Friday, May 8, 2009
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
14. To signify this fellowship, God has appointed such signs of this sacrament as in every way serve this purpose and by their very form stimulate and motivate us to this fellowship. For just as the bread is made out of many grains ground and mixed together, and out of the bodies of many grains there comes the body of one bread, in which each grain loses its form and body and takes upon itself the common body of the bread; and just as the drops of wine, in losing their own form, become the body of one common wine and drink—so it is and should be with us, if we use this sacrament properly. Christ with all saints, by his love, takes upon himself our form [Phil. 2:7], fights with us against sin, death, and all evil. This enkindles in us such love that we take on his form, rely upon his righteousness, life, and blessedness. And through the interchange of his blessings and our misfortunes, we become one loaf, one bread, one body, one drink, and have all things in common. O this is a great sacrament, says St. Paul, that Christ and the church are one flesh and bone. Again through this same love, we are to be changed and to make the infirmities of all other Christians our own; we are to take upon ourselves their form and their necessity, and all the good that is within our power we are to make theirs, that they may profit from it. That is real fellowship, and that is the true significance of this sacrament. In this way we are changed into one another and are made into a community by love. Without love there can be no such change.
15. Christ appointed these two forms of bread and wine, rather than any other, as a further indication of the very union and fellowship which is in this sacrament. For there is no more intimate, deep, and indivisible union than the union of the food with him who is fed. For the food enters into and is assimilated by his very nature, and becomes one substance with the person who is fed. Other unions, achieved by such things as nails, glue, cords, and the like, do not make one indivisible substance of the objects joined together. Thus in the sacrament we too become united with Christ, and are made one body with all the saints, so that Christ cares for us and acts in our behalf. As if he were what we are, he makes whatever concerns us to concern him as well, and even more than it does us. In turn we so care for Christ, as if we were what he is, which indeed we shall finally be—we shall be conformed to his likeness. As St. John says, “We know that when he shall be revealed we shall be like him” [I John 3:2]. So deep and complete is the fellowship of Christ and all the saints with us. Thus our sins assail him, while his righteousness protects us. For the union makes all things common, until at last Christ completely destroys sin in us and makes us like himself, at the Last Day. Likewise by the same love we are to be united with our neighbors, we in them and they in us.
(and this preceding paragraph)
13. There are those, indeed, who would gladly share in the profits but not in the costs. That is, they like to hear that in this sacrament the help, fellowship, and support of all the saints are promised and given to them. But they are unwilling in their turn to belong also to this fellowship. They will not help the poor, put up with sinners, care for the sorrowing, suffer with the suffering, intercede for others, defend the truth, and at the risk of [their own] life, property, and honor seek the betterment of the church and of all Christians. They are unwilling because they fear the world. They do not want to have to suffer disfavor, harm, shame, or death, although it is God’s will that they be thus driven—for the sake of the truth and of their neighbors—to desire the great grace and strength of this sacrament. They are self-seeking persons, whom this sacrament does not benefit. Just as we could not put up with a citizen who wanted to be helped, protected, and made free by the community, and yet in his turn would do nothing for it nor serve it. No, we on our part must make the evil of others our own, if we desire Christ and his saints to make our evil their own. Then will the fellowship be complete, and justice be done to the sacrament. For the sacrament has no blessing and significance unless love grows daily and so changes a person that he is made one with all others.
Luther, M. (1999, c1960). Vol. 35: Luther's works, vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Vol. 35, Page 49-68). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
1. It shows our historic roots. Some parts of the liturgy go back to the apostolic period. Even the apostolic church did not start with a blank liturgical slate but adapted and reformed the liturgies of the synagogue and the Sabbath. The western mass shows our western catholic roots, of which we as Lutherans are not ashamed. (I’d rather be confused with a Roman Catholic than anything else.) We’re not the first Christians to walk the face of the planet, nor, should Jesus tarry, will we be the last. The race of faith is a relay race, one generation handing on (“traditioning”) to the next the faith once delivered to the saints. The historic liturgy underscores and highlights this fact. It is also “traditionable,” that is, it can be handed on.
2. It serves as a distinguishing mark. The liturgy distinguishes us from those who do not believe, teach, and confess the same as we do. What we believe determines how we worship, and how we worship confesses what we believe.
3. It is both Theocentric and Christocentric. From the invocation of the Triune Name in remembrance of Baptism to the three-fold benediction at the end, the liturgy is focused on the activity of the Triune God centered in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Worship is not primarily about “me” or “we” but about God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself and my baptismal inclusion in His saving work.
4. It teaches. The liturgy teaches the whole counsel of God - creation, redemption, sanctification, Christ’s incarnation, passion, resurrection, and reign, the Spirit’s outpouring and the new life of faith. Every liturgical year cycles through these themes so that the hearer receives the “whole counsel of God” on a regular basis.
5. It is transcultural. One of the greatest experiences of my worship life was to be in the Divine Service in Siberia with the Siberian Lutheran Church. Though I spoke only a smattering of Russian, I knew enough to recognize the liturgy, know what was being said (except for the sermon, which was translated for us), and be able to participate knowledgeably across language and cultural barriers. I have the same experience with our Chinese mission congregation.
6. It is repetitive in a good way. Repetition is, after all, the mother of learning. Fixed texts and annual cycles of readings lend to deep learning. Obviously, mindless repetition does not accomplish anything; nor does endless variety.
7. It is corporate. Worship is a corporate activity. “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” The liturgy draws us out of ourselves into Christ by faith and the neighbor by love. We are all in this together. Worship is not simply about what “I get out of it,” but I am there also for my fellow worshipers to receive the gifts of Christ that bind us together and to encourage each other to love and good works (Heb 10:25). We are drawn into the dialogue of confession and absolution, hearing and confessing, corporate song and prayer. To borrow a phrase from a favored teacher of mine, in church we are “worded, bodied, and bloodied” all together as one.
8. It rescues us from the tyranny of the “here and now.” When the Roman world was going to hell in a hand basket, the church was debating the two natures of Christ. In the liturgy, the Word sets the agenda, defining our needs and shaping our questions. The temptation is for us to turn stones into bread to satisfy an immediate hunger and scratch a nagging spiritual itch, but the liturgy teaches us to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
9. It is external and objective. The liturgical goal is not that everyone feel as certain way or have an identical “spiritual” experience. Feelings vary even as they come and go. The liturgy supplies a concrete, external, objective anchor in the death and resurrection of Jesus through Word, bread, and wine. Faith comes by hearing the objective, external Word of Christ.
10. It is the Word of God. This is often overlooked by critics of liturgical worship. Most of the sentences and songs of the liturgy are direct quotations or allusions from Scripture or summaries, such as the Creed. In other words, the liturgy is itself the Word of God, not simply a packaging for the Word. Many times the liturgy will rescue a bad sermon and deliver what the preacher has failed to deliver. I know; I’ve been there.
Ten is one of those good numbers in the Bible signifying completeness, so I'll stop at ten. I'm sure there are more.
Pastor Harrison is also known as a fine banjo player. You can watch him play "A Mighty Fortress" here. Be sure to listen at least 50 seconds in. Also, a more popular tune can be accessed here. I'd embed the video, but can't figure out how to do it at the moment. Enjoy!
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
2) "Today, you will be with Me in paradise."
3) "Behold your son; behold your mother."
4) "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
5) "I thirst."
6) "It is finished."
7) "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."
Full text of these homilies can be accessed here.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
(After pointing out that the phrase "King of the Jews" doesn't appear again after the visit of the Magi until the Passion narrative, Reardon comments:)
Matthew tells us that Pilate "knew that they had handed him over because of envy." Indeed, he mentions this in the verse immediately preceding the message from his wife (27:18-19). This envy of Jesus' enemies readily puts the reader in mind of the earlier envy of Herod, when he, too, was confronted with the real King of the Jews.
There is a special irony, then, to the title by which Pilate's soldiers address Jesus in their mockery: "Hail, King of the Jews" (27:29). Pilate, moreover, apparently with a view to mocking the Jews themselves, attaches to the cross the official accusation against Jesus: "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews" (27:37). At last is answered that question first put by the Magi, "Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?" (2:2) He is on the cross, the just Man dying for the sins of the world.
Thus, the dream of Pilate's wife, which had revealed Jesus to be a just Man, completes the earlier dream of the Magi. The testimony from the East is matched by the testimony from the West, both cases representing those regarding whom Jesus commanded his Church, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (28:19).
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Blessed be the memory of Stephen Wiest. And have a blessed Palm Sunday!
P.S.--Ann Taylor, the palm reader, had a "For Sale" sign out in front of her place for quite a while. But the place never sold. Shouldn't she have foreseen that?
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
- Finally, the last sign I want to identify relates to my fellow clergy. Too often even those who support us can be heard talking about abortion as a tragedy. Let’s be very clear about this:
When a woman finds herself pregnant due to violence and chooses an abortion, it is the violence that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.
When a woman finds that the fetus she is carrying has anomalies incompatible with life, that it will not live and that she requires an abortion – often a late-term abortion – to protect her life, her health, or her fertility, it is the shattering of her hopes and dreams for that pregnancy that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.
When a woman wants a child but can’t afford one because she hasn’t the education necessary for a sustainable job, or access to health care, or day care, or adequate food, it is the abysmal priorities of our nation, the lack of social supports, the absence of justice that are the tragedies; the abortion is a blessing.
And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion – there is not a tragedy in sight -- only blessing. The ability to enjoy God’s good gift of sexuality without compromising one’s education, life’s work, or ability to put to use God’s gifts and call is simply blessing.
These are the two things I want you, please, to remember – abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.
And here's a bit on doctors and their consciences:
But let’s be clear, there’s a world of difference between those who engage in such civil disobedience, and pay the price, and doctors and pharmacists who insist that the rest of the world reorder itself to protect their consciences – that others pay the price for their principles.
This isn’t particularly complicated. If your conscience forbids you to carry arms, don’t join the military or become a police officer. If you have qualms about animal experimentation, think hard before choosing to go into medical research. And, if you’re not prepared to provide the full range of reproductive health care (or prescriptions) to any woman who needs it then don’t go into obstetrics and gynecology, or internal or emergency medicine, or pharmacology. Choose another field! We’ll respect your consciences when you begin to take responsibility for them.
Monday, March 30, 2009
More than 100,000 Britons have recently downloaded "certificates of de-baptism" from the Internet to renounce their Christian faith.
The initiative launched by a group called the National Secular Society (NSS) follows atheist campaigns here and elsewhere, including a London bus poster which triggered protests by proclaiming "There's probably no God."
"We now produce a certificate on parchment and we have sold 1,500 units at three pounds (4.35 dollars, 3.20 euros) a pop," said NSS president Terry Sanderson, 58.
John Hunt, a 58-year-old from London and one of the first to try to be "de-baptised," held that he was too young to make any decision when he was christened at five months old.
The male nurse said he approached the Church of England to ask it to remove his name. "They said they had sought legal advice and that I should place an announcement in the London Gazette," said Hunt, referring to one of the official journals of record of the British government.
So that's what he did -- his notice of renouncement was published in the Gazette in May 2008 and other Britons have followed suit.
Michael Evans, 66, branded baptising children as "a form of child abuse" -- and said that when he complained to the church where he was christened he was told to contact the European Court of Human Rights.
The Church of England said its official position was not to amend its records. "Renouncing baptism is a matter between the individual and God," a Church spokesman told AFP.
"We are not a 'membership' church, and do not keep a running total of the number of baptised people in the Church of England, and such totals do not feature in the statistics that we regularly publish," he added.
. . .
I don’t know if I’m just being nitpicky, but that phrase bugs me. First of all, I’m not sure what it even means that our thoughts go out to someone–just that we’re thinking of them? And much more importantly, our prayers go out to God, not to any person. Are we too uncomfortable to actually speak God’s name? Is prayer mentioned just as a way of sounding generically spiritual or religious?
Putting the best construction on this, what people probably mean to say, of course, is that those who lost loved ones are in their thoughts and in their prayers. How that got contorted into such bad English and bad theology, I don’t know. Why can’t we just say what we mean? “Our hearts ache for the family in their loss. We are thinking of them in this difficult time and are praying to God for them.” May the peace of Christ the crucified be granted to all the grieving.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Many people are aware that President Obama is in the process of rescinding a regulation from late in the Bush administration allowing health-care workers to refuse to provide services based on moral objections.
What many do not realize is that the required public comment phase began March 10 and ends April 9.
It is also very difficult to find the link to provide such comment. Click here for the link―and please pass along.
Lutherans For Life
"Some of you may have seen the major news story of the private plane that crashed into a Montana cemetery, killing 7 children and 7 adults.
"But what the news sources fail to mention is that the Catholic Holy Cross Cemetery owned by Resurrection Cemetery Association in Butte - contains a memorial for local residents to pray the rosary, at the 'Tomb of the Unborn'. This memorial, located a short distance west of the church, was erected as a dedication to all babies who have died because of abortion.
". . . The family who died in the crash near the location of the abortion victim's memorial, is the family of Irving 'Bud' Feldkamp, owner of the largest for-profit abortion chain in the nation."
I don't necessarily like the tone of the rest of the linked article--it seems to verge on gloating just a bit. Luke 13:1-5 needs to be kept clearly in mind. But still, what a strange and tragic coincidence.
"Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:4-5). God have mercy on us all for the sake of Christ.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Saturday, March 7, 2009
"An evangelical church which looks upon the doctrine of justification by faith as a self-evident banality one no longer needs to dwell upon because other problems are more pressing has robbed itself of the possibility of arriving at solutions to such problems. It will only tear itself further apart. If the article of justification is removed from the center we will very soon no longer know why we are and must remain evangelical Christians. Then we will strive for the unity of the church and sacrifice the purity of the gospel; we will expect more from church order and government, from the reform of ecclesiastical office and church discipline, than these can deliver. One will flatter piety and despise doctrine; one will run the risk of becoming tolerant where one should be radical and radical where one should be tolerant - in short, the standards will be skewed and therewith also what is necessary and right in all reforms for which we struggle today will no longer be comprehensible."
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Update: I see that LSM is being spotlighted in Lutheran Witness this month--for whatever that's worth.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Victor Davis Hanson is an excellent thinker and writer, and this article is a good example of that. It's worth reading all the way through. (Of course, the above comes with the disclaimer that this is purely my own view and not necessarily that of Mt. Zion Lutheran Church.)
Saturday, February 28, 2009
In the Garden of Eden man exalts himself to be a god in place of God. He succumbs to the temptation of the devil, and eating of the forbidden fruit he receives death. But in the sin-cursed wilderness God humbles Himself to become man in place of man. Jesus does not eat but fasts and bears the onslaughts of the devil for us that we may be restored to life. In the Garden man tries to win independence from God, to be his own master, to be in charge of his own life, and in the end man cuts himself off from all that is good. But in the wilderness, Jesus depends and relies on His heavenly Father, submitting to His will and looking to Him for all that He needs, in order that He might restore us to faith and to a right relationship with God. In the Garden, the tame and gentle animals that God had created fell under the curse of man's rebellion, turning against one another and against man himself. But in the wilderness, Jesus lived among the wild beasts (Mark 1:13), that He might experience the full effects of the fall and restore His creatures and renew all of creation.
It is for this reason that the Scriptures refer to Jesus as the second Adam. He came to undo and overcome the work of the first Adam. You and I are one with the first Adam. His blood flows through each of us. His rebellion dwells within us. We have participated in his sin. We are of the same nature. In Adam, we die. However, in Christ, we live. For we have also been made one with Christ through our baptism into His body. Jesus bore the sin of our old Adam and put it to death that we might be raised to a new life with Him. Now Christ's blood flows through each of us who have been made to be His members, particularly as we receive His blood and body in the Sacrament. God's love and faithfulness dwell within us by His Word and Spirit. St. Peter says that we have actually been made to be partakers of the divine nature through the flesh of Christ (2 Peter 1:4).
(The rest of this 2007 sermon is here.)
Friday, February 27, 2009
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The icon of Jesus that was on the altar is now over the doorway entering the church from the narthex. In its place is the tabernacle with an icon of the Last Supper.
And one more:
We had to add the white edging so that the beams of the cross didn't get lost in the dark background. That's why the installation of the crucifix was delayed until today--just in time for Ash Wednesday services!
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
This coming weekend is the Academy Awards. With much fanfare and media attention, the movie industry will congratulate itself and hand out Oscars to those they believe have excelled in the craft of acting. Now I enjoy movies and watch them fairly regularly, but I do think it is a sign of the decline of our culture that actors are considered to be among the most important people in society. We pay all sorts of attention to people who are really good at faking like they're somebody they're not. Our most popular form of entertainment is to watch accomplished pretenders, those who can give the illusion of reality, which then evaporates and is gone when the cameras are turned off.
I bring this up not to bash Hollywood–-that's like shooting fish in barrel. Rather, I mention this because in today's Gospel Jesus warns us not to be like the hypocrites. And the word for "hypocrite" literally means "actor" or "someone who impersonates another." What Jesus is saying is, "Don't be an actor or an impersonator when it comes to the faith. You may be able to fool others with a show of piety, but God sees the way things truly are. And He's the One you should be paying attention to."
In ancient theater, actors would wear masks over their faces. These masks would hide the actor's true identity from the audience, and the attention would then be drawn to the character he was playing. To this day many theaters will display two masks, one smiling, the other frowning as emblems of this past practice. In our day to day life, we also often put on a mask, a pretend face that conceals the truth of who we are or what we're thinking and feeling. Some are covering the pain of a failing relationship. Others are masking some self-destructive addiction. Still others hide the scars left by loved ones or by complete strangers. All of us try to camouflage our sins and failings and imperfections.
Jesus reminds us that in His church, there are to be no masks. There is to be no faking like everything's going just perfectly, no pretending like you have no struggles with sin in your life. Here, especially as Lent begins, the disguise comes off. We can be honest in the presence of a merciful God, and before one another as His children. Somehow people get the impression that going to church is about showing that you've got it all together spiritually. The last thing you'd want to do is reveal your sins to your pastor. Why, he might actually think you're a sinner who needs forgiveness (as if that would be shocking news). Martin Luther once commented, "May God in His mercy save me from a Christian Church where there are only saints. I want to be with that little company and in that Church where there are faint-hearted and weak people, the sick, and those who are aware of their sin, misery, and wretchedness and who feel it, who cry to God without ceasing and sigh unto Him for comfort and help." (Day by Day We Magnify Thee, p. 226)
(The whole sermon is here.)
Thursday, February 19, 2009
The cross has been a symbol of the Christian faith ever since the days of the apostles. Sometimes, the cross is portrayed by itself; other times it is portrayed with the body of Christ on it. Of course, both of these types of crosses–the plain cross and the crucifix–are good and perfectly acceptable ways of symbolizing the Christian faith.
However, there are several reasons why Lutherans might prefer the crucifix, the cross with the body of Christ on it. First of all, the Scriptures clearly state, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). While Jesus, of course, is now risen from the dead, the fact remains that the center and focus of our preaching is the sacrifice that Christ made for our sins on the cross. And what better portrays for our eyes the Gospel we hear with our ears but the crucifix? There we see visibly a representation of what our Lord did to redeem us from the burden of our sin. There we see Him on His throne, with His crown of thorns, exercising His royal self-giving love for us. The crucifix portrays very clearly the Scriptural Gospel of Christ the crucified.
Some prefer the empty cross because, they say, it portrays the resurrection. However, that is not really true. The fact of the matter is that all the crosses of all the thousands of criminals who were crucified by the Romans were eventually empty. The bodies were taken down and buried or left for dogs and ravens to eat. All an empty cross means is that the dead body was removed from it. Again, there is certainly nothing wrong with using a plain cross–I have several myself. But we shouldn’t think that it proclaims the resurrection any more than an empty electric chair or hangman’s noose proclaims the resurrection.
Some prefer the plain cross because they think of it as Lutheran and the crucifix as Roman Catholic. But that is simply not the case. Many if not most of the crosses in the churches of the Reformation in the days of Martin Luther would have been crucifixes. Luther never spoke against having the body of Christ portrayed on a cross. It was only things that obscured the Gospel that Luther sought to reform. It is true that many of the non-Lutheran Protestant churches had only plain crosses, since their misguided theology caused them to forbid the use of any statues or sculptures in connection with their worship. But that has never been the theology of Lutheran Churches.
Our theology has always been to emphasize the physical, concrete realities of our salvation in Christ–that He took on our flesh and blood in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, that He died in the flesh for our sins, and that He now gives us His true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar for our forgiveness. Portraying the body of Christ on the cross fits perfectly with our Scriptural belief that we now receive that same body in Holy Communion. And in fact St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:26, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
Using a crucifix can sometimes seem offensive to our sensibilities; we prefer something more pleasant to look at. But the truth is that the Gospel itself is offensive. St. Paul writes that it is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to us who are being saved, the message of the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18,23). Though Christ the crucified was despised and rejected by men and “we hid our faces from Him” (Isaiah 53:3), we now look to the cross in faith and find our life there. In a very real sense it is beautiful for us to behold. We are not ashamed of the Gospel of the crucified One, for it is the power of God to save us (Romans 1:16).
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I especially like this quote: "(This year's offer of indulgences) appeared prominently on the Web site of the Diocese of Brooklyn, which announced that any Catholic could receive an indulgence at any of six churches on any day, or at dozens more on specific days, by fulfilling the basic requirements: going to confession, receiving holy communion, saying a prayer for the pope and achieving 'complete detachment from any inclination to sin.'”
Hmm. I think I could handle the first three requirements. But achieving complete detachment from any inclination to sin? That sort of makes the indulgence impossible, doesn't it? The only way to achieve complete detachment from any inclination to sin is to die. But then again, that's Jesus prescription for us in baptism isn't it?
Romans 6:3-5--"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection."
Colossians 3:3--"For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (See the full context of Colossians 3)
Living the baptismal life most certainly means putting down the sinful flesh and engaging in deeds of love. But that is our life precisely because we are in Christ the crucified, already fully redeemed by Him and accepted by the Father. It's all done and delivered by Jesus in His death and resurrection. No indulgences necessary.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Dear members of Mt. Zion,
Throughout my years of instructing the young people of this congregation in the Christian faith, I have been pulled by two important desires. The first is that our children should not be made to wait an unnecessarily long time to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. God’s Word gives us no age requirements regarding when someone may receive Holy Communion, only that a person recognize and receive the body and blood of Christ with penitent faith in Him. It is for that reason that we have started Confirmation instruction at a younger age, so that children don’t have to wait until they’re graduating from 8th grade to receive this precious gift of Christ.
On the other hand, we want the children to be thoroughly instructed in the Scriptural faith as it is rightly confessed in the Small Catechism. We want them to be well grounded in the truths of God’s Word and have a deep understanding of the Bible that will stick with them the rest of their lives. That would seem to argue for having Confirmation take place when the children are a little bit older and can grasp things intellectually at a little deeper level. (Of course, our growth in the knowledge of Christ and His Word never ends but is to continue throughout our lives.)
While our current practice of having Confirmation instruction take place during the middle grade levels has worked well, with first communion following Confirmation, I think we would do even better by separating First Communion from the completion of Confirmation instruction. Here are my reasons:
Young children most certainly can receive Holy Communion properly and to their benefit. Martin Luther once said against the followers of the Pope who claimed that they alone were the true church, "God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is: holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.’" (Smalcald Articles, Kolb/Wengert, p. 324) Luther knew that even a seven year old could grasp the things of the church. His practice demonstrated this. The Lutheran churches in Reformation times received to the Lord’s table children as young as around seven years old. These children were brought by their parents and examined by the pastor as to their faith. Acknowledging their sin, confessing faith in Jesus as their Savior who died for their sin, believing that the body and blood of Christ are truly present under the bread and wine for their forgiveness, they were given the Sacrament.
Some may question whether young children can understand such things as the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. But then which of us adults can understand this great mystery? It is something only faith can grasp.
In the materials that accompany our hymnal Lutheran Service Book, there is an order called "First Communion prior to Confirmation," which acknowledges the importance of this as an option for congregations to practice. These materials from our Synod state,
"This rite is intended to be used to admit to the Lord’s Supper baptized children who have not yet been confirmed. Candidates for admission to the Lord’s Supper have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They have received careful instruction in the Gospel and the Sacraments. Confessing their sin and trusting in their Savior, they desire to receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of their faith in Christ and their love toward others.
"Concerning the worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper, the Small Catechism teaches: ‘That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words "for you" require all hearts to believe.’" (Lutheran Service Book Agenda, p. 25)
A period of instruction for several weeks would take place prior to these children being received to the Lord’s table (in addition to the months and years of Sunday School these children have already attended). Parents would be a part of the teaching process. In this way the children will be properly prepared to reverently receive the gifts Christ has for them in the Sacrament.
Allowing First Communion before Confirmation would have two additional benefits. It would do away with any notion that we are accepted to the Lord’s table because we’ve earned the right by "passing" Confirmation. Holy Communion is not a reward for something we do, but a free gift of God’s grace. Also, allowing an earlier First Communion would enable the in-depth Confirmation instruction to start at a little bit later stage where a deeper look at the Christian faith and life would be more of a possibility.
Parents who bring their children for First Communion would be required to commit themselves to bringing their children to Confirmation instruction later on. We don’t want to diminish the importance of that ongoing catechesis that takes place in Confirmation class. While Confirmation itself is nowhere commanded in the Bible, our ongoing growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is of the utmost importance, and this change has the goal of enhancing and improving that in our congregation.
Doing this would definitely be a change from what most of us are familiar with. It’s certainly different from my own experience growing up. But if we truly believe that the Holy Sacrament is the true body and blood of Christ given for us to eat and drink for our forgiveness, then our practice should reflect that belief and not withhold the benefits of this eating and drinking from our younger members who are properly prepared to receive it.
This topic will be brought up for discussion at our next Voters Meeting on March 15th. I encourage you prayerfully to think this through so that we can have a healthy discussion about this matter and hopefully come to a consensus about how to handle the practice of First Communion and Confirmation in our congregation.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The truth is that what we really have to love most about our spouses or other family members or friends is their worst characteristics. To truly love them is to give yourself to them in spite of their flaws. That’s where the real self-sacrifice takes place. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). In that sense, what a wife has to love most about her husband is his laziness and impatience, and a husband his wife’s coldness or crankiness, and a friend the other’s disorganization or tendency to gossip, and so on. What parents really have to love most about their children is not their good study habits and their athletic ability, but their disobedience and disrespect. That’s where the patience is tried and the struggle and the real self-giving love of parenting enters in.
Now I’m not suggesting that wives give their husbands a Valentine’s card reading, “What I love about you is how opinionated you are and that you’ve put on a little extra weight.” But it’s worth remembering that to say “I love you” (in any context) is to say “I’m willing to give myself to you and for you no matter what. I am yours, and my highest desire is for your good and your happiness.”
And there is only one who loves like that perfectly and completely. Only our Lord loved us even when we were sinners and His enemies (Romans 5:8-10). What our Lord most had to love about us was our sin. That is what He sacrificed and gave Himself for on the cross. His love covers the multitude of our sins. There was nothing in us that attracted Him to come to our aid. His own love is what made us lovable and lovely in His eyes. Jesus is the literal embodiment of the love passage in 1 Corinthians 13. Our Lord is patient and kind. He keeps no record of wrongs, for His mercy has covered them and taken them away. We are without flaw and without blemish. His love has made it so.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Pastor Alms is right in noting that the movie's title is Nestorian: Mary, the Mother of Christ. The phrase ascribed to Mary by the church is theotokos, "the bearer of God," or "the mother of God." For she didn't only carry the human nature of Jesus in her womb; she carried and gave birth to the very Son of God, whose natures as God and man are inseparably joined in one person.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
In a brief for the American Psychological Association in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he wrote: "Abortion rarely causes or exacerbates psychological or emotional problems. When women do experience regret, depression, or guilt, such feelings are mild and diminish rapidly without adversely affecting general functioning. The few women who do experience negative psychological responses after abortion appear to be those with preexisting emotional problems ...."
Ogden also wrote: "In sum, it is grossly misleading to tell a woman that abortion imposes possible detrimental psychological effects when the risks are negligible in most cases, when the evidence shows that she is more likely to experience feelings of relief and happiness, and when child-birth and child-rearing or adoption may pose concomitant (if not greater) risks or adverse psychological effects ...."
And here's the portion of the show that I was listening to. What especially struck me was the women who called obviously still in emotional pain over their abortions (the part I heard was about 3/4 of the way in, though there's good discussion starting about 1/4 of the way in). The reality of hearing this just shatters the deception that surrounds this issue. And it's a stark reminder of the need to apply the shed blood of Christ, the only thing which heals and cleanses us of all sin (1 John 1:7).
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
What really got me, though, was when they invited the playwright himself up on stage for the talkback afterwards. One of the adults asked him if he thought America was the same today as it was back then. Amazingly, the guy stated without hesitation or qualification that our country is still exactly the same. Good grief. While there's obviously still pockets of racism around, it's so thoroughly repudiated and looked down upon and our sensitivity to it is so high that even things that aren't racist are condemned for just appearing to be so. (Remember the story about the guy who felt compelled to resign for using the word "niggardly?")
The playwright also stated that he believed such things as those portrayed in the play could happen again. With that I agree. I just wonder if the playwright has stopped to consider that the roots of such intolerance and prejudice thrive in the liberal and artistic institutions he would extol, which mock and impugn the church and those who hold to traditional standards of morality. If tyrannical intolerance reasserts itself to a Klan-like extent again in this country, I believe it's going to be people of his worldview who will come to be the perpetrators, enforcing penalties on those who don't conform to their liberal orthodoxy.
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
We often need this in our own lives. We need to know how the story ends for us, especially in the middle of suffering or difficulty. Jesus shows us this on the mountain. After speaking of the necessity of His suffering and death, after saying that whoever wants to be a disciple of His must take up the cross and follow Him, He then reveals the glory that belongs to all those who are baptized into His body, shining brighter than the sun. The fact that Jesus is speaking of His death with Moses and Elijah on the mountain (Luke 9:31) shows that the only true way to glory is through the cross. “Whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).
In the middle of your story Jesus comes to you and shows the glorious climax of it all. He speaks to you the words of eternal life; He gives His own risen body and blood into your frail flesh and blood. He gives away the end of story; but that doesn’t spoil it but gives meaning to it and strengthens you to bear the cross and endure to the end. He says to you, “It’s only a little while longer; keep on going, trusting in Me and loving your neighbor. For the sufferings of this present time are not even worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in you” (Romans 8:18). The Apostle John encourages us, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). (See also Hebrews 12:2)
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Anyway, here's the text of the Drudge story:
Al Gore is scheduled before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday morning to once again testify on the 'urgent need' to combat global warming.
But Mother Nature seems ready to freeze the proceedings.
A 'Winter Storm Watch' has been posted for the nation's capitol and there is a potential for significant snow... sleet... or ice accumulations.
"I can't imagine the Democrats would want to showcase Mr. Gore and his new findings on global warming as a winter storm rages outside," a Republican lawmaker emailed the DRUDGE REPORT. "And if the ice really piles up, it will not be safe to travel."
A spokesman for Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the committee, was not immediately available to comment on contingency plans.
Global warming advocates have suggested this year's wild winter spells are proof of climate change.
I especially like that last line. If it's warmer than usual, it's because of global warming. If it's colder than usual (like this year), it's because global warming is affecting global weather patterns. If it's just average weather, it's because global warming occurs slowly and sometimes imperceptibly. But the overall effects will soon be catastrophic; so we must take action! How do you use logic against airtight arguments like those?
In the end, while everyone wants to work for cleaner air and water and the like, the problem with environmentalism/global warming orthodoxy is its worldview which places creation over the Creator, Mother Nature over Father God. In the end it rejects the One "through whom all things were made and in whom all things hold together," Christ Himself. (See Colossians 1:16-17)
And here's a sermon related to the subject.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
"One of Nigeria's biggest daily newspapers reported that police implicated a goat in an attempted automobile theft. In a front-page article on Friday, the Vanguard newspaper said that two men tried to steal a two days earlier in Kwara State, with one suspect transforming himself into a goat as vigilantes cornered him.
"The paper quoted police spokesman Tunde Mohammed as saying that while one suspect escaped, the other transformed into a goat as he was about to be apprehended.
"The newspaper reported that police paraded the goat before journalists, and published a picture of the animal.
"Police in the state couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
"Belief in black magic is widespread in Nigeria, particularly in far-flung rural areas."
Friday, January 23, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Sunday, January 18, 2009
If John’s Gospel starts with Day 1, (“In the beginning was the Word . . . The light shines in the darkness”), and today’s Gospel reading is akin to Day 3 of creation, would it be wrong to see Day 2 in Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, (the waters below and the waters above), when John the Baptist sees the Spirit descending from heaven and remaining upon Jesus (John 1:32)? I’m sure other theologians and commentators have pursued the parallels John the Evangelist makes to the days of creation and fleshed this out better. If anyone is aware of where such writings can be found, please feel free to comment below or email me.
Friday, January 16, 2009
In this article, "Life as We Know It Nearly Created in the Lab," the argument is clearly being made for evolution, that we're supposedly closer to understanding how some of the early processes might have worked. Isn't it ironic, though, that they have to use words like "created" to describe their work? And the self-replicating enzymes that are being spoken of in the article were synthesized by the researchers, programmed and oriented by them to behave a certain way--all of which, to me at least, seems to support a creationist point of view more than an evolutionary one. How these incredibly complex self-replicating enzymes could ever come into existence on their own by chance random processes is never even addressed. And even if you take everything the scientists are saying at face value, you're still light-years away from anything approaching "life as we know it." For those who only want to deal with objective fact, they sure exhibit a lot of faith in their theories!
In the end these scientists are taking stuff God already made and tinkering with it to try to show God's non-existence, or at least his irrelevance. A little reminiscent of Psalm 14:1 it seems to me.
(Thanks to Nathan Fischer for forwarding this article to me.)
Thursday, January 15, 2009
And here's a post from Mollie Ziegler with further commentary on this subject as it relates to being Lutheran in the civil realm. A couple quotes: "Patriotism may be a virtue but it shouldn’t trump a clear confession of Christ and him crucified." "The deities of civil religion force away distinctives and turn all belief into cliches and platitudes."
You know things are really messed up when Rick Warren is the guy you can most identify with in the story.