This story by Australian Theologian Ben Myers is nifty. And I have to admit I hear the law in it slightly, I am convicted, but not where he is aiming.
Prof. Myers is part of one of those “uniting” churches. That is the same thing the founders of the LCMS were running to America away from – the dreaded Prussian Union. Myers is worried about baptisms without teaching, probably because they are practicing a believer’s baptism (i.e. baptism is administered at an age where you make a serious profession of faith). As Lutheran’s we baptize infants. We believe, with the Catholics, that baptism is the sacrament through which God promises to bestow the Spirit. God’s sure promise attaches to that water. What that doesn’t rule out is that child turning his/her back on the baptismal promise. [A Lutheran/Catholic vs. Reformed difference. To the true Reformed, if you are elect, you can’t ship-wreck you’re faith. The Lutheran/Catholic maintains to ability to do all kinds of damage although nothing positive without the Spirit.]
Where I would feel more convicted is at the Altar Rail for the Supper. We don’t really turn people away. If I see a person I don’t know, I’ll follow up. If I know they are going to be worshiping with us often, I will try and explain the Lutheran teaching. Luther’s questions (which are probably not actually Luther’s but added to the Catechism later) are the place I run. They boil down to three questions: Do you believe you are a sinner? Do you confess the Nicene Creed? Do you recognize the true body and blood (i.e. something mystical is going on here and not just bread and wine)? Here is actually a place where the liturgy or just a well planned worship service helps. Confession and Absolution come first (check first question), the creed is confessed (check second question), the words of institution and as the body and blood are distributed say ‘This is my body, blood…take, eat, drink” (check third question).
The small catechism is all Luther thought the typical peasant layman needed to know. The large catechism was intended for pastoral instruction. (Compare that to 8 years of college!) Am I complicit in not teaching enough? Yes. If I upped the level would I still be complicit? Yes. What is the answer? Sin boldly. Depend upon the providence and grace of the Lord. I come O Savior to your table for weak and weary is my soul. Thou, Bread of Life, alone are able to satisfy and make me whole.
The first is local to my synod and actually made the major papers. The Pan-Lutheran relief agencies appear to be splitting over the ELCA votes concerning homosexuality. Here is the article.
I’m not really sure about this. On the negative side, I don’t really think doctrinal purity is a reason to stop works of charity. I am also wary of some of the statements from the CTCR quoted. I think they could just as easily be used against churches within the synod as charitable partners. For example “adopt operational principles alien or contrary to scripture” in certain circles could be read as any church that uses some “church growth” techniques is to be doubted. Lutherans have always run ecclesially light. Unlike Catholics who mandate an episcopal structure, or reformed who work in presbyteries or baptists who are local control – Lutherans can confessionally be found in all organizations. That statement would signal a potential change. On the positive side, the Harrison administration says something and given time takes action instead of just letting inertia and lethargy do their thing.
The other interesting thing is the growing investiture crisis in China. The Catholic church for many years worked with the Catholic Patriotic Church (as well as running house churches). Occasionally China asserts the patriotic side of that body and appoints bishops. In the west, settled in the snows of Canossa, the Pope alone appoints or invests bishops. Some interesting parallels. If you work with someone (like the LCMS and ELCA in charity) you will have to deal with relationship troubles – like who appoints bishops and leaders and where money gets spent. If you opt for purity, you control that, but where does that line stop and do you have the reach to actually make disciples, or are you too worried about your purity. [This one eats with tax collectors and sinners].
…Because Jesus entered into this groaning and futile mess. It easily could all be meaningless. But He said no. I’m going to claim it. I’m going to redeem it. Jesus felt and experienced the full futility. Disciples who didn’t get it. Kinsmen who rejected him. Fellow Jews who put him on trial. Cowardly justice that executed him. A peasant, on a cross, outside the walls of Jerusalem. My God, why have you forsaken me…for hope.
In the darkest places…a light shines.
The Spirit raised him from the dead, and elevated him to the right had of the Father. When he was gone, at his weakest, the Spirit acted with power…
You can reason your way to futility and meaninglessness. In fact, along with Ecclesiastes, I’d say that is the end point of most reason. But it is never satisfying. It feels like a lie. Not a lie you are telling yourself as the militant atheists would say. It feels like a lie against the universe, a blaspheming of the Spirit. Because there are these things that reason can’t explain that stand out like beacons against the general futility of life. The whole, “but this is the causal chain that led to those things”, doesn’t really have explanatory power to explain the birth of a child. And so I reckon that the present sufferings are not worth comparing the the glory that will be revealed to and in us.
Reading Anne of Green Gables to the 8 year old, and I’m enjoying it as much if not more than her. From chapter 7 entitled Anne Says her Prayers…
She had intended to teach Anne the childish classic, ‘now I lay me down to sleep’. But she had the glimmerings of a sense of humor – which is simply another name for a sense of the fitness of things; and it suddenly occurred to her that that simple little prayer…was entirely unsuited to this freckled girl who knew and cared nothing about God’s love, since she had never had it translated to her through the medium of human love.
The entire chapter is a classic. It would probably teach more about how and what to pray than a hundred catechisms.
The core metaphor of the gospel in the text for the day (Rom 8:12-17) was adoption. We have been adopted and made heirs of God. And that is important. We sang Children of the Heavenly Father as the opening and the hymns carried that message throughout the service. But, that doesn’t seem to me to be Paul’s main point in the text. In Romans 7, which we looked at the last two weeks, especially last week, Paul is meditating on the role of the law in the Christian’s life. And he ends on a depressing note. I serve the law in my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. In and through the law itself I have no ability to keep it. The law is weak. What then is the answer to the law?
The answer is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God has placed his Spirit in us which wars against the sin in our body. The power of the Spirit gives us the ability to strive after the law. It is not to our credit. We are debtors to the Spirit. But, all who are led by the Spirit are children of God and put to death the deeds of the body, and they will live. But even though we are debtors, we are debtors as a child is a debtor to a Father. It is written off the moment of the expenditure.
Using real old words, we mortify the flesh. We do that through the Spirit. And if you are wondering about that Spirit, Paul points at four ways we can observe it. Read the sermon to find out…
From the WSJ via the AP…
A fan at a Texas Rangers game died Thursday night after falling from the stands while reaching for a baseball tossed his way by All-Star outfielder Josh Hamilton.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office said Friday the victim was 39-year-old firefighter Shannon Stone of Brownwood. City Manager Bobby Rountree said Mr. Stone had been a firefighter for nearly 18 years in Brownwood, located 150 miles southwest of Arlington.
Mr. Stone fell about 20 feet onto concrete Thursday night, tumbling over the left-field railing after catching the ball and falling into an area out of sight from the field as the Rangers faced Oakland. Mr. Stone’s young son witnessed the fall during the second inning.
Luke 12:20. But God said to him, “You fool! This night your soul is required of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
From Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (via WSJ)
Recognizing the cancerous effect of this corruption, voters of the first State, acting through referendum, enact several campaign finance measures previously approved by this Court. They cap campaign contributions; require disclosure of substantial donations; and create an optional public financing program that gives candidates a fixed public subsidy if they refrain from private fundraising. But these measures do not work. Individuals who “bundle” campaign contributions become indispensable to candidates in need of money. Simple disclosure fails to prevent shady dealing. And candidates choose not to participate in the public financing system because the sums provided do not make them competitive with their privately financed opponents. So the State remains afflicted with corruption.
Voters of the second State, having witnessed this failure, take an ever-so-slightly different tack to cleaning up their political system. . . . The second State rids itself of corruption.
Anyone who understood or read Romans 7 would know that “rid itself of corruption (through yet more laws)” is not how we humans work. What the law does is expose just how completely controlled we are by corruption (otherwise known as sin). Even when we might be enlightened enough to agree with it, we find ourselves doing just the opposite. Supreme Court justices should realize this. That they don’t is a big problem of the modern American state. But then the Christian is not to put their faith in princes. The state is the state. It is not our hope and salvation.
A better example of preaching on the theology of the cross. And how dumb it makes you feel.
And what of our long list of beliefs and the desire for certainty? When we let the mystery of evil open us more fully to the mystery of love, that need goes away. On this point, I am edified by the words of the great Catholic historian Eamon Duffy, from his Faith of Our Fathers.
Looking back on his own dark night, occasioned by the death of a good friend, Duffy wrote:
[N]ow I know that faith is a direction, not a state of mind; states of mind change and veer about, but we can hold a direction. . . . The difference between a believer and a non-believer is not that the believer has one more item in his mind, in his universe. It is that the believer is convinced that reality is to be trusted, that in spite of appearances the world is very good.
I don’t know if I was the only one to hear it but the next time you see any of the Lord of the Rings movies – listen real close to the Frodo Theme – the music that plays anytime all seems lost for the hobbits with the ring. I swear it is variation off of the simple “This is my Father’s World”. This is my Father’s World. God rest me in the thought. All nature sings…. At the darkest of moments the music says reality is to be trusted. The theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.
I’ve done two things in this sermon that I don’t usually like doing. I’m not sure either of them really worked, but I had reasons for them. Also, the Thursday Bible study got a preview of this sermon subject. I’m pretty sure it played better there. I’m also pretty sure the reason is just time.
First the time issue. Most of my sermons are 10 – 12 minutes or roughly 1400 words. This one was a little longer at almost 1700 words. It is really hard to talk about the theology of the cross and the reality of the law in the Christian’s life in 12 minutes. On Thursday, we explored it for about 90 minutes in two way communication with a 1200 word itself supporting story we read. We really only stopped because we were just exhausted, or at least I was exhausted and they were exhausted of hearing my voice. It it that kind off topic. Another reason why every christian should be engaged in some regular group study. This could be a really bad analogy, but worship is the cardio workout. It is the base of any healthy regimen. Those group studies are the weights. That is where growth in spiritual muscle happens.
The two different things.
1) While I do use political examples from time to time, I try to be balanced. Those examples today were not. I think this goes to a fundamental and dangerous direction in our American political body. A small c conservative – of which there are very few in politics at any level – understands Romans 7. The human creature is fundamentally flawed. In Paul’s words, in my flesh I serve the law of sin. And, that sin in my own members is very strong and devious. The older American political order understood this and was reticent to pass any sweeping law or sweep away traditional ways of doing things. Laws, because of the human creature, invite corruption. Sweeping laws invite sweeping corruption. We are that corrupt and we are not that smart to see it all beforehand. When the law is kept small and local, the stakes are not as big. But that is the not the society that we have structured today where everything is big. And where the law gets big, corruption proliferates. According to Paul that is the very function of the law – to show how sinful we are.
2) The second thing was that I ended the sermon on what was probably a cliffhanger. Romans 7 naturally leads to Romans 8. Romans 7 is a true description of the role of the law, but it is not the complete picture. There is something else that supplies power and fights the law of sin in my members. And it doesn’t come from me. In myself, I can’t win. But I am not alone. That is the Romans 8 story continuation. I chose to stay textual and have a two part sermon. Those who were present on July 3rd probably will be present the next week. Preaching through Romans is more like watching Lost or any story drama. Missing an episode might leave you scratching your head. The gospels seem to be more episodic, or more like Law & Order. I think that is because Romans is essentially a long argument and not a collection of stories telling one larger happening.