Monthly Archives: October 2010

Not when, or where , or who…but How, How does the Kingdom Come?

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The sermon text was Luke 18:1-8, but if you want the very important context you need to read Luke 17:20 – 18:8.

The Pharisees ask when. When is the Kingdom coming? The disciples ask where literally, but are really asking who, who is in the kingdom? Jesus responds now and you. The kingdom is within you. (Luke 17:21) The real question is how. How does that one to whom the Kingdom has come act? They act like this widow.

This widow is under an unrighteous judge. She has no reason to expect justice, but still she pursues it. We as residents of the kingdom in this unrighteous world have no reason to expect justice here and now, but still we work for it. We work for it here, because we know the perfect is coming.

This sermon was a little longer, and I’m pretty sure that reading it isn’t the same as hearing it. My proof reader, my sainted mother, thought it was nuts. She just didn’t get it. Then I preached it over the phone. And she liked it much better. A reminder that the Word of God is primarily oral. The Word comes by hearing. It also makes a difference that we as a congregation had a baptism. Reading this you would not see or be part of that. And Baptism is an important visible sign of the kingdom and part of the How answer.

Rabbi Shmuley says…

If you haven’t seen Rabbi Shmuley, you haven’t seen TV in a bit. He’s an orthodox Rabbi that had his own show called Shalom in the Home. If you can imagine such a thing, he’s your wise and caring downhome uncle Rebbe. This is an interesting article that probably catches many religious people’s views on homosexuality.

It is kinda all over the place. As an orthodox Rabbi, he doesn’t deny the Levitical ban on homosexuality, but interestingly he want to pull a Christian move; he writes…

Homosexuality is a religious, not a moral, sin. A moral sin involves injury to an innocent party. Who is harmed when two unattached, consenting adults are in a relationship? Homosexuality is akin to the prohibition against lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating bread during Passover; there is nothing immoral about it, but it violates the divine will.

Rabbi Shmuley says homosexuality is a Sabbath or Ceremonial law. He’s bound to those. Christians say they’ve been fulfilled in Christ. While the moral law is binding, the ceremonial has been put away in the face of the new covenant. And Rabbi Shmuley wants to say just ignore that rule. Concentrate on the other 611 laws. That’s enough.

What I wonder is for Shmuley, what is gained by calling homosexuality a religious sin? Sure, he gets to put the uncomfortable fact of his opposition on an unreasonable God, but he still ends up pointing out the problem with the entire law. We can’t keep it. Not a jot. Not a tittle. You don’t have to be homosexual to be in the same position. Lightening the load of the law is not the problem. The problem is denying its answer. Reconciliation in one person, Christ, on the cross.

It is easier to grant everyone basic humanity when we are all under the cross.

And the answers are…

I could have guessed this. I sent in three questions to the CPH CEO in the ask the CEO anything. Two tough ones and a softball.

They answered the softball. Here is the softball response to
3) If you could have every pastor in synod relay one message from CPH to their congregation, what would that message be?

It was interesting that they wanted me to see this video as an answer to this question.

1) What is the thinking behind binding CPH so closely to one translation of the Bible? As a publisher, wouldn’t publishing an LSB-NLT or LSB-NIV be an attractive proposition?

I’m pretty dumb, but that is not a answer to my question. A more honest answer would have been to just remain silent or answer something like:
A) the synod convention in 199x recommended the ESV
B) our in house pastoral counsel says the ESV is what all Lutheran’s should be using
C) it would be attractive as a publisher to meet a customer want/need like different translations with the Lutheran Study Notes, but we want to maintain a consistent voice. That is why we as a publisher have chosen to use only the ESV.

But that would have required more trust and honesty than can be generated at those levels. I would also add that my question is inappropriate in what is a marketing campaign which is supposed to make them look good. I would have been absolutely floored and jumping up and down in delight if they had given that straight answer even though I don’t like it from a policy/practice standpoint. It would have meant that they are treating customers and each other as adults and can tell the truth about themselves. Which to be fair not many institutions or people can.

I guess two points. CPH is the in house publisher and we should support it. They do good work at what they do – publishing very conservative hymnals, Sunday School curriculum and study material. But…They are seriously politically and institutionally hidebound. We can’t expect leadership or innovation out of the publishing house. Until the leadership posts of the LCMS feel like they can answer questions like these, it is hard to place real trust or feel like anything is moving in the right direction. Step one is always to be able to tell the truth.

But then again, I’m just a snippy little country parson who doesn’t know his place.

CPH ask the CEO

Concordia Publishing House is running an interesting viral campaign.

I asked three questions…
Given the changes in publishing technology and distribution (e-readers, print-on-demand, amazon, etc.) I guess I have a three questions:
1) What is the thinking behind binding CPH so closely to one translation of the Bible? As a publisher, wouldn’t publishing an LSB-NLT or LSB-NIV be an attractive proposition?
2) The LCMS has made a huge investment in an educated clergy. Is there some way that you can see leveraging that fact, CPH as a brand, and the new technology to extend the reach? What would get in the way?
3) If you could have every pastor in synod relay one message from CPH to their congregation, what would that message be?

I’ll post a follow if any are answered.

Sentences to Ponder

Our litany of prayers on Sunday usually includes a line, “for all those in need…for all those in prison.” That line, even though as Christians we are supposed to care about prisoners (Matt 25:36), I’m sure is a stumbling block. The typical middle class response to prison is something like Paul’s line, “but if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.” (Rom 13:4).

Now here is the sentence to ponder. From David Brooks…

“The average corrections officer [in California] makes $70,000 a year in base salary and $100,000 with overtime (California spends more on its prison system than on its schools).”

Now that line would typically get used as a club by the political left to argue for higher education spending and by the political right as a club about prisoners getting bread and water only. Maybe both sides should take it, instead of as a chance for talking points, as a chance to repent. The society matters. Any society that is producing that many people that need to be locked up has something wrong at its core. The people matter. Lock’em up and throw away the key isn’t a valid answer.

Sentences to Ponder

From The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (Library of America edition, p 42) on the American annexation of Texas the resultant Mexican War…

To us it was an empire and of incalculable value; but it might have been obtained by other means. The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican War. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.

What would happen to an American politician today who held that bad stuff that happened to the US was deserved? What about a politician who believed in something like karma or more Christian a jealous God visiting the iniquities of the Fathers? What about one who truly held that the means to an end are important? That just because we can is not a good reason?

Where God Acts

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Text: Luke 17:10-19

We are on the three year lectionary. What that means is that the scripture texts we read each week are on a three year cycle. What the three year cycle does really well is allow you as a congregation to read through entire books. There are other lectionary schemes. A not small number in the LCMS uses a 1 year lectionary. And this is a gross simplification, but the 1 year lends itself to a dogmatic approach. You’ve got these teachings of the church. You want to remind/teach people every year on them. You build your readings around those teachings. The 3 year lends itself to an exegetical approach. That is a 10 dollar would for deep reading. Deep in that word exegetical is a root word meaning turning the soil. The 3 year continuous reading turns the soil of the gospel because each year has a primary gospel text. Since Advent 2009 we’ve been in the Gospel according to Luke. If it takes me say 15 hours to prepare a sermon (roughly 1 hour for each minute talking), in a year you will spend around 600 hours (the gospel of John gets read occasionally) with one gospel. You get to know it well.

The text for this sermon pulled me up short. In 9 perfectly artful verses, Luke asks the eternal questions. It puts the question to its readers – where is God acting? And if you know that, are you ready to go there? Even if it means putting yourself between Samaria and Galilee, being the peacemaker and healer? Even if it means walking toward Jerusalem, toward the cross? That is the path of being made whole.

Links (tithing, parenting and being relevant), that should get some attention

Is that a tithe deductible expense is a common thought expressed in regards to church giving. In that ledger book in our heads we have a category labeled charity. We mentally fulfill or drain this over the week or month, and then whatever is left is given to church. And pastors like me are hopelessly conflicted. In most of our churches the pastor’s compensation is over 50% of the budget. Even if your pastor is a saint, the sermon on giving can seem a little tainted. But it probably falls under the category of ‘things that make you go hmmm…’ that tithe is the one word in this culture that brings out the biblical expert in everyone (just read the comment thread).

Elizabeth Scalia (AKA The Anchoress) takes comfort while watching her kids. For everyone whose seen one stray.

And Elizabeth Drescher looks at the religion of the next generation and sees relevancy not in gadgets but in what the church would call the priesthood of all believers.

A medicinal reminder

I’m usually pretty rough on institutions. If I am being truthful it is because I’m a trained cynic. The best training and advice I ever got as a young financier was to understand the compensation structure. Once you understood the compensation of everyone key in the room, you knew what position they were going to take. Crafting good presentations was all about making sure all the key people appeared to get a slice. The net effect of that is that institutions always act in their own best interest. Even if their mission or the collective best interest will be smothered and crushed. Here is a great example of the UAW turning down a contract that would have kept an ‘Old GM’ plant open because the current workers preferred to keep their slots at ‘new GM’. The chance at getting a UAW GM job was worth more than a current job and an increase in the number of jobs in the local area.

One of the tough questions I asked the confirmands last night was does following the 8th commandment (which according to Luther means putting the best construction on everything) mean being an idiot? Is my cynical take on institutions, which I have rarely seen violated, a breaking of the 8th commandment? (My answer is probably, but sin boldly.)

As much as the church usually confirms my cynical view of institutions, it still remains about the only place where I get surprised. And it is usually because of individuals who refuse to sin boldly against the 8th commandment. And while not being idiots, they choose to act like them and work within the institution. And they usually bear the price – the cross – of such a choice.

Jason Byassee at Duke Divinity recalls the good of institutions in the hellhole of the Sudan. It is a medicinal reminder of the good of functioning institutions.

I guess here is the crux of my problem. Acting like my cynical view rarely endangers the mission of most institutions. But the mission of the church is directly damaged. There is a sense that your could say the mission of the church is to be the anti-institution, the institution that acts not according to the rules of this world but according to the kingdom of God. The church here and now is about putting your neighbor at the same level, about being your brother’s keeper. When it works, when it is competent, it can give a glimpse of stitching the world back together as Mr. Byassee puts it. It gives a foretaste of the Kingdom currently hidden among the cynicism.

The Disciple’s Life of Repentance

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Text: Luke 17:1-10

Luke 14:1 – 17:10 in my reading is one long extended teaching on being a disciple. The text for this sermon is the summary or conclusion of that section. I drew that boundary because in Luke 17:11 Jesus is no longer ping-ponging back and forth between disciples and Pharisees, but he is back on the road to Jerusalem. The entire Jerusalem road narrative is about discipleship, but this inner part has been more intense. It has been much more about how the disciple acts while Jesus is not present here and now.

The focus on being a disciple gives the section a heavy law feeling and it does end with millstones and the blunt saying about being an unworthy servant. But it is right there where the gospel enters. Of course that is how we would act. If we had a field slave and he came in we’d tell him to go clean up and make dinner. But that is not how God acts. In Christ – God serves the dinner and washes the feet. The unworthy slave is told to sit, eat, drink, rest…while the worthy son is crucified.

It is just that love for the unworthy slave that should inspire the life of repentance. We no longer have to look pious. We are not part of a religious club where membership depends upon our status or appearance. We have been seated at the table. We repent not because it atones for sin or gives us any merit. We repent because we desire to be closer to the heart and mission of the God who loved us first. We repent as a plea – Lord come quickly and finish what you started.