Here is a question/challenge to LC-MS folks – Feedback wanted

LINC-Rochester (yes, its still moving) has three principles:

1. Community Involvement – this is care for the community we are seeking to evangelize in a simple way, what are the felt needs and can we address them.
2. Indigenous Leadership – the goal is to find, teach and place leaders from the community itself, the faster the better
3. Church multiplication – the goal is not just to plant a church but to plant multiple churches and to create churches that have planting in their DNA

Those principles are part of LINC-Houston that I witnessed and they don’t seem too far off from the apostolic church observed in Acts and Paul’s letters. The early church was renowned for taking care of the “widows & orphans”. The first fight in the church was over the distribution to the widows (Acts 6:1). Paul sends Titus around to appoint elders in each church (Titus 1:5) and just the amazing fact of the early church talks about church multiplication. That was the mission they were involved in. The first place they were called Christians, Antioch, set aside Paul and Barnabas to plant more (Acts 13:1-3). This is solid biblical ground.

I hope I’m not stepping too far out in saying that the group meeting for LINC is looking to encourage congregations to behave in such a manner themselves. It is an embarrassment that there is not an LC-MS congregation in the City of Rochester proper. Even stepping away from the denominational definition it is something of an embarrassment that a group of congregations around the city supposedly working together have only a marginal mission in the city (important but in the grand scheme marginal, it effectively does one of the three principles of LINC).

In putting together an organization and a budget the question ultimately is what level of support can be generated for such a mission? This is what I proposed.

In the Rochester circuits the last reported average attendance was just over 2800 people on any given week. (That is an attendance number and not a membership number which would be roughly 3-4x the attendance). The total combined budgets of those congregations is just under $5 Million per year. My initial proposals for funding the mission in Rochester were to aim for $10 per individual attendee. Over 5 years as hopefully we proved effective, I hoped to grow that to $25 per attendee. I also put into the budget the thought that congregations would start (in 2013) appropriating 0.5% of their budget to local mission. Again hopefully proving success along the way growing that congregational support for local mission to 2% of budget. Two separate streams. Individuals buying into the mission of the church in Samaria/Judea and Congregations doing the same.

Here is the question: do those assumptions seem pie in the sky? If you were trying to fund local mission work where would you start for funding assumptions? Do you agree or disagree that we should first look at ourselves (as opposed to an outside grant source)? This is a sincere bleg.

A prayer for the day

Lord give us today our daily bread.
We’d like more than bread
instruct our hearts in thankfulness
We’d like it to be more than a day
teach us to trust you for our hours
We’d like it yesterday or last week or better yet inherited
Remind us of our need in these hours
We’d like to work, to pay it back
Grace seems to little, too late, too tasteless, too tough
Give us today our daily bread.

Preparing the Way

Sermon Text: Mark 11:1-10, Isa 64:1,8
Full Text of Sermon

It was the start of advent. The start of the season of preparing the way. With the start of a new church year we also change the gospel that we are reading. We are now reading from Mark in worship. So this sermon in the text part takes a very broad brush view of the gospel to position the action of the actual text.

We all get caught up in the sweep of movements. And there is nothing actually bad about some of the sarcastic examples I use, as long as a person’s identity isn’t based on that object or movement. When you find yourself chasing glory through some object or institution or event, you’ve gone off the path. Jesus has his disciples fetch a donkey. Jesus constantly asks his disciples to do the little things.

That is where you find the beating heart of the Christian life. In the everyday living. In living close to God and your fellow man. That is preparing the way of the Lord. The only true glory is available only by grace and through a cross. Its a narrow way. It can’t be bought, only lived.


Full Text of Sermon

I don’t think there is a better day to preach than thanksgiving. It is still strange to me that a culture as lost as modern American has the best secular holiday. The day itself and everything said about it in the past and at its founding is a great text. If you are listening to what Washington, Lincoln, Coolidge, FDR, the Pilgrims wrote and said you can’t avoid the cross and grace and the mystery of giving thanks at all times…because it is all in the Father’s hands.

Quick Notes

In some ways it feels like the passing of an era. I’ve been at St. Mark’s three years. Long enough to know some of the history. Not long enough to know the secrets. But one of the things that smaller churches typically have are “names”. I don’t mean that to put anyone else down, but certain surnames often are associated with certain churches. In the church I grew up in there were Studemanns. One of the names at St. Mark was Bushman. The last Bushman name received Christian burial today. She is survived by a daughter in the congregation and a sister-in-law, but the name passes. The words said today.

Requiem in pace, Jeanne Bushman.

At the same time my father-in-law is not in great shape, any prayers would be appreciated. The parson’s wife has been away. Back for a short time probably to go again. Been watching the three kids in the meantime.

With Thanksgiving a couple of days away, I should note that we are able to say thanks even in the middle of hardship. Churches are an extended family. And this one is a good one.

Last Judgements

Gospel Text: Matt 25:32-46
Full Sermon Text

I hate to say it, but this is an example of decent sermon prep that lacked editing and carry-through. At least 1 point two many. About a page and a half too long. And missing a story element. Although I do have to add that I’m amazed I didn’t see more yawns. Probably because I didn’t have it down enough to deliver it and was looking down at my paper too much to see them.

Ok, done beating myself up. At an intellectual and a personal piety level this text is a grenade. What I will say is that the Last Judgment from Matthew confronts and contradicts so many of our doctrinal and de facto pieties that it would be tough not to lapse into homiletic underwear and lecture. On its face the judgment is based on ethical reasons. If all you had was the last judgement from Matthew you’d have to say that Pelagius was the saint and Augustine then heretic. I think I describe the web of texts to evaluate that, to put it into the larger story, but it would be much better to have the bible open in front with the possibility for questions and conversation. Putting that aside, our culture in general has moved beyond that debate of works and grace. The phrase translated eternal punishment just isn’t believed by most people. There are different scriptural ways of addressing it that give due pause to abyss we are staring into, but most of America just doesn’t lend credence to the concept of hell. The way I typically describe it for bible study folks is that my impression is most of America has accepted the gospel without hearing the law. They don’t know what they are doing in other words. They take the cheap grace without pausing to think if it is fool’s gold.

The last part which dominates the sermon and would have been the core point is that we modern Americans just don’t understand monarchy. What lands the goats in fire is not that they are evil to their core. They answer Lord. They wonder when they haven’t been good. Thinking of a human King – arguing from lesser to greater – you can immediately see the times when it is what you didn’t do that got you in trouble. It is what you don’t do that typically brings into question the kind. If the King says – “do the will of my Father” and then you proceed to ignore the law completely…

So, I’m glad we have a lectionary that forces these texts. I’m also glad it only comes up once every three years.

Hymns We Sing – At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing

This coming weekend on the Church calendar and the secular calendar covers a bunch of ground. This is the last Sunday of the church year often called Christ the King Sunday. The Sunday is set to ponder the last judgement, the coming of Christ with full authority displayed before all. At St. Mark’s it is a communion Sunday. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper on 1st, 3rd and 5th Sundays. The following Sunday, being the start of Advent, starts a penitential season of the church year or a season of preparation. Taking on that more somber tone, the Alleluias are removed. And bleeding over from the secular calendar is Thanksgiving. We have a Thanksgiving service on Wednesday evening, but it usually gets at least a nod in the Sunday prior.

We won’t be singing this hymn (tune, text) – #633 in the Lutheran Service Book – as the Hymn of the Day. Instead it is going to be after the Supper. But it really brings together all three threads of the service.

Verse One picks up the Scriptural Theme of the day – Christ the King.
At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing
Praise to our victorious King
Who has washed us in the tide
Flowing from His pierced Side

This is not just a king or a pretender but the victorious king. The image of the final feast – the wedding feast of the bride (the church) and the bridegroom (Christ) – is put front and center. We have the foretaste of that feast in the Lord’s supper. The church has His presence flowing from His pierced side which verse two picks up on make explicit.

Praise we Him whose love divine
Gives His sacred blood for wine
Gives His body for the feast
Christ the victim, Christ the priest.

I hope you noticed the Alleluias at the end. As a congregation we celebrate the feast with Alleluia one last time before we put them away for a season. In the past I’ve tried to pack as many into a service as possible. This Sunday just these, but still for a purpose.

What about Thanksgiving? Two things. Isn’t a feast the central element of American Thanksgiving? The other part is acknowledging where our bounty comes from and asking for providence to continue the blessings. The last verse we will sing does that. The last verse is a doxology – a hymn of recognition and praise of the Trinity. And this doxology contains that sense of providence – Spirit guide us.

Father, who the crown shall give
Savior, by whose death we live
Spirit, guide us through all our days
Three in one, Your name we praise.

(Note, the pictures are some of the windows in our sanctuary)

Paragraphs to Ponder

From the NYT on Modern Slavery. (At a time when bible translators won’t use the word in English).

Srey Pov, Lithiya and Somaly encountered a form of oppression that echoes 19th-century slavery. But the scale is larger today. By my calculations, at least 10 times as many girls are now trafficked into brothels annually as African slaves were transported to the New World in the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Add in the ~30 million extra men in China due to the one child policy and the degradation of the west (read the article to see what I refer too) and you’ve got the circumstances for it to get worse.

When every earthly prop gives way…the problem of authority

Young Luther (and by young I’m talking 37, one of my personal quibbles with Luther scholars is that I don’t think they comprehend age very well, a man of 37, especially in an age of shorter lifespans, was bordering on old, not young, even today we’d say he’s approaching middle age, anyway), Young Luther in the Freedom of a Christian would pine for theodidacti, those taught by God. Old Luther (and by that I mean 42 year old) would get grumpy and complain that the peasants were revolting. Little gripes about the “true gospel” and other complaints about people just not following it would creep in until very late life ugly stuff about Jews. It is a famous question among Lutheran theologians – are you a young Luther or an old Luther gal? What that really means is: what are you views on authority? Are you looking to God alone, or have you been mugged by reality? Are you willing to live with the chaos of people not getting the lesson right, or do you want things settled even if it takes a good strong hand not from the right hand of the Father?

Two things bring that to mind that I want to ponder here. First is Rod Dreher with his typical wind-y post but with a tough core question – Aren’t we all Protestants now?.

No, what’s startling and troubling to me about this is not that American Catholics fail to live up to the demands of their faith, but that in very large numbers, they reject the binding Authority of the Church on their consciences. I don’t see any other way to read this. For them, the Church doesn’t command, because it doesn’t have the authority to command; the Church only suggests.

The second thing is a typography of younger “leavers” of the church from Barna Group. It is extracted from a larger book you can find following the link, but the typography breaks 18 to 29 year old’s into three groups in relation to the church. 3 out of 10 stay in the church they were brought up in. 2 out of 10 they label exiles which means they have left the church for cause (i.e. the church did or continued to do something they couldn’t stomach but they “still like Jesus”). 4 out of 10 are nomads which means they have just wandered away from the church without any real passion or judgment about it. And 1 out of 9 (there must be a remainder who never had contact at all) they label prodigals which means they have outright rejected the church and its teachings.

Both of those items to me point to a question or a problem with the foundations of authority or epistemology (how do you know? How do you know you know?). Barna’s typology reflects Dreher’s question. All the groups – I’d say even most on the stay pile – are just going to what already mirrors their own outlook. The only authority or maybe I should say the trump authority is my reason and gut. As a more young Luther guy, I’m not terribly upset about that. I’m part of a tradition that trumpets being convinced by “scripture and plain reason” and which says “it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience”. (Luther @ Worms).

It’s the scripture part that is troubling. Read Matthew 16:19 then Matthew 18:18 then John 20:23. Those are all the “keys” passages about binding and loosing sins. To whom was that authority given? The Lutheran answer is to the church. The church (or local congregation) when it calls a pastor gives those keys to the pastor for public use. That is why you would see me say things like “by virtue of my office…I forgive you your sins”. Well and good, the church has the authority to forgive and to bind. But that is in general not how we act. If I were to stand up and say – “you there, hiding in the corner, I know that you are cheating on your wife, I’m binding that sin until you make good and change” – what do you think the response would be? {@!?$&!} But isn’t that what those keys passages say?

And the pastor doesn’t get off scot-free. The episcopal way would be to say the pastor is under a bishop or needs to be with a fellow pastor, but that never struck me a making sense. That just passes the problem up until you find a Pope. The pastor is bound and loosed by the congregation, think the body of Elders. A Walther way of explaining it is that in each congregation you have the incarnation of the full church. The full powers of the church are inherent in each congregation.

But all of that flies in the face of 9/10th of 18-29 year olds and probably a similar number of the those older. They just aren’t as free to walk. Read Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7. Who holds the key in the final analysis? Jesus. Who did Jesus give the key to? Whether you answer Peter (Roman Catholics), the apostles (Eastern Orthodox), the church (Protestants), if you believe scripture is a true witness, then the church is authoritative in morals. How do we live or receive that statement? Especially as a Lutheran?

I’ll continue this in the next post.

Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus

Text: Matthew 25:14-30 (Really Matthew 25:1-30)
Full Sermon Text

The title of the post is a hymn we sang (tune, lyrics). I meant to get that up as the “Hymns We Sing” selection, but it just didn’t work that way. That is the central theme of the sermon and I believe the sermon text. The parable of that talents (and the preceding parable of the 10 virgins) has a bunch of beguiling allegories. I look at some of those in the sermon. But at their core, there are parables of what the successful Christian life – the life that leads to eternal life – look like. And what they look like are lives committed to walking with Jesus. They are lives full of prayer and praise and the word lived in front of those who would scoff.

That sanctification walk is hard to fake – if anyone would even desire to do so. The only reason that anyone would really try is because they were convinced that this guy Jesus was the real thing. That walking with Jesus, regardless of the circumstances, actually meant everything. It is easy to imagine Pascal’s Wager, but that isn’t enough. That bet gets you to the position of the man with one talent. You are a little afraid of that god, so you take his talent and bury in case he returns. But you don’t really change your life. You don’t live you life walking with Jesus. And as in the parable, that isn’t enough. The Christian life is one that must be lived. And you only do that if you think that man on the cross bidding you to pick up yours is actually the Lord of everything.