Monday, October 21, 2013

Open Communion Kills

Yes, it's that simple. No matter which way you slice it, no matter how you dress it up, and no matter how you try to justify it, open communion kills.

St. Paul said of Holy Communion, "Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died."

Any congregation or pastor who allows anybody "who believes" to come forward and eat and drink of the Lord's Body and Blood runs the risk of allowing someone to eat and drink judgment upon themselves and thereby become weak, ill, or die.

Yes, it's that simple.

So, if you're into killing your neighbor spiritually, go ahead, practice open communion. If you're into playing Russian Roulette with the Lord's Supper and the individual lives of people, go ahead, practice open communion. If you honestly don't care about the well-being of your neighbor, go ahead, practice open communion.

Drunk driving kills. So does open communion. Friends don't let friends practice open communion.

Yes, it's that simple.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Just Another One of the Saints

Yesterday, for just the second time since I've been called, ordained, and installed as a pastor at two fine Lutheran congregations I took a Sunday off.

The first time I took a Sunday "off" I took a trip to Italy and Switzerland with my wife and her family and friends. I say "off" in quotation marks, because I was asked to preach to them in a country devoid of any real Lutheran presence. I happily accepted. While wonderful to preach the Gospel, it can't be refreshing to the largest extent.

So yesterday came, I was able to be just another one of the saints. I sat in the pew in suit and tie. I received the absolution that Christ normally gives through me. I sang the hymns. I was able to listen to the sermon. I received from the pastor the body and blood of Holy Communion. I was blessed yesterday to simply be part of the communion of saints in a way common to all.

To receive from Christ. That is rest. That is peace. That is comfort. That is joy. That is the True Sabbath, the regeneration of my soul, and the strengthening of my faith. It was sorely needed. Amen.

Thanks be to God for that day or two a year that I get to be just another one of those blessed saints of God.

+Kyrie Eleison+

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What Would an Archaeologist Find in the Ruins of My Church?

A recent MSNBC article about new archaeological evidence for the biblical David and Goliath makes the claim that David was a real man, in a real place. Of course, there is much skepticism in the article as well. What I found most interesting about the skepticism was its focus on the mixed religious practices of the people of Israel and the Philistines. Clearly, the Israelites were not as faithful as they should have been, nor were the Philistines unwilling to borrow from Israelite practices. This makes it harder to authenticate if David was truly there, or if it was simply an errant Israelite village. This quote sums it up rather well:
Maeir said the distinctions between the various peoples mentioned in the Bible — including David's Israelites and Goliath's Philistines — were "fuzzier than the way they are often described."
It got me thinking. If 3,000 years from now a group of archaeologists came to my church and did an excavation, what would they find? Would they be able to distinguish the Lutheran Church - even a Christian Church - from the pseudo worldly religions around me?

Consider all the things we do that might have the appearance of the world. Would we be able to distinguish the things of David from the things of Goliath? Is our life reflective of the fact that we are "in the world" but not "of the world"? I think, probably not. This is to our detriment and to our shame.

What it shows us is our great sin. Our Christian lives are "fuzzier than the way they are often described" in the Scriptures. We are full of sin, always coveting the things of this life, always seeking after false gods in ways that we don't always rightly see. Yet, future historians will make an account. They will see what we've done, and say that David's Israelites have mingled with Goliath's Philistines.

They will see the sins we've committed, and the hypocrisy of all Christian congregations when it comes to worship and practice, and the everyday lives of its parishioners. For this we should repent. Yet, let the Scriptures proclaim what the archaeology cannot see. We have a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Through Jesus Christ we saintly sinners are forgiven.

Though we've mingled the David and the Goliath, God has saved us from Goliath.

+Kyrie Eleison+

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why would any Christian read the Psalms?

Today's Christianity doesn't want anything but to be happy. It wears the facade of righteousness and ignores the fact that each and every Christian is a dirty rotten sinner. Because of this, most of Christianity must ignore the Psalms.

Take Psalm 22:6 "But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;" What self-righteous Christian would ever let these words pass from his mouth believing it was about him? None. No person thinks that he or she is a worm and not a man.

Thus the Holy Spirit must preach it into our hearts. He must convict the world and each of us of sin through the preaching of God's Law. He must bring us to a realization that we aren't righteous people, but worms. See the proof in the crucifixion: As Jesus cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", we know that he spoke the entire psalm. He cried out these words as a sinner, though he was not one. He died the death of a sinner, felt the condemnation of the Father on behalf of all mankind, and had imputed to him the guilt of all sinners, which declared him a "worm and not a man."

Christ died for worms. He died for sinners. If you cannot say that you are "a worm and not a man," then you don't believe that Christ died for you.

I am a worm and not a man.

But Christ died for this poor worm, and gave birth to a new man who will be made whole on the return of the Lord. He forgave me, and where there is the forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.

Read the psalms. Read all the psalms.  Know that you're a sinner, and that God has promised mercy and has given it to you through His Son.

+Kyrie Eleison+

Monday, January 30, 2012

Why I Like Doing It the Hard Way

There are a lot of resources available for a pastor to use. There are sermon series with full sermons available to preach. There are pre-molded bible studies that you can pick up and use in an instant. There are confirmation materials that practically teach themselves. In theory, the pastor wouldn't even need to know the Word of God at all with everything that is available for pastors.

But I like doing it the "hard way". Concordia Publishing House (CPH) provides a bible study on each chapter of the bible, yet I am writing my own. That's not to say that I go it alone, or do not cherish some of the treasures that are available. For example, Rev. Peter Bender of the Concordia Catechetical Academy provides a great resource for catechesis. I use it to teach, but also supplement it (not that it needs much supplementing) with that of my own studies. CPH has produced a Lenten Sermon Series based on the Penitential Psalms. I am using their ideas, but I am not using their full written sermons. I will do things myself.

There are two reasons why I especially like to do this:

1) Learned in the Word of God. When I write a bible study, I am forced to study and know the text. I am forced to look at the Hebrew and Greek and read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. With a prefabricated bible study, I am tempted not to study as much. The end result is a more knowledgeable pastor and more time spent in and throughout the Word of God. It becomes a blessing to me in that I grow in the knowledge of the Word and of Christ. But is also a blessing to my congregation for the more skilled I am with the Word of God, the more clearly they will hear Christ proclaimed to them.

2) Contextualization. When I write a bible study, I can tailor the study to the congregation. Hear me rightly, please. The truth of the Scriptures reaches across all times and all places, and as such needs no contextualization. However, because the Scripture comes to not simply to a man, but to "Bill the farmer, husband, father, school board representative, and U.S. citizen," the Scripture is spoken to him in his vocation. Thus, my bible study can be focus on the needs of the congregation as governed by where the Word of God leads. And, of course, this is a necessity when it comes to preaching.

On the other side, there are two reasons why this is burdensome:

1) Time. Writing a bible study is time consuming. Writing a sermon takes up a large portion of the week. Writing out individual bulletin inserts about the divine service (instead of purchasing them from CPH) takes more than a couple hours. It cuts into other things I could be doing - Shut-Ins could use more frequent visits, congregation members and less-frequent members could be visited, more time could be spent in other academic pursuits. The bottom line is that it takes extra time to do these things, and even more time to do them well. But in my opinion, it is time well spent.

2) My limited capacity. I am newly out of seminary. It is easy to get over ambitious in what I am trying to accomplish. Granted, I can do a lot, but there still room for improvement. Simply put, there are pastor who take a better approach at a certain study than I would have ever been able to conceive.

There are likely better ways than my ways. But my ways train me in the Word of God. It is time consuming and the struggle is great, but in the end it is for the benefit of all that I take this "hard way". It gets me and the congregation deeper into the Word and that is always a good thing.

+Kyrie Eleison+

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Pagan Heart of Christmas

Often around Christmas, much is made about the date of Christmas being selected to cover over a Roman festival or a Pagan holiday. Many might even go so far as to say that it stems from this. We hear all this hullabaloo around this time of year.

I'm glad there is.

I would say it's precisely the pagan that's at the heart of Christmas. The pagan chases after foreign gods and worships in ways that are not according to the ways of the Lord. The pagan holds feasts and festivals to celebrate, and even worship, things which were created by God, but are not gods themselves.

And it's for this very purpose that God became man, and took on human flesh, so that he could redeem us poor pagans, who chase after other gods. God came to cleanse our pagan hearts and fill them with his Holy Spirit, and proclaim us righteous by the death of Christ on the cross.

So, go ahead. Make your accusations that Christmas is founded on a pagan holiday. I'll agree with you, Christmas does cover over that pagan holiday. I'll say it's for that very purpose our Lord Jesus Christ has come: to sanctify the unholy, and redeem the unworthy.

+Kyrie Eleison+

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Don't Get Your Biases in My Science

The irony is easy to spot in this article by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., director for the center of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

In Mississippi, there's a ballot measure proposed to define "personhood" beginning from conception, a.k.a. fertilization. Polls say that it's going to pass. Dr. Caplan says it shouldn't saying,
The reason this law makes for bad public policy is that it is completely at odds with what science knows to be true about embryos and fetuses.
After mocking these pro-lifers (pro-personers?), he acknowledges their claim saying,
It is true that for centuries science has shown that all human beings begin as fertilized eggs.
However, that is not good enough for him. The process by which human beings develop is also important to him. He says that not all fertilized eggs are "viable" and many don't even make it to implantation. There are many spontaneous abortions, still births and fetal deaths. Therefore they cannot be considered "persons".

He ends the article by saying,
In the push to declare fertilized eggs “persons” advocates claim science is on their side. But it is only by ignoring what science has learned about the long odds that face fertilized eggs that anyone could even suggest that a fertilized egg is a person.

Johannes Kepler.
Because posting a picture of a devout,
Lutheran astrophysicist makes
Stephen Hawking cry.
So often there is a line drawn between pro-lifers - and let's be honest, we're really just talking about Christians here - and science. Too often, I think this is thrown up as a protective guard by non-Christian scientists in an ad hominem attack against Christians to make them seem brutish and uneducated. It is often leveled at Christians making them seem biased and suspicious of the devilish science man.

But seriously. If you can't see the bias in this article... you're biased.

He admits that all human beings come from fertilized eggs. However, he goes beyond science, by saying that if the fertilized egg is not "viable" and cannot make it to full maturity (often by death) then it cannot be a person. For him that would mean recognizing millions of deaths that occur even without our knowledge. And he would be correct, that is the truth. He is unwilling to face that truth. Unwillingness to face the truth, Dr. Caplan, is not science. That is bias.

The truth is truth. And it shows us an ugly reality. Sin causes death in our bodies even from the moment of conception. The magnitude of death that Dr. Caplan rightly makes evident on the basis of science shows us how sin-stricken the world really is.

It causes us to recognize how fallen we are and brings us to call out Kyrie Eleison, "Lord, have mercy". And He does. He sent Jesus to bring life by his atoning death. He sent Jesus to be our only help from sin and death. He is our salvation, even in the midst of such suffering. While the minds of men through the trial and error of science can indeed help us to discover a little more about this world that God has created, it cannot save us, and it does not have all the answers.

So, Dr. Caplan, please take a note from your own book.

Keep your biases out of science.

+Kyrie Eleison+