Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fond farewells, new beginnings, and waiting--patient and otherwise

This morning I preached for what will likely be the last time at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Mandeville, Louisiana. It's not that I've done anything wrong or that they've lost interest in me or in the Word. Rather, they have gotten themselves their own pastor. So for the last time (again, probably, though I won't say that again), I crossed the Causeway on an early Sunday morning, watching the sailboats get an early start as I drove to the church. This is a wonderful congregation, full of love for the pastors who have served them--both their Called pastors and the pastors who have come from near and far to serve them during their vacancy. This congregation has always been wonderful toward me when I've been there, showing me a great deal of love, paying attention to and participating in the Bible studies I've prepared, hungering and thirsting for the Lord's Supper and for the preaching of the Word. I am going to miss serving them, but I am very happy that they have their pastor. Vacancies are never easy on a congregation. Members disappear. The sick and shut-in don't always get visited by a vacancy pastor who is too often busy with his own congregation or his own work. And while the congregation has an identity on its own, a pastor helps a congregation to form and maintain that identity. So anyway, I preached this morning and administered the sacraments, and that is always a privilege and pleasure.

And then, this afternoon, I was able to participate in the Installation of the new pastor. Since my . . . departure from my previous parish, installations are always rather bittersweet for me. Installations are a time of hope, of potential. A pastor comes to a congregation who has just said to him, "We could choose from all the pastors in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and its sister bodies, and we wanted you." There's no baggage. The pastor has a clean slate and optimism for what he and the congregation can do together. On the other hand, it's not easy as a man not serving as a parish pastor to hear the vows a pastor makes before God concerning his work in that place and the vows the congregation makes concerning the pastor, and avoid thinking about how it all fell apart and how it's been three and a half years since I lived those vows in a congregation as their pastor.

I have hope that I will again be a parish pastor someday. Confidence in that thought is not so easy to come by, but seeing this congregation and this pastor united is a pointed reminder that God is good and that His will shall be done. He's the one who Called me to the Office of the Holy Ministry, and in His time (regardless of the princes of this world), He will return me to parish ministry. So I'll wait and say, "Thy will be done" . . . even if sometimes I'd rather have my will be done.

I probably won't get back to Redeemer very often. It's hard to justify making the two hour trip when there are congregations just as faithful and a lot closer to where I live. But Redeemer in Mandeville will always have a special place in my heart.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Law and Gospel in a gesture

I'm in a rather disturbing conversation right now about making the sign of the cross. I won't go into details, save that it always seems like one of the main objections to making the sign of the cross in Lutheran circles is that people make a requirement of it.

Making the sign of the cross is a wonderfully pious and godly gesture in which the Christian acknowledges the blessings he receives and says, "Indeed, this blessing is for me." But it is not necessary, and anyone who says that it's necessary is living under the Law.

There are few things worse than making a Law out of something that is wonderful sign of the Gospel.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A New Twist on Homosexual Marriage: Conscience Equals Discrimination

Gay Marriage Bill Falls Short in New Hampshire House

The link above will take you to the news story from the Washington Post, but the gist of it is that a bill came before the New Hampshire House of Representatives to legalize "gay marriage". The bill failed by a margin of two votes. Apparently the reason the bill failed was that the governor wanted a conscience clause added so that religious leaders could refuse to marry homosexuals on the grounds of religious conscience, and this was unacceptable to some because it would legalize discrimination. In other words, conscience equals hatred.

This is the way they fight the battle. It doesn't matter why a person does not approve of gay marriage. If a person disapproves, they're automatically homophobes and "gay-bashers". This is the kind of "tolerance" we're allowed to have these days.

When this becomes law anywhere I live--and I'm sure it will--I will no longer perform weddings at all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Belated and fond farewell

I just found out that an old pastor acquaintance of mine died two-and-a-half years ago. This gentleman pastor, a man who had served all of his adult life and served some more after he retired, had served the vacancy at one of the congregations in served in North Dakota before I arrived. He was a mentor from a distance, I guess one could say, and I learned from him (even though I didn't always show it) the patience of the Office of the Ministry. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that I hadn't heard. I'm not in touch with a lot of people up there anymore, but I'm still sad that he's gone. Nonetheless, I am sure with the certainty of faith that Pastor Theiss is resting in the arms of his Savior.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sermon for 5/10/09 - Fifth Sunday in Easter (LSB-B)

Test the Spirits
I John 4:1-11 (12-21)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Between Sunday school, Bible study, Catechism instruction and sermons, we Christians spend a lot of time immersed in the teachings of Scripture. Our pastors spend four additional years—and sometimes more—learning biblical doctrine and how the Church has explained that doctrine throughout its history, so we can then teach others about these things.

The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church takes doctrine very seriously. The history of the Church is full of accounts of men and women who died in the face of persecution rather than betray or deny their faith. The leaders of the Church gathered numerous times in meetings called “ecumenical councils” to clarify points of doctrine and to fight the heresies of false teachers, and from one such council came the Nicene Creed which we confessed this morning. Father Luther saw where the Church of Rome had gone astray, and he tried to fix it from the inside. When that failed, he started a new body within the Church where Law and Gospel could be preached in its truth and purity. When in the mid-1800s the Kingdom of Prussia insisted that the Lutherans and the Reformed worship together—two bodies who have similar beliefs but a different understanding of the Lord’s Supper—the Lutherans immigrated to the United States, where they could believe and worship as they chose. In 1847 they founded the body that eventually became known as the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

That’s a lot of effort put forth on behalf of doctrine. Why bother? What’s so important about the teachings of Scripture that the Church would take such stringent measures to protect them, sometimes even to the point of death? The Apostle John gives us two reasons in our Epistle. First he tells us, “Many false prophets have gone out into the world.” These false teachers would have you believe that Jesus is something other than what He truly is: the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father, true God and true Man, the Savior of the world. These false teachers would have you believe that Jesus wants you to have worldly prosperity. They teach that Jesus can fix your life in eight simple steps. They teach that Jesus is a moral guide without equal.

But while they want you to ask, “What would Jesus do?” they don’t want you to think about who Jesus really is and what He came to do. The Preface to the Book of Concord tells us, “Just as while the holy apostles were still alive, it happened that false teachers insinuated perverted teachings into the churches in which the apostles themselves had planted the pure, unadulterated Word of God, so such false teachers were also inflicted on our churches because of our own and the ungrateful world's impenitence and sin.” These false teachers have been around throughout the whole history of the Church, and while their methods may change, their message is the same: the world knows better than Jesus what you need.

It’s bad enough that false teachers present such a message. But we present them with an all-too-eager audience. The old Adam in us wants to believe that Jesus wants us to have earthly prosperity, that Jesus can make your bad grades or your fight without your children go away. But we don’t like to be reminded that Jesus came to die and come to life again because we are sinners who need a Savior. We don’t like to acknowledge that there’s nothing we can do ourselves to make that sin go away. That’s why preachers like Joel Osteen and Jeremiah Wright and Rick Warren are so popular: they say what the world wants to hear, rather than saying what the world needs to hear.

But John also tells us, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” This is the second reason we take the doctrines of the Bible so seriously: precisely because they teach us exactly what God would have us know. John tells us, “Test the spirits.” But he doesn’t just tell us to do so and then leave us to figure out how. He continued by saying, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” John wrote this letter in response to a false teacher named Cerinthus, a man who denied that Jesus was the Son of God and so denied that the Son of God died on the cross. He was trying to spread this teaching in the congregation at Ephesus. This is what it means to be anti-Christ: one who is anti-Christ denies that Jesus came in the flesh to achieve and deliver to us full and free atonement for our sins. Sadly, false teachers are caught in their own web of lies. They have reason to doubt their eternal salvation.

But by the grace of God, John does not leave us in doubt. He writes, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Our Lord Jesus Christ dwells in you through Holy Baptism, and He is the one who destroyed death and the power of the devil through His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day; and these things give us life. We know—not with a mere rational knowledge but with the surety that faith bestows—that Jesus came precisely to seek and to save sinners.

As you confess Jesus Christ who has come in the flesh, you do so as one in whom that Christ dwells, as one who belongs to Him. And because He has made you His own, you don’t need to worry that you will be overpowered or outnumbered by the false teachers and their disciples. At the Holy Supper in which we will soon partake, you confess that Christ comes to you in His own flesh and blood there, and you make that confession with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. You do not stand alone, and you are not powerless. For Christ stands with you, and you stand with Him as a member of His bride, the Church.

So test the spirits. You know the Word of truth. You know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world. And you know how to test the teaching of anyone who claims to be preaching of God. Does his teaching confess Christ as Savior? Does it confess Christ as both God and Man? Does it confess Christ as the One sent in the flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior? If so, trust that teaching. Embrace it. Hold fast to it. And if not, then get rid of it. Flee from it. Run the false teacher out of your sanctuary and out of your life. They would only distract you from Christ and bring your focus on this world and its prince. Remember: you are of God, little children, and you have overcome the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.