Friday, August 27, 2010

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, all in one blog post

When I started blogging in December of 2002 on another site, it was a means of finding for myself a sense of community at a time when I mistakenly felt I had none. Eventually I found myself in trouble at least partially concerning that blog. After a break from blogging, I decided that it wasn't blogging itself that was the problem, but rather that I was not really using a blog as purposefully as I could. That's when I started this blog. The purpose was two-fold. First, I wanted to spend my time in exile productively, writing theologically--keeping my hand in, so to speak. Second, I wanted to keep writing. Period. I enjoy writing, and writing begets writing. Though my first blog was instrumental in my vocational troubles, it helped me to strengthen the flow of my creative juices, which before that point had slowed unacceptably. I did not want that flow to abate. My new hobby of writing hymns--good or not, I'll let others decide--is a direct product of my work on this blog.

I did not start writing on this blog for community or for recognition. Nonetheless, two things have come to pass in the past few weeks that have shown me both. First, on August 6 I was chosen by Todd Wilken of Issues Etc. as "Blog of the Week". (Right click that second link and save the file to listen to the segment.) This is the second time I've been selected, the first being two years ago. Of course, the pick this time was sort of a fluke. Nonetheless, the two times I've been selected as Blog of the Week, the selection has brought with it the other unintended product: community. More people read my blog after each selection than had read it before. Suddenly my blog has today passed the 10,000 viewer mark. That's not much compared to Pastor Weedon's blog, and I wouldn't expect it to be. Pastor Weedon is well-known, beloved, and a frequent guest on Issues Etc. I am only one of the three. Nonetheless, I am honored that so many people have come to see what's going on in my corner of Christ's world. (By the way, Pastor Weedon's blog is well worth the read. Click that link and follow the joy.)

If you're responsible for any of the 10,000 ticks on the site counter of this blog, thank you for stopping by. I hope you'll introduce yourself and comment on what you find here. Though I wasn't seeking community in this blog, I'm glad I've found it. May God bless you richly, no matter what you've come here to find.

Sermon for 8/29/10: Thirteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

The Samaritan’s Love
Luke 10:23-37

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

A parable can sometimes be a means of getting a man to drop his guard just enough that he learns who and what he really is. In the Old Testament the best example of that is the prophet Nathan’s story told to King David about the little ewe lamb that belonged to another man, with its final and devastating “Thou art the man” directed at David. In the Gospels, perhaps the finest example of this is Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan, with its final and equally devastating “Go and do likewise.”

The lawyer in this parable was an expert in the Law of Moses, with all of its many rules and regulations. To understand the discussion between this lawyer and Jesus we must remember that, long before this, the Law of Moses had been summed up in that admonition to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. And so, when the lawyer put his question to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he wanted to cross-examine Jesus as an interpreter of the sacred Law. But Jesus turned the tables on His questioner, first by showing that the lawyer already knew the answer to his own question, and then by making him measure his life by the standard he, himself, set up in this battle of wits.

Jesus did not, in fact, answer that question, but replied by asking a question of His own: “What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?” The lawyer answered, “You will love the Lord with your whole heart, and your neighbor as yourself.” “Quite right,” Jesus told him. “Do this and you are on your way to eternal life. Stop theorizing about love and get down to doing it.” It was then that the lawyer, unable to spring his trap on Jesus, asked the question that was really foremost in his mind: “And who is my neighbor?” In other words, where am I to draw the line? To his chagrin, Jesus declined the debate. And, knowing that it was time to strike home, he told a story instead, not to answer the man’s question, but to show him that he had asked the wrong question. The right question is not, “Whom may I regard as neighbor?” It is, “To whom can I be a neighbor?” And the right answer to that question is, “To anyone whose need can be served by my help.”

What about this parable? First we see this lonely traveler, no doubt a Jew, making his way along what was called in those days the “Path of Blood,” seventeen miles of dangerous and rocky road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Suddenly, the robbers swooped down out of the hills, beat up their man, stripped him of his money and anything of value, and then vanished as quickly as they came. A bit later, along came two pillars of the Jewish church, one after the other, a priest and a Levite. They could not help but see the robber’s victim—after all, he was lying there in plain sight—but they did not lift a finger to help him. Why? We do not know, and cannot for sure. Human nature being what it is, we do know that good reasons to avoid involvement always have a way of offering themselves when we are faced with a difficult or distasteful duty. So, off went the priest and Levite, passing by on the other side.

Then, soon after, there came the hero of this story, and of all people he was a Samaritan—a half-breed heretic. One glance at the victim was enough to move his pity. Dismounting, he applied what help he could on the spot; wine and oil to disinfect the wounds, and bandages to bind them up. Then he placed the man on his animal, and he went with him to the nearest inn, to care for him that night. The next morning he came to the owner of the inn, gave him some money, and said: “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.” What a truly extravagant love this was! He did not even know the victim’s name. Even so, he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to nurse this man back to health. The story over, Jesus asked the final question: “So which of these do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The lawyer gave him the only answer he could. “He who showed mercy on him.” Jesus said, “Go and do as he did.

No parable Jesus told, except perhaps for the Prodigal Son, has been so loved and known as this one. But do we sentimentalize the story? Has it merely become the story of a man who did his good deed? Is the point of the parable merely the virtue of doing a good work? Is it not, rather, that our neighbor may end up being the person we would least expect? The lawyer could not really love his neighbor because he did not know who his neighbor was. Jesus answer was this: Love for one’s neighbor has no boundaries or restrictions, but only asks for the opportunity to be put to use.

When you think of it this way, it ceases to be just the story of the man who did his good deed. It is, instead, a story about the nature of true love; the love of God for us which is revealed in this life through our love for our neighbor. To ask, “Who is my neighbor?” is still to ask the wrong question. Love asks, “To whom can I be a neighbor?” To all of us who bear the name of Christ, he says, “Go and do what the Samaritan did to any and to all you meet along the path of this life.”

But, there is even more about the love of God here, something which is essential to fully understanding this parable, and will keep this parable from becoming nothing more than a bit of moralizing. Jesus is, Himself, the Good Samaritan. He was, and He is still among many, hated like the Samaritans were hated. Isaiah tells us, “He was despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.“ He became, by His cross, the Good Samaritan for us all. He helps us when all others and all else fails. He cleanses the wounds of our sins, and binds them up again that we might be healed, strong and healthy once again. He has healed us eternally through the life He brings us in His death, that life that will never end. And since all of this is true, we are under the sacred obligation to do as He did, as much as we are able. This is just what Jesus was talking about when He said, “Inasmuch as you did this to one of the least of My brethren, you did it to Me.” He who served us in this way is honored when we serve Him as He comes to us, hidden in all the poor and hopeless neighbors we meet in this life. He now serves us with His holy body and blood for the remission of our sins. He bids us go and do as He has done: to give lavishly and fully to anyone who is our neighbor. For in loving our neighbor even as we love ourselves, we love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. And because He has made His love for the neighbor into our love, we are the true inheritors of eternal life. 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.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sermon for 8/22/10--Twelfth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Ephphatha—Be Opened!
Mark 7:31-37

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

The Word of God is a powerful thing. In fact, it was powerful enough to bring you here this morning. This is a rich blessing which we have received from our heavenly Father. God’s Word goes in your ear, and then it comes out of your mouth. God speaks to us in His Word, and we speak His Word back to Him. We listen as the Word is read and preached in its truth and purity; and once we’ve heard the Word of God, we respond with thanksgiving, prayer, praise and song. Faith compels us to respond to God’s Word. In fact, as the Apostle Paul tells us, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

This was the literal truth for the deaf and tongue-tied man who was brought to Jesus in the region of the Decapolis. As you sit here this morning, you can do two things that the man in our text was unable to do before Jesus opened his ears and released his tongue: you can hear the Word, and you can speak and sing praise to God. This man was isolated both from God and from his fellow man: unable to hear, unable to speak intelligibly, unable to comprehend the Word and respond to it. In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah tells us that one of the signs of the coming of the promised Messiah is that “the deaf shall hear the words of the book”. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus not only has the power to heal this man, but that He also has the compassion which compels Him to heal this man. Mark tells us that Jesus “put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.'" And from that moment, the man could hear and speak plainly.

This is a vicious attack against the power of Satan. The devil would like nothing more than for God’s creation to be unable to receive and respond to God’s Word. The devil would stop up every ear if he could; he would paralyze every tongue. For some, he has been all too successful. After all, we are, by nature, deaf to God. We are, by nature, mute, unable to call upon His name, unable to confess His might and mercy, unable to praise Him. Satan would have us looking selfishly to our own worries, our own thoughts, our own strength. Satan would plug our ears with the garbage of this world: horoscopes and psychic network commercials, the constant drone of those who would have you believe that you can find peace in the things of this world, the deceptions of false teachers who would have you believe that you can make peace with God through ten simple steps. We hasten after these things; yet we are slow to listen to God’s Word, slow to praise Him, slow to call upon the Lord in the day of trouble, slow to glorify Him when He has brought our tribulation to an end. God created us in His image, in perfect righteousness, so that we could hear Him and call upon Him as children call upon their own dear fathers. But since we turned away from Him, since we stopped our ears to Him, since we decided instead to listen to the father of lies, we have become deaf and silent to the Word. We refuse to hear the Word; we cast it away and chase after lies. Even now the Old Adam in us wants nothing to do with the Word of God. He rebels against it! He sticks his own fingers in his ears and makes unintelligible noises to shut out God's Word, like a petulant child who has been told to finish his vegetables. We are comfortable in our sinfulness, comfortable in our silence, comfortable in our isolation from God and our neighbor. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge this sinful condition, anyone who does not regret this isolation from God will not be freed from that condition. They will remain in isolation from God.

To see and know and hear God can only happen through the Word. The Holy Spirit doesn’t work any other way. If our silence before God is to be broken, it must be the Lord who breaks it, just as this man could not open his own ears, just as he could not unleash his own tongue. If we are to proclaim God’s glory, He must first loosen our tongues. And that is precisely what He does. We are bound in the silence of sin as we are carried to the baptismal font. It is only through the faith we receive in Holy Baptism that we first hear the Word, when the Lord touches us with His Word in the water and speaks over us saying, “Ephphatha—be opened!” It is in Holy Baptism that we first receive the ability to hear the Word of God. Before we were baptized we were spiritually deaf and mute. We had no faith to know what that Word of God was, and so we were lost in a deadly silence. But in our baptism we received the Holy Spirit as a free gift. And the Holy Spirit and the faith we receive in Baptism allow us to pray with the psalmist, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” This is a prayer He graciously answers, giving us His holy Word and teaching us to speak it back to Him. There is an apocryphal story in which a lady says to her pastor, “Pastor, the liturgy doesn’t say what I mean.” And then the pastor responds, “Well, dear lady, then you must learn to mean what the liturgy says.” That is precisely what the Holy Spirit does: He guides us to God-pleasing words, words which speak back to God what He has first said to us. That was the meat of the promise we heard in the Old Testament reading: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The humble also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. For the terrible one is brought to nothing, the scornful one is consumed.

It is because Satan is indeed consumed and brought to nothing that this man’s tongue was set loose to speak plainly and truthfully about the goodness of the Savior. In fact, it is not just the deaf mute who now speaks; all those who were with him speak out as well. And although Jesus commands them not to tell anyone, they cannot hold it in; they are driven to speak of it. The more He commands them, the more widely they proclaim what He has done. Is that not how it is with the Gospel? It cannot be restrained or bound but proceeds ever onward in the ears and on the lips of His Church, even as it is to this very day with you. Having experienced the awesome wonder of the Lord putting His Word in your ear and setting His very body on your tongue to loosen it, you too confess the Lord far and wide.

God grant, then, that you who have had your ears opened and your tongues set loose by Christ may confess before all the world, with these people in the Gospel reading: “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” 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.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

HYMN: The Mighty Word Goes Forth Today

Wow. It's been a long time since I've posted a hymn. In fact, this is the first one I've even worked on since my Installation in May. I guess it's not a bad thing, though, to be focusing on the flock which the Shepherd has placed in my care. Anyway, any comments or suggestions for improvement are welcome. And if anyone can write a tune which fits the text better than the two I suggested from LSB, don't hesitate to do so!

The Mighty Word Goes Forth Today

1. The mighty Word goes forth today
Into the hearts of men.
It points us to the narrow way
And says, "Return again."
Repent! Be washed in Satan's bane:
That great baptismal flood
Where souls, once black with sin's dark stain,
Are whitened by Christ's blood.

2. The mighty Word of God we preach--
And never preach in vain.
The Spirit through the Word will teach
And earn a harvest gain.
The Word shall guide us on our path,
A lamp unto our feet,
And in our hearts He stays God's wrath,
Revealing grace complete.

3. The Word incarnate dwells with us.
We meet here in His name.
Where two or three are gathered thus
His presence is proclaimed.
Be present at this Table, Lord--
This great and holy Feast:
Your body slain, Your blood outpoured
For greatest and for least.

4. O Word incarnate, Word of life,
According to Your will,
Unite Your Church and end our strife
And all our sorrows still.
We pray You, guide us on our way
As we yet run our race,
Until that great and glorious day
We see You face to face.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
C M D (86 86 86 86)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sermon for 8/15/10--The Dormition of St. Mary, Mother of God

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

Today is the day when the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church has chosen to commemorate the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The day is called the Feast of the Dormition of Saint Mary, Mother of God. Now, before you go off thinking that your pastor has left Lutheranism for the shelter of the Roman church, let me remind you that although the Lutheran Church does not pray to or worship the saints, we do thank God for them and remember what it is that made each of these people saints. For the moment, let us look past all the heresies and pious opinions that have sprung up around the mother of God. After all, it does us no harm and much good to remember the good and gracious work God has done for and through the Blessed Virgin.

The angel had just appeared to Mary and had revealed to her that she would be the one through whom the Savior of the world would be delivered. Can you imagine? An angel of the Lord has appeared to you and told you that the Messiah promised from the moment that mankind fell into sin will be revealed to the world through you. So what did Mary do? She didn’t call for a press conference. She didn’t stand at the well and brag to all the women who would be coming to carry home the day’s water. Instead she got up and journeyed to visit her pregnant cousin, Elizabeth.

And then a most remarkable thing happened. Before Mary could do anything more than greet her cousin, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. As for Elizabeth, she was filled with the Holy Spirit, which is how she knew, without having to be told, that Mary carried in her own womb the Christ. She called Mary and the fruit of her womb “blessed”. And she added, “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

The world has two reactions to the blessedness of Mary. The first reaction is to take it too far. They say things about Mary that Scripture doesn’t say. Some of them are pious opinions, some of which Luther and many Lutherans hold to. For example, some believe and teach that Mary was conceived immaculately, which means she was conceived by the Holy Spirit the way Jesus was. Some believe and teach that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. These are pious opinions which give Mary honor, but they do not have clear backing in Scripture. On the other hand, some believe and teach insidious heresies related to Mary. The worst is that some believe and teach that Mary is co-redemptrix—that is, she, along with Jesus, is Redeemer; that she, along with Jesus, has the power to forgive sin. This is false and perverse, for Scripture clearly teaches that there is no other name in heaven or on earth or under the earth by which we may be saved than the name of Jesus. Such a teaching does not only dishonor Mary, but it attempts to lead the faithful astray.

The other worldly reaction to the blessedness of Mary is to belittle it, to despise it. Since some take the honor of Mary too far, others ignore it. They would say, “The Lord could have chosen anyone to be mother to the Christ. Mary doesn’t deserve special honor for something over which she had no control.” Again, this is insidious and sinful, for Scripture itself teaches us that Mary is blessed. The angel of the Lord told Mary that she is “full of grace” and that “the Lord is with [her]”. The Holy Spirit led Elizabeth to tell Mary that she is “blessed among women”. Mary is the theotokos, the God-bearer, the mother of God. The Church and the world ignore that to their own peril.

Mary, for her part, was humble. She recognized that God had blessed her in a very special way. She believed God, and trusted the Word which the angel brought to her. She stands out as a picture of what happens when God’s Word has its way with someone. Out of the faith she had in God, out of the trust she had for God’s Word, she accepted the will of God as her own, accepting the unbelievable task of carrying the Savior of the world in her womb. She waited patiently and joyfully as the Baby grew in her womb, praising God for the Child and the promises He came to fulfill.

That is why we honor Mary today: she points us to her Son, her Redeemer. Mary did not exalt herself. Instead she points out that God has lifted her out of her lowly estate. She makes clear that God is merciful to those who fear Him. She acknowledges that God has graciously fulfilled the promise He made to Abraham and his children. If Mary had exalted herself for the blessing God gave her, we could not honor her; but her soul magnifies the Lord and rejoices in the promised Messiah. She moves the focus away from herself. She moves the focus to her Son, her Savior, Jesus—who is the completion of the lifting up of the lowly, the realization of the mercy to those who fear God, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. The picture of Mary with the Christ in her womb is a picture of the Church, for the Church is not the Church without the presence of Jesus—just as Mary is merely another unmarried pregnant teenager if the child she carries is not the Christ. But in her womb she carried the Son of God, the One conceived by the Holy Spirit, the One born to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

No: Mary is not the co-redeemer with Jesus. She does not answer prayer, nor should we pray to her. She is no goddess. Yet she is a saint. She is a saint because God has exalted her. She is a saint because of the faith she was given. And like Mary, you are a saint, for God has exalted you, lifting you from your sinfulness, covering you with the blood of Jesus the Lamb which forgives your sins. Like Mary, you are a saint, for God has given you faith in the waters of Holy Baptism, faith which clings to the Word, faith which believes that the death of Christ atones for your sins and the sins of the whole world. Like Mary, we are saints; and so we can say without hesitation: “Hail Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed be the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Today we honor Mary as blessed, for she bore Jesus in her womb. Today, with all generations, we honor Mary, for we are blessed by the fruit of her womb, and her faithful confession continues to point us to Jesus. Thanks be to God that He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus; for in Mary we can see ourselves, too: both sinner and saint, redeemed servants of God. And like Mary, who we honor this day, our souls magnify the Lord, for He has done great things for us. That’s what this feast day is all about. 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.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Pastoral Theology . . . or something else?

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. -- II Timothy 4:1-5

During my four-plus years in pastoral exile, I did a lot of reading in, among other things, pastoral theology. Hoping beyond hope that I would receive a Call to again serve a congregation, I wanted to do something that would help me continue to grow as a pastor. I re-read the pastoral theologies of John H. C. Fritz and Mueller/Kraus, the abridged translation of Walther's pastoral theology, "The Practice of Pastoral Theology" by Dr. James Bollhagen (formerly of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana), the Schuetze/Habeck volume The Shepherd Under Christ (which was a required text when I took Pastoral Ministry at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario), and even the Pastoral Ministry notes from my seminary days under Pastor Prusha.

One of the things that caught my attention in my reading--and in my interaction with synodical officials--was that so much of what qualifies as pastoral theology goes beyond what Scripture lists as qualifications and duties for men who aspire to the "noble task" of which the Apostle Paul speaks in I Timothy 3. In that sense, pastoral theology has become "pastoral common sense" or even, in some cases, "pastoral opinions" Let me share a couple of examples--though by no means an exhaustive list.

The first example comes out of personal interaction with a district president (now a former district president, a good thing for the sake of the Church) during my exile. He had encouraged me to see a pastoral counselor--or to be more accurate, he required me to see a specific team of ELCA pastoral counselors as a condition of my possible return to parish ministry. The counselors requested the district president's evaluation of my suitability for parish ministry. I could include almost his entire list of concerns as examples of the subjectivity of which I write. But the one that stood out most was when he wrote, "By nature [Rev. Kornacki] is a shy person and somewhat of an introvert. He will not always initiate conversations with members, he does not exert strong leadership, and in behavior he is somewhat passive and follows the line of least resistance." Whether or not he was accurate in his assessment--though how he'd know either way when he never took the time to get to know me or to answer any of the correspondence sent to him or return the phone calls made to him is a mystery--nowhere in Scripture does it list in the qualifications for the Office of the Holy Ministry that a pastor must be naturally outgoing. In fact, the examples of men whom God chose who weren't naturally outgoing in Scripture is not one to be sneezed at--not the least of which was Moses. Anyway, yes, a pastor must be able to interact with his people. Of course he must. But to insist that a pastor constantly seek out and initiate contact, to take the path of most resistance, to constantly lead from the front (especially as an associate pastor under a senior pastor)--that is . . . unrealistic, at best. To question a man's fitness for the Office of the Holy Ministry because he is more skilled with interaction between individuals and small groups than with large crowds is troublesome . . . and quite possibly sinful.

I also encountered this from another district office when I was considering a Call I received while in exile. The district mission executive asked me to take a personality profile test. The district president informed me that he would not have supported my name on a Call list to that congregation, and the district mission executive (after grading my test) promised the congregation which extended the Call to me that the district would not support them if I were to accept the Call, as I didn't have the gifts they felt were appropriate for the situation in which the congregation found itself. That's not why I declined the Call, but it certainly didn't impress me with the pastoral heart of the district in which the congregation was placed.

The second example has to do with the question of whether or not a preacher should use a manuscript while preaching. An online acquaintance of mine recently posted a translation of a snippet from Prof. Fr. Streckfuß in a document titled "The Preparation of the Sermon". He writes:
In our Lutheran Church it was always the principle that the preacher must preach freely, that is, that he should not read. Our Lutheran hearers do not like reading. It is a well known fact that there was once a preacher who read every Sunday, came to one of his hearers, who just read the prophet Isaiah. The preacher asked the man: "What do you make of it?" The man gave his answer: "I prophecy." The preacher said "My dear man, you want to say: 'I read prophecies.' " "Well", replied the hearer, "If you say on Sunday that you preach, when you read, then I can surely say, when I read prophecies, that I prophecy." The preacher took that to heart and from that moment on never again read, but preached. How much our people are taken against reading the sermon, I myself once experienced in a professional manner. A congregation that I served as a vacancy pastor finally appointed a pastor after several failed attempts who was recommended very warmly by the district president. I did not know the pastor personally, but what I had heard of him already also moved me to stand by him as the right man. I mailed the call document and cover letter to him. After about a week I received a letter from the pastor in which he told me that he had the letter; but at the same time he wrote that he, before he would accept the call, the congregation was to reveal something; as an honest man he felt in his conscience obliged. And what was that? He wrote that he could not preach free. Indeed he could speak freely at the altar, but no sermon in the pulpit; he had to read the sermon. He had tried it more often without a manuscript at the ready in the pulpit, but he was stuck almost every time. I should now say this to the congregation. If the congregation would now take him, he was gladly willing to come; but if not, then he would return the call. When I told this to the congregation, they decided unanimously to ask the pastor to return the call because they did not want a "meter reader". It was better to stay vacant one year longer that have a pastor that did not preach free. I reported this to the pastor and he sent the call back.

On a related note, another online acquaintance writing in response related the fact that his homiletics professor, a former district president, kept a set of crutches on his wall for students who required a manuscript to preach. Fritz in his pastoral theology assumes that the pastor memorizes his sermon (p.99), so he never mentions the alternative.

I'm of the opinion that a man who can preach without a manuscript--and I mean, really preach, not just recite a sermon from memory--is truly the recipient of a double blessing from God. My first fieldwork supervisor in seminary could preach for 25 minutes without a manuscript, and he was a compelling Lutheran preacher. The Lord did not bless me in this way. He did, however, bless me with the ability to write the way I speak: in a generally clear, easy to understand manner. Nevertheless, when I get too far from my manuscript, I lose my train of thought. Does it make me a less-skilled preacher? Possibly? Is the use of a manuscript less than ideal? I'll cede the point. Should it be a reason for a congregation to avoid calling a certain pastor? That's up to the calling congregation, of course, though I'd have to wonder what other expectations they'd have of the man they'd eventually Call. Should a man aspiring to the pastoral office be belittled--treated as a pastoral cripple--by a homiletics professor, a mentor, other pastors, because he uses a manuscript? By no means.

Why do we bind the consciences of men who aspire to the preaching office with requirements beyond what Scripture demands? It is an already weighty load. Why do we call into question the ability of the Holy Spirit to adequately equip the men Called to be prophets of the Most High? The Lord of the harvest sends men into the field with a variety of gifts. These various gifts allow them to do a myriad of things, all of them in service to the Kingdom.

Those men whom the Lord calls, He equips as He chooses. Let the Spirit do His work unquestioned and unhindered; and let the men He has called serve as He has equipped them, whatever those tools may be.

[Note: The first ever pastoral theology written by a pastor for a pastor or seminary student is Paul's first letter to Timothy. Chapters 3 and 4 are an excellent introduction to pastoral theology. And of course, Jesus, the Pastor and Shepherd under whom all pastors serve, spoke pastoral theology throughout His earthly ministry.]

Friday, August 06, 2010

Sermon for 8/8/10--Tenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

I'll admit that I struggled with this sermon at first. I had a general idea of where I wanted it to go, but it felt a little like I was preaching to the choir. But thanks be to God for the Spirit's work in wringing Law and Gospel from the fingers of a faltering pastor. (And sometimes the choir needs to be preached to, by the way.)

For Your Peace
Luke 19:41-48

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

It was the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus had just entered the city of Jerusalem to the great acclamation of her people. The people saw this as a triumphal entry. The Pharisees were so disturbed by the crowd’s response to Jesus that they urged Him to rebuke his followers. Yet Jesus, the one who received this adulation, was found to be weeping over the holy city. He wept and said, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

In the account of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, we see a whole cross-section of the things that did not make for peace. The people of Jerusalem greeted Jesus as a king; but they greeted Him as an earthly king, and Jesus did not come as an earthly king to bring earthly peace. The Pharisees rejected Jesus because they were afraid He would disturb their peace—a false, worldly peace that was based on their self-righteous outward adherence to the Law. Jesus would certainly disturb that kind of peace, for He came to bring that peace “which the world cannot give”. And then we see the buyers and sellers in the Temple court. Of all places where people should have been able to witness to God’s grace and truth, the Temple was the place; but the world had defiled it. The buyers and sellers were in a position to hear the promises made by God through Moses and the prophets; instead they took refuge there. They sold and bought sacrifices to appease the wrath of God. They thought that hiding themselves in the Temple would shield them from God’s anger; after all, surely God would not destroy His own holy place.

And so, Jesus wept. He knew what was to come. He knew God’s wrath toward unbelievers—-and more than that, He knew the means by which the justice of God’s wrath would be delivered. He said, “For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Jesus was exactly correct. At the time of the Passover in the year 70 about 1,000,000 Jews gathered in Jerusalem. During the next five months Jerusalem was totally overcome and destroyed. In fact, they played a part in their own destruction. There were three parties in the city who were jealous of each other and did not trust each other. They destroyed each others' food supplies and homes. Thus the Jews were their own worst enemies. Jerusalem was circled by three strong walls. With great effort and at great expense the Romans conquered wall after wall. Then they went after the Temple. It was burned to the ground August 10, 70 A.D. Then 900,000 Jews were killed, starved or sold as slaves. Only about 100,000 survived. God’s judgment was terrible and righteous. As we learn from the prophet Malachi, “Who can abide the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears?”

The Church is not immune to the pride and self-sufficiency that distracts from the Word of God. How easily the house of God becomes a den of thieves. How easy it is to lose sight of what it is that makes for your peace. How often do we think God’s Church couldn’t survive without our financial support? How often do we think that we do more for this congregation than this congregation does for us? What brings you to this place today? Is it to be seen? Is it to keep your name on the membership rolls? Being baptized or having your name on the rolls of a congregation is no guarantee of salvation. It’s a simple matter for a baptized child of God to deny that baptism; we do it every time we sin, every time we succumb to the Old Adam in us. We do it every time we allow our self-reliance to distract us from the preaching in the Word and the reception of God’s holy Sacraments. The Church is no refuge for the prideful or the self-righteous man. The history of Jerusalem—especially its destruction—stands as a terrible warning of how those who God has chosen might still be destroyed because of their rejection of God and His gifts. And Jesus weeps over them. Jesus weeps. He weeps because He desires the whole world to be saved. If the people of Jerusalem had only received Jesus as the Messiah He was, if only they had not rejected Him as they had rejected the prophets! If only the baptized child of God would not deny his own need for the body and blood of Jesus; if only the baptized child of God would hunger and thirst for Christ’s righteousness! Do not be deceived: the doors of the church building will not protect the self-righteous from God’s wrath.

The Church is no refuge for sinners who are comfortable in their sinfulness. But the Church is the refuge for sinners who recognize their sinfulness and repent of it, for it is in this house of prayer where we hear the Word of God spoken to us to bring us comfort and that peace which the world cannot give. It is in this place where we receive the holy Word of Absolution spoken to us, spoken by your pastor as from Christ Himself. It is in this place where the lowly, the humbled, the repentant, are raised up in the waters of Holy Baptism and made righteous with the righteousness of Christ, the white robe of righteousness that will shield you from the wrath of God. Just as a few faithful remained in the Temple for Christ to teach daily, there will always be a faithful remnant in this place whenever the Word of truth is preached in its purity. It is that which brings you here this day: the true Word of God preached to the true Children of Israel. And it will continue to be preached here, that you may know the things that make for your peace.

God is faithful. Just as He faithfully fulfilled the promise of the absolute destruction of unrepentant Jerusalem, He faithfully fulfilled the promise of sending One to crush the head of the wily serpent, Satan. Just as the promised death and resurrection of Jesus was fulfilled, so will be fulfilled the promised Day of Judgment, the day when we shall receive the promised inheritance of eternal life. As we wait for that day, the Word will continue to be faithfully preached in this house of prayer, so that you may hear it and learn it and cling to it, rather than having to rely on your own faulty self-righteousness. The Holy Supper will continue to be faithfully administered in this place, so that you may eat and drink of it and live. Here is Jesus Christ, faithfully present in His own body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin, present just as He has promised. Here is the thing that makes for your peace, both now and for all eternity. 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.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

That they may know the truth . . .

"And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will." -- II Timothy 2:24-26 (NKJV)

On Tuesday evening, for the first time in nearly eight years, I taught adult catechesis. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines catechesis in this way: "oral instruction of catechumens". To supplement that ever-so-helpful definition, I looked up catechumens, and there we find some clarity: "1 : a convert to Christianity receiving training in doctrine and discipline before baptism; 2 : one receiving instruction in the basic doctrines of Christianity before admission to communicant membership in a church". In this case, the second definition is the more accurate, as the two ladies in class are both baptized.

Eight years is a long time between classes, of course. Nonetheless, other than having to talk more in a two-hour class than I usually talk in a week, last night I found myself settling into a bit of a groove. It certainly helps that I'm working with good materials with which I am highly familiar. The three main texts for our class are the Holy Bible (I'm recommending the New King James Version, since that's what we use in worship here at St. Peter Lutheran Church), Luther's Small Catechism, and Lutheran Service Book, the hymnal released by the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod in 2006. Our curriculum is simple: we read and discuss Luther's Small Catechism through the lens of Scripture. To supplement that curriculum and to ease the catechumens into the worship life of the congregation, we will also be studying the liturgy of the Divine Service as well as the prayer offices Matins and Vespers, using studies which I wrote as part of my seminary studies and streamlined in the course of my ten years as a pastor.

As I am with other aspect of parish ministry, I am excited to again be teaching adult catechesis. It is a joy to again be doing those things I love, those things I have been trained to do. I thank God for the opportunity to again be an undershepherd to a flock of the Lord's sheep. I just hope my throat adjusts to all the talking I'm once again called to do!

If any members of St. Peter or other area Lutherans are interested in a refresher course, join us on Tuesday evening at 6:30 PM. On Tuesday the 10th we will be discussing the First Commandment.