Dry Times

CS Lewis called it the dry times and likened it to hills and valleys. Our spiritual lives are like that. We have ups and downs, the times when we feel close to God, when our devotions are being said, when we are attuned to temptation and somehow the strength is there to resist. We feel good. Then there’s the other times when you barely feel connected to anyone and anything, and our prayers bounce of the ceilings or die before ever crossing our lips, and the Word is lifeless and boring as sin to us.

In either situation, remember that our faith, salvation and spiritual life have little connection to our feelings. Your spiritual high and close feelings may be more due to the fact that it’s spring and you’re eating healthily. Your dry times could be from lack of sleep. We cannot control them, and the truth is beyond our understanding. And remember If Scripture says anything about this phenomena, it leans on the side that the high times may be an illusion and it is in those times of weakness and dryness, of suffering and cross that God does His best work in our life. (James 1:1-5; 2 Cor. 12:9, et al.)

We also remember that the Christian life is not about victory and accomplishment, but about receiving. About getting up when we fall. About showing up to hear and receive, about picking up that cross (again) and going forth. When the way is bright and light, thanks be to God. When it is heavy and dark and the monsters circle and sins entice, give thanks to God for His victory.

Easter 4 Sermon

Disclaimer: I usually don’t publish my sermon manuscripts. Sermons are proclaimed to a specific people at a specific time, and I don’t believe they are for “general consumption.” Additionally, I write my manuscripts early and by Sunday morning they serve more as outlines than a transcript of what I proclaim. Keep this in mind. Your mileage may vary…

+++++

Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:

That alone should encourage the crew.

Just the place for a Snark!

I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.”

Lewis Carrol wrote this in his poem “The Hunting of the Snark.” There’s something to it on a few levels. Repeated phrases, repeated things are important. Once, twice. Three times a lady. Repetition is the mother of learning, the Latin phrase goes.

It’s even more important when Jesus says it—when Scripture records something three times. And so the strangeness and awkwardness of our Gospel reading takes on a different light. “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me because I go to the Father.” This phrase, this strange phrase repeated three times.
Three times a truth.

We sound just like the disciples. What in the world is Jesus talking about? Why did John find this so important that three times in a row it is repeated? Why did John want this truth, this saying etched in our memories and understanding? “A little while and you will not see me, and again in a little while you will see me.” This text cuts in two directions, has two meanings.

Jesus is speaking about His death and resurrection.

Jesus is speaking about His death and resurrection. St. John places this speech on the night of Maundy Thursday, after Judas had left to go betray Him, Jesus says these things and more to the disciples gathered around. And so Jesus is telling them, “Hey, in a few hours I will be taken from you. And the world will rejoice, and Herod and Pilate will become friends, and the Pharisees and Crowds will yell ‘Crucify him.’ And you will be in denial and confusion and fear. But then in a little bit, a few days, you will see me again, because I will be raised from the dead.”

And three times John records this so that we may know it. So that the Cross and Tomb are at the center of our lives and understanding. This was the work of Jesus, to give His life for us. This is the work of Christ, to take our sins from us. To defeat the curse of death for our sake. His three days rest is the center of our faith and His return to us the focus of our life and worship together. So much, that in many senses, every Sunday we celebrate Easter. For Christian worship, every Sunday is a day we celebrate what happened that First and High Sunday of Jesus’ return to life.

Jesus is speaking about Now

But there is another angle to all this, and the reason we hear this reading today, weeks after Easter and Holy Week. Jesus is also speaking about now. These days. Right now. He is saying, “Hey, there’s going to be a little bit—fifty days or so—and I am going to go to the Father. But then in a little while again I will be back. Now the world will be glad I’m gone. There will be trouble. It will be like a woman in the midst of labor, but then I will return and it will be like holding that little infant in your arms, and your joy will cast away all sorrow.”

Is He Right? It seems like Jesus was wrong. Wait, we’re good Christians. We wouldn’t say that. It seems like I’m wrong in putting these words in Jesus’ mouth. Except I’m not. No, Jesus speaks this way about the time between His Ascension and Return all the time.

A Little While

First, it is a little while. Not by our standards. Nothing compared to the three days in the tomb. But by God’s standards, this is short. His days are not our days, after all. By our standards, Jesus has been gone so long it’s like He never came. But do not let that temptation capture you! No, He tells us to think of this as just a short time. And your 70 or 80 years here is compared to eternity. The 2000 years since He ascended is short compared to the generations before He came and to eternity with Him.

The Return

Second, He is correct. He is returning. We are foolish sometimes when we don’t consider this or live like it. Even as Christians who affirm so much, we often go through life as if we have forever to repent, and as if the world will continue forever. But it will not. We confess it every single Sunday. “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” Woe to us if we have been giving lip-service to this the whole time.

Yet He comes to judge the living—and that means you. Despite our sins, you and I are the living ones. Our demerits and sins and blinded actions are forgiven and washed in the waters of baptism. Christ has died for you and counts nothing against you. Not even living as if He is gone forever. He counts nothing and comes to judge you, living one, and give you heaven! A judgment of innocence, a decree of His own righteousness!

The Travail

Third, these days of His absence from us are troublesome, like a woman in childbirth, just like He said. Think of it this way: as Christians we desire everyone to repent and believe in Christ, to find the joy and freedom we have, to be freed from the decisions and sins of fear, to be freed from the way of emptiness. We desire peace. Our kingdom is not of this world. Yet we live in a world of chaos. Of bombs. We live in a world where children are murdered and we are accused of hate because we oppose it. We live in a world where Christians are disregarded, mocked, sidelined, our beliefs held in derision and called barbarians, and in some nations jailed and executed.

The Presence

This is where our Eucharistic prayer is so powerful: I hold aloft the Body and Blood of Christ and say, “As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup…” and you respond “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus”. This is eschatological— this is pointing to the End days. They are here and Christ has not left us. He is Here in Body and Blood, giving us life and joy, even in the midst of sadness and chaos and blame and confusion. He remains with us even in these days, even in these short days, holding Him aloft and receiving Him ourselves.

Now the Peace which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Good Words on Good Works

The brouhaha over sanctification seems to be petering out, thanks be to God. What’s that you ask? Certain segments of Confessional Lutherans have been arguing in various places online about the third use of the Law and preaching sanctification. And many of them have a view of Lutheran preaching that generations and generations of Lutherans would never recognize.

It is a sign of my own lack of sanctification that I can barely address this without calling the other side names and getting way too upset. Ironic isn’t it? So instead of an impassioned, unbecoming and sinful rant, I appeal to Pr. Peters. He writes,

 What I am concerned about is that the huff has created an atmosphere in which we feel it is safe only to preach justification and to leave all the rest unsaid and up to the Spirit.  Such preaching would be clearly out of step with both our Lutheran forbearers and with the catholic and evangelical faith prior to the Reformation.  We must preach the whole counsel of God and this includes the preaching of sanctification — not as the rehabilitation of the old man (for he has died in baptism) but as the birth of the new person created in Christ Jesus for good works that glorify God and show forth that faith is genuine.  There is a certain synergism here but not one in which we can credit ourselves for the progress.  We are teaching the old dog new tricks.  We are becoming the people we have been declared to be in our baptism.  We are reaching forth with the new desire of the hearts made new for the good that is both our purpose and the fruit of Christ at work in us.  The same Jesus who justifies us sinners before God is the one who is at work in us so that we show forth His righteousness in our daily lives.  There is progress here (not one which we may chart or one for which we can take credit) but the Christian through the means of grace grows in grace and this has positive effect in our life and conversation.

To quote Luther:
This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness;
not health, but healing;
not being, but becoming;
not rest, but exercise.
We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way;
the process is not yet finished, but it has begun;
this is not the goal, but it is road;
at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified.

Law and Gospel…and Sanctification from Walther

“A third shortcoming in this context is when a preacher always preaches about repentance and faith, yet omits the need for good works and sanctification, at least in the sense that he is not instructing thoroughly on good works, Christian virtues, and sanctification. Describing the true Christian life and living in detail—gently and with practical examples—will work better than [when the preacher is] always threatening and admonishing people of the necessity to do these things. Luther writes the following in this regard, “XXX, Schrift von den Conciliis und Kirchen, 1539, Walch XVI, pp. 2741. [93]. By the way, if anyone would like a detailed description of true Christian life—both spiritually and how to live it—read Holy Scripture and also the beautiful examples in the Epistle section of Luther’s Church Postil.”
(CFW Walther, Pastoraltheologie, pp. 92, 93, Translation by Christian Tiews)

What’s Wrong with Lutheranism, Part Twenty(?)

Well. Read this. One of the funniest bloggers I know of and a Lutheran to boot on what is wrong with my denomination. Seriously. You’ve read it here for years, but he says it better and more eloquently than I can: the indictment of the LCMS Confessional Movement and the fruitless faith we preach. Seriously. Read this essay when you have ten or twenty minutes of quiet to digest it.

Here’s a sample:

Here is what filtered down to many of us young Lutherans: we are both sinners and justified, yes? So it’s Jesus’s job to justify, and our job to . . . sin. If we say we have no sin, then we are liars! If we say there is anything we can do about our sin, well, then we’re really lost. Don’t get me wrong: there were standards of “conduct,” which amounted to growing into a middle-of-the-road middle-class respectable and productive tax-paying citizen who kept his (or her) head down and, above all, respected authority. But that really wasn’t about our life in Christ. That was more about our life in the world. Christ dealt with the next life. Old-fashioned patriotic American “values” dealt with this one.

Forgiveness Thursday

We followed the Agenda for Maundy Thursday, offering the Rite of Corporate Confession and Absolution. We did the same thing at Redeemer, but with one telling difference here: after the confession, we followed the rubric which states “The pastor absolves the penitents individually at the altar…” Previously, I followed the alternate instruction and absolved them corporately. SONY DSC

I stood to the Epistle side, my associate pastor to the Gospel side and the people came forward in two lines. Some held head down, and I absolved them, placing the sign of the Cross on their foreheads. Others came and looked me in the eyes as I said, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

For me it was both emptying and filling. I was a tool, just a hand and mouth of Christ who was doing the work. It wasn’t me up there at all. But I was also forgiven and filled with joy and peace, knowing that all are absolved, all are free, all gathered that night cleansed and pure by that Word of Christ. The same happens on every Sunday with Corporate Confession and Absolution, of course, but only a fool would say it is exactly the same. It was different.

And I am already looking forward to it next year.It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had at Grace. One by one, person by person, seeking forgiveness and in their face, touching their heads giving them absolution. It was intimate and personal and underneath it all I repented that I had never conducted the Rite this way at Redeemer. We needed it. We all need it.

Overheard at Easter Vigil…

“Christ is the Alpha and the…[long pause]…where’s the Omega?”

[Whispered], “Let’s whittle the paschal candle.” [long pause] “It’s still not working. Just shove it in there.”

“The Seventh Day…no, the Sixth Day”

“Take the knife to the font and whittle some more.”

“Let’s just pray it doesn’t tip over, leaning like that.”

[Whispered] “Phillip! Sneak back there and get the chrism! When do we need it? We need it now!”

“‘And she said, ‘Rabboni’, which means Lord. No, rather it means Teacher.'”