Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I. O. U.

When I was a child, I was always surprised to hear people saying, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” when they prayed the Lord’s Prayer.  I had learned “trespasses” so I knew that this had to be the right way!  I was even more surprised when I grew up and went to school and found that the original, the Greek version of the prayer in Matthew uses the word ojfeilhvmata, which means “debt,” or “that which is owed.”

In casual circumstances, we sometimes arrange debts with I.O.U.’s.  An IOU a promissory note.  Perhaps we borrowed money.  Perhaps we received merchandise on credit.  The IOU represents that which is owed.  So this evening I chose to link the idea of the IOU and the idea of the debt from the Greek text of the Lord’s Prayer as we discuss the Fifth petition with the theme I.O.U.̓s.

The Fifth petition is “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
What does this mean?  We pray in this petition that our Father in Heaven would not look upon our sins, not deny our petitions because of them; for we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them; but [we pray] that He would grant all of them to us by grace; for we are gross sinners every day and genuinely deserve nothing but punishment.  So will we also forgive from the heart, and also freely do good to those who sin against us.

Most people think of sin as a mistake, a bad deed, or as some kind of corruption.  Here in the Fifth petition it is presented as a debt.  None of these ideas is wrong, nor do they contradict one another.  They simply express different aspects of the same topic, Sin.  Since we pray for forgiveness of sins in this petition, it might be useful to talk about the nature of sin at this time.

Sin is the breaking of, or violation of, the will of God.  It is something we can do by actions, by speaking, or by thought.  We can even sin by doing nothing.  Sin is divided, for teaching purposes, into different kinds of sins and different ways of sinning.  The two kinds of sin are Original sin (which we inherit and which completely corrupts our human nature) and Actual sin (which is the sin we personally do or “act out”).  Both are sin, and both deserve eternal damnation.  Then there are two basic ways of sinning.

The Church has long taught about sins of commission and sins of omission.  A sin of commission is a sin you commit.  Actually, it means that you do something which is wrong or sinful.  A sin of Omission is a good thing you omit to do.  This is not doing something forbidden, but failing to do something commanded, right, or necessary.  The Bible says, James 4:17, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

Christians spend so much time talking about sin because it is so natural to man and so very deadly in effect.  Sin is the issue, not just specific sinful actions, thoughts, or words.  Sin is the basic state of rebellion, the twisted-ness of the heart which will not and cannot obey or love God.  It is Sin in us which produces all those individual sins.  Those individual sinful acts are not all that damns us, they are part of the problem, but they are really primarily the symptoms and the fruits of Sin in us, and it is Sin which brings about our condemnation.

The Bible talks about the ways of sinning – or doing sin – by using a number of different words.  The New Testament word “sin” in the Greek means literally “to miss the mark.” We try and fail.  We aim at good thoughts and have evil ones.  We do not come up to the standard of holiness set for us.  What we do is not what God wants - and often not what we want.

Another sin-word is Transgression.  It means trespass (which is another sin-word).  It means to step over the line, or go where you don̓t belong.  Adultery is a transgression, going where we do not belong, using what we ought not even to touch.  When we say or think, “Oh-oh!  Now I’ve gone too far,” we have transgressed.  God has drawn a line in the sand, so to speak, and we have stepped over it.  You may desire to possess, but you are forbidden to covet.  You are permitted to become angry, but you must forgive and not let the sun go down on your anger.  You may righteously speak about a neighbor, but not gossip, judging him or her, and damaging his or her reputation.  Too much or too little is transgression.

We use the word iniquity.  It means un-equal, unjust, or uneven.  Inconsistent behavior is iniquitous.  It is behavior, speaking or thinking that doesn’t follow the even rule of the Law of God.  Prejudice is iniquity, it has a basic inequity or inequality.  When you treat someone poorly for no reason, or for a poor reason, that is iniquity.  When you favor someone for their money or looks or some other inadequate reason, that is iniquity.  James writes about this too, chapter 2, verses 2, 3 and 4, If a man comes into your church with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one wearing the find clothes and say “You sit here in a good place,“ and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,“ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?

Wickedness is another term for sin.  It suggests a twisted-ness.  Luther spoke of man’s inclination to sin with the Latin phrase “Curvatus in se,” meaning ‘twisted in on one’s self’. Perversion, rape, incest, abortion, and the like are wickedness.  They are twisted, and turn deliberately away from the way of God and the way of life.  Homosexuality - male or female -is wickedness, twisting the natural relationships of men and women.  Pornography is wickedness, it is twisted and perverse, using something delightful and holy for profane, cheap and illicit purposes.

Again, there is guile - deception, sneakiness, trickiness.  These are the things we often hear called “good business”.  Guile involves false weights and measures, fine print hidden to deceive, and such things.  Guile is lying and cheating.  But guile also includes clever advertising which suggests what it doesn’t clearly state, putting the best forward and just not mentioning the bad, painting over rust, or putting a good face on something bad.  Even make-up, as used by some women can involve a measure of guile.

Finally, sin is lawlessness.  Anything which does not recognize the order and will of God is lawlessness.  Lawlessness acts as though it were free to do whatever it pleases.  The false concept of freedom, which does not recognize the binding nature of laws, or the responsibility of the individual which always accompanies personal liberty, is lawlessness.  My ‘rights’ become sinful if they do not balance my responsibilities and duties.  The rights issues which are destroying the peace of America are just such sin.  They are lawlessness, and God is a God of order, and of Law – although not only of Law.

And the wages of sin is death.  I imagine that I have said things about sin this evening which make you uncomfortable.  If I haven’t, raise your hand and I will try harder.  We all sin.  I have and so have you.  We feel comfortable admitting past and minor-seeming sins, or generic sinfulness, as long as we don’t have to name the sin, the time and the place.  We don’t mind the generalized and sanitized sin, but not one of us likes the thought that we are gross sinners, really wicked and evil people, every day - but you are.  You sin all of the time, but those individual sins are not the issue - Sin is!  And the wages of SIN is death.  You and I deserve to die, right now, and go to hell.  Everyone does.  If you disagree with that, you argument is not with me, it is with God and with His Word.

And we pray in this petition that God would forgive us the sin, transgressions, iniquity, wickedness, guile, and lawlessness which we do and think and say every day.  We pray that God would forgive us so that these sins will not stand in the way of His blessing us and loving us here in time, and from saving us and giving us eternal life in eternity.  We ask God to forget what miserable sinners we really are and deal with us as though we have never sinned.  We ask Him to bless us as though we were good people.  We ask Him to deal with us according to His forgiveness in Jesus, because Jesus bought our forgiveness on the cross.

And – praise to His grace – He does!  That is the good news of the gospel.  He still loves us and he richly blesses us, because of Jesus.  He listens to our prayers and answers, because Jesus took our sins to the cross and nailed them there in His flesh.  Not just our sins, but Sin itself.  Then He died to sin, and in baptism He connected us to His own death and resurrection, with the result that we are now spiritually dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  But our flesh is still sinful.  It has not died yet, and so we ask God every time we pray this prayer to forgive us anew and help us to start over and to live for Him.

I told you a couple weeks ago that this prayer was the most dangerous prayer in the world.  This is the petition that makes it so.  You pray here for God to forgive you as you forgive others.  “Forgive me God just like I forgive those who cheat me, steal from me, call me names, and are out to get me.  Forgive me like I forgive the insults.  Forgive me just the same way – and to the same degree – as I forgive my enemies and those who get in my way and those who hurt me.” That is what this prayer is about.

And Jesus makes it clear in Matthew that this is just the way God hears and answers this petition.  He says, Matthew 6:14-15 - the verses immediately following the prayer, for if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

This prayer is dangerous, because you owe God your life.  You owe God obedience.  You owe God worship and praise and thanksgiving.  You have piled up the IOU’s of deeds of righteousness undone, and obedience discarded.  You owe Him holiness and glory and honor, but you give Him sin and selfishness and lawlessness and blasphemy and shame.

Then someone else who owes you courtesy forgets, someone else who owes you a kindness is rude, someone else who owes you love strikes you or robs you or calls you a name, or makes your life less pleasant, if only for a moment.  They sin against you, and you get angry and hold their sins against them and stew.
God says, I will forgive you your entire life of debt to me, and now you must also forgive the debts of those who owe you.

God has nailed the bill of debt, the IOU of your sins on the cross with and in Jesus.  The Bible uses almost those exact words.  And then God tells us that we must do the same, we must forgive those who sin against us if we will receive His forgiveness.

So Luther says that we promise, in this petition, to forgive from the heart, and freely do good to those who sin against us.  We remind ourselves that our forgiveness goes hand in hand with us forgiving others.  The parable of the unjust steward, who was forgiven the 6 million dollar IOU but could not forgive the six hundred dollar debt is Jesus’ way of telling us again that this petition speaks the truth.

So if you want to carry the grudge - don’t pray this petition.  If you feel that it is only right to remember the wrongs done to you, an unkind word, or a hurtful deed, then don’t pray this prayer.  If you feel that the wrongs against you have been too often and too much, and now it is right to hold it against them, then don’t ask God to forgive you.  You can say all of the God-words and Jesus-talk you want.  If you don’t forgive others, all others, then you actually pray in this petition that God does not forgive you - and whether you pray it or not, He will not.  If you cannot forgive others, you are not a Christian in any sense of the word which ought to bring comfort to anyone.

The whole of the Christian faith is wrapped up here.  God forgives us for Jesus sake.  His love and forgiveness transforms us into new creatures.  We are dead to sin and alive to God because of and in connection with Christ Jesus.  But if we cannot and will not be like Him and connected to Him so that we also forgive, then we are not in connection with Jesus, and then we are not really dead to sin or alive to God, and we are not forgiven either.

IOU̓s.  We owe.  God has forgiven our debts to Him.  We owe Him to forgive others.  That is a debt we will gladly pay, and we pray for it in this fifth petition.  God grant our prayer to be forgiven and give us the grace to forgive others, for Christ’s sake.

Enough is Enough

Matthew 6:31, 32, and 34:  Do not he anxious then, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “With what shall we clothe ourselves?  For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Enough is enough!  That is our theme this evening.  Enough is enough!  This old saying, a proverb really, is usually shouted out in frustration.  Enough is enough!  And then the hero goes on to set things finally to right.

As a saying, it is a tautology – saying that ends where it began, or begins with its own conclusion.  It is something like circular reasoning, except there is no reasoning here, just a declaration.  This is an identity statement, both sides of the equation are identical.  Picture it as math, and the “is” as an equal sign.  It says, “enough equals enough,” logically – and mathematically – identity.

The theme this evening is a truism - a statement so self-evidently correct that there needs to be no debate.  It would seem difficult to imagine building an entire sermon on the theme of a truism, but this is our theme.  It is our theme because it captures the truth of the Fourth Petition.  So this evening I invite you to consider the Fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer with me under the theme, Enough is Enough!  The Fourth petition is “Give us this day our daily bread.”

What does this mean?  God gives daily bread even without our prayer, even to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

This is the single petition in this prayer for worldly, physical blessings.  So it makes sense to ask what we are asking for.  We have six petitions for spiritual gifts and only one for the things in life that we often value and notice most.  So, logically, we would next ask, what do we mean by daily bread?  What is it that this single petition seeks?

Luther answered:
Everything which belongs to the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, cattle, money, possessions, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, beneficial weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

What belongs to daily bread?  Everything.  Everything in this world which connects to our having or using our daily bread to our advantage and benefit.  What could we exclude?  We need health to earn the money to buy our daily bread.  The nation must be secure to guarantee it to us.  The economy needs to be healthy for employment to exist and provide a decent income.  Crime must be controlled or our daily bread will be taken away by force.

Merely examining the concept of food, we can see that we require so much in order to have just that.  The farmer needs good weather.  He needs strength and health.  The market needs to be functioning, the food-processors working, the stores open.  We need to be able to get to the store, to afford the products, and to be able to safely return home.  All sorts and every kind of worldly blessing is included in the fourth petition.  Not only may we say that enough is enough, but enough, in this case, is everything!

We pray in this petition for everything we need for life in this world.  We haven’t left out a thing.  And we do it all in just one petition.  This petition says “Give me today what I need today – anything I need and everything I need.”  Give me today what today requires.  Enough . . . is enough.  More would be nice.  Riches seem attractive.  Abundance seems desirable.  But enough is enough.  All I need . . . is all I need.  Anything more is extra - however pleasant the thought of it, or the enjoyment of it, may be.

In this brief petition we express and we teach a profound and yet simple trust in God. We say, just give me what I need today.  It is too late for yesterday and if I have tomorrow̓s stuff, I will just have to carry it around or store it somewhere.  Give me what I need today, God, and I will trust you for tomorrow’s stuff tomorrow.

In this petition, we express our confidence in His love.  He demonstrated that love for us in Jesus Christ.  He sent His Son for us.  He gave Him up to death for our sins.  And then God chose us to be His people.  He called us by the gospel with the sweet promise of forgiveness earned by Jesus but completely undeserved by us.  He enlightened us with the gift of the Holy Spirit, with faith, and through Baptism and the preaching of the Word.  He made us holy by forgiveness and keeps us holy through faith by means of the Word proclaimed and the Sacrament of the Altar, and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

His love demonstrated in sending Jesus, His love at work in Him choosing us out of all of humanity, His love experienced in keeping us and blessing us - all these evidences of His love have taught us that we can trust His love.  This is the same thing St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:32; He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

We know that He provides everything, and we here express our trust in His providing.  In effect, we say in this petition, “God, we know you can provide.   We know that you have provided whatever we have.  We are confident that You will continue to provide for us what we need to live in this world.”

We confess, in this petition, that we trust in God’s faithfulness.  He can be trusted.  He will not fail.  Enough is enough!

By praying this petition we place ourselves humbly under the mighty hand of God, just as Scripture instructs us.  We say here, in effect, “Thy will be done, not mine.  You take me and use me as You wish, for Your way is always best.”  We say, “If You don’t see fit to give it to me, Lord, I don’t need it.  If you don’t give it to me, Lord, I am not going to have it.  I don’t even want what You will not give.  Whatever you give me, I will be content . . . for enough is enough.”

If we pray this petition thoughtfully and seriously, we restrict greed and worry in our lives.  Our flesh, of course, wants more and more, bigger and better.  But this petition counsels our soul that today’s stuff is sufficient for today.  Nothing extra is needed.  Greed is fenced in and cut out and we seek only what we need from our God, who we are confident will supply it.

Worry is eradicated because we only need to deal with the present.  We can set all of our anxieties in His hands, casting all our cares upon Him, for He cares for us.  Jesus said, “Do not he anxious for tomorrow .  .  .  each day has enough trouble of its own.” God doesn’t want us to do anything but live today in His presence.  He will take care of tomorrow until it gets here  .  .  .  and then help us through it.  Tomorrow we can deal with tomorrow.  So, in the sense of Christian faith, this petition says to us, “Don̓t worry.  Be happy!”

This petition, short and simple, actually focuses us on the chief thing.  It sets aside the worry and the greed and the fears and the needs by turning them all over to God, and invites us to see the most important thing, our treasure in heaven.  Jesus said, in verse 20 of the same chapter of Matthew in which He teaches us the Lord’s Prayer, But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

This petition reminds us that these things around us are not the real treasures.  If they are, in our mind, then we do not have that most important, one good thing Jesus chided Martha about and praised Mary for finding.  This petition puts everything in perspective.  It says, as the Scriptures say in another place, “If we have food and clothing, let us be content.”

This world is just a way-station.  I’m but a stranger here .  .  heaven is my home.  This world is not permanent.  It is not the end, it is the means, the road.  It is like a hotel, we use it for our main purpose, which is His purpose.  Heaven is our goal.  Heaven is the point of all that we do or have here.  Heaven is the meaning of this, not earth, not life on this earth, not possessions.

So, enough is enough.  We pray, give us this day our daily bread, and teach us to know that it came from You, and give us hearts filled with thanksgiving.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

The Lenten Fast

      In the Small Catechism, under the topic of the Sacrament of the Altar, the fourth question, “Who then, receives this Sacrament worthily?”, Luther answers, “Fasting and bodily preparation are, in fact, a fine external discipline”.  Luther then goes on to tell us that true preparation for the Lord’s Supper is faith.  That is usually the entire discussion of fasting in the Lutheran Church.  For some reason, we tend to simply dismiss the idea of fasting with Luther’s words about how they are “a fine outward training” (or, as above, “external discipline”).

     What Luther said about fasting, however, was that it was a good thing to do.  It did not serve as adequate preparation for reception of the Lord’s body and blood, but it was a good discipline.  As a “discipline,” it is a training thing - what I often refer to as a “devotional exercise”.  Although it is not required, it is often useful and even beneficial as an exercise, to discipline the flesh as we live out our vocation as the holy people of God.  I bring this up because our topic for this month’s newsletter is “The Lenten Fast”.

     The Lenten Fast is what I first encountered in life as “giving something up for Lent”.  When I was a child, my mother, who had been raised Roman Catholic, taught us her childhood tradition of giving something up for Lent.  It was typically something like your favorite candy, or, perhaps, deliberately not watching your favorite TV program for those six weeks.  No one called it fasting, and I wasn’t always very clear on why we gave something up, but we did it every year.  It set the season of Lent aside as something unique and special.  Eventually, I learned that giving something up for Lent was a way of remembering the fasting of Jesus in the wilderness as He confronted the temptations of the devil head-on just after His baptism.  We gave up something small, and frequently failed to discipline ourselves to maintain the “fast” throughout the six weeks.  Our struggles to keep the fast disciplined us, that is, they taught us just a little about the enormous thing Jesus did when He went without food for those forty days and forty nights.

     Our culture teaches us that we are individuals.  Human society learned that principle from the Gospel.  It was the Gospel which taught us that each of us was counted worth the love of God – by God! – and valued highly by the death of His Son in our place and for our redemption.  Salvation was for each, individually, and suddenly we can to see ourselves as individual people rather than instances of a group, class, or caste.  This was wonderful news!  But our culture has evolved the notion of individuality into something radical and independent of anyone or anything.  That notion is simply false, and when taken to an extreme is deadly dangerous.

     Centuries ago this drift in popular philosophy - the way people tend to think - was already noted, and responded to.  “No man is an island”, was how the poet John Donne stated it in the early 1600's.  Donne wanted to remind people that all of humanity was interconnected - and that we all alike must die; “Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls (the church-bell tolling at the death of someone), it tolls for you.”  My point here is not exactly the same as Donne’s, but while we are valued by God as individuals, while we live, we are never entirely free of others.

     In the Church, we are taught explicitly that we are interconnected.  We are members of the body of Christ and members individually of one another.  Radical individualism and independence subvert the Gospel and the community of Christ’s people which we call the Church.  But our culture teaches us that we are free, and we have rights.  Neither statement is absolutely true.  Freedoms have limits, and none of our rights are absolute in the realm of civil government.  For the Christian, what society calls “rights” we call “blessings” or “privileges”.  They are what the Lord makes them, because we are His, purchased and won at the price of the cross.  We are not free, except as our God grants us liberties; but He never grants us liberties which set us free from Him or from the principle of love for one another.

     The resulting conflict between what we want and what God would have for us, and have us to be, causes us frustration and anxiety, at times, and stress.  For the Christian to live out his or her confession requires disciplining the flesh — which is where the fast comes in.  Fasting and bodily preparation are, in fact, a fine external discipline.

     The discipline of the fast is a way of training your flesh to walk in the light of faith.  We deny ourselves something here, for a specific time and with a specific goal in mind, to teach our flesh to obey our spirit, and remind ourselves that God will provide, so we can ‘do without’ for a time without the worry that we will suffer any great injury.  Somewhere in here comes the Lenten Fast.  It is not a rule or Law.  Many Lutherans are not even familiar with it as a tradition.  If it can be done as a devotional exercise, it can be profitable.  The idea is to keep one’s head in the game, so to speak.  It should help you remember that it is Lent, and act devotionally to remind you of what our Lord endured for you, to some small degree.
The Lenten Fast should be something simple, but something that you will notice is missing.  Giving up a food item that you really don’t like is not likely to serve you devotionally.  You might consider abstaining from an activity that you find enjoyable, and reserve that time for a Lenten devotional reading instead.  The goal of a fast should be to heighten your awareness of the season of Lent and prepare you to contemplate the Passion of our Lord and the joys of Easter more attentively.  The fast is a spiritual, devotional exercise.  It can be of great benefit as a discipline - a thing which disciples us.  It can only do so, however, if we are already disciples.  Because we make no command, one could look at the fast as a “voluntary law”.  It is such a law as we may choose to pick it up and exercise ourselves with it, or elect to ignore it without injury to ourselves.  It is also a manmade thing.  God nowhere commands a Lenten Fast.

     In the Old Testament, fasting was very much a part of repentance.  Over and over again Israel would fast and pray, often in sack-cloth and ashes – the symbols of repentance – as they sought forgiveness and divine protection.  In Isaiah 58, God even declares the sort of fast which He would see from His people - and why their fasts were so often unable to secure the blessings that they expected and desired from them.  “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke?  Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'”

     Perhaps one of the customs of the Church that we have let slip away that we should not have is fasting.  It isn’t appealing to our flesh or fun, but maybe we can find some good in the devotional exercise and spiritual discipline of a fast.  If the thought is new to you, perhaps you could start slow and easy - like with a Lenten Fast, you know, giving something up for Lent, and thereby keeping Christ and Lent in the front of your mind this Lenten Season.  “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'”

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Living in a post-America America

The nation I grew up in no longer exists.  That is a strange thing to say, but it is true.  The geography is still there, changing as it will through time, but the political and social structures are gone.

The news media that once prided itself on at least the pretense of objectivity does so no longer.  It is an active advocate for the socialist and communist agenda.  It no longer reports the news, but filters it for what will advance the agenda factually or emotively, and declines to report most everything else.  Facts actually play a very limited role in reporting and editorializing today, taking a back seat to agenda propaganda.

Laws are only selectively enforced, and always seemingly in line with the “progressive” agenda.  Among the political elite, one needs to be conservative to draw attention and face any legal sanction for one’s conduct.

Lies, deceit, violence and ignorance hold sway in public debate.  Anti-Semitism is on the rise, along with Christian-bashing and persecution in the public forum, and the embrace of Islam and sharia is now the filter for public discourse.

I could almost wish that those advocates for the embrace of Islamic violence could experience what they unwittingly promote, except for the damage that would befall all those around them as well.  It seems that the enemies of liberty always find ready ears and undeveloped minds to in which to fester.

The silent majority, the great hoard of deplorables as defined by Candidate Clinton, need to rise up, and force their representation in Washington  - and at the state level - to represent Americans, to enforce laws upon all, including the elected, equally, to protect the nation against the invasion of non-citizens, and to preserve our liberties against the foes foreign and domestic.

We could start by removing those who have taken office contrary to our election laws.  Secondly, we could enforce the long-standing law against any Muslim serving in public office, because their religion requires them to place Sharia law above loyalty to our nation’s laws.  Thirdly, we need to stop the legal murder of the pre-born, and address the judicial abuse of activist courts.

Because the political will does not exist in our elected officials to represent Americans, but desire to rule over us and fleece us for their own personal advantage, the nation we once thought existed can exist no longer, sadly.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Saying “Goodbye”

     This year, March is the month of Ash Wednesday.  As I write this we are looking forward to the “Gesimas”, Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima.  The largest part of the Synod around us, and the church in general, I suspect, is celebrating the modern, longer season of Epiphany - seven weeks long this year, almost as long as it can get.  Then they have Transfiguration Sunday on March 3, which we will celebrate on February 10.  This time in the church year holds a special place in my mind, and it brings a mixture of emotions.  The one that struck me as I sat down to write this article was sorrow over how the Church Year we have all known is soon to be passing into history, and we must say “good -bye”.
     The Gesima’s are going, slowly but surely.  Time Marches On.  The historic lectionary, used by our Fathers back to the time of Luther (and beyond), is also being supplanted by those three-year series.  They were first created by the ecumenical movement people who wanted all of the Christian churches – so called – to use the same lessons every week and so show us that there is ‘really no difference between the denominations’ so we could all get together and forget all that doctrine-stuff that divides us and be one big happy family.  Happily, very few were deceived by that ruse.
     The point is, everything is changing and the old things are quickly passing away.  That is inevitable, I guess.  It is just a sorrow.  But it reflects a theological truth and can teach us something of value even if we don’t enjoy watching it happen.  Those wonderful old things are passing away, and among those old things, we must count ourselves.  We are passing away too.  We may even beat the Gesima’s into history!
     Change is the hallmark of the world we live in.  Some change is even good.  In the faith, however, change is not usually a positive thing.  Truth never changes, and when we change our truths, we are running the risk of losing touch with the faith once delivered to the saints.  Unfortunately, we can also run that risk by uncritically refusing any and all change.  As the world changes about us, we have to make some changes to keep our place in the world and to hold onto what we already have.
     That sounds so strange - you have to move to stay in the same place - but it can be true.  It helps to think of the world as floating on the stream of time.  If you want to hold your place in a river, you have to move against the current, or you just drift away.  In this world, language and customs and the conceptual framework of the culture around you is always changing, moving like a stream, and if you don’t move against the current, constantly adjusting yourself to keep your place, so to speak, you will drift away from where you think you are and where you want to be just as surely as you would in a boat on a river.
     Think about the changes in technology around you.  They make a good marker for the flow of change.  Our cars have changed.  Our telephones have changed.  Our televisions have changed.  How we approach most everything we do in daily life has changed along with the technologies we use to do them.  We have, for example, gone from party lines to individual phones for each person, and they are not connected to a place, but to a person now.  Many people have done away with home phones as redundant and unnecessary expenses.  I didn’t want a cell-phone at first.  I avoided getting one.  Now I cannot imagine what I would do without it, and I worry about how I am going to contact people when I leave my phone at home.
     Computers are another example of how technology has changed our lives.  I know very few people who don’t have a computer.  Some people who like to think that they don’t need a computer would be amazed at how many computers they actually use – in their cars, in their appliances, banking, and shopping.  They simply have avoided the step of owning a personal computer or learning how to use one, and limited their options in a number of ways by doing so.
     With life changing so radically, does it seem realistic to expect that church and worship and the ways we exercise our faith will remain unchanged?  People are already looking to podcasts for Bible studies, and even my sermons are on the internet, both in print and in sound, so some things have changed to a degree already.  But as things change, we have to approach change with our eyes wide open and shape how change effects what we do and what we believe, teach, and confess.
     In point of fact, what we believe, teach, and confess ought not to change, even while the vehicle for sharing the faith or learning it is undergoing certain unavoidable changes.  The more things change, they say, the more things stay the same.  Mankind doesn’t change.  Sin continues to dog our steps.  We continue to face frustrations, sorrows, loneliness, fear, and so forth.  We still need the Gospel, and we still need the gifts of God through Word and Sacrament, and we still need - even though some may have stopped feeling the desire for - the fellowship of the saints.  Just as the Church in every age gone by has had to figure out how to be church and do church in the face of their society and their culture and their technology, we have to figure it out for our age and time.  The challenge of our time is the nature and the speed of the outward changes, while we meet the same old needs of the inner man and inner realities.
      Among the changes that we cannot make, are changes in doctrine.  That is all God-given, and we cannot let go of anything God has spoken to us.  We can look for better ways for sharing it with people who are caught up in our changing world, but we have no desire to see a single ‘jot or tittle’ lost or altered.  We also do not want to lose the wonderful fellowship we have when we gather for worship.  Our age prizes individuality and independence, but the Church prizes our mutual love and support for one another.   We need the precious face-to-face time of the congregation and the worship service.  We delight in not just the familiarity of the liturgy, but in its commonality.  We share it.  We know it and one another and are encouraged and strengthened by the sharing together of our faith and confession.
     These are things that we have to fight to hang onto.  The world around us is trying to pull it away, and the church around us is sometimes too willing to set it aside and move on to whatever is next.  Before we let go of anything, however, we must be sure that we are not losing something precious and good and wholesome.  goodby to something old and familiar, or saying goodbye to the new and the modern.  It also means that we have to face saying goodbye, at least for a time, to one another, as our time of departure from this life approaches.  The changes of this life keep forcing that reality before us too.  It makes sense to prepare for that goodbye too.  But that is one goodbye we can welcome because it isn’t permanent.  It is only until the Lord returns and raises us up again.  Time marches on, and this month it is marching us toward Lent where we will celebrate and solemnly observe the crushing reality of our sins and the overwhelming reality and depth of the love of God for us. So, hello, Lent, and goodbye worldly comfort and ease.  Don’t you just hate saying goodbye?
Yours in the Lord,
Pastor Fish
So, we have a balancing act to do.  We have to say goodbye to anything that stands in the way of the Gospel - whether that means saying