Daily Lectionary Podcast – Isaiah 9:8-10:11 and 1 Peter 5:1-14

Isaiah 9:8-10:11
1 Peter 5:1-14
The unreliability of leaders
The scandal of particularity and God’s focus moving from Universal to Nation to individual heart

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 18:5-27 and Hebrews 12:1-24

Exodus 18:5-27
Hebrews 12:1-24
Traits to look for in electing/choosing leaders – both Political and Religious

A few odd things…

I. This is a real interesting chart. (From here.) Notice its the affiliation of 16 year olds and not adults. So in one sense it is predictive of where the whole bodies are heading. So even though white Roman Catholic congregations may be on the decline, if anything the hispanic inflow upholds the number. The growth in unaffiliated is the solution to the decreasing MP line. (Yes there are all kinds of cross flows, but that is the high level answer.) And last comment as I’ve said before Lutherans just don’t really map well into the American divisions. We were never really part of the Mainline (Episcopal, Presby, Methodist, Baptist). The ELCA struggled mightily in since the 1980’s to join it. I’ve always felt kinship with the evangelical although I do feel that since the advent of Nashville Worship we’ve grown in different ways. Anyway, any thoughts?

II. This guy sounds like my post of a couple of days ago with my steady drip, drip, drip from a generation of leadership. It reminds me of a quip on The Closer. Chief Pope asks Lt. Chief Johnson if she thought she could do better? Brenda responds something like, “I’d be embarrassed if I couldn’t”. Ouch. I guess we are all just immature.

III. Rod Dreher linking to Tim Dalrymple. The top question that our group with LINC-Rochester agreed on for interviews was “Tell us about your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” What Rod and Tim are talking about is the same thing that question gets at. As a pastor my primary goal is to make disciples not of me but of Jesus Christ. I want each person that I teach/preach/minister with to personally know the power of Christ’s resurrection in their lives. I personally am a rather systematic and intellectual guy, but for me that is part of the Lutheran prayer, study and trial. And I’ve learned being more of an autodidact than most that the way I read books is just different. To me they are conversations. My wife makes fun of me when I yell at a book. So many catechism and teaching classes are geared to make disciples for the teacher. Jesus said something like you go to the ends of the earth to make an convert and make him twice the resident of hell an you. (Matt 23:15) They should be the opportunities to meet Jesus. That is the goal at least.

A Strange Lack of Boldness…

That title is from this Mark Steyn article.

It would be heartening if more presidential candidates understood the urgency. But there is a strange lack of boldness in most of their proposals. They, too, seem victims of that 1950 moment, and assumptions of its permanence.

It is kind of funny – I’m constitutionally conservative. I’m a numbers guy after all. But the one thing that finance does teach you if you are paying attention is that you don’t get a return without a risk. The bigger the risk usually the higher the potential return, but also the likelihood for losing all goes way up. What people forget is that taking no risk is just death by a thousand cuts of inflation and obsolescence. We looked earlier this week at the parables of the talents. The one thing in those parables that gets punished is putting the talent in the ground or putting the mina in a cloth. Risk is part of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Although nobody in those parables ever loses, an interesting fact.) But why it is funny is that this in the bone conservative (like Mark Steyn) thinks this is a time that requires some bold action.

The Church at Sardis

I’m not talking about and I want to get out of the political sphere. That will be what it will be. And I’m not really talking this congregation. I think we are running a few good risks already. We are trying to live the vision statement and be actively engaged. I’m talking about the larger church. The two answers that I have consistently heard from current leadership are: a) what we have is good, its the best we can do and we should like it and b) all we really need to do is go back to {Walther, the 16th century boys, the church fathers} and do exactly what they did. Neither of those recognize the situation (Rev 3:1-2). At least the second starts with good advice if it is way to simplistic. What scares me the most about both those situations is that strange lack of boldness and the fact that the clock is running out. That church in Sardis is far more fragile, too comfortable in its assumptions of permanence, for reality.

Each generation lives the faith. Some add something. Others are strangely silent. What I wouldn’t want to be is the one on whom it started to look like the picture somewhere nearby.

Where’s the leader?

Full Text

It is not really fair to make fun of the disciples. We are at a great advantage. We know the full story and we have the Spirit. (Yes, Pentecost means something). And I’m sure I’m bulldozing over huge cultural difference, but I just kinda think that human nature never changes. (Without the intervention of the Spirit.) The disciples’ questions may seem thick, but they are usually very logical. When they ask, like today, who is the greatest – they are asking a real question. Maybe not the way we would put it, but even a question that has prophetic background. Elisha asked for a double portion of the Spirit of Elijah. A prophet who is going away leaves a successor. Jesus has predicted his death three times in rapid succession. The disciples are just asking who’s next in line. What is the succession plan? A natural question.

But hierarchies and succession plans and great leaders are not what the church is about. The gospel does not depend upon the leader. Because the gospel is Christ’s. And he is present wherever two or three call in his name. And what does that look like? Keep on eye on the least – the little child. Be watchful; remain faithful. Look for the lost. Seek reconciliation; not just forgiveness but living with your brother who has wronged you. All of these things are how the church lives grace and depend not a whit on who the local leader is. You can choose to live a life guided by grace. (Enabled by the Spirit). The church is the place where that happens. Where ever two people practice grace instead of power – there Christ is.

So easy, yet so hard to do.

A Virtue of a Necessity

Most organizations or institutions do not make changes until they just stop functioning. Somewhere in a vague past the complexity and size that an institution had built up actually helped. Then it stops. But the institution can’t even think about operating in another way. That is the way we’ve always done things – even though it isn’t. And a big part of it is that the institution made promises, promises they can’t keep anymore. And instead of admitting that and going into triage mode – finding what can be done – they keep the external dead husk of a structure while killing everything in it with 10% cut after 10% cut. And that can go on forever – until it just stops or until someone with the leadership and guts comes along to change it.

Parochially, the Eastern District and the LCMS has been in that situation for years. Taking a look at the budget is sad tale of woe of zombie programs and structure that just won’t die. All the while strangling things that might work. A tale of hospice instead of triage. A tale of care-taking instead of healing.

This NY times article and this bishop’s letter on the same thing – the NYC catholic schools – would seem to signal a change in that institution. It seems that Archbishop Timothy Dolan wants to be a leader. (The hospice image is his.) He’s picked a couple of interesting fights. First he’s picked a fight with “American Individualism”.

I fear as well an attitude that the support of our Catholic schools is only the duty of the parents who have children there. In this view, a parish without a school has no obligation at all to support other Catholic schools, and a parish blessed with a school might offer a “subsidy” to the school, but shifts the major burden of upkeep to the “school families,” who then are looked upon as “demanding drains” on the rest of the parish.

Such a view, of course, is, simply put, “non-Catholic.” As our tradition, Church teaching, canon law and cherished Catholic practice remind us, support of Catholic schools is a duty of the entire Church, even if you may not have a child now in one, or belong to a parish without one.

There are concentric rings of responsibility. Luther put the catechism to the head of the household by which he meant the father. But he also meant the heads of larger houses including the princes as the heads of the household of state when he wrote in 1524 a treatise “To the Councilmen of all Cities in Germany that they Establish and Maintain Christian Schools.” Luther would agree with the Archbishop.

The second fight he picks is over the role Bishops and Clergy. Stop the whining, stop the “good enough for church work”, stop the narcissism and pious sad face – and do your real job. Building hope. And it starts with competence in the job placed before you.

Finally, I fear a subtle buy-in into what I call the hospice mentality. Some bishops, priests, pastoral leaders, and Catholic faithful now sigh and say, “Well, we sure love our schools, and they have served us well, but, sadly, their day is over, and twilight is here. So, the best we can do is make their passing comfortable, and hold their hand while they slowly pass into grateful memory.”

Malarkey! We need to move from hospice to hope.

And we can’t do business as usual. To stand back and watch our schools struggle and scrape will only result in an “academic Darwinism”—where only the few fit survive—and a slow shrinking and gradual disappearance.

So, what do we do? We do what those before us have done. We renew passion, face reality and boldly plan for the future. We recover our dare and quit whining.

Pathways to Excellence calls for ongoing improvement internally, with realistic attention to quality teachers and principals, improvement of math and science scores, reassertion of Catholic identity and aggressive marketing.

Nobody wants to dedicate a life (especially a celibate live) to living in a hospice. In 2009 protestant seminaries had 20,835 M.Div students while catholic had 2,170 – an order of magnitude difference. It is nice to see someone with the leadership mantle appearing to use it.

A Chaplain and and Atheist go…

This story was the original. This is a letter to the WSJ concerning it.

It is a great mutt & Jeff or odd couple story. A military chaplain who “preaches about divine protection…rejects evolution and believes the earth to be 6000 years old. He carries a large KJV bible with him into a combat zone…” and his specialist assistant who “totes writings of Richard Dawkins…and is a full blown athiest”. The military’s thoughts on the matter, “They don’t have to be religious, they just need to be able to shoot straight.” The combat chaplains assistant is the gun that they don’t carry.

The letter is from Chaplain Wainwright who writes, “it became apparent that the problem with the chaplain and the religious programs specialist has nothing to do with faith or lack thereof but with teamwork and leadership. After two tours of Iraq, three IED hits, mortar attacks and other sundry excitement, I attribute my survivability and sanity both to my faith and to the technical and tactical expertise of my chaplain assistants and the other non-commissioned officers whose guidance and example kept me alive.”

The military, because the stakes are so high and immediate, is often an intensification of everyday life. Everyone who practices a faith strikes a balance between faith and understanding. You could say that even the atheist does that with the balance being anything I don’t understand I don’t believe.

In some ways I’m the odd ball. I’m a Chaplain Wainwright type guy. Let’s get competence and good practices as a base. To me faith doesn’t make up for stupidity, nor does it cover lunacy. Now God might save you from that bullet, God might bless your completely nuts program, but you stand a better chance of that happening by planning for it. That odd ball nature extends into the basis of faith. I believe, but that belief is not just something ungrounded. Read John 14:8-11. “Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.” Our faith is based on something solid. And yes I know that everybody and his brother has published a book debunking the gospels. Guess what, if you are being fair, the gospels hold up. There was a guy named Jesus. He actually did perform miracles. And they nailed him to a cross. The crowds that had followed him were all dispersed. But three days later, he was back. The tomb was empty and he appeared to a bunch of fishermen. Fishermen and a former zealot named Saul who got a special appearance traveled the known world telling just that story. This Jesus came back. That is the work I’ve seen him do.

If I needed complete understanding of something to believe it, I’d never drive a car let alone ride an airplane or type this message on a computer. In the words of an old hymn, “proofs I see sufficient of it, ’tis the true and faithful word.”

A question of authority…

Text: 1 Cor 9:1-15

In the wake of Pope Benedict’s appeal to Anglicans, a reading on Apostolic authority comes up in the 2 yr reading cycle.

Paul was always defending his apostleship. People were always questioning his right to authority. His responses could be read as whining in the best Jewish mother sort of way. “If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you…” Can you not hear the guilt trip? But later Paul gets more onto the grounds of his apostleship. “We endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ…I have made no us of these rights (to call for financial support), nor am I writing to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have any one deprive me of my ground for boasting.”

Who looks more like an authority – Pope Benedict or the Archbishop of Canturbury? Is the Pope giving up his claim to authority – his ground for boasting? But has he asked for anything from the Anglicans who could keep their married ministers, liturgy and even seminary houses? From a Pope who is well schooled in Paul, this is a very Pauline move…and a man very confident of his authority to do it as he trampled on his own Cardinals, moved the body (they call them congregations) that issued the order away from the ecumenical talkers to the doctine congregation and surprised AB Rowan Williams. From a leadership standpoint, it is inspiring…not that I’d swim the tiber.