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Archive for July, 2011

Richard John Neuhaus (a Lutheran pastor who later became a Roman Catholic priest) made popular the notion in Lutheran theological circles that the Lutheran Church is a “reforming movement” within the Catholic Church.  Pr Lou Smith of blessed memory, once said to me in response, “Mark, I was not baptized into a ‘movement’, but into the one holy, catholic and apostolic church”.  His comment turned me around the right way.

In a similar vein, I have an almost visceral reaction to the word “Lutheranism”.  Many good pastors and theologians will write about “Lutheranism” with great eloquence.  But we were not baptized into an “ism”, but the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, always being reformed by the Scriptures and within the written Word, His Law and Gospel. We are not merely adherents to a ‘system’, but baptized into Christ’s own body where Justification by grace through Faith in Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone.  The photo above on this blog is not of either an “ism” or a movement.  Yes, those who speak of the Church in those terms are well-meaning but it is not Biblical.   One famous evangelical said the Church was like a hospital.  Folks can nod their head in assent.  After all Jesus Himself compared Himself to a physician ( Matthew 9:11-13).   But I don’t know about you:  when you’re in a hospital, what’s the one thing you want to do?  Not be there!  Go home! Not once in the Bible is there that comparison.  When we are part of His Church we are home.  As one pastor said in a different context that it does not do well to import into the Church and theology other images and pictures besides the Biblical metaphors and similes.  By such importation, we can get way off the mark, even to remaking His Body into our own preferred picture:  see Liberal ProtestantISM.  And we can wander into abstractions, or church as partisan politics, instead of the  real picture. But indeed, to those who have been washed and believe, by the work of the Holy Spirit,  are part of Christ Jesus’ Body, with all it’s pain and joy, the real picture, icon:

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12)

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In an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar falls for a nurse who is quite cultured and loves classical music.  He goes to Hawkeye and Trapper for lessons in classical music.  Hawkeye gives Radar the names of some composers and then says, “…then if she mentions Bach, just say, ‘Ahhh, Bach'”.

He has been called, after Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the 5th evangelist.  In his day, he was not known beyond Germany.  After his death,  his music was rediscovered.  His output for 27 years in Leipzig for 4 churches was massive.  St. Augustine said that singing is praying twice: with the words and with the music.  Bach’s texts usually were the Bible and he put the Scripture to music.  I took a 1 credit course on Lutheran Hymnody at Concordia Junior College (Milwaukee,WI) with Prof. Ollie Ruprecht.  Prof. R. pointed out that for his day, Bach had a large library of 80 volumes, of which 60 were on Lutheran dogmatics.  Luther died in 1547, within 40 years before Bach’s birth.  Luther was a musician, a singer and a composer.  Bach continued singing the Gospel.  I may have the numbers wrong from Prof. R.’s course, but you get the picture:  Bach was a Lutheran, baptized into the evangelical and catholic Church.  He was an orthodox evangelical (BTW:  to this day, the Lutheran Church in Germany as called evangelical) Christian. Ahh, Bach.

Take a look and especially a listen to the BBC special on Bach.  You may want to watch/listen to the complete series on YouTube.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness. You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given Your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth Your glory in his music.  Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your new creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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Lessons:  St. Matthew 13:  44—52  Psalm 125  Romans 8: 31-39      Deuteronomy 7: 6-9

“Do good.”  “Keep the commandments.”  We heard this in today’s lessons.  This is the Lord’s constant will for Israeland for the Church.  There is great reward in doing such.  Life is engendered.  The innocent are protected.  The poor and thehungry are fed.  Marriage and family are promoted. True worship is encouraged.  People rest from a 24/7 contest for more and more. We are in the region of the 10 Commandments.  The exhortation to “do good” and “keep the commandments” can not be seen, though, in isolation.  Moses tells the people of Israel to “keep the commandments” but that exhortation is based upon the Lord’s mighty deeds with and for Israel.  Why did the Lord choose them?  Elect them?  Because they were the greatest!?  Heavens no!  We are told:  because they were the fewest and slaves in Egypt that the Lord, “…loves you” and “…has set His love on you”.   The Lord says Israel is his treasured possession. Further the Lord remembered His own oath to the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not to forsake them.  The Lord is good to His Word, to His Name. Israel was lost.  The Lord found them.  Buried in the brutality of slavery.  Not only to the Egyptians but also enslaved to their own desires and lusts and wants.  He dug them out and led them forth.  He loves them.  Do good.  Keep the commandments. As His Son said, the path is narrow and hard that leads to life and few that are that find it, but way is wide and easy that leads to destruction and many find it. He found them.  Keep My Word.

By itself, do good, keep the commandments, is nothing new.  Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7: 12.  Yes.  This has been called the “golden rule”.  It is.  Many have said that the golden rule is what Christianity is all about.  In fact, rules and regs is the way Christianity is mostly characterized as.  This makes the Christian’s faith on par with a Buddhist or a Muslim or a moral atheist.  I am not saying this is bad, that is, to keep the law, His Word with our fellow citizens. The Lord is clear:  this is good.  But a Lutheran Christian in particular knows that keeping the Law won’t earn heaven from that very same Law.  I have not done the good that I want to do but instead I have done the very thing I hate, as is stated in Romans 7.   But there is something else. Actually Someone else.

Once again the parables are about the “kingdom of heaven”, the reign of heaven.  And in today’s lesson about “joy”, the joy of being found.  Rules and regs…look at it this way:  the family is in the car for a long trip and the children are misbehaving and Dad smiles broadly and declares:

“Hey kids!  I have come up with  a new rule!! Aren’t you joyous?!”

And the kids respond, “Oh, yes, Dad tell us the new rule!  We need the new rule so we do not misbehave!”

Dad is looking at the newspaper:  “Oh, look, Congress has passed a new law!  That makes my day!”

It’s Christmas and you open a present with a something to help your life, oh, it’s Christian self-help book on how to loose weight.

You get the picture.  OnMt.Sinai, when the Law was given, there was smoke and thunder andIsraelcould not touch the mountain lest they die:  not much joy onMt.Sinaiwhen the Law was given.  None whatsoever.  No joy on that other mount: Golgotha. On Sinai sin is prescribed and described.  On Golgotha sin is atoned.  And on the third day, utter joy:  He is risen!

So in two of these short and yet crazy, wild parables someone finds a pearl or a hidden treasure and sells all he has to buy it.  Can you imagine one of these guys getting home?  “Hi, dear.”

“What’s new”, asks his wife.

“I bought this perfect pearl,” he says with a smile that won’t quit.

“That’s nice, dear, what did you pay for it?”

“I sold everything we have to buy it! The house is not ours!”

I do not think dinner that night would be pleasant.

The man finding the treasure calls up his wife:

“Hi Hon…Where am I?  Oh, the Simpson farm…What am I doing here?  I bought it…Yup, all 1,280 acres…Why?  I found buried treasure on the farm, so I covered up again and bought the field so I can have it…Yes, that’s how much I wanted the buried treasure…No, I don’t need a psychiatrist.”   And in the hidden treasure parable the guy “in his joy” literally bought the field, he bought the farm,  to have the treasure.

One way these two parables have been interpreted is that the hidden treasure and the pearl are God’s grace.  God’s grace in Jesus Christ is priceless, in terms of worldly treasure, a pearl of great price, etc.  So the disciple needs and seeks God’s grace.  No doubt about that but that is not what the parable is about.  If it were, sell all that you have to buy God’s grace?!?  You better start coughing up the money now. Now there’s a new stewardship campaign. Sadly it would work to bring in money, gilt with guilt, but it does not work in terms of God’s grace in His Son.  We can not buy God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  In fact, the only way I am downright joyful in buying something is when I can get it a half-price! Not an exorbitant price.  No half-price sale in these parables. What’s going on here?

The Lord said ofIsraelthat they are his “treasured possession”, out of all the peoples on the earth.  In His parables about the reign of heaven it is about the reign of heaven in and with His beloved Son Jesus Christ.  He goes seeking and searching and finding, as in another parable like a shepherd in search of his lost sheep.  The hidden treasure and the pearl are His disciples:  you.  Remember at this time of the Gospel narrative, things are going against Jesus and the 12. He tells them:  I found you.  With joy I brought you to Myself.  I dug you out.  The we hear of joy in a parable about the lost sheep.  There is more joy in heaven over one sinner repenting than 99 who do not.  The shepherd carried the 300 pound smelly sheep home to himself.  What was of great value, one life, is found, paid for, dug out.  Notice that the Lord’s currency exchange is not the same as theUnited Statesor any country for that matter.  In the first parable, the man bought the farm to have the hidden treasure he found.  “He bought the farm” is a grim saying about dying.  Jesus bought the farm to have us, not with silver or gold, but His own precious blood. Priceless.  So is the price of one life: yours and your neighbor’s.  He is risen!  “Oh wondrous thought, He found me when I sought Him not!”  He catches the fish in His net and yes some will be unclean and unrepentant. As if He is saying:  “Fear not, again as in the parable of the wheat and the weed, I will sort it out.  I have caught you alive because you were buried and My will and My word is catch others alive.  Spread the net. I take care of the birds of air, and are you not worth more than they?  I paid salvation’s price for you out of  My love which does not die, but is alive.”

Truly, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

 This verse is unique in all the 4 Gospels.  Some have suggested that Matthew included it because it described him to a tee, the former tax collector now a scribe in the reign of heaven.  Matthew brought out new and old, both testaments, all of Scripture, Law and Promise is treasured Word to us all. When we grow up we realize that our parents’ commands were good because they loved us.  Golden rules are His Law. His golden Rule is in and through Jesus Christ reigns in our life.  Without mistake and without mistakes in His Word in the Scriptures toward us so that we believe and live in Him.  Found.  Nothing in all creation can take us away from the One Who has found us and dug us out and made us alive.

Before I was ordained I worked as a youth pastor at a Presbyterian congregation.  Pr. R. would ask me to preach for him when he was on vacation.  One summer it was two Sundays in a row.  On the first Sunday we received word that Pr. R. had suffered a heart attack on his way to his daughter’s home in Arizona.  The next Saturday the phone tree was activated:  Pr. R. had died.  My text was the second lesson.

 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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On June 11, 2004 President Ronald Reagan’s funeral was conducted at The Washington National Cathedral.  I watched it.  As a pastor I like to watch national events which involved a Christian rite of any sort, just in case something is done amiss, I can be prepared for, say, ‘Pastor,  at William and Kate’s wedding, they…’, and I can have a response to a request, ‘We want trees in the sanctuary.’  No, I have not been asked that but you can imagine it!

Back to 2004: My oldest son, who was 13 at the time said to me, “Dad, I know why you to watch Reagan’s funeral.”  I bit, “Why?” “So, you can criticize the pastor’s sermon.”  He got me.  But what I did criticize was the reading of the Gospel.  The Text was St. John 14:  1-6, except not all of verse 6 was read.  “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  The priest stopped there and proclaimed, The Gospel of the Lord.  But he did not read the rest of verse 6: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

At my last parish as an ELCA pastor, I attended a funeral there this past weekend.  In both the bulletin and the reading of the Gospel, again St. John 14: 1-6, the same deal:  those last words were not read.

I talked about this with a member of the mission here.  I said it was at the very least it was intellectually dishonest.  It was misrepresentation of Christianity and the New Testament.  The member responded, ‘In other words, it was a lie, Pastor’.  And Satan is the “Father of lies” (John 8:44), we commented almost in unison.

But what happens to the sermon, the doctrine, the message with such a lie?  Now the pastor’s funeral sermon was basically a bio about the brother.  Then he concluded, ‘J. was really tired his last year from fighting his disease.  He needed a rest and Jesus gave him rest on (the date of his death)’.  Then he cited St. Matthew 11: 28:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  The labor and the heavy laden are those who can not save themselves by their own deeds because of sin, this does not speak to a brother dying on a particular date.   After that he cited a whole bunch of Scripture passages that added up, as they were selectively cited:  we are all saved. Believe THAT.  He said nothing about Jesus’ death  and resurrection.  Not a word about forgiveness, that J. was a sinner of Christ’s own redeeming. That faith is a gift J. received by the work of the Holy Spirit.   He did not need too.  Jesus is just a way, a truth, a life.  Not the way, the truth, the life. He said nothing about the love that bled for sinners, the very blood of God.  It was  a Bloodless sermon.

Problem:  the brother was not a sinner for whom Jesus died and rose.  In other words, a feel good sermon, God loves everybody and we are all God’s children and an uplift.  The mission member has chronicled this kind of preaching with greater pervasiveness in her 80 years on earth.  It sounds right…well, almost right. In other words:  Gospel without Law.  Only by His Law can we be shown to be sinners and the absolute reason of the Father sending His Son:  the only Way of forgiveness and so salvation.

The pastor preached a law-less sermon.  It is like telling a child only yes, without a no within earshot.  We have seen the disaster this child-rearing has caused.  Also within the Church.  He probably thought he was doing good, but he was being indulgent.   In 2 Thessalonians 2 the antichrist is called “the lawless one”, not once but several times.  He is in the true temple of God.  He is now.  The mission member remembers when she was girl in Iowa she heard a fiery Baptist preacher say, “When the antichrist comes, will we even know it?”  He/she will sound so good and smooth and those pastors who preach Law and Gospel will be castigated as “negative”, “fundamentalistic”, out of tune with the times, etc.  I think this passage, St. Matthew 5: verse 19 is right on target here:  “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”   Emphasis my own:  The operative word is “teaches”.    There is only one tree in the sanctuary:  the Cross and the antichrist does not want it in there. I hope when the antichrist is revealed, by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, you will recognize him/her.

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