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+