Monday, September 27, 2010

Thinking about Opposites

Reflecting on the Gospel for Trinity 15 (Matthew 6:24-34), where Jesus says it’s impossible to worship both God and Mammon, has gotten me thinking about opposites.

Trust & Worry

Trust and worry, or trust and fear, are opposites. Worry and anxiety are evidence of a lack of faith, a lack of trust in God’s gracious provision, in His day-to-day protection. Thus the Creed teaches us that our Heavenly Father “defends us against all danger, guards and protects us from all evil.” He does, He really does. Childlike faith knows this and expects it at all times, just as a child expects complete and perfect protection from her father. To worry is to believe that God either is unable to take care of you or is unwilling to do so. Faith, rather, knows that God disciplines those whom He loves, giving them crosses to bear from time to time to conform them to His Son, that their lives might likewise be cruciform, that they might likewise love others selflessly.

Thankfulness & Entitlement

“Get the car that you deserve,” says the commercial on the radio, which pretty much summarizes most marketing: you deserve better. That’s the mindset of entitlement. You deserve something nice and comfortable, some handsome reward for your hard work. That’s what you deserve, so it’s what God should give you.

Again, the First Article of the Creed teaches differently. “All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” Faith is not concerned with entitlement, with what you think you deserve. Rather, repentant faith knows you deserve nothing good. Everything good you receive, is because of God’s fatherly, divine goodness and mercy. So faith receives all the daily bread God provides with thankfulness, not entitlement.

Forgiveness & Tolerance

One of the culture’s highest virtues is tolerance. Despite how liberal Christians want to reinterpret God, though, He is anything but tolerant. If He were tolerant of sin, foibles, peccadilloes, or deviations from His law, He would not have sent His Son to die for sin. If tolerance were an option, forgiveness would not be necessary. Instead of “tolerant,” God describes Himself as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”

Faith seeks not tolerance from God but forgiveness. In repentance, faith acknowledges that God is intolerant of our sin and even intolerant of sinners. The proof of God’s intolerance, of His hatred for sin, is on the cross. There, sin’s ugliness and God’s contempt for sin and sinners was displayed when God the Son cried out in dereliction—abandonment—to an unanswering God the Father. The Father had no ear for Jesus’ plea, having laid on Him the sin of all humanity, having made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.

Unbelief seeks tolerance, acceptance of our sins. Faith looks to Jesus for forgiveness. Faith knows that Jesus answered for all sin, so that we might be the very righteousness of Jesus.

All of these pairs are essentially expressions of faith and unbelief, which are opposites in every way. I’m sure there are plenty more expressions of faith and unbelief that are opposites, but these are the ones I’ve been thinking about the most.

Faith is a gift; unbelief is a work. Faith clings to Jesus; unbelief trusts in our selves. Unbelief lives inside the self; faith lives externally, in receiving the gifts God delivers outside ourselves and in loving and serving those we encounter in our vocations.

Monday, September 20, 2010

ATP: Communion how often?

What’s the Missouri Synod’s position on having Communion every Sunday?

Several times (at almost every convention in the past 20 years), the Missouri Synod passes resolutions that encourage more frequent celebration and reception of the Lord’s Supper. In 1995, for instance, she passed Resolution 2-08A, encouraging "pastors and congregations to study the scriptural, confessional, and historical witness to every Sunday communion with a view to recovering the opportunity for receiving the Lord's Supper each Lord's Day."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Crosiers, and Mitres, and Crucifixes! Oh my!

Watching the installation of Synidical President Matthew Harrison might have given many Lutherans opportunity to ask that as-old-as-the-Missouri-Synod question: "Are we becoming Roman Catholic?"

Short answer: no.
Long answer: no, of course not.

And yet, Archbishop Obare of the Lutheran Church in Kenya wore his mitre (mm hm, the pointy hat).

District President Stechholz carried a traditional bishop's crosier (mm hm, the shepherd's staff thingy).

There were crucifixes galore, from the processional ones to the pectoral ones, enough perhaps to outfit a Roman Catholic seminary.

So what's the point? The Lutheran Church is bigger than Missouri. Some Lutherans choose to have bishops, archbishops, mitres, and crosiers. Some don't. Are we to suppose that the African Lutherans are too Roman Catholic? No. Maybe simply that the Lutheran Church is quite catholic.

In any case, here's the whole, official album:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

ATP: Why do we stand for the procession?

We stand out of reverence for Christ.

When there is a full procession, we stand and face the processional crucifix. It is also appropriate to bow toward the cross and make the sign of the cross as it passes, as a reminder that Christ has marked us with His cross in the waters of Holy Baptism.

I’ve noticed, too, that when there’s not a full procession, people still turn to face the pastor as I walk in. Why is that? That’s not something I’ve ever instructed people to do, but the do it instinctively, because they know what pastors are called to bring them: Christ.

We stand when a judge enters a courtroom, not because the judge is anybody important but because he occupied an office which we respect. The judge may be a nice guy or a jerk, but we don’t stand for him, we stand for his judicial office.

So when we stand for the procession, even when the pastor’s the only one processing, we don’t stand for the pastor. We stand out of reverence for the Office of the Holy Ministry. The pastor may be a nice guy or a jerk, but we don’t care. Just like we make our pastors wear vestments to cover them up, to hide their uniqueness, to beautify the Office and cover the men who occupy that office, so when we stand, it’s not for the pastor, but for Christ. Standing out of reverence for Christ tells the pastor, “Buddy, we don’t care about you. We want you to give us Jesus. That’s what we made you promise to do at your ordination. That’s what we prayed for last night and this morning. We trust Christ’s Word and promise that He has sent you to us to give us His gifts.”

Pastors are nothing. The Office of the Ministry is Christ’s. Pastors are just the sacks of worms (to borrow Luther’s description of himself) God has chosen to fill that office, to use as His instruments. The Office is holy because Christ is holy. And we show reverence toward the Office because Christ uses it to bring us gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.


“To neglect your church, your prayer, your Bible study, your devotions, is to tell God that you have no desire to grow, to become more and more His child, that you are satisfied with being a weak and shaky Christian, and that you have had as much as you want from Him. How perilously such a person is slipping away from God. Everything that is not in accord with God's will is given over to death and the power of darkness. But, my friends, if we cling to Christ and His Word, growing daily in the will of God, striving to bring our lives into harmony with that will, what strength is ours, what then can harm us? When we are given over to the will of God, nothing can destroy, no more than God and His will can be destroyed. The unshakeable strength of the will of God is in us, though the world turn upside down.” (Dr. Norman Nagel,Selected Sermons, p. 245.)

Plain and simple, Christians grow.

So, are you growing? Or are you, as Pr. Nagel warns against, neglecting your church-going, your prayer life, your Bible study, your devotions?

How do Christians grow? Jesus describes it: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-6).

If a branch grows, it’s not because the branch is particularly healthy but because the whole plant is healthy. Jesus is the vine. Every branch grafted into Him, every branch that remains in Him, grow and bears fruit.

We grow by abiding in Jesus and in His Word.

So I want to challenge you to set a goal for growing in Jesus, for growing as His disciple. The only way you will grow is with more Jesus, with more of His Word. The end result of the goal is not more of you, but more of Jesus.

Here are some sample goals. Pick or modify one or more to suit you and help you grow in Jesus.
• I currently attend church less frequently than I should. My goal is to attend every Sunday that I’m healthy.
• I do not currently attend Bible class (or Sunday school). My goal is to grow in the Word by studying it at Bible class.
• I do not currently have family devotions every day. My goal is to begin using the Congregation at Prayer to have family prayer and devotions every day.
• I currently do not attend the catechetical Service of Prayer and Preaching on Wednesdays. My goal is to make this a regular part of my weekly hearing and studying the Word of God.
• I currently do not begin and end each day with prayer. My goal is to use Luther’s orders of morning and evening prayer as a basis for beginning and ending each day.

You will have the opportunity to make one of these or a similar discipleship growth goal during the month of September. Every Christian grows. We grow by being in Jesus and in His Word. “If we cling to Christ and His Word, growing daily in the will of God, striving to bring our lives into harmony with that will, what strength is ours, what then can harm us? When we are given over to the will of God, nothing can destroy, no more than God and His will can be destroyed.”