Tag Archives: church

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 44:1-18, 32-34 and Mark 12:28-44

Genesis 44:1-18, 32-34
Mark 12:28-44
Toward a definition of love, it isn’t love if is doesn’t cost, The Community of Love and the Resurrection
The Temple Rang with Golden Coins – Lutheran Service Book 787

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Joel 2:18-32 and Romans 11:25-12:13

Joel 2:18-32
Romans 11:25-12:13
Church as a body, The Church’s One Foundation (LSB 644)

Don Draper & Church Aesthetics

Jantzen-Swimsuits- Actual
One of those things that has been occupying my spare brain cycles has been Mad Men. For some reason I watched season 6 on the TV this year.

Tangent Warning: I know. Everybody who watched it from the beginning of time complained about this year. Well, I didn’t know anything when I watched this season. I was a complete blank slate or in some ways against it. Being a contrarian, since ‘all the smart people’ were watching Mad Men, I concluded it must be a complete suck-up and stayed far away. Also I’m like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, as soon as someone starts talking about “the ’60s” I want to get my can of pest spray. Season 6 was some of the best TV I’d watched, so I’ve been catching up now half way through season 4. My general take is that season 1 was so good that people were still talking about that during season 2 and 3. The Kodak scene is worth the entire show, and its a great book end to season 6 scene where Don tells the real story and “s***s all over the table”. In reading the bible you’d call that an inclusio. But overall the experience at the end of season 3 was something like the Hunger Games books. You read Hunger Games over-night because you can’t put it down. It reads that well. Then you read the next two on the vapors of book one. You’d put it down half-way through book three if not just for the “how does it end?” question. Season 4 while not reaching the emotional toll of season 1 is better than 2 and 3. The tough thing to keep in mind is that even “bad” seasons are better than most television, but the nostalgia for season 1 is almost painful. /End Tangent

OK, back to main point. Don Draper as the head of creative, and Peggy Olsen the understudy in an interesting sequence with a priest, basically hold “the customer” in contempt. It is not really contempt, but “I know what will sell widgets and connect emotionally, and you don’t”. That is the hubris, in Don & Peggy’s cases earned, of the professional. Peggy expresses this with the priest after the CYA council has savaged her beautiful flyers. “Your job is to make them accept the idea, not split the difference” – or something to that effect after the priest with the older ladies kills the entire creative flyer by watering it down. Don expresses this multiple times, but when he “fires” Jantzen swimwear is the essence. The client is selling bikinis, but they don’t want to be “too sexy”. The add that Don actually creates meets the letter, but rubs the spirit in their face.DraperJantzen (The pictures are the ad from the show and a real ad from the era. Notice how Don has a girl in pig-tails and doesn’t actually show anything, but the entire ad is a mild tease at least by today’s standards.) When they don’t like it, Don tells them to leave, he doesn’t want their account. And he is right from a business stand point. Don knows their business better than they do. There are times when the customer is just flat wrong, sometimes embarrassingly wrong. As Steve Jobs would say, the customer doesn’t know what they want.

Now Don and Peggy’s purpose is to increase sales. The church’s purpose is to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20). There is a bottom line sales portion there, but only concentrating on that is a big mistake. The purpose is not to goose attendance but to create disciples who persevere even in the hard times. You can take a customer-is-always-right approach, but that approach is never really good creative. It is always lukewarm mush. Those who are left behind in the old “Sterling Cooper” at the end of season 3 in season 4 express just that. The better account man, Ken Cosgrove, who is also an published artist, complains about the idiocy of the merged entity enough that he is willing to subordinate himself to Pete Campbell to reclaim some integrity. Now think about what that means in church. What kind of church do you want? One that takes a “customer is always right” approach and that is always trying to find out what that is and serve it? Or one that acts like Don & Peggy – we have a better way. Which church is expressing confidence? Which church would make disciples?

Now ask the next question, is the low-church praise band the warmed over mush or Don & Peggy? Can you see Don or Peggy in the typical suburban mega-church? (FYI, one of the funniest if sacrilegious tweaks of the show was Peggy creating a “Mom Icon” to sell popsicles.sterling-coopers-popsicle-sacrament Here is an article that is trying to express some of the same things I’ve been thinking about while watching Mad Men. The funniest point is the “serve yourself” communion. That would be the essence of the mush, the customer is always right, church. When you feel like it, please come take the body of Christ that we’ve left out on the table along with the grape juice to wash it down. The church has (or should have) better taste.

Boomers & Stickers

That title is a reference to Wendell Berry. A rough translation: Boomers = people who go where ever the opportunity is greatest regardless of the mess they leave behind. Stickers = people who stay in one place because the community is greater than the individual. As with all dualities it is immediately true and false at the same time. Berry’s deeper point I have taken to be that the rules of American society have become too tilted toward Boomers. Even if you were a sticker, the price is individually too high. But a society of all boomers lacks the social capital and cohesion to exist for any length of time.

There are a lot of Christians who have resonated with Wendell Berry. My guess is that many have read him on “place” and sticking and heard echoes of “running the race” and seen his virtues of “place” in the community called the church, which in most Americans experience is a local thing. Yes, in episcopal churches there are far away hierarchies, but even in the Roman Catholic Church in America, the religion of daily life is played out in the local parish. Nobody fears the coming of the inquisition. Coming from a Lutheran standpoint, and I would say Confessional Lutheran based on the Treatise of the Power and Primacy of the Pope (TPPP), that local nature of the church is a correct understanding. The church is found where the word is preached and the sacraments administered correctly. The entire church is present in that local congregation, or maybe said better that congregation is the church in that place. Anything “above” or outside of the congregation is not church although we might call it that. The church above or outside of the congregation is fine, but we should recognize it for what it is – de jure humano – a human construct. The reformers where fine with the Pope so long as he would admit his office was by human law.

Alan Jacobs questions if this resonance is misplaced or even reconcilable with Christianity. His primary evidence is Jesus and Paul who were clearly not “stickers” but in Paul’s case traveled “to the ends of the earth”. To make place a primary commitment is as Berry does is a form of idolatry.

I’d agree with Jacobs in so far as I think Berry’s place is a secularized form of the church. Christians who read Berry and make an equation of church and place are making a jump that Berry doesn’t. But Christians who make that jump are reading the deeper truth that Berry can’t or won’t make. The church is a place. The church is the proleptic or out of time appearance of the Kingdom of God in this dying age. In so far as the Christian is a sticker to the place of the Kingdom, the virtues of place in Berry are applicable. The deepest of those virtues in my understanding is simple the ability to stop coveting the greener grass on the other side of the fence and to recognize our vocations where we are. Some are called to be apostles which would mean a bunch of travel. But wherever they go they are still in the place of the Kingdom living out their vocation. They did not leave because of covetousness but because of call. And to do so is not to leave at all. Likewise the pastor called to the same place for a lifetime, or the layman who works quietly in the vineyard where they have been placed, are also living out their vocations. The world would say to them -”Boom, you are not getting the most out of life, you must go elsewhere.” The church and God instead would say no. There is honor and fulfillment in living your life in place, “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)” Berry’s form of place is idolatry because his place is literally a physical place in this dying world. But Berry, unlike many other forms of secularism, is sanctifiable with a better understanding of place. The Christian’s home is not here, but the Kingdom. And that Kingdom is in every place. One can go and never leave. Likewise one can never leave, but have everywhere in the communion of saints.

Individualism and The Church

In our Thursday morning Bible Study for a while at least we are going to be looking at the non-gospel readings for the following Sunday. For the season after Easter that means instead of an old testament lesson we have a reading from Acts, and the epistle lesson comes from Revelation. This week is the introduction to the letters to the church in Revelation 1:4-18. We strayed a little past there is look at the letters themselves. One of the points that gets brought out is that the letters are written to the churches. They are actually written to the angel (messenger) of the church at _____, but what I would assert that means is that they are addressed as a collective. A congregation or a church is a communion. The strengths and problems of an individual are shared by all. The only place in those letters where I see an individual appeal is in Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22). The call to repent for the church that is being spit out is to individuals to hear Christ knocking at the door. Otherwise the call is to the collective.

That is a hard message for American individuals. We are so used to me and my personal Jesus, or me and Jesus in my heart. But as I was walking through this something became clearer to me. What I would call it would be the “guru-ification of Christianity”. Rob Bell is out on the speaking trail with a new book and he now runs small gatherings of people who will pay interact with him and spend some time surfing. He has freed himself of the responsibilities and accountability of a church. Likewise John Spong has another book and is available for speaking. He will come an pitch heresy to whoever pays the bills. Both of their tacts are toward helping you become all you can be. Jesus is important because he is the prop as the ultimate “true man”. If you follow Jesus then you too will emerge into being a truly enlightened human being. And now I get it. In that stuffy church you are forced to deal with left feet and little fingers. In the guru-church it is just you and finding your inner Jesus. And of course that inner Jesus can look like almost anything, but probably not left feet or little fingers.

When I noted yesterday in my not all together coherent thought on what to expect because of the changing picture of marriage, one of the things I mentioned a Hindu thought of Brahman and Atman. When you look at the various Christian-Gurus running around, that is what they are pushing for – a Christianity freed of the church. Free yourself from the tangible and the grubby and head toward enlightenment. Cut yourself free from that body that is holding you back. And the church, poor church, just kinda takes it. You know, like Jesus. The church isn’t hip enough for the emergents. The church isn’t pure enough for the schismatics of various stripes. The church isn’t radical enough for the super-christians. You name it there is some group of guru’s whipping the church. And they think they want the church to change in their direction, but I now wonder. If it did change why would you need their brand of guru anymore? It is easier having the church as whipping boy. All the while, suffering the abuse hurled at it, the church week in and week out calls left feet and little fingers to gather. It calls the glory parts – the right hands, the eyes – to take care and look at the rest. She gathers and instructs and points not to some Jesus inside but to the Jesus outside. The one on a cross. To the gritty reality of sin and blood and crosses. Instead of cutting off parts and freeing yourself, she invites you to join the body, to incarnate, to pick up the cross and join the pilgrim band.

Yes, I know, joining stuff isn’t popular. Bodies are messy. Especially a place full of left feet and little fingers. (And even the occasional middle finger.) But here is the thing. Christ didn’t found a philosophy, he’s building a church or a people. The Kingdom is not a celestial realm of the mind to which we ascend. The new heavens and the new earth come down. We get resurrected bodies. The gurus are leading you away from the gritty reality. The reality that the church resides in. The reality that the church incarnates as the body of Christ in this dark realm.

Of Vestments, Parishes, Truth, Love and Ecumenical Ties

We at St. Mark’s have been blessed with some beautiful new paraments for the altar. The problem with new articles made “for holy use” is that there are old articles made for the same purpose. You are caught in the bind of thinking a) we didn’t find them “good enough” for our use so why would we expect someone else to use them and b) they don’t really belong in places of common use after being on the altar for decades. So what happens is that you store them waiting for that opportunity to use them or gift them. That opportunity came along for us.

One of the sons of a family at St. Mark’s is part of an Anglican Ordinariate church just getting started. While we would have been very happy to have his family here at St. Mark’s, we are a Lutheran Church that believes, teaches and confesses according to the Book of Concord. That was not where this son was at. One of the to-do’s about starting a “high church” congregation is dressing the altar. Knowing that we had some in reserve so to speak, his mom asked if they might be available. The rest is history. Here are some pictures of St. Mark’s old paraments being put to holy use in a new home.

ST. Alban 3

St. Alban 2

St. Alban 1

Now, I’d like to share a different picture. This the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Probably the former church home of many of those now part of the ordinariate.PresidingBishopRainbow This is the woman at the head of the church pursuing a “scorched earth policy” against any Anglicans/Episcopalians who disagree with the new theology adopted and seek to separate from the communion (news stories one, two) Which pictures better represent a the humble piety called for from the “poor who have the good news proclaimed to them (Luke 4:18)?”

Here is something that I’ve found to be true of any orthodox body I’ve ever been around. First, they are not shy about saying what they actually believe. They believe it because they have received it as from the Lord. Second, they will invite your to “come and see” or journey along to see that truth. They do that largely because they themselves are on such a journey. We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God. Third, because they know who they are, they are able to truly interact in love with others. It is not a false love that is constantly just desiring approval from the other, but a love that bears all things (1 Cor 13:7). Even a separation when there is no longer a true communion. Eventually we will be able to see clearly.

Preaching the Good News to the Poor

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Biblical Text: Luke 4:16-30
Full Draft of Sermon

Following the season of Epiphany texts we’ve been looking at the ways that God reveals himself. We’ve structured it around what I’ve asserted is the question of the age: How do we see/meet God? Our culture and even many of our churches have attempted to claim or put forward an unmediated experience of God. And if we don’t have that direct access, then we turn away or search in another spot. The biggest problem with that is that God has promised to work, to be present, through means. The grace of God comes to us through the means of grace. The last couple of weeks were baptism and the Lord’s supper. This week was first confession and absolution. Those are the proclaimed word reduced down to their essence. Today, in your hearing, is the year of the Lord’s favor. The eternal Jubilee has been proclaimed by Jesus and the church has been proclaiming that release ever since.

The second slowly dawning epiphany that this should point toward is the false spirit nature of any movement or group that says you don’t need a church or a congregation. Because the church is the focus of those means. Where ever two or three are gathered, or as the text for this sermon says, it was Jesus’ custom to go to church on the sabbath. That is an anachronistic claim, the real word is synagogue, but it stands as the text shows the basic structure of that OT service. The synagogue was brought together around the word – written and proclaimed. The OT sacramental word was found in the temple. We are the inheritors of Word and Sacrament. God has always primarily worked through Word and Sacrament. It has always been grace, through means. Those means following Christ are found in what we call a church.

Thoughts on an Election Day

Sir Thomas More liked to compare the English King (Henry VIII) to a lion. One of his expressions was simply, “if the Lion ever came to know his own strength” [fill in the blank with the evil that could be done]. The other was commenting on dealing with that king. Paraphrasing, to him you can play with him and scruff his golden mane, but to you all you see are “those claws, those claws, those claws”. Thomas was eventually beheaded by those claws when the lion did know his own strength.

Why do I start there? Well, primarily because the Christian, like the Catholic in Henry VIII’s England, is now playing on hostile turf. This is something that hasn’t been true in most Christianity since 325 AD at a Milvian Bridge. And if my darker thoughts are true, the lion is starting to know his own strength. In the United States we have always has a separation of church and state, but that was primarily understood and read as “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In other words, a two-kingdoms understanding was built into the American understanding. Two-Kingdoms is theological shorthand for the a temporal and spiritual realm each with their own legitimate ways of doing things. They interact with each other, both claim allegiance, but both are valid. What the US constitution said was Caesar won’t mess with the workings of the church. What we as American’s don’t realize is how fortunate we have been to have had that theology undergirding our political order. Why when the rest of the world in the 20th century saw vicious totalitarian states did we not? Because it was never our understanding that everything was subject to the state. The state was limited in regard to the church. Also in the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments the state was limited in regard to the individual/family as a sovereign sphere. (The state could not without due process enter your house or business.) All of that has been brought into question at this time.

Religion, as the theory recently advanced by the current administration at the Supreme Court and in the Health Care Law, is purely a private affair. The first amendment freedom of religion acknowledging a separate and valid authority (another kingdom) is being redefined as under the state. (Likewise with the patriot act (thank you GWB) the freedom of the family is also being usurped.) You now have the freedom to worship, so long as that does not restrict the state. You cannot take your teachings out of the worship hall and actually live them so long as they challenge the state. Now I am being a bit extreme in the fact that the Supreme Court in Hosanna v Tabor told the state 9-0 to butt-out. The ACA has also likewise just started to be challenged on 1st amendment religious grounds. But the fact that the state is aggressively pursuing rights and putting forth these challenges points toward the lion finding its strength.

The US has never seen a truly totalitarian impulse move ahead. We have always lived in the tension of multiple sovereigns: Federal, State, local, church, family and civil society organizations. We found our civil liberties best protected by that balance. But the Federal leviathan has grown large. Its mane has become luxuriant. Its claws look sharp. This election will not settle that, but that is the larger political question. Do we as a people still acknowledge two kingdoms? Do any of those other sovereigns have the strength to rebuild, or is the US seeing its first, even if it comes in the form of a nanny, totalitarian state. “What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” (W.B. Yeats)

Denominations, Congregations and Christendom

I feel like I have to explain that last one, Christendom. That is simply the word that described a time from roughly Constantine to circa 1965. What it meant was that anywhere you went in the west two things were roughly true: 1) Christianity even if of various shades or just nominal was a shared foundation which meant that biblical stories were a shared vocabulary and 2) The church had a teaching role to play in the larger society. Even if you didn’t accept the gospel, the church’s law was the curb or the minimum basis of civil law.

There were two articles stumbled across that have spurred the following reflection. Here is Sara Hinlicky, an ELCA pastor living the ex-pat life in France writing about church life in the reaches and how it can be very different. Here is another ELCA pastor mulling over that amorphous group know as “young clergy” and what they would tell you after three beers. (The Seminary limit is two, so if you see Pastor on his third its either that he’s put on enough weight to handle three, or something is eating him.) I think both of these articles are talking about the same thing.

It is only 10 AM – echoing St. Peter at Pentecost- and writing some of this is more likely to send me to drinking that third beer, but what the hey.

1) Christendom as described above is dead. In the USA, where freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitution, mayors are telling Chicken sandwich places they can’t build (Chick-fil-a) over the owner’s Christian beliefs, and national laws are being written that force Roman Catholic organizations to do what they think is anathema. The church’s teaching role is no longer acknowledged and that was the core of Christendom.
2) A corollary to the death of Christendom is the slower death of denominations.
3) The collapse of denominations is not the same thing as the collapse of the church.
4) The church is found where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered rightly. (AC7) That transcends our little law boxes known as denominations that we build to protect it, but most importantly the church is found fully in the local congregation.
4a) It is a confusion of law and gospel to find the church in the larger structures that we build de jure humano (by the law of man). That is not an excuse for anarchy. [The Confessions' Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, especially starting at paragraph 60, is magnificent on this.]
5) The calling of this generation is to train and equip (Eph 4:12) – to restore to the first love(Rev 2:4) – many congregations that are actually wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17). You find the church in the congregations; you also find the rot there.
6) That is the shared calling of every generation, just some are more deeply felt. Human structures fall faster when the foundation is rotten. In the final flowering of Christendom and its teaching of the law, we forgot to preach the gospel.
7) Christendom’s rules included a “career path” for ministers. A career path and calls were about location mobility. Which if we are being honest led to the abuse of the small and weak and a chasing after the winners when the gospel is rightly about the cross and identifying with the losers (Matt 25:31-46). Career paths are replaced by the more biblically relevant overseer or elder found in 1 Tim 3:1-13, which are fulfilled by someone from the local community.
8) Worldly success (i.e. numbers, budgets, et.al.) is not guaranteed by being faithful to the gospel. If fact the opposite might be true (paradox of the cross). But, Jesus says to pray, and what you ask will be granted (Luke 11:9). We pray weekly (daily!) your kingdom come. If even we evil ones know how to give good gifts, what about our Father in heaven? (Luke 11:5-13) In His grace, through the means of prayer, God’s Kingdom certainly comes. And what Luther describes is that we pray it come to us. In whatever form it takes, may we recognize your Kingdom.

In summary, many of the concerns by the “young clergy” article, as much as it intellectually admits the death of one model, to me come across as a lament or a clinging to it. It is only when you are willing to die to what you’ve known (Bishops and Synods and Chairs and Budgets and Calls) that you find the Gospel power of resurrection. It is still the church, just a resurrection body, not that mortal one. We don’t force the change. God accomplishes that all on his own. You can cling to the vestiges of the life that is passing away, or in prayer grasp the already given resurrection. Hinlicky’s article strikes closer to the surprising truth of the Gospel.

Hymns We Sing – All Saints Edition

Tuesday was All Saints proper. We will celebrate it this Sunday. All Saints is the Christian feast day that originally inspired Halloween or All Hallows Eve. There are all kind of explanation stories about where this feast day came from. You can read some of them at the wikipedia page or is you want something more sanctified the Catholic Encyclopedia has some history. The church lives with a distinction of the Church Militant (those alive here and now) and the Church Triumphant (those already in glory). The Roman Catholic church would add the Church Suffering (those in purgatory) and also All Souls Day which is the day after All Saints. To me what all of this tries to capture is one line in the Apostle’s Creed and a general sense of connectedness. Though dead saints may have passed, we remaining still feel connected to them and not just in an emotional way. In the third article of the creed we confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. The entire church – militant and triumphant – is united in Christ. The church at all times and all places is united in Christ waiting for that final revelation and victory. That communion, because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, is what All Saint Celebrates. All Saints ends up being a celebration of the Church and a looking forward to our final unity.

One of the great Hymns that captures this sense is For All the Saints. The Text was written by William How and the tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams. IN the span of the church it is a relatively recent hymn written in the 19th century. But what I want to highlight about it is how it gets the end times sequence correct. Stanzas 5,6,7,8 capture the true confession about time.

5) And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song

And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong

Alleluia

6) The Golden evening brightens in the west

Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest

Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest

Alleluia

7) But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day

The saints triumphant rise in bright array

The King of Glory passes on His way

Alleluia

8) From earth’s wide bounds, from oceans farthest coast

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host

Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Alleluis

In verse 5 the Church militant – us here and now – is still struggling, but already we hear the music. The victory has been won. It might be far off, but we hear it – in word and sacrament. In verse 6 is the acknowledgement that eventually all the saints move from militant to a better term might be rest. It is not really the church Triumphant yet. Sweet is the calm of paradise, but things are not as they will be. In verse 7 a yet more glorious day breaks. The Great and Glorious Day of the Lord – resurrection day. The saints, now triumphant, rise is bright array. You see, before the resurrection, is not the end. Read Rev 6:10. The saints in Abraham’s bosom or calm paradise or heaven ask the same question we ask – How long? The Triumph waits until the resurrection of all flesh and the King of Glory passes on his way. Verse 8 captures the final situation. After the resurrection and judgement, from earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast – from every race, tribe, nation and tongue – the saints take up residence in the new Jerusalem. Rev 21:2-4, 21

For All the Saints captures in Word and Song the Hope, Struggle, Rest and Triumph of the Church and all her saints. For that reason is gets pride of place as a theme song on All Saints Day. You’ll hear it this weekend. Come and sing with us.