Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Good Pastor

My homily for this week on John 10:11-16 (and Ezekiel 34:10-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25) is here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Sacrament of Love

One aspect of the Lord's Supper that I sometimes fail to emphasize in my preaching and teaching is that even as our sins are taken away by the body and blood of the Lamb of God, we are also taking up and bearing the burdens and the needs of those flesh and blood people with whom we share the Supper. Luther refers to this in the catechism and in his hymnody, but he does so very explicitly in his treatise entitled, "The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods" (1519). Here are a couple of snippets to whet your appetite to read the whole thing, which appears in Luther's Works, Vol. 35, pp. 49-68. A majority of this will be reprinted in the upcoming issue of Gottesdienst. If you are not yet a subscriber, you can take care of that here.

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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Top Ten Reasons to Use the Liturgy

From Pastor Cwirla's Blog:

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.

The Speaker at This Year's Pastors Conference

The Rev. Matthew Harrison, Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, was the main speaker at the recent South Wisconsin District Pastors Conference in Lake Geneva. He had some fine things to say about the church's mission of mercy. What a refreshing thing to hear some good, in-depth theology from one of our synodical bureaucrats--someone who was comfortable handling the Scriptures in their original language. A good executive and a decent Lutheran theologian at the same time. What a novel concept! His blog is in the sidebar and is entitled "Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison."

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

Wounds and Peace

This morning's homily on John 20:19-31:

Full sermon text can be accessed here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Law and the Gospel

Today at the graduation of my son-in-law, Gabriel Frusti, from the Police Academy. Gabe is an officer for the Franklin, Wisconsin Police Department. Congratulations, Gabe!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Did It My Way

An interesting article here about music chosen by people for their funerals in Britain. I realize that Britain is basically post-Christian/secular/new age/neo-pagan/whatever. But still, to have a virtual definition of sin as the #1 chosen pop song (Frank Sinatra's "My Way") and to make that one of your final statements to the world is just amazing and saddening.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Seven Words From the Cross

1) "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

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.

4 Meditations on the St. John Passion

John 18:1-27

John 18:28-40

John 19:1-22

John 19:23-42

The full text of these homilies can be be found here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The King of the Jews

In the April, 2009 edition of Touchstone Magazine, there is an insightful article written by Patrick Henry Reardon. In this article Reardon makes the connection between the dream of the Gentile Pilate's wife in Matthew 27:19 and the visit of the Gentile Magi, who were divinely warned in a dream not to return to Herod (Matthew 2:12). I had not fully considered the literary and exegetical parallels between these two passages before. I wish I could link to the whole article, but since it's not up at the Touchstone site, here's at least of a taste of it for your Holy Week meditation:

(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

A Good Memory of Wiest and Palm Sunday

As I was driving to Walmart today to pick up a few things, I drove past the location of the local palm reader and spiritualist, Ann Taylor. Her place happens to be right next door to Our Father's Lutheran Church, where Pastor Stephen Wiest of blessed memory served for a few years before his death. I was reminded of how Pastor Wiest once went over to visit her in the week leading up to Palm Sunday. Of course, the timing of the visit was meant to be a little bit of a joke, as if Palm Sunday had anything to do with her line of work. But he used the occasion as a serious opportunity to invite her to come to church and hear the Word of Christ. I don't think she took him up on the offer, but it brought to mind again what a special character Father Wiest was and how his doctorate and learning never kept him from being able to talk to anyone. He especially seemed to revel in speaking to those on the fringes who wouldn't normally be targeted by missions experts as those who were open to hearing the Gospel. Looking back, I still can't believe that he was removed from the campus ministry at UW-Milwaukee. That was just the sort of place he belonged, though he was well-received in the more "normal" congregational settings like Our Father's, too. I imagine the only palm reading Pastor Wiest would've encouraged was the kind done by Thomas the week after Easter, seeing the scarred hands and side of the risen Jesus in the body and blood of the Sacrament, "reading" and hearing the Word of peace and forgiveness that comes from the Savior in the Supper to poor sinners like us.

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


Here's this week's homily on Matthew 27:32-66:

Abortion is a Blessing?

This has to be a really, really bad April fools joke, right? I mean, seriously, the Episcopalians couldn't go this far, could they!? Here's a portion of a sermon from the new dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, the "Rev." Katherine Hancock Ragsdale. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!


- 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.

Happy April 1st!