Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lutheran Satire - Jim, the Anabaptist Fireman

"Everybody knows that babies are flame retardant until they reach the age of accountability" - Exactly! :)

"Little Giants" is Bested

For the second year in a row, my Spartans have dazzled the college football world with what will surely go down as the best finish of the year. Last year, it was the "Little Giants" fake field goal for a game-winning TD in OT against Notre Dame. I didn't think that unbelievable play could be bested, but I was proven wrong. The "Rocket" Hail Mary the Spartans used to defeat Wisconsin this past Saturday is a tad better than last year's "Little Giants," given the improbability of pulling it off and the drama of having to go to instant replay to overturn the call on the field that Nichols came up short. But, perhaps even more impressive than pulling off the last second miracle to pull out the victory is the fact that Sparty overcame an early 14-0 deficit to take command of the game, using a safety, a blocked field goal, a fourth down conversion for a TD, and a blocked punt for a TD to do so. After defeating Ohio State and the other team from our state in the Big Ten in consecutive weeks, it looked early on like this was going to be a let-down game for Sparty. But, they hung in there and exploded to not only get back into the game, but to find themselves in a dominant position, leading Wisconsin by 14 with less than ten minutes to go. The offense sputtered a bit down the stretch, which allowed Wisconsin the chance they needed to come back, but just the fact that Wisconsin had to come back after Sparty spotted them a quick 14 points was mega impressive for this fan. Oh, and for all the talk about Sparty's lack of discipline and dirty play in the week leading up to this big game, maybe the most impressive thing about their stunning victory over Wisconsin was that they did not commit a single penalty. Not one. Zero. That's huge!

So, now it's on to Nebraska to face a tough Huskers team, which will round off the toughest October schedule not only in the Big Ten, but in all of college football. I just hope Sparty has a little more gas in the tank and is able to play well in this huge road test. If they do, they could very well come back from corn husker land with a perfect October record and in solid control of the Legends division. They have the ability on the defensive side of the ball to stop Nebraska and give them fits, but will they? I think so. My prediction: MSU 27 NEB 17. But, we'll see. :)

Anyway, here's the play that bested last year's "Little Giants." Enjoy:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Multi-Level Marketing Christianity

Many moons ago, my wife, Lisa, and I ran a successful home-based business.  It was a direct selling, multi-level marketing business.  We did pretty well at it for several years and, for a good year or two, we had a Top 25 team within the company.  We received many accolades and awards, prizes (several free cruises), and hefty monthly commission checks.  Sometimes, I really miss those checks. :)

One of the mottoes we learned, taught to others, and lived by while running our business was:  "Some Will, Some Won't!  Who Cares, Who's Next?"  In a multi-level marketing scheme, the focus is always on building your downline.  Recruit, recruit, recruit!  The more you bring in, the bigger the residual income.  And, the more brought in by those you bring in, the bigger the residual income.  Not everyone you bring in will catch the vision.  Some will.  You focus on them, at least a little.  Some won't.  You can't waste your time focusing on them at all.  But, really, your focus is on those potential recruits - who cares, who's next?  You're always after more.  The more you get, the more successful you are.

This is not to say that Lisa and I didn't care about those on our team.  We did.  We invested in them.  We worked with them.  We helped them.  We rewarded them.  I think we ran some of the most successful team meetings within the company during our heyday.  We were generous with our blessings and eager to help others, genuinely desiring for them to experience the success we had been blessed to experience.  But, the very nature of this type of business is that the way you provide help to those within your team is to motivate them to get out there and sell and recruit, to live by the motto:  "Some Will, Some Won't!  Who Cares, Who's Next?"

While living by this motto has its place when running a multi-level marketing business, it has no business at all within our Lord's Church.  And yet, this is exactly the motto by which those congregations who have bought into the principles of the Church Growth Movement live.  They may not come right out and say, "Some Will, Some Won't!  Who Cares, Who's Next?" but everything they do reveals that this is, indeed, the motto by which they're living.

I know.  I've lived this, too.  My home congregation went the way of the Church Growth Movement years ago and everything we said, thought, and did became about recruiting more members (which was dressed up in the pious language of "reaching the lost for Jesus").  Outreach, outreach, outreach!   That's all we ever heard.  That's why we existed.  It got to the point that the pastor and other leaders of the congregation would just come right out and tell people that, once they're in, their job calling was to go out and get more people to join reach the lost for Jesus.  When once we had Divine Services and Bible Studies focused on feeding Christ's flock, now we had Worship Experiences and Outreach Seminars focused on "growing" the church.  It was quite a transformation to witness, and it wasn't long before both Lisa and I began saying to each other, "What's the difference between what's going on at our congregation and what we're doing in our business?"  We couldn't think of many differences at all.  Just replace a few words here and there and the same mottoes and visions were shared between our business and our congregation.

All of this was brought to mind today as I was browsing the Michigan District website and saw this article, which will be the feature article in the October/November edition of the District's magazine, "Michigan In Touch."  If you click on that last link, you will notice that the cover of this edition will have a picture of the praise band of Messiah Lutheran in Clio leading what they're calling "nXt" worship (which is described in the article found at the first link).

What we see highlighted here is what I call "Multi-Level Marketing Christianity."  The main focus is on getting more "recruits" (which, again, is dressed up in the pious language "reaching the lost for Jesus").  Don't believe me?  Listen to how Pastor Erik Cloeter answers the question, "What is nXt?":
“I meet many people who come to church, join, and say, ‘OK, I’m a Christian ... so what’s next?’ At Messiah, the answer has always been to reach out to those who still don’t know Jesus and to help them connect with God in a real way.” 
Do you see it?  Now that you're a Christian, what's next for you is to reach out to those who still don't know Jesus and help them connect with God in a real way.  That's your job, your calling, your mission.  And, we have created just the "captivating worship experience that breaks down typical church stereotypes" that will appeal to unbelievers, who really don't want anything to do with Jesus and His Church.  Go and invite them to come to this "captivating worship experience," which is "truly unique" and "doesn't look, sound, or feel like a traditional or contemporary worship service," for they will find this "worship experience" to be "something unlike what they may have experienced in the past." 

Yeah, it's what we used to tell potential recruits about our home-based business.  "This direct selling company is unique.  It's not your typical pyramid scheme, but a new and improved, dynamic multi-level marketing plan, which offers you the unique opportunity to succeed, like no other company out there today."  The point was to remove the stigma so many feel regarding these types of businesses and get them to believe that this is totally different.  Same thing with the "nXt" worship marketing:  "This isn't your typical Christian worship stuff here.  Oh no!  We have something new and exciting to offer.  We have chairs, instead of pews, a stage, instead of a pulpit, LED smart lights, media screens, instead of stained glass, and best of all, a live band that will rock your socks off!"  The point is to remove the stigma so many feel about Jesus and His Church.  This is a different kind of Jesus and a different kind of Church.  You'll LIKE this Jesus and Church.  You'll be entertained, moved, and leave on an emotional high, much like what happens when you go to see your favorite band perform a concert.  And - wait for it - you'll really want to go and invite your friends to come and experience this Jesus and Church, which is what's next for you now that you're a Christian and have experienced God in a real way through this "captivating worship experience."   

And, as if all of this marketing is not enough to entice unbelievers to give this Jesus and this Church a shot, the added marketing ploy of getting people to buy into the idea that this kind of "worship experience" is only for serious Christians, who have strong faith, is employed - "nXt is for the people who have strong faith and want to express that faith."  Again, same thing we said when enticing people to join our business:  "This kind of business is for those who are serious about wanting to succeed; those whose commitment and dedication and work ethic is strong," and so forth.  

The article goes on to say, "While the allure of the service is its willingness to boldly challenge the status quo, the heart of the message is what keeps people coming back."  This is typical Church Growth Movement nonsense, for it posits the absurd idea that we can lure unbelievers in by giving them what they want and like in the Church, while keeping the heart of the message - Jesus and the salvation He won for us and comes to deliver to us - in tact.  Um, no.  Doesn't work that way.  Even a seven-year-old knows this.  The allure of the service IS the heart of the message.  People aren't coming because of Jesus, but for the show.  Duh!  That's the whole reason you have "boldly challenged the status quo" in the first place - to give them something unique, captivating, exciting, and different.  It worked.  Good job!  They've come and will keep coming, so long as you keep captivating and exciting them.  Take away the show and see whose left.  Remove the smart lights, stage, band, etc., and just give them Jesus, and see how many remain. 

Not only that, but the dirty little secret no one ever likes to talk about when it comes to all this "creating a church for people who don't like church" stuff is that the turnover rate is enormous.  The "get down with Jesus" approach just doesn't last.  You might get 100 new recruits members in a year, but 30-50 get sick of it and leave.  But, who cares, who's next, right?  You gained 50-70, so, in the words of Charlie Sheen, "Winning!"

But, even if this, or other congregations like it, can boast that their turnover rate is low and their retention rate is high, there is another aspect here which proves that the whole "the allure of the service draws them in, but the heart of the message keeps them coming back" idea is a myth.  Have these "strong in faith" Christians move away from your area, and they will seek out a congregation that "rocks out with Jesus" the best in their new area.  The flirtation with the Church Growth Movement among Lutherans has been going on long enough for us to look at the hard data and draw this conclusion.  I have seen it personally a number of times.  People who have spent years in a "get down with Jesus" LCMS congregation will not seek Jesus where He has promised to be found - in water, Word, Bread, and Wine - but where they have always experienced Him - in their feelings and emotions, manipulated as they've been by smart lights, motivational messages, dramas, skits, testimonials, and, of course, the super-duper, rock-your-socks-off, praise band.  This is because, contrary to belief otherwise, the allure of the service (the gimmicks and fads and multi-media entertainment, supported by the killer praise band) IS the heart of the message.

The article concludes with a quote by Pr. Cloeter, in which he describes the church being like a hospital for sinners, a place for those in need of a Healer and Savior, so that they can ask for and receive forgiveness from Jesus the Christ, the Healer and Savior they need.  All well and good, to be sure.  The Church is a Hospital, Jesus is the Healer and Savior we need, and the forgiveness, life, and salvation He bestows upon us via His Holy Word and Sacraments is the eternal medicine we sick sinners need.  But, then, Pr. Cloeter takes all of this away with his concluding remarks:  "Everyone is welcome.  Come as you are, but leave transformed to reach out to others like you - others who need Jesus.  They're nXt!"

So, for all the pious talk about the Church being a Hospital and Jesus being the Healer and Savior you need, that's not really where the focus is.  The focus is on you leaving transformed to reach out to others who need Jesus.  Recruit, recruit, recruit!  Tell others about how cool this "captivating worship experience" is.  The more you get to come, the more successful a "Jesus Follower" you will be.  In this Multi-Level Marketing Christianity, the essence of being a Christian is bound up in being a good recruiter faith-sharer.  The problem is that your faith is in the lights and the stage and the praise band.

If you go to the website of Messiah, Clio, the homepage has the following welcome message:
We are a Bible-believing congregation, representing a dynamic community of faith, hope and love that exists to "Make More and Better Disciples For Jesus" through Word and Sacrament.  We desire to glorify God by introducing Jesus Christ to as many people as possible and to grow them up in Christ using the most effective means to impact our culture, making a positive difference in this generation.  We invite everyone to share God's joy and peace and partner in touching people in our community and world through biblical teaching, service and life changing ministries.
Does this Bible-believing congregation consist of, or merely represent, a dynamic community, etc.?  Just weird language there.  But, the Multi-Level Marketing Christianity comes through in that the reason this dynamic community exists is to "make more and better disciples for Jesus."  The use of the preposition "for," instead of the preposition "of," is not to be overlooked.  To make disciples FOR Jesus is a different thing than to make disciples OF Jesus.  When you exist to make disciples FOR Jesus, what you're really saying is that discipleship consists of assisting Jesus in reaching out to the lost (Recruit, recruit, recruit!; Outreach, outreach, outreach!), as if Jesus needs disciples to accomplish His salvific work.  He doesn't.  Really.  He's got things under control.  

Now, I'm sure some would criticize me here for picking nits, especially since the statement claims that the way more and better disciples are made for Jesus is through Word and Sacrament.  See, these are Lutherans.  They mention Word and Sacrament.  Why be so critical?  Well, because what follows the reference to Word and Sacrament in the statement shows that they do not believe that the Holy Word and Sacraments are enough.  Other means are necessary, namely "the most effective means to impact our culture, etc."  

This is how it is with Multi-Level Marketing Christianity.  Jesus simply isn't getting the job done His way.  We need to help Him out.  We need to come up with more effective means to make dynamic disciples for Jesus, the kind of dynamic disciples who will buy into our vision that being a dynamic disciple is all about bringing in more and more (oh, and better - don't forget the better!) disciples, who will catch the same vision (which comes through the unique and captivating worship experience) and become dynamic disciples and go out themselves to get more, etc.  It's all about growing the downline by infecting recruits with the desire to be recruiters - it's what congregations like this become all about; the same thing the home-based business Lisa and I used to run was all about.  
And, sadly, this is what the District I belong to believes should be advertised among us, complete with a picture of Multi-Level Marketing Christianity on its magazine's cover and a lead article praising it.  No thanks.  I'll stick with Jesus and His way of making disciples, via His Holy Word and Sacraments alone.  Not with additional allurements and trappings.  Not with the help of gimmicks and fads.  Not by giving unbelievers what they desire and like, but by preaching the Gospel in its purity and administering the Sacraments according to Christ's institution.  I'll let Him do the rest.  He's pretty good at what He does.  He can handle it.  And, as a pastor, I've been called not to follow the motto, "Some Will, Some Won't!  Who Cares, Who's Next?," but to feed, care for, and protect the sheep He sends me to serve, not with food of my own innovation and imagination, but with Him, who is the Bread of Life.  After all, I got out of the multi-level marketing business years ago.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Peace Book Club

Last night, our newly established Peace Book Club met for the first time, and, I have to say, it was positively delightful.  We discussed the book, "Warrior Monk:  A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel," by Ray Keating, which everyone in the group thoroughly enjoyed reading, and which is a book that lends itself well to much pertinent discussion, especially among Lutherans.  We talked about ecumenism, relativism, secularism, radical Islam, politics, environmentalism, terrorism, torture, parish life and the pastor-parishioner relationship, temptation, the "inside baseball" of the LCMS, which is explored in the book, denominationalism, RC-Lutheran relations/differences, C.S. Lewis, and more.  And, of course, we shared with one another our favorite parts of the book, the characters we loved and hated, and all the other stuff that comes with discussing books as a group.  As I said, it was positively delightful. 

We decided that we were going to give each book we read a rating of 1-5, 1 being the lowest, 5 being the highest.  We gave "Warrior Monk" a solid 4, and very much look forward to the next installment in the adventures of Pr. Stephen Grant.  

We also decided upon our next book.  Since I have often mentioned C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" in Bible Studies and other settings over the years, Sharyn suggested that we make this our next venture, and everyone agreed, since no one has yet taken me up on my invitation to read that classic.  So, "The Screwtape Letters" it is.  And, since some in the group may get through that book fairly quickly (although there is certainly much depth there, to be sure), the additional option of giving Lewis' "Mere Christianity" a read before next we meet was suggested as well, although we will focus our attention on "The Screwtape Letters" for our next discussion.  So, it is C.S. Lewis month for the Peace Book Club, which will next meet on Tuesday, November 22. 

Already looking forward to it! 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Let the Little Children Come to Me . . .

This is simply awesome! I had the privilege of meeting this boy's dad, who is a brother pastor, last week in Kewanee. Enjoy.

Pastor Appreciation Dinner

Yesterday, the congregation I serve held a Pastor Appreciation Dinner, which was hosted by our wonderful Ladies' Guild.  It is such a blessing to be serving Christ's flock at Peace in Alma.  I am always awestruck by the love and generosity I see time and time again among the people I am blessed to serve.  We are a small, struggling parish, but mighty in faith, hope, and love, and I am extremely thankful and appreciative to our Lord for placing me to serve here.  I pray that this beloved flock knows that I love and appreciate them every bit as much as they love and appreciate me, and that they know how thankful Lisa and I are for the cards, gifts, and touching words shared with us yesterday.  I can only echo the words of St. Paul and say, "I thank my God always for you!" 

Some blurry iphone pics:

Four in a Row!

In case you missed it, my Spartans extended their winning streak over that other team in the Big 10 from our state, whose name we do not utter 'round these parts, to four.  Yeah, that's right - four in a row.  That means that the Spartan seniors have never lost to that other team, while that other team's seniors have never beaten us.  Gotta love it! :)  Sparty handled the other team with relative ease on Saturday.  The game really wasn't as close as the final score, which turned out to be 28-14.  Sparty had several dropped passes, two fumbles on big runs, and several bonehead penalties, which allowed that other team to stay in the game.  I hope Coach D works on fixing these mistakes this week, as we have Wisconsin coming in for a huge Saturday night game this week, and we won't be able to afford such things against them.

Our defense is stronger than it's been in a long time, our offense can be really good, but needs more consistency, and we've been holding our own on special teams.  We'll see where we're at after Saturday's huge test, but we're all alone at the top of the Legends division and control our own destiny at this point (and, having defeated conference foes Ohio State and that other team from our state, we own tie-breakers against them, so we're in a great position to win our division and get into the first-ever Big 10 championship game - we could be seeing a preview of that game this Saturday night).  Exciting times to be a Spartan fan, for sure.

(Not sure how I feel about the new "Nike Pro Combat" uniforms they debuted Saturday - being the traditionalist I am, I don't like them that much; but, they did defeat that other team while wearing them for the first time, so I like them a lot - so torn :)

Gottesdienst Central

Last week, I had the awesome privilege of again attending the annual Gottesdienst Central conference at St. Paul's in Kewanee, IL, where Fr. Burnell Eckardt serves.  Wow!  What an absolutely delightful and most edifying trip this was, as I knew it would be, this being my fifth consecutive year of attending.  I wasn't able to make it there in time for the Autumn Choral Vespers or Oktoberfest banquet on Sunday evening, but was there for both full days of the Conference on Monday and Tuesday.  We began both of those days being fed upon our Lord in Word and Sacrament at Holy Mass (on Monday, Fr. Eckardt served as Celebrant, Fr. Mark Braden served as Deacon, and Dr. William Weinrich served as Preacher; on Tuesday, Fr. Eckardt served as Celebrant and Preacher).  We also gathered together on both days at Noon to pray the Office of Sext, and concluded each day with Vespers.  I know I've said this before, but I do cherish those opportunities to sit in the pew and be fed, especially when the Services are as beautiful and reverent as were these.

The Keynote Speaker this year was Dr. William Weinrich (Prof. at Concordia Theological Seminiary in Ft. Wayne).  I hadn't had the opportunity to sit at Dr. Weinrich's feet and learn from him since I had him for Early Church History back in 2001, but I was quickly reminded of the brilliance I encountered back then.  As Adriane Dorr wrote on her blog the other day, "he’s (1) brilliant, (2) engaging, and (3) brilliant and engaging."  I seriously cannot remember when I have had my brain exercised so thoroughly.  I learned a ton and was given much to ponder as Dr. Weinrich spoke on the theme, "Baptism in the Gospel of John."  Here are just a few of the things given us to ponder during his presentation:
  • More occurrences of "Father" in John than in the rest of the NT combined.  
  • Marriage is the controlling metaphor for God's relationship with man throughout Holy Scripture - already in Gen. 2:24, we see what St. Paul draws our attention to in Eph. 5, namely that the Son of God, the Eternal Word of the Father, unites Himself to His Bride (His Church) in a One-Flesh Union, which shall never be rent asunder.  Just as Eve was made from the rib taken out of the side of Adam, so it is that Christ's Bride is made from the water which flows forth from His (the New and Second Adam's) side on the Cross into the baptismal font.  There, in Holy Baptism, we are made One Flesh with our Bridegroom, Christ - as St. Paul says time and again, we are "in Christ."  No wonder the first sign in the Gospel according to St. John happens at a wedding in Cana, where water is turned into wine (hmmm - water and wine - sounds Sacramental, doesn't it?).  We are brought into a One-Flesh marriage with Christ by water (Holy Baptism) and kept in that marriage by blood (Holy Eucharist), which, of course, we're told by St. John flowed from the side of our Bridegroom when He was pierced upon the Cross.  Beautiful stuff - and tons more could be fleshed out here (pun intended)!  
  • Cannot separate Christ from His Bride (Church) - thus, all Ecclesiology is Christology.  Where Christ is, there is His Church; where His Church is, there is Christ.  Perhaps we should consider this truth before we go messing with the Church, as if it is ours to do with, and change, as we please.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and since He and His Bride are One, His Church is the same yesterday, today, and forever, too.  Those who busy themselves with "creating a church for people who don't like church" are, at the same time, presenting a Jesus for people who don't like Jesus.  Those who live by the motto, "The Church must change or die," are, at the same time, living by the motto, "Jesus must change or die," which is absurd, since Jesus utterly defeated sin, death, and the devil on the Cross, which is validated by His glorious resurrection from the tomb on the third day.  Jesus lives.  Sin, death, and the devil threw everything they had at Him, and He emerged the Victor.  And since Jesus unites Himself in a One-Flesh Union with His Bride, His Church, the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.  So much to ponder here.  
  • All the "signs" given in the Gospel according to St. John point to, and are connected with, the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They are not simply "miracles" provided to direct us to the truth of Jesus' Divinity, but deliberate "signs" pointing us to His redemptive work, the point being that our God doesn't save in secret, but out in the open - His redemptive work is seen by all, though not all see it for what it is.  Again, much to ponder here.
  • Read the accounts of Jesus' Baptism alongside of Isaiah 11.  Cool stuff.
  • "You don't read the New Testament; You eat and drink the New Testament.  And, thus, YOU (being united to Christ) are the New Testament."  Wrap your mind around that nugget for a spell. 
  • "When the Father speaks, He speaks Jesus" - this is an eternal truth, for Jesus is the Eternal Word of the Father.  The Prologue of John does not merely refer to the beginning of this created universe, which was spoken into existence by the Word, but to the reality of the pre-existence of the Eternal Word, through Whom all things were made, and by Whose becoming Flesh and Tabernacling among us, we are re-made in Him.   
  • "Jesus is the Enfleshment of Divine Will."  
  • "'The Salvation of the World' is a Name for Jesus."
  • "Jesus' Baptism is the Eschatological fulfillment of John's water baptism."
  • Paschal Lamb of OT is a main symbol in John's Gospel (and in the Synoptics), but it is not the best symbol for the Church to employ to point to Christ, since when we think of the Paschal Lamb today, we do not think of a four-legged lamb, but a two-legged Man.  Dr. Weinrich noted that, for this reason, the Early Church banned symbols of a lamb.  Had never thought about this - very interesting.  Best symbol for the Church is, of course, the Crucifix, for there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  An empty cross is NOT a symbol of the resurrection, as many seem to believe.  Without the corpus (body) of Christ, it is, really, just a symbol of Roman execution.  
  • Read chapter 24 of Sirach alongside of Prologue of John.  I did this.  Wow!
  • In OT, Glory of God in tablets of stone; In NT, Glory of God now in Flesh.  The Torah becomes Flesh and dwells among us.  Gives one furiously to think upon Jesus coming not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, and upon all of those Scripture passages which speak of the heart of stone becoming heart of flesh, and how the stones would cry out regarding the salvation which comes in Christ.  
  • John 4 - the Samaritan woman at the well - is not a "how-to" lesson on evangelism (as is so often thought of today), but catechesis on who Jesus is, and how one gets in on the salvation He brings - it's all about Baptism - go figure! 
  • John 19:30 - "He gave up His Spirit" is a bad translation.  Should be, "He handed over the Spirit."  I already knew that much, but I had never really pondered the importance of this to the extent that I should have.  These three testify:  Spirit, Water, Blood.  Water and Blood pour forth from Jesus' side on the Cross.  He hands over His Spirit, who will work through that Water and Blood to create out of Jesus' side His Bride, the Church.  This verse is packed with immense sacramental theology and is not simply an indicator that Jesus died.  Our salvation comes from the Cross, from where the Spirit is handed over to dispense the fruits of this Tree of Life which flow out of Christ's side.  Changes the way we read "from above" in John 3.  That "from above" has a specific reference - the Cross!  Great stuff!
  • "Father, glorify Your Name" = "Father, Crucify Me."  The Cross is not "plan B," but is God.  
  • "God doesn't reveal Himself in miracles, but in Man."  Deep!  
  • And so much more . . . 
I so look forward to Dr. Weinrich's commentary on John, which will be issued in three volumes.  From what we heard of him on Monday, it promises to be exceptional.

And, we had the added joy of spending the afternoon and early evening at Fr. Eckardt's house, sitting and chatting some more with Dr. Weinrich and each other over beer and snacks.   Simply sublime. 

On Tuesday, Fr. Eckardt led us in a study of the rubrics and approach to the Liturgy to confess the Real Presence of Christ.  Great presentation and discussion.  A few thoughts from that include:
  • The OT formula, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," is Trinitarian (Abraham representing the Father, Isaac the Son, and Jacob the Holy Spirit).  Very interesting.  
  • The Divine Name "I AM" (verbal form of YHWH - Yahweh) is not complete until the Son of God is named Jesus, where "I AM" is Fleshed out (literally) and becomes, "I AM (the God who) Saves" (Jesus means, "Yahweh Saves").  
  • The Hebrew word "Manna" means, "What is it?"  The answer comes when Jesus says, "This is My Body; This is My Blood."  
  • The Greek word "estin" ("is") in the Verba is not needed, but is included for emphasis - "This IS My Body; This IS My Blood."  
  • There is a long history in the Church of using specific rubrics to confess the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament.  Elevation and genuflection at the Consecration are a part of this history.  One need not elevate the Host and Chalice or genuflect before our Lord on the altar, but this is done both in adoration of our Lord and to confess the reality of His Presence, over and against the abomination of false teachings (e.g. the bread and wine merely representative or symbolic of Christ's Body and Blood; the abomination of Receptionism, which falsely teaches that Christ's Body and Blood are not Present until it is received by the communicants).  Employing specific rubrics/ceremonies to confess the Real Presence of our Lord agrees with what we confess in our Lutheran Confessions, namely that ceremonies are employed to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.  The most important thing they need to know about Christ is that He IS there among them in His very Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.  
  • We discussed several of the practices we witness today which present problems or potential problems for teaching and maintaining what we confess about Christ in the Sacrament, such as:  Infrequent celebration of the Sacrament, mishandling the reliquae, laymen distributing, use of individual cups, indiscriminate use of vestments (or no use at all), free-standing altars and poor architecture, use of cheap, overly sweet wine, etc.  We ran out of time and were not able to cover all of these thoroughly, but the point is that our practices surrounding the Sacrament of our Lord's very Body and Blood are vitally important.  This isn't about being "liturgical pietists" or riding favorite "hobby horses," but about putting into practice what we say we believe about the Sacrament for the sake of the people we serve, that they may know that their Lord IS Really Present among them.  Those who are wont to be critical of us Gottesdiensters need to ask themselves if the lack of specific rubrics and ceremonies regarding the Sacrament has served our people well over the years.
Anyway, it was a fantastic conference and, as the people I am blessed to serve would testify, I came back fired up, ready to share what I had learned and been given to ponder.  Already looking forward to next year!

In addition to being fed upon our Lord in Word and Sacrament, and in having my brain exercised to the max by all the wonderful teaching, discussion, and conversation over those couple of days, I was blessed to get to see, greet, and visit with, several brothers and sisters in Christ.  As a special treat, I got to meet and get to know one of my Polycarpian brothers, Fr. Jay Watson, who made the trip from Kansas.  And, I got to sit and chat with a couple of wonderful ladies I had met at past conferences and with whom I have remained in contact via the interwebs, Michele Keehner and Susan Fink.  I even got to experience an Adriane Dorr sighting, but wasn't able to chat with her, since she had to leave early to head over to Ft. Wayne, and there were just too many people lined up to talk with her while she was there.  Oh well, maybe next time. ;)

    Wednesday, October 5, 2011

    Issues, Etc. - Reformation Week 2011

    I will be listening.  You should, too! 

    October Newsletter Article

    From the Desk of Pastor Messer
    “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Word”
    Our Lord Jesus said:  “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). 

    Abiding in the Word, dear friends in Christ, is what the Reformation was all about.  It was the Holy Spirit who guided our beloved Dr. Luther, the Blessed Reformer, in his study of God’s Holy Word, and allowed him to rediscover the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which had been all but forgotten during the Middle Ages.  When Dr. Luther was brought to realize that we are justified not by our own works, but by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, it was as if heaven itself had been opened to him and he could hear the choirs of angels and saints singing praises to the Lord.  He had long been haunted by the image of Jesus Christ as a ruthless judge who demanded the impossible, and then punished those who did not achieve it.  But now, as he discovered the Holy Gospel in the pages of Holy Scripture, He came to know Jesus Christ not as that ruthless judge, but as his loving Savior—the One who lived the perfect life he couldn’t live, and died on the cross to pay the full price for all of his sins.  What joy filled Dr. Luther’s heart! 

    That same joy should fill our hearts as well, my friends, for we still have the glorious Good News of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, taught and preached in our midst.    That is not as common as you might think.  We live in a day and age when the Holy Gospel is every bit as hidden away and obscured as it was in Dr. Luther’s day.  Tune in to those claiming to be Christian teachers on the television or radio and you will likely hear Jesus being promoted as a mere example to follow, or as a “life-coach” cheering you on to better living and greater blessings.  Visit many Protestant congregations (and even, sadly, many “Lutheran” congregations) and you will hear the same sort of teaching coming from the pulpits (or stages).  You will be motivated to “Live Your Best Life Now” or “Become a Better You” or to live a “Purpose-Driven Life,” and so forth, the focus being completely on what you need to do and how you need to live as a Christian.  Rather than Law and Gospel sermons based on a lectionary, you will be subjected to messages on such topics as money management, good parenting, healthy eating, relationship building, and even on how to have good sex.  The Good News about what Jesus has done, and continues to do, for you is rarely heard (if ever!), the idea being that Jesus did His part, but now it’s up to you to do your part. 

    Oh yes, dear friends, the same joy that filled Dr. Luther’s heart should fill ours, for against the rising trend to forsake the Gospel in favor of the Law-focused, Me-centered agenda which has been adopted by many—an agenda that lures many away from the truth by promoting itself as new and hip and relevant and useful, etc.—we still have the Holy Gospel preached to us in its purity and the Holy Sacraments administered to us according to Christ’s institution.

    Let us never take this for granted, but heed our Savior’s exhortation to abide in His Word.  To abide in His Word means that we never outgrow, or move beyond, the Holy Gospel.  As long as we breathe in this vale of tears, we remain in desperate need of the salvation won for us by the perfect life and death of Jesus.  We never stop being sinners this side of heaven, so we never stop needing a Savior.  We abide in His Word when we cling to Him in faith as our only hope.  We abide in His Word when we return regularly to where He promises to be for us—in the Divine Service, where He delivers to us the forgiveness, life, and salvation we need by means of His Holy Word and Sacraments.  In short, we abide in His Word by placing ourselves in His continuous care, for our Lord Himself accomplishes for us, and in us, what He demands.  He feeds and nourishes us, strengthens and preserves us, and keeps us in the faith—and all this by the very same Word in which He would have us abide. 

    Thus, do we Lutherans ever pray, in the words of Dr. Luther’s famous hymn, “Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word.”  For the Good News is not only that our Lord Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation, but that He continues to keep us in the one, true faith through His gracious and merciful Service to us here and now.  He promised to be with us always, and so He is—with us in His written, preached, and taught Word, and with us most intimately in His very Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. 

    Let us give hearty thanks to God as we approach our annual celebration of Reformation Day for preserving among us the true and saving Gospel.  May we learn to cherish it as Dr. Luther did, realizing that the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus opens up for us sinners the way to eternal life in the Paradise of His Kingdom, which shall have no end.  May we be moved and empowered by the Holy Spirit not only to cherish the Holy Gospel, but to defend it, and to support it with our time, talents, and treasures, so that it may continue to be preached, taught, and delivered here at Peace Lutheran Church in Alma, MI until our Lord Jesus Christ returns in great glory on the Last Day!  Amen. 

    A Blessed Reformation Celebration to You All! 
    Your Servant in Christ,
    Pastor Messer

    Jesus Only

    You know what the best part of this sermon is?  It doesn't begin with, "Greetings to you on behalf of the 6,000 congregations, whatever-thousand pastors, whatever-thousand church workers, etc. etc. of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod . . ."  Okay, so maybe that's not the best part, but it sure is refreshing. :)  I love that when our current Synodical President steps into a pulpit, he does so to preach the Law in its full severity and the Gospel in its full sweetness - yes, refreshing indeed!  Enjoy:

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    So Great . . .

    to have Mary back at the organ this morning for Divine Service as we celebrated the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels.  We were without an organist three of the past four weeks, as she underwent, and has been recovering from, shoulder surgery.  The first week, we spoke the whole Service, including the hymns, which was fine, but just not the same as singing the liturgy and hymns.  The second week, we were blessed to have Karen, who is the organist at our sister (actually, mother) congregation in Wheeler, fill in, which was wonderful.  The third week, the choir led us in singing the liturgy and hymns a capella, which was beautiful, but still not the same as having organ accompaniment.  Last week, we employed The Concordia Organist for the first time ever, which we were able to purchase thanks to a couple of generous donors.  We had a few kinks in the beginning, but things went fine for the second half of the Service, although it would definitely take some getting used to were we to use that resource on a regular basis.  But, today, with Mary back at the organ, it felt like being back home again.  Truly wonderful.  And, to have her return for the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels was all the more special.

    If you and your congregation are blessed with a faithful, dedicated, Lutheran organist, who loves the liturgy and hymns and desires to play them to the best of his/her ability, and to the glory of God, do remember to thank him/her often.  Such organists are a true treasure to Christ's Church, and are, sadly, becoming rarer and rarer these days.

                                                         So, THANKS, Mary - Great to have you back! 

    Dr. Collver at St. Michael's in Prague

    For more info, see Dr. Collver's blog.