Monthly Archives: February 2012

Building Bridges/Following the Spirit

Here are a couple of very smart people talking about the interesting situation of the modern American Church and narrowly the LCMS. The background of both posts is: 1) a changing culture that is less accepting of the church and the christian proclamation, 2) a history of dispute in the synod at large and within congregations and 3) a history of far reaching dogmatism by which I mean making theological truth out of stuff that might actually be coincidental to culture.

Dr. Zemke (full disclosure, I know her son) uses the bridge metaphor. We’ve got this truth of Jesus Christ, but it needs to be proclaimed. I could stand on the corner and read the Greek New Testament. That is a form of proclamation, but probably not a great bridge to 21st century West Henrietta, NY.

Dr. Kloha is a Concordia Seminary professor who I did have for a class. [Interesting and flat out amazing side story. I took a class with him over the Summer and it happened to be the same summer which he was finishing a dissertation. At the end of the class he apologized to the class for neglecting it. That told me two things because as a fairly tough judge of teaching I had thought that it was a good class. It told me 1) Dr. Kloha was driven by internal standards which were high and 2) he was open to accountability. That type of person is worth listening to.] Dr. Kloha talks about following the spirit and the fact that the church in Acts is just “making it up”.

I’ll put it this way. I’m a practitioner. Admittedly we at St. Mark are making it up as we go along. We are building a bridge while walking on it. That requires being sharp about decisions, but also very willing to say “oops, forgive me.” But what I’ve got in the back of my head after reading both of these people is that they are agreeing in words, but probably have very different conceptions of what “living under the Lordship of Christ, submitting to him and his word and committing to one another as the people among whom Christ’s reign–his kingdom–is manifest in the world” would look like. What I’d challenge both of them to do is state some specifics as to what that humility would look like at a practitioner level. Who are they talking to? What types of practices? Who is clinging to broken bridges to nowhere? Who needs to be a little open to being smacked around by the spirit? What would that look like in OR, NY, MO?

Without a clear statement what I’ve got is a Rorschach test – the equivalent of the “generic republican” poll question. I can read into it whatever I’m thinking. If we aren’t willing to listen to such statements (like Peter, James and John were to Paul) then we can’t actually even start.

Offer what Moses Commanded, for a witness to them…

Biblical Text: Mark 1:40-54
Full Text of Sermon

Bonhoeffer called it cheap grace. A taking of the cleaning, the grace of Christ, without also taking on discipleship or the Lordship of Christ.

If you read this biblical text, you can’t help but think that cheap grace has been around for a long time. The leper is cleansed. But Jesus gives him two instructions. One we know he didn’t follow, and the second we get no report about. That second stern warning Jesus issued was, “offer what Moses commanded, for a witness to them.” We Lutherans would call that the 3rd use of the law. The law can’t save. What Moses commanded leads first to our death, but the law of Moses is still how God intended us to live. The moral law is God’s understanding of how to live a truly human life. And that is as far from cheap grace as possible. It is living that tough life, trying to live a clean life, that is a strong witness. And this is what Jesus sternly warns the healed to do.

The cleansing is grace. It is free. Christ has restored you. Do you settle for the cheap grace, or do take on the yoke of the disciple, the Lordship of the Christ who has made you clean?

Calvin and Hobbes, Kids & Snow

Calvin: Getting an inch of snow is like winning 10 cents in the lottery.
6 yr old – “But the sled won’t go, I can still see the grass…”

Other great C&H lines here.

Arguments in the Strangest Places

I mentioned the Catholic Church’s Teaching on Birth Control in the sermon last Sunday. I also said that until the middle of the 20th century the Protestant church had exactly the same doctrine. The LCMS has no official doctrine, meaning that we agreed with the entire church prior to the 20th century and just have refused to actually say anything since then.

This very short article in the Business Insider of all places (spurred by the HHS rulings in the political realm) is by far the most common sense thing I’ve seen written on the subject. [Warning – picture not safe for kids unless you want to have a talk.]

Now we don’t all live up to the teaching. The law is tough. But just because we can’t keep the law doesn’t mean we get to throw it out or overturn human nature. It shows us our sin and our need of Jesus Christ. The law is good and wise, just not a source of salvation.

Simple Pictures

I ran across this essay – Stick Figure Theology – about incredibly simple pictures.

It was pretty much by accident. The church of my childhood had a stand of books for sale. It was mostly various books on hot topics (I think, but none of them were that interesting to an 8 year old). But on that shelf there was one gold bible with pictures. It was the “Good News Bible – Today’s English Version” and if you’ve seen that gold cover and those stick figure drawings you remember it.

While I was memorizing verses in the KJV, our sunday school had a separate book of “scripture to be memorized” that was taken home each week, the first Bible that I asked my Dad to get me was that everyday translation. While I’ve got those UR-texts rattling around in KJV, I’ll be blunt, the Good News is how I understood them. I’d look it up and read it, and then memorize the KJV. And I’d love staring at those pictures. Stark minimalist icons. Pictures of everyman and woman. Pictures that drew me into the story. That put me in the middle of the crowd of witnesses carrying the cross.

The first day I walked into St. Mark’s I saw on the shelf about 10 copies of the Good News. Most of them were black, but a couple had that gold cover. One of the various coincidences that said, “you’re home”. Somewhere in the past there was a member or a pastor who stepped out and said “this is ok, we can understand this”. That was a risky but fundamentally pastoral decision at the time. In our Thursday Bible class there is a member who uses one of them. A member strong in faith. An echo of that long ago – “this is ok”. It is one of the gorgeous things about that class. Most groups, if you don’t have the same translation everything blows up, but that group has multiple translations and still functions.

I’m sure there are some – including Concordia Publishing House who exclusively backs the ESV (the modern equivalent of the KJV) – that would probably be nodding, “well that explains a lot”. And I guess my response would be I guess is does. Because my first understanding of the Word was through the invitation to place myself in it given by those pictures. The Word isn’t read as an academic exercise (although that might be part of it). The disciple reads the Word as the very Word of God…for you…today. Can that be abused? You bet. That is why you read it together with the church. That is why you have called and ordained servants of the word. But the disciple is always trying to become a simple picture. An icon of the love of Christ for this lost world.

An example of subversiveness of the Gospel according to Mark

First, I hate adding one of these after our Preschool Teacher Ms. Wahl has put up a post. Please do take a look at the zoo in the post below. My (almost) three year old was following the tracks first thing this morning.

Second, this picks up on a conversation we were having in Sunday Morning Bible study. I had stumbled into explaining why I am the Lutheran I am after I had made a much too flippant remark to end bible study the last week. (Something about getting too old to change.) Also, in reflecting upon the sermon delivered this past week, I mentioned the subversiveness of Mark. Now just mentioning subversive probably either sends off all kinds of alarm bells (if you are of the political right) or warm fuzzies (if you are of the political left).

My basic answer to the Lutheran that I am was that when you start asking the ‘how do I know” type questions, Lutherans very quickly get to Jesus. Catholic and Lutheran alike would both answer how do I know I have grace with: the proclaimed Word and the Sacraments. The promises of God are given in these. Believe the promises of God. When you push that to the next level – how do I know that I have the real word and the real Sacraments? – the catholic answer (grossly simplified) is that you are in the visible church traced back to the foundation of St. Peter. The sacraments rest on the authority of the church. The Lutheran answer is that the sacraments have a power of their own based in the authority and revelation of Jesus. The word and sacraments create the church. The Augsburg Confession article 7 on the church defines the church as the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the sacraments are correctly administered. Word and Sacrament are the means through which the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the church. That is not a proof, like holding up an institution. It is a call to faith in Jesus.

But that leads to an emerging church problem. A bunch of spiritual but not religious people gather and baptize and pass out bread and grape juice – are they the church? (And this happens – Kingdom Bound at Darien Lake was the example.) Being a Lutheran allows me to say – yes, but in some incredibly messed up way which in a perfect world wouldn’t happen. Augsburg 14 talks about a rightly order call being the basis of public teaching and administering the sacraments. What that means is that you can’t lock God up, but there is a normal way to receive the sacraments and hear the word. God might work outside of that normal way, just like you might get rich by the beauty of your singing voice through American Idol, but the normal way is something called a church which might not be as flashy as that singing career but a whole lot more solid (and probably more rewarding) like being a teacher.

Now to Mark. Mark 2:1-12. First, where was Jesus. A: In a home. What did he do first? A: Preach. What was the result of that word? A: Faith that he could see (v 5). What is the result of that faith? A: “Your sins are forgiven”. Second, what was the normal place to receive grace in that day? A: Synagogue and Temple – word and sacrifice. Jesus would say as much – he tells the man with leprosy in Mark 1:44 to go show himself to the priest – right before this story. But what are the Pharisees mad at in verse 7? A: Only God forgives sins, (and you find God in the appropriate place, the Temple and the synagogue, not in this house).

Can you see the parallels? Now there is a big problem in that this is Jesus and he had the authority to do this. The traveling evangelist is a much different person. But if you base the effectiveness of the Word and Sacraments on the institution (i.e. the church, Temple) you end up arguing just like the Pharisees. The way of Jesus would appear to be to recognize their validity, but say now go get it regularized. But that is a very subversive statement – because there is no way for us to regulate or police the work of the Spirit. Who knows what the Spirit will bring into our midst? It might be tax collectors and sinners.

But that is a good kind of subversive. It strips away our conceits and fantasies of having a righteousness and authority of our own. The church has no authority of its own, only what it is given by Jesus Christ. Go, baptize and teach (Matt 28:19-20). Do this in remembrance of me. That is the kind of subversive that holds a wonder at what God is doing, but also then gives understanding. “That you might know that the Son of Man has authority, get up and take your mat.” That is the kind of subversive that hold the mirror to the world while saying repent, the Kingdom of God is near.

It’s a ZOO in Here!

Today, we started our new Zoo Animals theme at the preschool. I pulled some different stuffed zoo animals out of a bag, and the kids figured out where they might all live together… at the zoo! We read some stories about zoo animals and discussed our experiences at the zoo.

The children had a great time doing some dramatic play with animals masks. For a while, our room was filled with a lion, an elephant, a bobcat, and a bear. It was definitely a zoo in here!

Now the children have gone home and the room is ready for them to come in again tomorrow. I wonder what they’ll find when they get here…

The Christ Who Can Be Found

Biblical Text: Mark 1:29-39
Full Draft of Sermon

I slipped into something of a philosophical frame of mind this past week – I suppose I should apologize to the congregation for that. Some of it has to do with events and people. Some of it has to do with this year’s gospel – the gospel of Mark. If you are anything like most Christians your image of Jesus comes primarily from John – the good shepherd, the wise and all powerful Word. And we round out that picture from the Gospel of Matthew with the Sermon on the Mount. We bring in some parables from Luke like the Good Samaritan. Looking at Mark is sometimes like looking at a fun-house mirror. Many of the same stories are there, but they way more subversive. How Mark places them in context give meanings or allusions that are slightly different.

One of the big things about Mark that you notice is that unless you are directly healed by Jesus in the course of the narrative (like Simon’s mother-in-law), you end up way off course. You think you are following Jesus, but then you realize a mile has opened up between you. Mark seems to be a gospel for these post-modern times. Because ultimately it all rests upon Jesus, not an idea but a person. We’d like to stay as close as possible in that discipleship walk, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Ultimately it is Jesus that crosses that gap between the ideal and where we are at. It is Jesus who came to us – that is why he came, to preach. It is Jesus who has the authority. We might despair of knowing Truth in the way the gospel of John talks truth. We might be hopelessly misguided. But Jesus still has the authority. Jesus still heals and has cast out this worlds demons. The response is ours to figure out. And there are better responses. But the healing is pure grace, and it all rests upon Jesus.

Blast From the Past!

We did something fun and different in the preschool this morning! Mindy came in and read “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type” to the children. They enjoyed repeating the tagline, “Click, clack, moooooo.” It’s a great book if you want to check it out!

Then, Mindy brought in the church’s old typewriter, and the children got a chance to play around with it and see how a typewriter works! It’s strange to think that most kids their age have never even seen a typewriter before.

It was a great blast from the past, and we really enjoyed it! Thanks, Mindy!