Saturday, October 20, 2012

Catechesis - the Fullness of God's Truth

Too long has Lutheranism been misunderstood...

It's been misunderstood, because for too long it's been wrongly taught...  To be sure, several Lutheran doctrines have always been taught - i.e. that we are saved by grace through faith, the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament, and a few other truths of the Scriptures. 

But even in these doctrines, we've limited our teaching - even in terms of what our Lutheran Small Catechism teaches.  We're not talking about intricate, complicated teachings, here; I'm not talking about anything "extreme". What I'm lamenting is that for some prevailing reason, we've been afraid to teach basic Lutheran doctrines in their fullness; we don't 'take these simple truths to their conclusions

We've refused - for generations now - to teach several historic, objectively Lutheran teachings - things taught in the faithful simplicity of the 'Small Catechism.  As a result, too many Lutherans have insisted that they're believing and doing Lutheran things, when in fact they're not. I once had a Lutheran pastor tell me that Lutherans shouldn't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Sacrament, because that's what Roman Catholics believe, and therefore Martin Luther distinctly taught against this. Weird. Had this pastor ever read the Small Catechism? Another example: Many Lutherans have no idea why their Lutheran pastors says "I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" during the Divine Service.  They think, "Why is my pastor forgiving me?  Only God can forgive sins."

Too long has a lack of Lutheran education been tolerated. Too long has  a perversion of what is Lutheran been championed.

What I'm asserting should be understood in the kindest way, with all gentleness. To put the best construction on this matter: Most often, the perversion and limiting of Lutheran doctrine is not due to malice, but rather due to ignorance (lack of teaching; wrongly informed). 

Teaching is the cure - full teaching, honest teaching, Our Lord's teaching (and not our reasoned version thereof).  In other words: Catechesis - teaching what the Church of all times and places has taught - what Christ's Apostles taught, and what Christians are therefore to believe, teach and confess.  An honest teaching of the Small Catechism is an excellent start...

In these gray and latter days, it has been the context of this little blog (in its sporadic offerings) to confess the Christian Faith simply, yet with substance; indeed, both are possible.  

In this confession of the Christian Faith, we struggle against moderation. Here's why: We live in an age and society where nothing exclusive is allowed.  While "toleration" is preached to the rooftops on almost every front, our culture is extremely intolerant of the Truth.  As a rule now, we sadly avoid certainty; we shun objective things in favor of the subjective - because in the subjective, we can define ourselves any way we want, any time we want. Only God's Truth is objective, that is, always true, for all people, in every situation.

Tragically, it's this subjective, self-centered mindset has now established itself in many places in the Church on earth.

Here's what our current society doesn't recognize, or even want to know: That to take away bits and pieces of the truth is to make it be no longer the truth. A truth cannot be lessened; it is what it is.  That's what makes it the truth. To moderate God's Truth is to make it your truth - and no longer God's; you've made it an altogether different and separate thing. Whatever it is, it's no longer the Truth.

All this begs the question suggested at the beginning of this post:  "What, exactly, are these Lutheran, catechetical truths that we've modified, or even obscured?  Confess, blogger - ame 'em!"

Indeed, they will be confessed.  Each of these truths deserve their own treatment, and so will be the subjects of soon-upcoming posts. (The blogger makes a bold promise. Will he keep it?)  To whet your appetite, however, here are a few examples: "When, exactly, does the bread and wine of the Sacrament become the Body and Blood of Our Lord?"  "Is it right for Lutherans to make the Sign of the Cross - even often and publicly?"  "Did Jesus really give my pastor the authority to forgive my sins?" "Does God really want me to go to Individual Confession?"

There you go.  Buckle up.

More to come...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Drink His Cup, Be Baptized in His Baptism

Walking the road to Jerusalem, Jesus explained to His disciples where they were going, and exactly what was going to happen once they got there: “We’re going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes; they will condemn Him… mock Him, and spit on Him… and kill Him; and after three days He will rise again.”
That’s the plan; the most important thing Jesus will do: Die for the Life of the world…
But what do you suppose James and John were concerned with? Their Lord’s suffering and Death? His betrayal and suffering? No. They’re arguing over positions of power in Jesus’ new kingdom. They’re making sure that, when Jesus takes over, they’ll have the two top spots, and so they bounce up to Jesus, demanding: “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask… Grant us to sit at your right and at your left, in your glory.”
This is most presumptuous, even offensive. Here Jesus is telling His disciples about His impending death, when out of nowhere, James and John blurt out this new topic of conversation: Their glorious positions in Our Lord's coming kingdom.
Now, some might admire this boldness. James and John went for it. No guts, no glory. They "got while the gettin’ was good".   
But how does Jesus answer James and John? He plays along. He says, “What do you want me to do for you?  Ask and you shall receive.”
“Grant us to sit, one at your right and one at your left, in your glory.”  Okay, Jesus?  Are You getting this?  We are, here and now, claiming the top spots when you come into your glory. After all, we left everything we had to follow You. That should count for something, right?
Wrong. Jesus tells them, “You don’t know what you’re asking."  James and John want to be with Jesus in “glory”, but they don’t get Jesus’ kind of glory. They’re thinking, it’s going to be great - the easy life, all the earthly comforts and benefits!  But glory for Jesus means betrayal, suffering, and death on a cross. Jesus calls all of this His hour of glory. It’s His glory to die for the sins of the world. It’s His glory to defeat sin, death, and devil – in weakness, to lay down His life as a sacrifice pleasing to His Father.
Jesus has a cup to drink - a bitter cup, the sour wine of our sin and rebellion against God, our lies and murders, and our attempts to be God in place of God. 
The Cup Jesus is speaking of here is our sinful misery – our self-centered, fear-driven greed, and our short-sighted felt-need to control others and to damn them with our accusations when we don’t get our way…
And only Jesus can take this cup and be baptized into Death. There is no one else who can be baptized into our death – and then rise up out of it to life.  Only Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, can stand in our place and do what we can’t do for ourselves.
Jesus has a baptism awaiting Him. It's His immersion into our death, and the grave that is rightfully ours. On His Cross, Jesus was baptized into our death, so that we would be baptized into His life.
Are James and John able to drink this cup, or able to be baptized with Jesus’ Baptism? They seem to think they are, they’re so sure of themselves, so confident and motivated.
But Jesus reprimands this kind of ambition. This is how bullies, cowards and tyrants behave. This is how the world exercises authority – with manipulation and control kill or be killed, climbing up to the top on the backs of others. This is the world of business and politics…   But Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you.”
“It shall not be so among you,” Jesus says.  Not you who I died for – whom I’ve baptized to be new creations – new creations out of this world and its ways; new creations who no longer fear and hurt others just to survive.  You don’t need to do that anymore; that’s not who you are now…
It shall not be so among you. No power games in Jesus’ kingdom. No lording authority over others. No trying to control…  If you want to be great in the kingdom of Christ the Crucified, you must become servant of everyone. To be first, you must be a slave of all.
Thats what greatness looks like in the kingdom of Christ. The last are first, the humbled are exalted, and best of all: Sinners are justified before God, and the dead are raised to life. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
So if you desire the greatest, highest position in all the kingdom of Christ, then simply receive these, His Words to you:  “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
And in this forgiveness, you will drink His Cup, and you will know and live the fullness of His Baptism through the Cross - and thus be great in His kingdom, even to Life Everlasting. Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

For God So Loved the World...

Jesus did not die because it was nice of Him to do so.  Jesus didn’t die because it was “the right thing to do”.  No; Jesus died on the cross – that is, He deliberately laid down His life - so that you would live.  

And that tells you something.  It tells you that Jesus’ motivation for dying on the cross wasn’t just some general, generic “love for all people.”   Our Lord’s love isn’t just some blanket He throws over everyone.  To be sure, God loves everyone, but He doesn’t love you the same as He loves the person next to you, or anyone else.  God’s love is not a “one-size-fits-all” love…

Because God is a Father.

No father loves all his children in exactly the same way. A father loves each of his children the same amount, but not in the same way.  Your heavenly Father is no different; He loves you individually and specifically, because He knows you; He made you.

God sent His only-begotten Son to die, for you, because He’s a Father, and you’re His child. 

Knowing this – this relationship of a Father Creator and His beloved creatures – one sees why God laid down His life to save sinners – sinners who reject Him. Even though sinners don't love God, He loves them…  And this is how He loves them: He dies their death; He takes His own wrath, and He satisfies His own Justice… and He does all this in the cross.

But just as much as He died for specific individuals, Christ also died for the life of the world – including those who reject Him.  While they’re still sinners, bent on destroying Him, God loves them and laid down His life for them.  

They may reject His love – to their condemnation – but Christ still nonetheless paid for their sins with His shed blood and death…  God can never be blamed for anyone’s condemnation…  Because God so loved the world – that is, because He loved the world by sending His Son to atone for sin – it is a needless thing that anyone ever be condemned…

Whoever believes in Christ does so only by His cross and His death. In fact, there is no other way to approach Christ.  But in this way – the way of the Cross – you are received by your heavenly Father as Christ is: you’re made His beloved son, in whom He is well-pleased…

While we almost daily now hear news of mass-shootings and shocking violence – God has conquered this violence – by taking it into His own flesh, and putting it to death.  Christ has already conquered the violence we daily face, by putting it to death in His own Flesh.

Christ did this because sinners will not do this. 

Mankind is sinful and weak.  Despite man’s greatest desires and intentions, none of us will ever find a way to convince sick and violent people to put their guns down and stop.  And that means that until Christ returns, you will see more violence and death.

But know this: Though the war is not yet over, it is already won… because Christ has answered the world’s violence – in His shed blood and death. And because He has, the shed blood and death in schools, on foreign battlefields, or anywhere else has no power over you, or anyone else He died for.

Who can understand the ways of God?  No one can… He has conquered violence by allowing that violence to have its way with Him.  He has conquered hatred by forgiving those who hate Him, and He has conquered death… by dying.

Because God so loved the worldbecause God so loved sinners… because God so loved you, He gave His only begotten Son to die – because of violence, because of suffering, because of shootings, because of car crashes, because of cancer, because of heart attacks, because of hatred…  Because there is death, Christ bled and died, so that no other shed blood, and no other death, may ever have any power over you… because God so loved the world… to your Life Everlasting.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Journey That is Lent

Lent is a journey. We journey with our Lord to His cross, and we deal with the forgiveness of our sins.  We reflect on Our Lord’s death, and what that means to us sinners.

The Church’s Lenten journey – your Lenten journey – has two focuses: First, Lent is a time to learn more about what Christ’s Passion and death really means for you.  And second, Lent is a time of spiritual renewal – a time when you’re made a more mature Christian, and your love for God’s Word and Sacraments come to mean a whole lot more to you.

In the Early Church, Lent was a time when those being catechized for membership in the Church received their final instructions in the Faith before being baptized.  

And the very first thing a baptized Christian asks himself during Lent is, “What is repentance?”  

Repentance is turning away from your sins and turning to Christ for forgiveness. Repentance is ultimately a Holy Gift from God, because only God can turn a sinner’s heart back toward Him.  

Repentance is practiced dailyevery day; it’s not just a one-time thing, or an occasional thing. That’s why our Church continues – often and regularly – to repent of our sins, confess them, and receive Christ’s Absolution. That’s why we go to the Lord’s Supper week after week.

Repentance starts with God’s Good Word of Law, which clearly says that God hates sin – and that your sin is literally killing you…  Repentance continues with God’s Good Word of Gospel, in His Gift of Confession & Absolutionthe Forgiveness of all your sins.

So often, Confession & Absolution is considered an old-fashioned, unnecessary ritual we think we don’t need to do anymore.  But this is a lie – Satan’s lie; he loves to make the Holy Gifts of God look poisonous and evil. 

Father Martin Luther once said, “When I urge you to go to Confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian.”  Yes, some churches have misused Confession, but that’s no reason to throw it away.  A wise man doesn’t throw away a valued possession, just because someone else has misused it…

Confessing your sins – not generically but specificallyis a hard thing to do.  So hard, in fact, many don’t even try it.  Regardless, the Church will always offer this Gift, for Christ has commanded it for our good – even for our salvation…

And, despite the fact that our sin tells us that confessing our sins is a hard thing to do, Confession & Absolution, in reality, does not bring pain or humiliation, but rather, Peace - relief from the burden of sin, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

And so, again, Lent is a journey – a journey to the cross of Christ.  For some of you, this will be a journey you’ve taken many times before.  And for some of you, this will be a new journey, or at least a new path on the same journey.

And as that journey begins on Ash Wednesday, your heavenly Father gives you an extra gift: The powerful reminder of ashes:
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

God is good; He has put ashes on your forehead so that they may prepare you to confess your sins, that you may know His gift of Absolution: Relief from the burden of your sin. 

These ashes help you with the first step in Confession & Absolution; they remind you to “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – a clear reminder that you need a Savior.  And because those ashes are in the shape of a cross, these ashes also tell you that this Savior has shed His blood to wash away your shame, and the dust of your death.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Remember this, and be most blessed on your Lenten journey of baptismal repentance, in the Faith of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – who takes away the ashes and dust of your sin and death, by absolving all your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit.  

What is the Liturgy? The Service of the Word – Part Three

This month we continue our simple study of the Divine Liturgy, and how it is the Word of God for you.  Last month we looked at the Introit, and the Kyrie.  This month, we learn about the Gloria in Excelsis and the Salutation.  First, take a look at these portions of the Liturgy in the Lutheran Service Book, on pages 154 & 156, and on pages 187 thru 189.

·      The Gloria in Excelsis is Latin for “glory [to God] in the highest”.
·      This is the Church’s song of the Angels’ Heavenly Chorus the night Christ was born. (St. Luke 2:14; St. John 1:29)
·      Confident that God is merciful (having just sung the Kyrie) the Church joins with the heavenly hosts of angels in this hymn of praise.
·      In the Gloria in Excelsis, the Church celebrates Christmas all year long.  And we – along with the shepherds that first Christmas night – are invited to go and see Jesus.  We do so in the Scripture Readings and the Sermon that follow.

·      The Salutation is often misunderstood to simply be a greeting between the pastor and the congregation. This is because several years ago, the Church adopted a new version of the Salutation.  We now have two versions: the “old”, and the “new”: 
o  P “The Lord be with you.”  C “And with thy spirit.”
o  P “The Lord be with you.”  C “And also with you.”
·      Why the new version?  Because of something called “Vatican 2”.  Vatican 2 was a series of liturgical reforms the Roman Catholic Church enacted in the 1960’s.  One reason for these reforms was an attempt to lessen the “separation” between the clergy and the laity. By the 1960’s, many Roman Catholic laymen were increasingly resenting the doctrine of the clergy’s “indelible character” (which was understood by the laity to mean that priests were less-fallible and more holy than they).
o  Therefore, the congregation’s response to the Salutation was changed from “And with thy spirit” to “And also with you.”  This change hoped to somehow “equalize” the clergy and the laity. 
o  Sadly though, this change has actually brought greater misunderstanding regarding called and ordained ministers (more on this below).
·      You might be surprised to learn that Lutherans adopted the Roman Catholic reforms of Vatican 2.  This is why we say “And with thy spirit” in the liturgies we used before Vatican 2, but say “And also with you” in the liturgies we’ve adopted since. 
·      However, we need to understand the Salutation rightly – as it was originally intended by Christ, and taught to our Christian ancestors of old:
o  The “And also with you” response can easily be misunderstood to mean something like this:
§  P “I hope that you’re feeling the Lord’s presence at this time.”
C “We hope that you are, too, Pastor.”
§  Now, this is a good greeting. In fact, Christians should speak this kind of greeting to one another as often as they get the chance.  But this is not what the Salutation is.  The salutation is something different, something more.
o  “The Lord be with you” is a greeting reserved for pastors to speak to laity, because it conveys God’s authoritative presence with His people; it’s more than just a well-intended greeting. 
o  And while pastors are certainly no more holy than laymen, they are set apart by God (via Ordination) to speak and to administer God’s Word to His people.  Pastors are ordained so that God’s people may be assured that what they hear and receive from pastors is indeed from Christ, not men.
o  “And with thy spirit” employs a key word that has great meaning for those who wish to be assured of Christ’s presence in our lives. It is intended to mean this:
§  P “The Lord is ever present with you for your forgiveness, life and salvation.”
C “We acknowledge that by the spirit of your ordination, you are speaking God’s truth to us (and not merely your opinion).”
·      The following Scripture passages verify this teaching: St. Luke 10:16; 1st Timothy 4:14; 2nd Timothy 4:22.
§  Notice that when the congregation replies “And with thy spirit” that “spirit” is not capitalized.  This is not a reference to the Holy Spirit, but rather to the “spirit of ordination”, as in 2nd Timothy 1:6-8 and 2nd Timothy 4:22. 
§  Therefore, since the pastor’s words are not merely his hope or wish for you, but rather Our Lord’s act of proclaiming His presence with you, you may be assured, and mot merely hope, that: The Lord is with you.
·      It may interest you to know that recently, the Roman Catholic Church has changed back to the original response, “And with thy spirit.”  They have come to see that this response more clearly conveys the meaning of the Salutation.
§  And yet, we Lutherans currently have both the old and the new responses.  Nevertheless – no matter which response we use – let us Lutherans firmly understand the true meaning of the Salutation: The promise of Our Lord’s presence with us – spoken by His authority, through the pastor.

Next time: The Collect of the Day, and the Readings from Holy Scripture