly. The world wants nothing to do with the forgiveness life and salvation Jesus offers. And we live in this world of sin and death. We are weak and we stumble. We must be constantly reminded of the solid foundation we have in Jesus Christ. Of the wonderful salvation from sin he gives to all  who believe on his name. We come here each week to receive that gift of forgiveness, to be reconciled through God to Christ.

And it’s why as we gather throughout the summer to hear the Word of God, we hear instruction for how to live according to God’s word of promise. And this Gospel lesson – which seems so simple – comes after we’ve covered a lot of other ground. Today’s Gospel reading isn’t easy – don’t worry about the cares of this world, focus on the things of God. It’s easy in theory. But to hear and learn it rightly is difficult. Because it is easy to start thinking that the point of Jesus work is to make us better people. As if somehow the goal of the Gospel is our obedience to the law. That’s not it. We no longer live according to the Law because we have been redeemed by Jesus from the Law. But that doesn’t mean that we now give in to the works of the flesh. Jesus work saves us. We now have the opportunity for joyful response to that loving work.

In the Old Testament lesson we heard about Elijah – when he went to live with the widow of Zerapheth and her son. The three survived on just enough flour and oil for one loaf of bread. Each day it was renewed so there was enough just for the day. A great miracle – but doled out in small daily sized portions. God takes care of them. He doesn’t give them so much that their pantry is overflowing. Just enough to have bread for today – just enough that they don’t die. They have enough to sustain them each day. That’s the prayer we pray in the Lord’s prayer – give us this day our daily bread – although the truth is that we have much more than just daily bread. We have all that we need to support this body and life for today, and tomorrow, and many days beyond. And yet, the more we get, the harder it is to be grateful. If you’re hungry, and you get a surprise meal, then you are thankful for the food you didn’t know you’d be eating. But if you’re pulling food out of the pantry, it’s just this thing you do. Thankfulness can get lost in the ordinariness of the moment.

In the Epistle reading Saint Paul instructs us regarding our life in the Spirit. What is that supposed to look like? We are to take care of each other. Bear one another’s burdens, he says. Then, in a verse that Luther quotes in the Table of Duties, he says, “One who is taught must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked.” Pastors are to be charity cases – living off of the offerings of the people of God. Why? So that they can follow the example of the Apostles and attend to the Word of God and prayer, and not be weighed down with the cares of this world. We are to set our minds on things above, not worldly things. We are told to sow in the spirit, and reap eternal rewards. And to do good to others – especially, he says, for those of the household of faith. That means other members of the church. Each Christian has a responsibility to make sure that our fellow members do not lack their daily bread.

This is a practical working out of the prayer we pray after receiving the Sacrament of the Altar – that we would grow in faith toward God, and in fervent love toward one another. That two—pronged approach is how we are to model our lives.

A few weeks ago we heard of the Pharisee, who didn’t believe that Jesus forgave his sins – mostly because he didn’t believe he had any sins to forgive. Even this non-believer was able to give generously from the bounty of the Lord. The tithe – 10% – was the standard in Jesus day. Jesus complains that they counted even down to ten percent of mint leaves, but did it without love in their hearts, and thereby violated the law of God.

What does that mean for us? Can we, in love do as well as the heathen and non-believer do out of obligation? Can we receive the gift of God with thanksgiving, while also supporting the work of the church and showing love to our neighbor? Is that too much to ask of those redeemed and given eternal salvation?

If you think, “By this act I am fulfilling my duty and therefore making sure God will have to love me”, you do it from obligation, not from a heart that is responding in love. Be careful – this is a hard one. Preachers struggle to get the right balance between Law and Gospel. It’s easy to make it seem as if we earn something, instead of receiving the grace and mercy of God freely for Christ’s sake. It’s easy to make it seem as if the grace and mercy of God are an end in themselves, and now that the law is fulfilled, we can continue to live according to the flesh. Both errors are to be rejected. We don’t earn our salvation. But, having been saved, we walk according to the spirit. As we confess in the Augsburg Confession, “For this is Christian perfection: that we fear God honestly with our whole hearts, and yet have sincere confidence, faith, and trust that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious, merciful God; that we may and should ask and pray God for those things of which we have need, and confidently expect help from him in every affiliation connected with our particular calling and station in life; and that meanwhile we do good works for others and diligently attend to our calling.”

And we must leave it at this, as we do each week in the liturgy – that we pray God would lead us to greater faith in him, and in greater love toward our neighbor. That he would grant this to us, not for our merits, but solely in mercy and love, for Jesus sake. Amen.

 

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Sermon for Trinity 14

The Gospel for Trinity 14 is the same as the Gospel for Thanksgiving, which is coming up in just a few weeks. How to distinguish between the two? Once again, the Lectionary helps us. The Epistle admonishes us to abstain from sin, and to strive after the fruits of the Spirit. The Collect reminds us that without the help and strength given to us by God through the Spirit, we only fall. Any good we do is because of the Spirit’s work through us, not our own strength. This is how that looked in sermon form this past Sunday in Wheatland (After the jump):

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