Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sermon for the Funeral of Eileen "Doris" Daigle

Thy Will Be Done
Matthew 6:10b

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is Matthew chapter six, verse 10b: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

It is never easy to accept being separated from those we love whom the Lord has called to rest from the labors of this life. Sometimes it is made easier by the circumstances surrounding the final days, months or years of their life. Certainly in the midst of your grief you can feel some relief that Doris no longer struggles with the ravages of cancer. Nevertheless, while there may be some measure of relief, there is also grief and pain and sorrow.

The events that led us to where we are today were not unexpected. Pastor Lofthus, who had been visiting with Doris, knew that she was not likely to be in this world much longer. He made preparations in case things would transpire as they did. He spoke with me before he left town to make sure someone would be available to bring the Word of comfort to you if he hadn’t gotten back. More important than that, however, he visited with Doris and prayed with her. He shared the Word with her, comforting her and reminding her of the truth that Jesus died to give her eternal life. And he prayed with her the very words which we just heard, words from the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.”

If it were up to us, Doris would have regained some measure of health and would have lived to enjoy the company of her family and friends. This was not to be. This was certainly not the way we wanted things to turn out. However, you can be comforted that the life and death of Doris Daigle happened exactly as it was meant to happen. We can be confident and sure of that. The prayer that Pastor Lofthus and Doris prayed together was answered resoundingly. They prayed, “Thy will be done.” And everything happened exactly as the Lord willed it to happen.

Why would God desire that our beloved sister in the faith should die? That question is no easier to answer than the question of why He would allow her to suffer as long as she did. It is not because He is a cruel God. It is not because He desires the death of His children. We can make some guesses. After all, we know that she was suffering from terminal cancer. Surely a loving God wouldn’t want to unnecessarily extend her suffering. But the truth is, no one can fully know the mind of God. No matter how much faith we have, no matter how much education we might have concerning God’s Word, nobody can know the full counsel of God. As Paul teaches us in the First Letter to the Corinthians, “The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.”

That’s why our Lord Jesus Christ would have you call upon the Father and say, “Thy will be done.” The great joy of that prayer is that you don’t have to understand the will of God. You can bring your petitions before the Lord. You know that He already understands what you need and want, and knows and understands these things even better than you can yourselves. You bring those petitions before the Lord, and you leave them in His hands, knowing that He will provide for you whatever is right for you, whatever is best, whatever will answer your prayer in the most beneficial manner. His will shall be done and is done; and whatever that means, you can trust that God has answered your prayer exactly as it should be answered. For some, that might be a miraculous cure. For some, it might be a temporary respite.

And for Doris, that meant that it was the Lord’s will that she should be washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, where God made her His own child. It meant that it was God’s will that she be a sweet-natured, generous, artistic bundle of energy. It meant that it was God’s will that she should meet Warren during World War II, and that they should be married in 1947 and spend 61 wonderful years together. It meant that it was God’s will that she should have two daughters whom she would raise together with Warren. And it meant that this was exactly the right time for the Lord to call her home to Himself.

When I spoke with Denise the other day, she said something that struck me. She was telling me about how she talked with her mother, and in the course of the conversation between them they determined that “Sometimes we reach for other things than what we have. Instead of that, we need to be patient and wait on the Lord.” In the midst of the suffering Doris endured, and in the midst of the grief that Denise bore as she spoke to me, they understood this profound truth. Thousands of years earlier, our brother, the psalmist David, understood this same truth. He prayed, “Show me Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day.”

This is not an easy prayer, even in the best of circumstances. It’s never easy to set aside your own will and wait for the Lord to show you the plans He has for you. Nevertheless, it is the best path, the narrow way, for God will answer your prayers with answers that are far better than anything you can ask or imagine. For Doris, the answer that God gave is a rest in His arms that will never end. For you, while you wait for that same eventual answer, He will bless you according to His gracious good will—with the means to support yourselves, with the love of family and friends, and with the comfort that you need and desire in your grief.

God grant you faith to pray, “Thy will be done.” For when you pray that prayer, you know He will answer graciously. 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.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sermon – The Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

On This Rock
Matthew 16:13-19

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

What is it that makes someone a saint? How do we recognize saints today? The various answers to these questions emphasize the drastic differences between the Lutheran Church and other churches. I know this is a sermon and not a Bible study class, but please indulge me for a moment—I promise we’ll get to the point eventually.

Let’s use the example of the Roman Church. Recognizing a saint is a tedious process, one that has changed over the centuries; and I’ll give you a brief overview. The first step in recognizing a saint is that this person must be dead. After a five-year waiting period—except in special cases like that of Mother Theresa or Pope John Paul II—a person can be nominated. They will be called “Servant of God” as their life is researched. At some point, this person’s body must be taken from the ground and examined, and they collect relics of that person. Once it has been determined that this person is extremely virtuous, they are given the title of “Venerable”. If this person was martyred or had a miracle happen because of prayers said to them, then they will be given the title “Blessed”. Finally, if another miracle occurs because of prayers said to them, they are given the title of “Saint”. How many of you think you’d qualify for sainthood by that definition?

So how do Lutherans recognize a saint? What makes someone a saint in the eyes of a Lutheran? Well . . . let’s get back to that. Before we do that, let’s look at two individuals who both the Roman and Lutheran Church consider to be saints. In our Gospel lesson we have Saint Peter. We all know Simon Peter’s story. He was a fisherman whom the Lord called straight from the boat. The first time we see Simon, he says what everyone else is thinking: “Stay away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And then he does it again in our Gospel lesson: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” When Jesus announces that He’s going to Jerusalem to die, Peter says, “No way, Lord”—and we’d do the same thing in his place. It’s as if Peter is us, only he’s right there as the action is happening. But does that make him a saint?

And then there’s Saint Paul: Paul the tent-maker; Paul the Pharisee; Paul the murderer. Again, we see in Paul our own story. He is, in the beginning, the anti-Christian. He’s the one who finds the Christians and persecutes them. He’s the one who holds the cloaks of the people who stoned Stephen to death. And then, out of nowhere, the Lord takes hold of him and reveals to Paul the truth. Paul goes from persecutor to confessor. Does that make Paul a saint?

So . . . How do Lutherans determine what makes someone a saint? Are you ready for another long-winded explanation? That’s too bad; there won’t be one. There are only two things that make someone a saint in the eyes of a Lutheran. First, was this person Baptized? As we all know, Baptism drowns the old Adam, and a new, righteous, justified, holy person is reborn. And the second question we ask is, “What did this person confess?” Look at St. Peter in this morning’s Gospel. He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Look at how all the Apostles lived . . . and how most of them died. They confessed Christ in their lives, and most of them confessed Christ by dying rather than denying Him.

This morning we can look around and see a bunch of saints. How do I know this? Each one of you said, “I believe in God the Father Almighty; I believe in Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God; and I believe in the Holy Spirit.” By that confession you have proved yourselves to be saints. The last time I was here, we watched three young men make an adult confession of faith. They are saints, joined in the Communion of Saints.

It’s possible for a person to make a confession that they don’t really mean, of course. It’s possible to renounce your baptism and what God has done for you there. Pastors cannot read what’s in your heart. It’s not up to me whether or not you’re a saint. Merely saying the words does not make someone a saint. I may be fooled; I assure you, God will not be.

As you can see, we Lutherans have taken a different road to recognizing saints. For some, sainthood is about what a person has done. For us, sainthood has always been about what God has done for us. Wait a second, though. Didn’t I just say that we recognize a person by the confession they make? I did, didn’t I? Then how can it be what God has done for us? Aren’t we the ones making the confession?

Look at what Jesus says to Peter in our Gospel lesson. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” The only way Peter makes this correct confession of faith is that God the Father reveals the truth to Peter. In the same way, we all know how prolific Paul was in confessing the faith in what he wrote. These were not merely the words of Paul; this is the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. And the confession of faith we made this morning? We could not make that confession without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If being a saint were up to us, if being a saint depended on our own actions, there is no one on earth who could be considered a saint in the eyes of God. By the definition of the world, there are many people who are saints. In fact, the world considers many to be saints who don’t even believe that Jesus in the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the One with the word of eternal life. By the world’s definition, for example, the Dalai Lama is a saint. Certainly the Dalai Lama is enlightened. Certainly the Dalai Lama has lived a righteous life. However, if the Dalai Lama does not speak with his mouth the confession God has given him that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and the only source of salvation, then he is not a saint. The same goes for anyone who the world considers “holy”. If they refuse to confess Christ as Lord and Savior, then they are not a saint.

You, however, are a saint. You have been washed in Baptismal waters and made holy. You have confessed your sins, and those sins have been forgiven you in the word of Holy Absolution. Those sins have been loosed, both on earth and in heaven! You have spoken the confession that God has placed in you, the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. You have been and will be fed with the body and blood of Christ, the meal of saints. You don’t have to worry about being nominated. In Christ, you are one of the elect! You don’t have to live a life of exceptional righteousness, for Christ has lived that life for you and has made it yours! You don’t have to have people pray to you and have those prayers answered miraculously. That’s God’s job, and He does it perfectly well. You don’t even have to die. Christ died on your behalf.

Like St. Peter and like St. Paul, you are saints. You have been Baptized. You have spoken the true confession of a saint with Peter: Jesus, you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And the gates of hell shall not prevail against that confession. 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.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I've spent some time this week--and let's face it, for the past two-and-a-half years--brooding over what I consider my exile. It's been 31 months and 8 days now since I was last a parish pastor, and in some ways it feels like forever. It's obvious to me, and likely becoming obvious to anyone who has experience one of my Bible studies in the past two years, that I'm becoming somewhat stale theologically. It's not that I'm not still theologically apt and apt to teach, but rather that I'm not as . . . vibrant, as new, as fresh, something like that . . . when it comes to preaching and teaching. It's only natural. I just don't have the time to delve as deeply into the Word and the theology right now as I did as a parish pastor, when I could spend the morning praying and reading and working on sermon study as I prepared for visits and activities in the afternoon.

I've been getting back into it a little more in the past few weeks. I've been back into my Book of Concord more frequently, and I've been reading some of the newer books CPH has been releasing. I've started reading Wieting's The Benefits of Weekly Communion, and next on my list are Just's Heaven on Earth: The Gifts of Christ in the Divine Service and Kleinig's Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today. I've also been hitting some of the better blogs, like Pastor Petersen's Cyberstones and Deaconess Carder's Quincunque vult.

I guess, if I allow myself to be negative, the past two-and-a-half years could be considered a waste of time. I mean, the Lord has given me these gifts and set me apart to use them, and here I am, running a community center. I'm not serving a congregation as its pastor. I'm not out visiting the sick. I'm not shepherding a youth group.

But at the same time, I've been serving the greater Church. I've preached at 9 different congregations in three states since my exile began. I've done two funerals, three Baptisms, and presided at five Confirmations. I've preached over thirty times, which is more than I preached the two years and three months I was in Ohio as a parish pastor. If I can avoid looking at this negatively, I can consider this my Patmos. Granted, the Lord isn't giving my any grand new visions on the end times. However, he is allowing my to serve the Church at-large. I'll be preaching the next three weeks for a pastor who is taking his youth to the Higher Things gathering in Scranton and then taking vacation time. I'm able to help with a confessional group down here in the deep south. I'm doing more than I thought possible, even if it's not what I'd planned to be doing.

So if this is my Patmos, at least the Lord is giving me opportunities to keep serving, just as He did for the Apostle.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Happy Anniversary, I guess

I was Ordained as a pastor on June 18, 2000. It was one of the best days of my life. My grandparens were both still alive at the time. My whole family was there. My vicarage supervisor and his wife had come in from Missouri, and he preached. It was a day I'd worked hard to come to, both in terms of education and in the sense that I had a lot of growing up to do as I prepared for the Ministry.

Some things don't change--I still have a lot of growing up to do, and I probably always will. Nevertheless, I've come a long way since I started college in 1992 with the intention of being a Lutheran high school English teacher.

It's hard to celebrate today as an anniversary of my Ordination when I'm sitting in the office of a community center as an administrator. I heartily desire to return to parish ministry, and every day I'm not bringing God's gifts to His people is a day when the gifts God has given me are going to waste. It will come. Cynic though I am, I firmly believe the day will come. It's just not all that easy to wait for it to happen.

Happy Anniversary to me. Woo-hoo.

Here's some memories of happier occupational times.

From My Ordination

Rev. Scharff (my vicarage supervisor), Rev. Blackwell, Rev. Doellinger, me, Rev. Wurster, Rev. Hartburg, Rev. Curry

Matt and Kristen, my dad, me, my mom, Carl and Kim

Papa (Chuck), me, Grandma (Nornie)

From a North Dakota Baptism

Me with the first baby I Baptized

From Another Happy Day

Snail and Turtle

M&Ms Baptism
Drowning Michael

Drowning Molly

It will be better again.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Choice--What Are Your Options?

My mother once had, as Ani Difranco has said, "a fetus holding court in [her] gut". I always found that lyric interesting. I'll admit to being a male, so I can't say I know what it is to be pregnant. But from what I've heard from various pregnant women, the unborn baby is much like a tyrant, holding court in a kingdom which was once sovereign. A woman's body changes when she's pregnant. She starts producing . . . things . . . that she had never produced before. There is a whole other living being inside her, one that is sustained by what the woman ingests, one that draws life from the life of the woman.

I once thought that a woman would be incomplete without children. I no longer see this as the case. In our day and age, there are many ways for women to find fulfillment. I won't list them here; I don't want to be accused of trying to start something because I left something off the list or added something I should not have added. Suffice it to say, common women (and by "common" I mean women of any social standing or "class", not just the elite of society) have more freedom today than they've had at pretty much any time in history. Generally, women have the same employment opportunities as men. They have the same rights to free speach, to vote, to bear arms (or to bare them, for that matter), to religion (or the lack thereof), to live. We're talking basic human rights here.

There is a reason I opened this article the way I did. The fetus "holding court" in the gut of my mother was me. I am a human being. I am the end result of the act of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. I don't know if my parents used a condom, though I doubt it. I don't know if my mother was on birth control at the time, though I doubt it. I know my father had not yet had a vasectomy. The thing is, they had consensual sex. A sperm penetrated an egg and fertilized it. A human being was created. That's God's Will . . . or "Mother Nature at work", or the scientific nature of the reproductive organs of the male and female human bodies. Whatever. The point is, that's the way things work.

No one should ever be forced to have a child against their will. I am a firm believer that a man who is proven to have raped a woman should be castrated. And while I will never go so far as to say that a woman who is raped should be encouraged to have an abortion--yes, I'm that staunch an advocate of the right of an unborn child to live--I will say that I am more sympathetic to their plight than you will find many "pro-life" men to be. Women, I will actively defend your right to not have children, if that is your desire. I am "pro-choice", but not in the way that the term has come to be known.

I believe in a woman's right to choose. Under normal circumstances--rape not being a normal circumstance--a woman has a number of choices if she wishes to avoid participation in procreation. A woman can choose to abstain from sex, usually a certain method of contraception short of an immaculate conception. A woman can choose to use one of the various methods of feminine birth control; and should that protection fail, she and the male who inseminated her would have to deal with the consequences. A woman can choose to tell the male that he must wear some sort of male contraceptive device; and again, should that protection fail, she and the male who inseminated her would have to deal with the consequences. One or the other (or both) of the two consenting adults could choose to have a more permanent, surgical form of contraception perfomed. This would permanently preclude the possibility of children, short of what insurance companies would call "an act of God". I will actively defend your right to make any one of those choices. However, if a woman chooses to have sex, protected or otherwise, there are possible consequences. And one of the possible consequences is pregnancy.

Unfortunately, in our day and age a woman can also choose to have an abortion. However, a woman who makes this choice has made the same choice as Cain who slew his brother, David who ordered the death of Uriah the Hittite, or any other individual who has unjustly chosen to take the life from another human being. The government has chosen to ignore that truth. I would urge and beg you not to.

I'm glad my mother decided not to choose that last option. While there are undoubtedly those who would consider the possibility of a world without Alan Kornacki to be a good thing, I am a productive member of society. Whether you agree with my religious beliefs or not, I contribute to the betterment of society through my work. I have helped feed the hungry. I have counseled the grieving and depressed. I have made a difference. I could not have done that, had my mother chosen to end my life while I was yet in the womb. My mother chose to allow me to have the basic human right to live. I will be forever grateful for that, as I am that your mothers chose to allow you to have that same basic human right.

Women--You have options, and many of those options do not have to lead to pregnancy. I say it again: I will actively defend your right to choose any of those. However, I will not--indeed, I cannot--support your choice to have an abortion.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day and Pop Culture Go Together Like Fathers and Sons

It's Father's Day again, which means our thoughts turn to our masculine authority figures. Of course, for someone like me, it also turns to cultural references concerning said masculine authority figures. Today finds me pondering a certain episode of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye's father sends him a letter saying that he's going in for surgery. He doesn't give details, and Hawkeye gets the letter the day of the scheduled event. He's trying desperately to get a hold of his father, and when that fails, he tries to get details from the hospital. Meanwhile, Charles, who is usually an aloof character, actually becomes sympathetic. The line that strikes me most (and which makes Charles a character for whom I can, for one shining moment, have sympathy) is when he says to Hawkeye, "You're lucky. While I have a father, you have a dad." Finally it all comes right when Hawkeye learns that his father has come through his surgery okay.

So I leave you with the final lines from the episode, which Charles and Hawkeye exchange as a toast, in honor of Father's Day. (And I hope you won't mind that it's just a slight bit sexist in that it leaves out the womenfolk.)

Charles: Here's to our fathers.
Hawkeye: And their sons.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why I am still an LCMS Lutheran . . . and why I still want to be a parish pastor

I read a blog today from a former Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod pastor who has become a Roman Catholic: He gives details of the story of his conversion, though he doesn't go into a great deal of theological depth. I always find it sad when someone I considered a brother in the faith can abandon what he's confessed for so long. I've seen it go in a number of directions--first a college friend to a heterodox Lutheran body, then a seminary professor to Eastern Heterodoxy, and now an acquaintance to the Roman church. It doesn't get any easier to watch.

With everything that happened to me over the past three years, I've had a number of people ask my why I remain in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and why I strive to return to serving in a congregational setting. The second part is easier to answer than the first, but let me begin with the first.

The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod is not the Church. It is merely a collection of believers who have chosen to walk together because they, at least on paper, agree on what Scripture teaches. That agreement on paper includes the belief that Scripture is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and that the Lutheran Confessions are a (and I say "the") correct exposition of that Word of God. As I said, this agreement is on paper; in practice, the LCMS is divided from top to bottom on various and sundry issues. The division troubles me. Nevertheless, I have not seen a church body which has a more faithful statement of belief than the LCMS. There is at least one other that has as faithful a confession--namely, the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America, also known as ELDoNA--and does, in practice, have a more faithful agreement between its congregations to practice what they agree to on paper. Nevertheless, I do not believe ELDoNA's confession of faith is any more faithful than that of the LCMS. With that said, if I am removed from the roster of the LCMS or my CRM status is denied when I apply for reinstatement in 2009, I may consider leaving for ELDoNA for the possibility of returning to parish ministry one day. Unless that happens, though, I am remaining in the LCMS.

Why? Part of the reason is the faithfulness of the LCMS confession on paper. I fully agree with the LCMS confession of faith--at least on paper. I have my issues with the current leadership, but I'll always have issues with the human leadership of the Church on this side of heaven. Another part of the reason is the obvious--it's what I know. I've been a lifelong LCMS Lutheran, and I've spent nearly eight years contending for the faith as an LCMS pastor. That's not an eternity, but since those eight years have been among the worst eight years in our history since the first eight, it's certainly long enough. And a really big part of the reason is that it's my best chance of returning to parish ministry. If I leave for ELDoNA, or anywhere else, for that matter, the chances of me being a parish pastor again are no better, and maybe worse, than if I stay where I am. Some church bodies won't accept pastors unless they bring a congregation with them; others, chances are I'd have to start a congregation from scratch. That wouldn't be impossible, but if that's something the Lord wants me to do, He's going to have to talk a lot faster than He talked to get me into the Ministry in the first place, and that was very fast indeed! (I admit it--the thought scares the h-e-double-hockeysticks out of me! Then again, so did the thought of being a pastor.)

So . . . why do I want to return to parish ministry? This is the easier question to answer. Why? Because it's what the Lord has Called me to do. I went into the Ministry kicking and screaming; and now that I'm out, I'm kicking and screaming to get back in. As much as it bugs the hell out of me, it seems the Lord always knows better than I do what's best for me. The Ministry is not an easy life, but it's the life God chose for me, and it's where I belong. Imagine a fisherman with no boat. Imagine a coach with no team. Imagine a president with no country. I'm no less a pastor right now, but what good is it for me to be a pastor when there is no one for me to whom I can deliver God's gifts?

So I'm hanging around. There are some people who think it's easy to get rid of me. I may be off the board, but I am by no means out of the game. When the Lord makes the move to bring me back, I'm ready. And when I do go back in, it will be as a Lutheran pastor. There is no denomination, cult, or Church that is more than the one I'm already in. And I'm not leaving.