Thursday, May 30, 2013
Dear Mr. Roemer,
I left a message for someone in your group sales office that I'm reasonably certain will go unreturned. As I did last year, I called to speak to someone there regarding the coupons we receive every year from Six Flags that you ask us to hand out to our captive audience of school children and VBS-goers. What I was calling to find out was how many fliers for Bethany Lutheran Church to mail to you to hand out to visitors to your park on one day. I figure if you expect me to advertise for Six Flags, the least you can do is return the favor.
Believe me, I don't expect that to happen. But neither should you expect a congregation of the Lord's Church to be the instrument by which you do your marketing.
Maybe you've been duped by an entertainment-saturated culture into believing that the Church is just another place people go to get entertained, and so, “customers” of churches should be ripe customers for Six Flags. Maybe you've been tricked by the preachers who scratch where ears itch that the Church is little more than a social club of affluent (or wanna-be affluent) people who come to feel better about themselves so they can live better lives now. Maybe you blasphemously see the Church as a means to an end, whereby you can more easily disseminate admission coupons than by coughing up the cash for ads on Coca-Cola cans.
The Bride of the Lord Jesus, the Church is none of those things. Well, not exactly. She is a means to an end, but not where the end is greater revenue for Six Flags (or any of the bazillion companies who want us to try to sell their stuff to the people in our congregations). The end for which the Church exists is the saving of people, the forgiveness of sinners, the reconciling of humanity to God. As such, the Church is the place where God accomplishes these miraculous events.
It is in the Church where God gathers His people to lavish upon them His gifts, where he collects them to preach His good news to them that Jesus has died to take away the penalty for their sinfulness. The Church is the place where God kills sinners in the waters of Holy Baptism and raises from those waters newborn saints. The Church is the place where Jesus sends pastors to speak words of forgiveness to sin-seared consciences. The Church is the place where those of us who know our great need for forgiveness find it in the meal of the Lord's Supper, where Jesus gives to those He gathers His real Body to eat and His real Blood to drink.
Those are holy things.
And they're all gifts.
Imagine how it would cheapen this message and trivialize the gifts of God the Church exists to give out if we coupled the message of forgiveness abundant and free to an advertisement for reduced admission to an amusement park.
Do I have anything against Six Flags? No. In fact, if we find enough discount coupons from Coke cans, I might even bring my family there this summer.
But I'll let your amusement park remain a place for amusement and entertainment, and I ask you to let the Lord's Church be the place for forgiveness and salvation.
Rev. Jeff Hemmer, Pastor
Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church Fairview Heights, IL
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
This is from last year's St. Nick's Day.
This will take a little tweaking of the mythology. Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean. On Christmas Eve, flying reindeer pull his sleigh full of gifts. And after he comes down the chimney, he will steal into the rooms of people dreaming of sugarplums who think they can do without Christ and slap them awake.
And we'll need new songs and TV specials ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap," "Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly," "Frosty the Gnostic," "How the Arian Stole Christmas," "Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus").
Department store Santas should ask the children on their laps if they have been good, what they want for Christmas, and whether they understand the Two Natures of Christ. The Santas should also roam the shopping aisles, and if they hear any clerks wish their customers a mere "Happy Holiday," give them a slap.
This addition to his job description will keep Santa busy. Teachers who forbid the singing of religious Christmas carols—SLAP! Office managers who erect Holiday Trees—SLAP! Judges who outlaw manger displays—SLAP! People who give The Da Vinci Code as a Christmas present—SLAP! Ministers who cancel Sunday church services that fall on Christmas day—SLAP! SLAP!
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Monday, October 31, 2011
What is a Lutheran, anyway?
Sometimes people define Lutherans by what we’re not: the most common being “We’re not Roman Catholics.” Well, that’s true. The Augsburg Confession still calls the Roman Catholic church to repent of her false doctrine and practice and return to the teachings of the apostles and fathers. But if the sum of a person’s Lutheran identity is simply what we’re not, that’s not a very robust identity.
For many whose Lutheran identity is little more than “not Roman Catholic,” there’s a fear of things that look a little too Roman Catholic. Because Lutherans and Roman Catholics share a common heritage, a common history, they will naturally have many things in common with one another, just like two siblings from the same parents may not only look alike but also act alike. Two such things that often ruffle peoples’ feathers and cause them to protest that things are “too Roman Catholic” are making the sign of the cross and having private Confession and Absolution.
If you had to think of one thing that all Lutherans have in common, one thing that defines what it means to be a Lutheran Christian, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better than Luther’s Small Catechism. Everyone has a catechism. Everyone had to learn it to be confirmed. It’s the layman’s summary of the Bible. It’s quintessentially Lutheran. And yet, right there in the catechism are these two “too Roman Catholic” things: the sign of the cross and private confession and absolution. So how did it come to be that these two things, among many others, featured prominently in the most Lutheran thing you can think of, are regarded as Roman Catholic practices?
Because we’ve been wasting our time defining ourselves by what we’re not.
Who cares what we’re not. Let’s be who we are: Lutherans. Let’s learn to speak the words Lutherans speak, sing the songs Lutherans sing, worship the way Lutherans worship, pray the way Lutherans pray, catechize our children the way Lutherans catechize their children. In short, let’s not be afraid to be Lutherans, with a robust Lutheran identity. Lutherans are people who trust completely in God’s work for salvation. They don’t believe they had to make a decision to be saved; they don’t believe their works earn them God’s mercy. They believe in a Triune God who works from outside of them to deliver to them His precious gift of faith. They believe faith comes by hearing, that God adopts them into His family in Holy Baptism, that the Lord Jesus sends pastors to forgive their sins, and that God feeds them with forgiveness through the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.
This is a wonderful time to be a Lutheran Christian. We’re in the middle of something of a renaissance of classic Lutheranism. The greatest Lutheran publishing house in the world is turning out some of the best resources ever: The Lutheran Study Bible, Treasury of Daily Prayer, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions, a newly redesigned Lutheran Witness, and more. More and more congregations are returning to the Lutheran practice of receiving the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. Lutherans are rediscovering the Church’s historic vestments, covering their ordinary pastors in the extraordinary beauty of Christ’s Office.
It’s always a good time to be a Lutheran if you want rock-solid certainty of salvation. But today is a particularly invigorating day to be a Lutheran as we’re gradually growing in a robust, confident Lutheran identity.