Saints, Cubs, and Preaching to the Preacher

“And if you ask, ‘Who is Amos or Abdias, or what is the number of the Prophets or Apostles?’ they cannot even open their mouths. But with regard to the horses or charioteers, they can compose a discourse more clever than the sophists or rhetors.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, LVIII).

I referenced this in my sermon on Sunday, Within the Octave of All Saint’s Day. I followed with the question, “Can you name the Twelve Tribes of Israel? Can you name the nine of the Cubs who won the World Series? Or 12 of the actors in your favorite movie?”

Pastors preach to themselves. Yes, I can name the 12 tribes…at least on a good day (frankly it is something I’ve been refreshing myself on as I read Genesis this month), but we still preach to ourselves. So we all look to our weaknesses and strengths. Knowing the Scriptures is pretty basic. Learning who the saints are is good.

In my vocation, I know the Scriptures, have a vocational, and avocational interest in the Saints, but I don’t remember and know Hebrew like I once did or should. So that’s my intent. I’m going back to basics, and by next year hope to be reading Hebrew at least as well as I do Greek, maybe better.

I’ve already started.



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.

A Confused and Tottering Faith

Let us consider those others of whom Christ said, ‘And those upon the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, and they have no root. These believe for a while and in time of temptation depart away.’ There are men whose faith has not been proved. They depend simply on words and do not apply their minds to examining the mystery. Their piety is sapless and without root. When they enter the churches, they feel pleasure often in seeing so many assembled. They joyfully receive instruction in the mysteries from him whose business it is to teach, and laud him with praises. They do this without discretion or judgment, but with unpurified wills. When they go out of the churches, at once they forget the sacred doctrines and go about in their customary course, not having stored up within themselves anything for their future benefit. If the affairs of Christians going peacefully and no trial disturbs them, even then they scarcely maintain the faith, and that, so to speak, and it confused and tottering state. When persecution troubles them and enemies of the truth attack the churches of the Savior, their heart does not love the battle, in their mind throws away the shield and flees.

Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 42

St. Utopia –from Pr. Peters

Pastor Peters is becoming a favorite blogger, and I’m afraid I’m becoming a ditto-head. Read this post in its entirety at his blog about dissatisfaction, wish dreams and the like, and the reality of the Gospel and life together. Here’s a sample:

The cause of Pastor and people is not the perfect church.  If it were, as they used to say, you would not be allowed in.  Even more to the point, when we spend our whole time lamenting what is wrong, we fail to see the work of God in our midst.  As much as we yearn for a perfect church, God, in His generosity and mercy has always worked among imperfect people and structures to do His perfect will. …

Discontent breeds only discontent.  Dissatisfaction that shows itself in complaint leads only to misery — a misery in which we are far too comfortable.  It is always easier to complain about what is wrong than to work for what is good, right, true, noble, beautiful, and of God.

Instead, Pray

This was taken from a talk entitled, “On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian” (from Emily’s Blog) but it pertains to all of us.

[A]void what is called the temptations from the left and the right. Temptations from the left are laxism, weakness, compromise, indifference. Temptations from the right are censorious judgement of others, the stuck-up zeal of the Pharisee, ‘zeal not according to knowledge’. These temptations are equally dangerous and equally to be combatted. Both waste an enormous amount of time and energy on sideshows like the discussion of irrelevant issues like ecumenism, rather than praying. Being in society is the way in which we can get to know ourselves, see our failings and avoid being sidetracked into theoretical concerns.

Impracticality of God

More great writing and wisdom from Pr. Peters

Hardly anything you see or we do on Sunday morning is practical.  Not the vestments or the liturgy, not the organ or the choir, not the paraments and painting or the wooden pews and kneelers.  But that is the point.  It was practicality that got us in trouble in the first place.  We sought a short cut to achieving our dreams of glory and it came with a price tag of death, disorder, and disappointment.  We don’t need a better life now as much as we need a life that is stronger than death, mercy to forgive our sins, and hope to carry us through a life too filled with suffering, disappointment, and pain.  Christian faith does not guarantee a path void of mountains or valleys.  This is not some great interstate highway to heaven in which the deep places of life have been filled in and the hills cut down to make it all easier on us.  Oh, sure, somebody will throw Isaiah and John the Baptizer at me here and say but…  Well, I don’t think that is exactly what those words mean.

Ceremonies and Their Purpose

Here is an excellent post by Fr. Larry Beane (yes, a Lutheran “Father”–believe it) about our worship “style” or “height” be it High Church or Low Church. There are really too many passages worthy of being a pull quote, but here’s one:

Ceremonies are not about looking pretty, but rather about communicating well and with excellence.  Ultimately, it’s all about charity, humility, and love.  A man who loves his wife will “take pains” in the way he acts around her, treats her, and speaks to her.  Christ took great pains for us on the cross.  And we “take pains” to confess this truth with clarity and in love.

In the final analysis, it is all about God’s grace.

My congregation has grown in ceremonies over the years I have been here, from a relatively low church, Creative Worship format on many, if not most Sundays, to using Divine Service I and III, Holy Communion on Feasts and Festivals (not every Sunday yet), use of chasubles and chanting. But as Fr. Beane writes, it was carried out not for prettiness’ sake, nor for traditionalism, nor for preference, but for the Gospel. The people learned that the liturgy sustains, that behavior follows belief, and belief follows behavior (my translation for lex orandi, lex credendi), That if Christ is present in Word and Sacrament, then we acknowledge Him with reverence and submission, starting with me. I taught them the chasuble was not Roman, nor a vestment of honor, but an apron, a serving garment that I wore to serve them Christ. They were taught chanting does not draw attention to me (or them) but to the words, as a gem is placed in a crown, or a photograph in a frame.

Does everyone at Redeemer know this? No. And most of us cannot put it into words. But this is why we do what we do, and why Lutherans should do what they do.

Go read the article now  and enjoy.

Power and Humility

Rachel Held Adams writes about Mark Driscoll* and such mega-church consumerist evangelicalism:

When you build your church and your culture around hierarchy and power, you are naturally going to be 1) highly-organized, and 2) personality focused. But when you build your church and your culture around humility and service, you are naturally going to be 1) organic, growing at the grassroots level, and 2)  less dependent on one or two flashy personalities and more dependent on the daily faithfulness of regular people….

The Mark Driscolls of this world pull in (and publicize) the big numbers because that is how they measure success….

We are part of a living, growing Kingdom in which the last will be first and the first will be last, in which the peacemakers and the merciful and the meek will be blessed, in which the tiny seeds we plant today will grow into great trees where the birds of the air will nest, in which a crucified savior is King, and in which all things will be reconciled to God in love. Control is not the end of the story. Power is not the end of the story. Violence is not the end of the story. Inequality is not the end of the story. Jesus is. Those who preach the gospel of power will come and go; they will flourish and then fade.

I added her to my blogroll after Pr. Mark Surburg quoted her on Facebook. Pay attention to her. I’m really impressed so far.

*Who is Mark Driscoll? See this link or this link.

The Sign of the Cross

Making the sign of the cross over yourself is an ancient practice. Sure, some do it in a superstitious way…or at least seem to. But maybe we shouldn’t judge. Rev. Todd Peperkorn writes,

Making the sign of the cross is catholic, but not simply in the Roman Catholic sense.  It has been practiced by Christians almost since the time of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead.  It has probably been around as a Christian practice as long as folding one’s hands to pray or saying before meal prayers.  So in terms of its historic practice, Christians have been making the sign of the cross as long as there have been crosses.

Read more of his post here.

Small Business Congregations

This seems to be making some rounds. I stole it from incarnatus est:

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers and the shop they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money…The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in town and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. (Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity,1987, p. 2)