Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Inhuman Calendar

One of my recurring themes is how we experience time. And the way I like to talk about it is human and inhuman ways of marking time. Here is a perfect example of the inhuman calendar. Fuller articles here and here.

Note the reason we need a new calendar.

The Hanke-Henry calendar would streamline financial operations, they write in an article republished by the libertarian Cato Institute, because Gregorian calendar anomalies make a muddle of interest-calculating conventions. Sunday-only Christmas and New Year’s holidays would also eliminate their mid-week appearances and “get rid of this zoo we’re in right now, when the whole economy collapses for two weeks,” Henry said.

God forbid the human rhythms of life interfere with the market and economic activity.

In the same vein, here is this months newsletter article looking forward to the Season of Epiphany:Jan 2012 – Pastor’s Corner

Christmas Day – Children’s Pagent

I have a big thank you to send to the parents of St. Mark. By a blessed miracle they were all in town and agreed to do the children’s service on Christmas day. The picture above is the “stars”: Mary, Joseph, Shepherd and Angel, preparing before the service. We also had a couple of wonderful readers who read us the Christmas story (and one OT passage), and a couple of sheep this year (although the sheep got scared and decided not to hang around). We had joked during practice about Christmas turning into a sermon on the parable of the lost sheep.

The service was broken into three parts according to the movements (Birth, Passion, Ascension) of the 2nd part of the Apostle’s creed. The children would read and act out. The congregation would respond and sing. I’d add a short meditation.

It was a really humble Christmas service that was just lovely. Adding to that vibe was the fact that we sang acapella. We exhausted our organist the night before. So we decided that we’d just sing. Thank you also to those who “kicked us off” close to pitch.

Meditations
Service Folder

Christmas Eve – The Angelic Pronouncement

The Angelic Pronouncement
Text: Luke 2:10
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luk 2:10 ESV)
The people…which people? I hate to be a grammar scold on Christmas Eve – that’s like being the parent who gets to give the socks and underwear.
But it is not all the peoples. The angels’ pronouncement is not a multi-culturalist parade, at least not in a Disney, it’s a small world after-all, way. It is not all people – the angel choirs cannot be claimed to be universalists. The angel pronouncement is specific – the people. “Fear not and pay attention – I bring you good news of great joy – for all the people.” Who gets the good news? Who gets the joy?
Text
To understand that requires looking at what the claim of Christmas is – what is the angels’ pronouncement?
Today, to you, has been born a Savior. This baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger is Christ the Lord.
Everything – of heaven and earth, visible and invisible – everything came about through this infant. In the beginning was the Word…through Him all things were made. This babe is the Lord.
Caesar is not the Lord. Great Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census. And he had his purposes. His coffers needed funds. Support needed to be assured. The Cult of the Ceasar needed to be spread. But the Lord used Caesar to take the Holy Family to Bethlehem.
The regional ruler is not the Lord. Quirinius was governor of Syria and he carried out the census. The apparatus of the state – the smaller lord fulfilled their function – to bring the Lord to the town of prophesy.
The local ruler is not the Lord. Herod – “the great” – sought the child to kill it. One less Chirst. But the child escaped to Egypt – to be called out like Israel of Long ago.
The wise men of the age are not the lord. They saw the star and followed it. Giving homage to the new born king.
Even the heavens bowed down. That star rested over the spot where he lay. The heaven’s knew their Lord.
The creator of the stars of night – the Lord of everything – wrapped in cloths lying in a manger. The Lord chose the humble.
He was born of a virgin. Mary, 12 – 14, not yet wed, but pregnant. Trekking across the Judean countryside at the orders of gentiles, and taking up residence in the place of the animals. The Lord – not in the palace – but with the poor and oppressed.
He was announced to shepherds. There was no court waiting to greet him. No joyous celebration among men at the birth of a prince. No tables laden with food or games given to celebrate the day. Heralds were not sent throughout the land to the noble and grand. There were shepherds watching their flocks at night. And the angels appeared to them.
It’s no wonder that “he was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Application
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
The good news, the gospel, is that Jesus is Lord. Not any of those people that claim the title, but the humble infant. He came to the poor, the humble, the needy. He came in the midst of squalor. He came under oppression. He came under shame. He came to us. He came to sinners. The Lord of all chose to become incarnate amongst sinners. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He came to us not as a conquering, vanquishing and damning Lord…but as Savior. His glory was not the glory of men and all those false lords. His glory is full of grace and truth.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace. He makes the nations prove, glories of His righteousness and the wonders of his love. The lords of this world demand tribute. The Lord comes with grace and love.
Behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people?
Which people? You. You who hear the proclamation of the Angels and take it to heart.
Jesus – this humble baby, born of the Virgin Mary – is the Lord. He sits on the eternal throne of His Father David. His reign will never end.
This light shines in the darkness.
All the people – receive it.
All the people – The Children of God – you Children of God – born not of natural descent but from God.
Receive the joy prepared for you this night.
O come all ye faithful. Come and behold him, born, the King of Angels. Amen.

All the Stockings are hung by the Chimney with care….

Well the sermons are done, the programs are practiced, the booklets being printed. As the sticky post above says, everyone is invited to come and worship. Its good for your soul, even if you don’t know what that word means. At Christmas you find amazing things where you don’t think they belong.

There are several people my thoughts and prayers stray toward at this moment. Most of those prayers are for a measure of peace to be granted. Mixed in with those have been a couple of songs in my “Christmas Album” this year. (Here is the Album, by the Lower Lights – it really is gorgeous) In going through my brothers things I found a huge collection of Christmas albums. I converted most of them to MP3. It reminded me of just how big a softie he could be. Every year he would buy a few more, but they were never the big ones. Not a Mariah Carey to be found. He found singers instead of pop stars; instrumentalists and choirs instead of soloists. So I’ve kinda inherited the tradition. I’m sure sometime in early December to pick up a Christmas album. It doesn’t take but a couple of days of WARM 101.3 “Frosty Fest” after Thanksgiving to get my fill of secular tunes. (If I hear Rudolf or this years off-beat tale of grandma being run over again I’ll beat something.) To hear the sacred takes MP3s it seems.

One of the Songs is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Its taken from a Longfellow poem. And the third stanza seems very “unchristmas-y”.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Sorry for the downer, but I bring that up for two reasons. First, unlike this plastic season of manic Christmas we seem to get foisted with, the older Christmas was preceded by Advent and had the strength within it to contemplate such things. Look at all the good older Carols and Hymns of Christmas. Look past the first verse into verse 2 and 3. Take What Child is This – “Nails, Spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you”. Take We Three Kings – “Myrrh is mine, is bitter perfume, breathes a life of gathering gloom, sorrowing, sighing, breathing, dying, sealed in a stone cold tomb”. Take Once in Royal David’s City – “For He is our childhood’s pattern, Day by day like us He grew; He was little, weak and helpless, Tears and smiles like us He knew, And He feels for all our sadness, And He shares in all our gladness.” Longfellow talked of all the bells of Christendom. The days of Christendom as Longfellow knew it are over, but that culture knew things that we forgot – or never bring to mind, until forced to.

That brings up the second song on this years album – Stars of Glory. The performance seems designed to break your heart just at the time the soprano’s folk-y voice breaks. The hymn must be a Roman Catholic favorite as it is older. I was not aware of it to my impoverishment. But verse one strikes just the right vein…

Stars of glory, shine more brightly,
Purer be the moon-light’s beam,
Glide ye hours and moments lightly,
Swiftly down times deepening stream,
Bring the hour that banished sadness,
Brought redemption down to earth,
When the shepherds heard with gladness
Tidings of a Saviour’s birth.

The hours and moments gather. Time’s stream deepens. Even in sadness all is not lost. It is brought to fulfillment. The angel’s tidings of peace and joy still ring, even though they are mocked from all corners, because the LORD upholds them. The LORD chose to be with all the moments: Gladness and sadness. Cross and manger; tomb and throne.

I have no interest in a plastic Christmas. But the LORD who can inspire such songs…be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay.

Standby by for some Announcements…

Sermon Text: Luke 1:26-38
Full Text of Sermon

I’m not sure why but Advent 4 (Mary’s week in the lectionary) and Thanksgiving are probably the two occasions that I almost always feel real good about the sermon. On firm Lutheran grounding I’d just say that they are opportunities to proclaim a very clear gospel. In my theological understanding I’d say they are times that give themselves to Christology – and the gospel is first and foremost a proclamation of Christ. If I was being a little more spiritual and sentimental (or Roman Catholic) – I’d say an extra measure of the Spirit is given to preachers talking about Jesus’ mom or eucharist/thanksgiving. Whatever the reason, this a sermon that all I can really say is take a listen…

If I don’t get back here this week, I hope to see you at Christmas Eve or Christmas day services. If you are a remote reader/listener, Merry Christmas and please find a church to celebrate Christmas with this week in your hometown.

Christmas Worship

An Innocent Question…

I’m a pastor, I’m allowed at times to be a a slight moralistic scold, right? Well here is the question to my good readers in Iowa who will be caucusing soon.

Mr. Romney is supposed to be a “flip-flopper” or a questionable “RINO”, right? But Mr. Romney has two fewer wives and two fewer religions than the man leading the polls right now. (Unless you say the other guy’s religion has also been consistently about worshiping the world historical figure that he is.) Who has stood athwart history yelling stop more consistently by means of his life? If that Mormon thing is causing problems, there is a good Roman Catholic on the stage who could fill in that analogy as well. Got a big family too. By their fruits you shall know them…

Just an innocent question.

Rock-a-bye baby: Some Preliminary Thoughts – Post #2

I want to pick back up the subject from yesterday. And I want to do it in a very specific way. We can trace a bunch of the problems within the denomination or you could say within the 1st world western church back to the 1960’s. Historically they go back farther, but that is when they erupted. I’ve got a book sitting on my shelf that is one “go-to” historical reference for a prior time of eruption – the reformation. That book is Ozment’s – The Age of Reform. The subtitle is 1250 – 1550. Think about that for a second. When we talk about the reformation we usually think 1517 (Luther’s 95 Theses) and forward through maybe 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia where the Reformed (i.e. Calvin) received official sanction. In Ozment’s construction Luther was the eruption at the end that brought a bunch of streams together. The Council of Trent put a capstone on that age. Everything after that was learning to live with the separate theological peaces negotiated. From a Lutheran perspective our theological peace is expressed in the Book of Concord. The two biggies there are the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord. The formula closed up Pandora doctrinal box for Lutherans just like Trent did it for Catholics. The Reformed would have a more difficult time. There are a bunch of reformed confessions that closed the box for many different groups, but that stream liked opening the box much more. They were “reformed and always reforming”.

Just for a second I want to scan the contents of that last eruption: Original Sin, Free Will, Righteousness of Faith, Good Works, Law & Gospel, Third Use of the Law, Holy Supper, Person of Christ, Descent of Christ into Hell, Church Practices, Election, Other factions and Sects. There are some weighty topics there, but today I can believe in original sin in the form of total depravity and my Catholic neighbor can believe in original sin but expressed more as an inheritance from Adam of an inclination to sin and neither of us will decide that “I need to get a sword and chop off his heretical head”. Not that these things aren’t important, they are, what we think on these things effects how we live even if we don’t know it, but they are settled things. Of those things the reformation peace on the Lord’s Supper is probably the widest. As a Lutheran I might believe, teach and confess that transubstantiation is a little too specific, but the body and blood are truly present , and I think that is the best way to talk about it, but can I really say that Roman Catholics are out of Christ or Zwinglians are heading to hell? The writers of the Concord would probably have said yes. But 430 years later that is a very tough statement. Especially given that all three groups are still around. Unlike the resolution of the early Trinitarian doctrines in the creeds, and especially the Athanasian Creed which states that “whoever wishes to be saved must hold the catholic faith…and the catholic faith is this…” we just don’t put that forward with confessions. Some do, but I think you could get a good consensus around something like: Creeds – definitive doctrine, Confessions – internally consistent ways of living the one Catholic faith.

Now we come to the modern troubles. If I were trying to sit down and write a modern confession that would close Pandora’s doctrinal box I think here are the headings I would start with: science, medical technology, man and woman in Christ. Under science I think you would address things like evolution and modern philosophy. Under medical technology you would address end of life issues and the death penalty but also early life issues such as IVF, birth control and abortion. Then under man and woman in Christ you would discuss such things as divorce, sexual mores, the ministry, and what might be termed gender roles.
What I want to do is flesh some of the controversies and stumble toward some possible confessional statements. Now some of these are what we might think of as “no brainers”. Some, like sexual mores, have very strong and core biblical statements. Others like who is in the ministry are much more muddy than the sides in the controversy would think. And still others are pure extrapolation from biblical principles such as IVF.

Again, this is me thinking out loud. I’m trying to separate true theological thinking from simple justification of “that is the way we always lived, so the modern world must be wrong”. The next time I’m going to start with the easy things – sexual mores. Then I’m going to extend that to IVF & Birth control.

Rock-a-bye baby: A Theology of Children, Church and Family – post #1

Last month’s Lutheran Witness had a slate of articles that I was slightly shocked at. I want to explore some of that shock and some of the theology underlying it.
Here is a chart that basically spells out the problem (the chart is my compilation, pastors usually aren’t great at numbers and synodocrats don’t like publishing clear data)….

What you can see is that births per 1000 women in the US (I’ve looked at white, non-Hispanic because that is what most of the LCMS was/is) took a dramatic swing down from 1960 to 1980. Somewhere around 1970 it went below the magic “replacement rate”. What that means is that the white, non-Hispanic population of the US is shrinking. It will be smaller in the future than it is today. Communicant Membership is roughly a 10 year stagger. The LCMS by-and-large starts communion around the 12 years old. So the highest birthrate in 1960 leads to the highest communicant membership in 1970. It has been downhill since then.

That downhill slope hasn’t been that dramatic because of the other fact of our modern world – we live longer. Less kids in at the base gets mitigated by less deaths than might have been expected. The population gets older. But we can only extend those years out so far. We have more late 70’s and more 80’s and maybe even a few 90’s, but barring a major scientific breakthrough in longevity (which could happen, remember those ages in Genesis, we could find the genetic switches and a treatment), barring that breakthrough we can’t really extend that. What happens is what we currently see – a cliff. People are go-go, until they don’t go. Eventually that last major birth cohort casts off this mortal coil and we have a smaller church in a short number of years.

From the viewpoint of the church universal (the one, holy, catholic and apostolic) this might not be much of a problem. The church shrinks in the west and grows in Africa, Asia and South America. Just because whites stopped having kids doesn’t mean everybody did. From the viewpoint of American denominations this is disaster. From the viewpoint of a denominational pastor it is troubling. What that chart means is a vicious funnel for pulpits – barring a couple of things I’ll look at in this series. I can see myself about age 55-60 with churches closing left and right begging for that job at Wal-Mart or on the used car lot (because let’s face it, after 20 years in the parish at that age what would I be able to get?) and the retirement fund of the denomination that I’ve paid into for 20 years saying “sorry, we’re broke, thanks for paying for the retirement of the generation before you who caused the mess.”

Now to start setting up the problems. The first answer to any such problem could be evangelism. If we have this problem we could solve it through committed and concentrated evangelism of those who don’t look like us right now. But there is a problem with that. Those who don’t look like us, or who weren’t raised within a particular tradition, often have novel and interesting ways of carrying on the tradition. That fight that my grand-dad started, and left it to my Dad who bequeathed the vendetta to me just doesn’t carry the passion for a convert. If we were smart we’d learn from that, but we are not. Instead we moan that the newbies aren’t “confessional” enough. They obviously don’t have the pure doctrine because look at what they sing in worship, pray, hold their hands, etc. Unless you are committed to adapting your traditions to a new context, you just won’t convert enough. And if you aren’t, you compound the problem with internal doctrine wars. Which is exactly what we have seen since 1970 – the battle for the bible, worship wars, the battle for the liturgy, church growth “heresy”, missional.

Right now in the LCMS a strongly confessional faction is in political power. They got elected largely campaigning on being “your grandfather’s church”. Now smartly when they say such things they are adding they are grand-dad’s in the vein of doctrine and theology – not larger social things. Nobody likes to think that doctrine changes or theology changes. And some parts of it – like the creeds – don’t. That is what the Roman Catholic Church calls the deposit of faith. But if I take a look at the “doctrines” that my grand-dad followed: no usury, no life insurance, no birth control, no women in any leadership positions, no official women teachers, questions if English was a possible language, questions over just how kosher this democracy thing is, the list could go on… God the Father is still the maker of all things visible and invisible, God the son is still born of the virgin Mary and ruling from the right hand of the Father, God the Holy Spirit is still active in the Christian church and the communion of saints. The end note here is that churches tend to hold way too much as inviolate doctrine that is really just expression not of Christian identity but LCMS or Denominational identity. As the old joke goes – the seminarian leaves the home church loving Jesus and comes back loving the church.

So, faced with an inability to adapt practices to a new people due to “confessional/doctrinal” reasons, those in power must come up with some “solution” to the problem or at least appear to offer something. Enter the Lutheran Witness issue. Quoting from President Harrison,

Our LCMS birth rate mirrors that of the broader population of the US which is at an all-time low. So, how do we best encourage our young people to treasure marriage and have children? How do we make the point in a freeing and Gospel-oriented way? How do we encourage those capable of having more children to do so? How do we take concrete action in our congregations to care for children and encourage young parents…be fruitful and multiply. It can be a God-pleasing act to have a large, loving orthodox Lutheran family…

I think you can see what the correct doctrine and solution being offered is (hint, it looks like your grand-mothers existence). So, what I want to do in this series is look at some of the theology (which isn’t all crazy) behind the baby push. Now I’m the father of a very traditional family of three (ok, compared to what they are talking about we are slackers), so I do want to support it where I can as a true option, but I also want to look at some of the theological ugly side (i.e. if babies are gifts, and you aren’t having them, what does that mean), and I want to look at how that might not be the case.

Warning note, this series is me thinking out loud. I’m highly likely to be inflammatory and inconsiderate and make everyone mad. Because this is the true fault line in our culture, and I won’t agree with the LW expression enough for the confessional to feel comfortable, but I’ll be too natalist (especially in one area) for moderns to take. I’d love to hear your comments through-out this series, because it is in the living were this doctrine takes form.

Who are you?

Text: John 1:6-8,19-28
Full Text of Sermon

Who are you? That is an identity question. And it is interesting to me that a world that is constantly giving you something to “build your brand” around or upon there is little talk or understanding of identity.

Colin Cowherd – ESPN Radio announcer – is one of the most bracing and upfront announcers I’ve heard. Especially in sports where most coverage is “rah, rah” type. He’d hate this, or not have the vocabulary to understanding it, but he’s one of the best moralists on the air. But back to the point. Tebow keeps winning – and keeps making Colin’s almost daily rant look dumb. For the first four weeks of the Tebow run, Colin was all about how this can’t work and all the reasons it can’t. For an announcer who is usually so left brained logical it hurts, you could here the emotion. His accumulated logic and wisdom wasn’t working and he didn’t like it. If he could be wrong about this, what else could he be wrong about. But then he stumbled across a new line – “Tebow knows who he is; you can do a lot, even if you are limited, by knowing who you are.” He’s talking about identity.

The world pummels us with appeals to base our identity in titles and positions. Or it entices us and bullies us to forming an identity around cool, or traditions or the right way. What Colin stumbled across, what Tebow and his coach should be recognized for, is that they didn’t listen to the siren calls – “you’ve got to have this type of quarterback/team”. The two groups that came to the Baptist are asking those identity questions. And John confesses. He holds on two the only thing he has – the Word of God – I am the voice calling in the wilderness. He revealed the hidden Word, the hidden savior. He witnessed to the light.

We as Christians know our identities. We are children of God. We are the redeemed of Israel. And like the Baptist we have been sent into the world to reveal the hidden Lord. And all we’ve got is the Word – a simple confession.

[FYI, I wish I had a picture of this, but the hymn captured is our Children’s Choir. If you hear a voice getting a little louder at certain time, one of the Choristers was right behind the Advent wreath. He decided it would be interesting to see if he could blow the candle out while singing. One of those please stop, because if you succeed I will bust a gut laughing and I know I’m supposed to discipline at that moment.]