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Exaudi 2018 The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

jesus ascension cavedone.PNGExaudi, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

May 13, 2018

The Mother of Christians and Her Testimony

 

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Proverbs chapter 30: There are three things that are too wonderful for me, four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.  (18-19)

 

I’m not sure I understand the meaning of this proverb.  But I can think of another thing that is “too wonderful for me” and that I “do not understand”—the way of a mother with her child.

 

When the girl carries the little human being inside of her for months, and no one can see it, but she can feel her son or daughter moving inside of her.  She nurtures and cares for her child before anyone else has seen it.  For her the baby that has not seen the world yet is the center of her world.  Nobody else in the world will ever see that child the way she does.  This is too wonderful for me.

 

And then in pain and danger she labors to bring the baby into the world.  And then for months her baby is no longer within her, but almost as close.  She carries him or her on her own body,  feeds the baby from her own body.  This is too wonderful for me too.

 

But what amazes me even more is the love mothers have for their children not only when they are little but when they are grown.  Mother’s love is so tender toward their children, usually, but so fierce toward other people who appear to be a threat to their children.  Mothers are often blind to the faults of their children because their love is so intense.

 

Most of the time, love doesn’t come naturally to human beings.  Most people have to work at loving and showing love.  You seldom hear mothers say they are working on loving their children more.  For the most part God gives this love to mothers for their children.

 

So as we take today to honor our mothers and to show them our love, let us also consider our spiritual mother and the words of our Lord about her today.

 

We have a spiritual mother, and she loves us and cares for us like a mother loves her child.  She give us birth and nurses us like a mother does her child.

 

Learn, then, to understand this article [of the Creed] most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. 41] But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 42] For, in the first place, He has a [unique gathering of people] in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.

The Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, according to Martin Luther in the Large Catechism, is “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.”  The Holy Spirit works through the Holy Christian Church to give birth to Christians and then nurture them in faith, by which they are holy, set apart for God.

 

Human beings do not build up the Church the way a businessman builds a clientele, the way a politician builds a political party, the way a general conquers a city.  The Holy Christian Church is the mother that bears and gives birth to Christians, to sons of God.  The Holy Church of Christ doesn’t win friends and influence sinners to like her and join her cause.  She doesn’t “sell” herself to sinners like a prostitute.  She doesn’t convince sinners to like her.  What happens to girls that are desperate to have people like them?

 

The Holy Christian Church gives birth to new people.  She gives people “birth from above”, rebirth, new birth, as Jesus talks about in John chapter 3: No one can see the Kingdom of God unless He is born again or born from above.

 

She is involved in a work that no human being has the power to do.  Human beings can build followings.  Gifted leaders can do this and so can gifted salesman and talented liars.  No human being is able to make someone go from being dead in their sins to being alive to God.

 

Only God can do this.  And if He does not do it, a person remains in his sins, and an enemy of God, and perishes forever.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5).

 

Jesus has been saying for the last few weeks that He was going to send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.  Forty days after His resurrection, His disciples saw Him ascend into heaven; we celebrated this on Thursday.  Before He ascended to sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High, He told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until He had sent the promised Holy Spirit to them.  This Sunday, if we lived around the year of our Lord 31 and were with the disciples, we would be in a house in Jerusalem, praying and waiting for Jesus to pour out the gift of the Holy Spirit on us.

 

Jesus tells them (and us) in the Gospel today what the Holy Spirit will do when He comes—how He will give people new birth so that they become new creatures and sons of God.  The Holy Spirit will testify of Me or bear witness concerning Me. (John 15:26).  Then He says, “But you also will bear witness or testify, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:27). 

 

How does the Holy Spirit give people new birth, so that they enter the Kingdom of God and are saved from their sins and everlasting damnation?  He bears witness of Jesus.  He testifies to Jesus.  He tells who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

 

If a pastor preaches principles from the Bible that will give you a happy life, that is not the proper work of the Holy Spirit.  It will not make you a new creature.  If he is preaching the actual law of God, it will indeed show you what is righteous and pleasing to God, but it will not give you life.  It will bring death and condemnation, because what God commands, you cannot perform.  The Law of God (but not human principles) must be preached, but that preaching is not the special work of the Holy Spirit to give you new birth, and to nurture you as a mother does her child.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to Jesus.  He tells us what Jesus said and did; He tells us how Jesus suffered and died, descended into hell, and rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God.  And He testifies to the good news of God, that what Jesus did was for sinners and their salvation.  He testifies that Jesus has reconciled you to the Father, if you are a sinner who cannot make yourself righteous, that through Him alone you are forgiven and counted righteous.  That is how the Holy Spirit causes people to be born again as new creatures who love God, hold to His word, who are holy and growing in the image of Christ’s holiness.

 

But the Holy Spirit does not do this testifying alone.  He does it through the mother of Christians, the Church.  He testified with or through the disciples, who received the Holy Spirit.  Then after the apostles died, through the believers who followed them.

 

Now it should be clear to you how much harder this is than building the membership of an organization we call “church.”  It is much harder to give birth to a human being than to get one to join something.  But this is even harder.  To be a member of the Holy Christian Church, you have to be born again of God by the Holy Spirit, and we can’t make this happen for anyone.  We can’t make a person be sorry for their sins and want to be free of them, fear eternal judgment; we can’t make a person who has been brought to that state of contrition believe that their sins are forgiven without their works, solely through Jesus Christ.

 

But we aren’t called to do that.  The Church simply bears witness to Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Holy Spirit is called in Greek “the paraclete”, which is translated “Helper,” and sometimes “Comforter.”  But the word implies “someone who speaks for you”.  An “advocate.”  It is hard to testify about Jesus—not because it is complicated, but because it encounters opposition.

 

Our flesh doesn’t want to talk about Jesus.  It wants to talk about ourselves and what we think.

 

But even more, the devil and the world do not want testimony to be given about Jesus.  Jesus warns the apostles: You will be put out of the synagogues.  Even worse, the time is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering God priestly, holy service.  They will do these things because they do not know the Father or Me.

 

To testify to Jesus and His free salvation is also testifying about human sin and helplessness in it.  We are telling the world, “There is nothing you can do to get right with God.  Everything you are by nature is sinful and unclean.  Only through faith in Jesus and His work are you saved.”  The world says, “Who are you to judge me?  Look at all your sins.”  And that is on a good day.  What the devil really wants is to kill us, if he can’t turn us away from Jesus.  Humanly speaking, it makes total sense that we want to find another way to “build our church” besides testifying to Jesus.  The stakes of testifying to Jesus are much higher than we want to believe.  Be sure—it comes with the price of death.  If the world doesn’t kill you outright, you will still have to die daily to remain in Christ and faithfully bear witness to Him.

 

Yet it is sinful for us to be afraid and to try to run away from this.  Jesus has not left us alone.  He sends us the Helper, the Advocate.  The third person of the Trinity lives in us, testifies to Jesus in us and through us.  That is why there is nothing better in the world than to have the Holy Christian Church as your mother.  In this Church that testifies to Jesus and holds to Him and His Word alone, the Spirit gives us new life, comforts and consoles us by pointing us to Jesus, who has made peace with God once and for all for us.

 

Our mother the church no doubt looks ugly and old fashioned to the world.  But in her the Lord and giver of life, the Holy Spirit, is present with power to do what no power in the world can do—to give us new birth by testifying to Jesus who was crucified for you and did away your sins.

 

Now He comes and bears witness that you are members of Christ’s body, begotten of God, by nourishing You with the body and blood He gave for you that you may have life.

 

Come, Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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Not Alone. Susan Landerman Funeral Sermon. Dec. 10, 2017 John 12:23-26

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

sue landerman.PNGIn Memoriam + Susan M. Landerman

Dames Funeral Home, Joliet

St. John 12:23-26 (27-33; Rom. 5:1-11; Job 19:21-27)

Dec. 10, 2017

“Not Alone”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Michele, Joe, Julie,

Sue’s brothers and sisters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,

All her family, friends, loved ones,

And members of her church family at St. Peter:

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The Word of God for our comfort this afternoon is from St. John’s Gospel: Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will My servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.  (John 12:23-26)

 

Beloved in Christ:

 

A few years back I used to read from a book called Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer for devotions at meetings of the church council.  Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany who became famous because he was involved in the resistance against Hitler, and right before Germany surrendered the Nazis hung him in the prison where he had been kept.

 

I vaguely recall that Sue liked what we read from Bonhoeffer.  As a pastor I couldn’t recommend Bonhoeffer to her without qualifications; not everything that he wrote was faithful to God’s Word.  But I thought of how what we did read resonated with her as I read another book of his recently called Spiritual Care, which is composed of lecture notes for a class he taught on pastoral care at an “underground” seminary during the years when the Nazis controlled the protestant church in Germany.  He described how German churches had a tradition of ringing the bells for prayer when a member of the congregation died and wrote: Even in death, the Christian is never alone.

 

Sue lived her life surrounded by other people.  She invested her life in other people.  Hers was certainly a “life together” with others, not lived in seclusion from the sinful world.

 

Another word for “life together” is communion, which we sometimes translate with the word “fellowship.”  Fellowship, life together, communion, is so important to the Christian faith that we confess it in the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the communion of saints.  What the creed means is not just that Christians try to share in one another’s joys and pains in a human way, but that we participate in a shared life together, like members of a body.

 

We believe that God the Son joined Himself to human beings.  He shared all that was ours; He received our sin, death, and misery as His own, and He died for our sins.

God had communion with us, and the saints all have communion with Him. We eat His body and drink His blood.  As we share in His death, we share a common life together.  This is why the new testament is always exhorting Christians to love one another, and to have one mind, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  The apostle isn’t saying to act like we have communion with one another, but to live out the reality that we are joined to one another in Christ.  It’s a reality that has been brought about by Christ, not by us.

 

The sad reality is, though, that this common life is something we believe.  What we see of the communion of saints is very weak and imperfect.

 

But with Sue I felt like I did see the communion of saints, at least glimpses of it—in the way she treated me, the way she treated other members of the church, the way she cared for her family.  And she brought it out of us too.  When she was sick, the members of the church were concerned as we would be for ourselves or members of our own families.

 

Still, the communion of saints is hidden in this world.  The perfect communion that exists between members of Christ’s body is not visible.  We still do leave each other often to bear our sorrows and sins, our grief and death, alone.

 

But Jesus never leaves His Christians alone.  He is always with us, even when we die.

 

Life Together, the title of Bonhoeffer’s book, could also be a title for the book of Sue’s life.  She was always “together.”  Not just “together” in the sense that she was hardworking, organized, but “together” with others, always working for other people’s good as though she were working for herself.  She came from a family with a lot of brothers and sisters; she always had grandchildren with her at her house.  In church, after receiving new members’ instruction, she went back again to serve as a sponsor to other new members.  She was the face of St. Peter in places many of us were afraid to go, serving as a tutor to the kids at Evergreen Terrace, and going down to the projects to work in the community garden.  When she did that, she showed Christ’s communion with human beings, His readiness to not leave us alone, but bear our burdens—to have fellowship with us.  To be together with us.

 

Jesus said: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

 

Death is necessary to the fruit of life together.  But it is more than we are willing to give.  Working to help other people is something good people are willing to do, but that is not quite the same as giving your life (though it may feel that way to people who don’t have Sue’s work ethic.)

 

Dying for other people is too much for any of us.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die, St. Paul said in the reading from Romans.  It was true in his day as it is in ours.  It is a rare person who will dare to die for someone else.

 

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).  For while we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.  Such is the love of the God Sue believed in.  A rare human being will die for a good person, but God showed His love by dying for us while we were still sinners, by dying for the ungodly.

 

He did this so we would have life together with Him.  He died so we would not be alone.

 

Sin isolates us.  It separates us and makes us alone—from other people, from God.  It does it in life and finally reaches its conclusion in death.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well in another one of his writings: He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.

 

But God the Son came to live together with us.  He shared our life and our weakness and had fellowship with sinners.  And on the cross He bore the punishment stored up against the sins of the whole world and took it out of the way.

 

As a result He did not remain alone, but…bore much fruit.  A seed that dies produces others like it.  Jesus died that He might be the firstborn of many brothers (Rom. 8).  He became sin for us, so that whoever believes in Him would be justified, counted righteous by God, and become a son of God and an heir together with Him, and inherit the glory that is His.

 

Jesus became the one who was truly alone with our sin.  From the cross He cried out that He was forsaken by God.

 

So Christians are not alone with their sins, not alone when we die, when it appears that we are most alone.  Christ is with us.  And those who mourn are also not alone.  Jesus lives together with those who mourn.  He shares our grief and will replace it with joy.  And because He shares His life with us, all who believe in Him and are baptized into Him live together in Him with the saints who are with Him in heaven.

 

We have life together with Jesus through His death.  But the Lord had more to say about this.  To have this life together in Him we must also share in His death.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

 

This part is the part we struggle with.  We are justified by faith in Christ, not by our works. Through Jesus alone we have peace with God.  But faith in Christ makes us follow Him and go where He goes.

 

And where did Jesus go?  To give his life for sinners, enemies, for the ungodly, for us.

 

Christians also must die with Jesus.  To quote Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  We die with Jesus when we are baptized; and we continue to be put to death with Jesus as we are convicted of sin through the law of God, acknowledging that we have earned nothing by our lives but God’s punishment now and forever.

 

Then God’s grace raises us up throughout our lives.  He proclaims the good news of the forgiveness of sins to us, out of pure grace, solely for Jesus’ sake, and we are given peace with God as we believe it.  We are raised to a new life lived by faith in Him.

 

Then we go with Jesus to learn to give our lives for others.  Like Sue.  As she cared for her kids, her brothers and sisters, grandkids, people in her church, people in need.

 

This is not easy.  It isn’t paradise.  We follow Jesus carrying a cross, into death.  Sickness.  Troubles at work.  Heartache.  We carry the cross with Jesus until we finally die and are placed in the grave with Him.

 

This happened to Sue when she was baptized into Christ and was given life together with Him.  She was crucified with Christ and raised with Him.  Today her death with Jesus is completed.

 

She is not alone here either.  He has made her grave holy by His own three days in the tomb.  Her soul He has taken to Himself, but this body will be raised as His was raised. I know that My Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth.  And after my flesh has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:25-26). 

 

By faith in Jesus we follow Him and serve Him—in dying, in laying down our lives for others.  And for us the sting of death is removed.  We are not alone.  We have life together with Christ, even when our following Him is imperfect.  We have perfect communion with God through Him and with the saints—those still on earth, and those who are victorious.

 

When Bonhoeffer was led to the scaffold where his life ended, witnesses said that his last words were these: This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.

 

And so for Sue we rejoice, knowing that her life has just begun.

 

The peace of God, that passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Pakistani Christian Sentenced to Die Under Blasphemy Law

PakistanChurchAttacked

A Pakistani Christian was recently sentenced to death for blasphemy against Muhammad.

Pakistani Christians routinely have their property confiscated or destroyed, are imprisoned or sentenced to death on the basis of Pakistan’s blasphemy law which makes it a crime to say anything negative about Muhammad or the Quran.

I’m grateful for the freedom of speech in the United States we still have, where I am allowed to publicly say and preach that Muhammad is a false prophet and that the Quran comes from the devil.

However, Pakistani Christians cannot say such things without the very real risk of death or imprisonment.

And even if they don’t say them, it is easy for them to be prosecuted under the law on the basis of false witness.  This can happen when people want to take their land or property, or it can happen simply because people resent the presence of Christians in Pakistan.  No doubt in a country where Christians are a despised minority, their presence in the country itself is a walking affront to people who think that Pakistanis should be Muslim.

We are seeing this kind of resentment against Christians just beginning in the United States, although here we are not an affront to Muslims but to “tolerance”; the fact that there are still Christians who haven’t been shamed into agreeing that homosexuality is okay or at least being silent in public provokes more and more people.   When pressure is ratcheted up and you don’t deny the faith, it just makes some folks madder, even if you say nothing, because even if you say nothing, the fact that you haven’t given in is a testimony to their condemnation.  The fact that you suffer and don’t give in makes them feel even more threatened that maybe what you confess about God’s wrath and judgment is true.  That’s what the New Testament is talking about in verses like these:

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:27-30)

 

4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.  (2 Thessalonians 1:4-10)

 

At any rate, even though we can see the seeds of this resentment starting to sprout in the US, we still have lots of legal protection.   In Pakistan the Christians  have few advocates and almost no defense.  If they’re hated just for existing, or someone covets their property, all they have to do is get a couple of people together to say that they heard this or that Christian say Muhammad is a fake prophet.

 

Read more…

Church for Jerks

May 17, 2013 1 comment

Man starts church for jerks

YORBA LINDA — Walk into Mark Hanson’s church and nobody will greet you. The guys hanging around the foyer might even make fun of what you’re wearing, or your haircut. A sign over the entrance reads, “Grab a seat in the back and shut up. Nobody cares what you think.”

Welcome to Jerk Church.

“You know these guys,” says Hanson, the pastor and founder. “They sit with their arms folded the whole time, leave during the altar call, criticize the pastor, snort when other people state their opinions and never create lasting bonds of friendship. Their wives are always really stressed. Bingo — that’s my mission field.”

Two years ago, Hanson noticed a “growing population of total jerks” in his community that nobody was reaching with the gospel.

“They’re like white noise, filler — they’re everywhere but nobody sees them,” Hanson says. “They are trapped in their own jerk-dom. My heart went out to them.”

Hanson left a position at a larger church to plant a church aimed at this population. He played around with names like “Church for Guys,” but ended up going straight to the heart of the matter.

“I want pure jerks — the guy who cuts in and out of traffic on the highway, the guy who knows everything at the party, the guy who’s upset about politics, the guy who doesn’t know when to stick a sock in it,” Hanson says. “That’s my tribe.”

Attendance spiked when Hanson informed local churches that he was looking for “grumpy husbands and skeptics.” Some churches started recommending certain guys switch congregations. Others gave their men a choice: marriage counseling or six months attending Jerk Church. Most men chose the latter.

Hanson has designed sermons and church literature to “shut guys up before they can start.”

A prominent, attractive display in the foyer showcases every major objection to Christianity ever conceived, and invites men to read the original works before “ranting.”

“It demonstrates that I’m not afraid of their little arguments,” Hanson says. “They come in thinking their opinions are original. When they realize they are thousands of years old, they get real quiet. Nothing shuts up a jerk like being exposed as a follower.”

Hanson also knew the men would complain about everything, so he prepared answers in advance. When guys grouse about the volume of the music, too loud or too soft, Hanson tells them, “Maybe it’s ‘cause you’re getting old and your brain can’t handle it anymore.”

When they say the seats are uncomfortable, he invites them to “lose the extra 35-pound hog carcass you’re carrying around your midsection.”

On a recent Sunday, Hanson greeted them from the pulpit with, “Look at this roomful of former hotshots who became grumpy old men. Why are you here? Did your recliners break? Is your wife sick of you, big man? Or did you just lose your fishing pole and you’re too poor to buy a new one?”

Foyer conversation is argumentative. When guys aren’t poking holes in each others’ theories they stand around waiting for someone to say something so they can critique it. Now and then someone storms off to the restroom while the others snort and mock him.

Water baptism services are far from normal. A man named Darrell was baptized recently. Hanson prodded him to give his testimony.

“I’m doing this to shut up my mother-in-law,” Darrell said.

“Anything else, you wuss?” Hanson said.

“Nah, just do it,” Darrell said.

Darrell came up from the water looking annoyed, snatched a towel from someone’s hands and exited the tank. Amid a smattering of applause one man yelled, “Loser!”

“You’re the loser!” Darrell yelled back.

A cautious sense of camaraderie has emerged among the men. If a guy acts up during the service, other guys muscle him into a “time out” room which Hanson has labeled “Nursing Mothers” to humiliate them.

“I don’t need ushers. The guys patrol themselves,” Hanson says. “They know when to make each other feel like a big baby.”

Hanson fills the church schedule with events that don’t actually exist.

“Men’s breakfast at 7 a.m. on Saturday? No guy in our church would attend that,” he says. “I announce it just so they feel good about skipping something.”

Services often don’t end in prayer. Rather, Hanson just says, “I’m done. I’m not even praying for you guys today. Get out of here. Go on.”

“I want them to know I love them, but not so much that I’m a sucker,” he says. “My life would actually be more pleasant without them. I don’t hide that.”

The church web site reaches out to wives of jerks and offers a script for them to read to their husbands: “Honey, you’re a jerk. Nobody can stand to be around you. But I have a place for you …”

Jerk Church strictly enforces a “No wives” policy.

“Having a wife around gives them an audience for their stupid, critical observations,” says Hanson. “I want plain, unadulterated jerks with no place to hide and no one to listen to them.”

In their heart of hearts he says jerks just want someone to push back.

“They know they’re not right all the time. They want someone to let them know why,” Hanson says.

Guys admit they attend because Hanson “gets” them.

“He knows I’m a cantankerous, moody old b****** but he loves me anyway,” says one man shrugging. “Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll go from jerk to recovering jerk. Don’t tell my wife.”

HT http://www.larknews.com/archives/5007

“The Kind of Unity the Enemy Desires.” C. S. Lewis.

February 1, 2013 1 comment

newjerusalemandbindingofsatanMy Dear Wormwood,

You mentioned casually in your last letter that the patient has continued to attend one church, and one only, since he was converted, and that he is not wholly pleased with it.  May I ask what you are about?  Why have I no report on the causes of his fidelity to the local church?  Do you realize that unless it is due to indifference it is a very bad thing?  Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the city looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious.  In the first place the parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires.  The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction.  In the second place, the search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.  What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time thinking about what it rejects—but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.  (You see how groveling, how unspiritual, how irredeemably vulgar He is!)  This attitude, especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our whole policy) in which the platitudes can become really audible to a human soul.  There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper.  So pray bestir yourself and send this fool on the round of the city churches as soon as possible.  Your record up to date has not given us much satisfaction.

The two churches nearest to him, I have looked up in the office.  Both have certain claims.  At the first of these the Pastor is a man who has been so long engaged in watering down the faith to make it easier for a supposedly incredulous and hard-headed congregation that it is now he who shocks his people with his unbelief, and not vice versa.  He has undermined many a soul’s Christianity.  His conduct of the services is also admirable.  In order to spare the laity all “difficulties” he has deserted both the lectionary and the appointed psalms and now, without noticing it, revolves endlessly round the little treadmill of his fifteen favourite psalms and twenty favourite lessons.  We are thus safe from the danger that any truth not already familiar to him and to his flock should ever reach them through Scripture.  But perhaps your patient is not quite silly enough for this church—or not yet?

At the other church we have Fr. Spike.  The humans are often puzzled to understand the range of his opinions—why he is one day almost a Communist and the next not far from some kind of theocratic Fascism—one day a scholastic, and the next prepared to deny human reason altogether—one day immersed in politics, and, the day after, declaring that all states of this world are equally  “under judgment.”  We, of course, see the connecting link, which is Hatred.  The man cannot bring himself to preach anything which is not calculated to shock, grieve, puzzle, or humiliate his parishioners and their friends.  A sermon which such people could accept would be to him as insipid as a poem which they could scan.  There is also a promising streak of dishonesty in him; we are teaching him to say “The teaching of the Church is” when he really means “I’m almost sure I read recently in C. S. Lewis or someone of that sort.”  But I must warn you that he has one fatal defect.  He really believes.  And this may yet mar all.

But there is one good point which both these churches have in common—they are both party churches.  I think I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it.  I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better.  And it isn’t the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice.  The real fun is working up hatred between those who say “mass” and those who say “holy communion” when neither party could possibly state the difference between , say, Hooker’s [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Hooker ]  doctrine and Thomas Aquinas’, in any form which would hold water for five minutes.  And all the purely indifferent things—candles and clothes and what not—are an admirable ground for our activities.  We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials—namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples.  You would think they could not fail to see the application.  You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry.  And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour.  Without that the variety of usage within the Christian Church might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.

Your affectionate uncle,

                                                                                                                SCREWTAPE

CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1976.  pp. 81-84

Ghosts, Haunted Houses, Prayer to the Dead, and Pastoral Care

December 27, 2012 2 comments

Spirits of the Departed, Ghosts, Prayer to the Deadancestor worship2

I’ve noticed a strange thing in the time I’ve been in the ministry that I didn’t notice before.  Maybe you’ve noticed it too. 

Kids believe in ghosts and spirits much more than they did when I was a kid.  People pretended to believe in ghosts when I was a kid, but I don’t think that many people really believed in them.  Certainly not that you could communicate with them.  We believed in demons—at least, Christian kids did—but it was kind of an esoteric thing.  I played with a Ouija board once, but I was just messing around.  And there was also this superstition that if you went into a dark room and looked at a mirror and said, “Bloody Mary” a certain number of times you would see a demon or a spirit.

 

Times have changed.  I’ve met a lot of kids who not only believe in ghosts but claim to have seen them, or communicated with them.

 

And demons are much less esoteric.  A few months ago a bunch of pastors were up in Wisconsin listening to Dr. John Kleinig talk about the ministry of deliverance from demons, about the increase in overt demonic oppression encountered by pastors in Australia (and the United States). 

 

But what seems to me the strangest of all is the prayer to the dead engaged in by lifelong American Lutherans who are sixty or seventy or eighty years old. 

 

The reason this is so strange is because, typically, Lutherans who are above age 50 or so hate everything that smacks of Catholicism.  Yet I frequently hear parishioners speak of dead loved ones as if they continue to communicate with each other.  The loved one is spoken to in prayer, and sometimes speaks back by phenomena in the physical world—lights flickering, changes in the weather.

 

This less rationalistic take on the souls of the dead is I think quite different from what pastors a generation ago encountered.  In his Church Postil sermon for Epiphany, Luther has an eye-opening digression where he talks about the souls of the dead and what to make of spirits claiming to be the souls of dead loved ones, as well as spirits that haunt houses or cause strange noises.  This would probably have been a section of the postil where in previous generations we would have simply assumed that Luther lived in a more superstitious age, and these things just don’t apply to us.  But if you have experienced your parishioners praying to dead relatives or communicating, supposedly, with ghosts, then this section of the sermon will be enlightening.

 

This openness toward communication with the dead has some positive implications.  It means that the rationalism that controlled so much of our thinking is mostly dead.  People are able to conceptualize the ongoing existence of souls whose body has died.  They are able to think of invisible spirits continuing to exist without being utterly divorced from us.  This is positive.  It means that when we speak of the communion of saints we will not meet the same wall of resistance.  If people think dead loved ones can be spoken to, it means that they are not closed to the idea that the angels and the holy, departed souls are present with us together with Jesus.  And it also means that the Calvinist notion that Jesus and the saints are somehow locked away in another plane of existence called heaven no longer has a death grip on people.

 

But unfortunately the superstition about the dead that I keep encountering has a lot of negative ramifications as well.

Read more…

Advent 1 Sermon. “Gentle, and riding a beast of burden.” Draft. and final outline.

December 2, 2012 Leave a comment

giottotriumphalentry_0I succeeded in writing my sermon out this week before Saturday.  However, it was 12 pages long.  Then subsequent drafts were also too long and I ended up preaching from an outline, and the sermon was still too long.  Other than that I was kind of happy with it.  Here’s the written manuscript, 1st draft, followed by the mostly complete final outline.

Jesus Help

Ad Te Levavi—First Sunday in Advent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 21:1-9

December 2, 2012

 

Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.

 

Your Zion strews before you green boughs and fairest palms

And I too will adore you with joyous songs and psalms.

My heart shall bloom forever  For you with praises new

And from Your name will never withhold the honor due.

 

Zion is the name of the hill on which the temple in Jerusalem was built.  Because the temple  was so important to the people of Israel, so beloved, they often called the whole city after the name of the temple mount—Zion.  And from there the prophets would sometimes call all of God’s people by the name.  “The daughter of Zion” is God’s term of endearment for His people.  It’s as though He is saying, “the dear child born to me from my dwelling on earth.”  The whole reason God called Abraham away from his father’s house and then brought the people of Israel out of slavery and planted them in the land of Canaan was because He wanted to have a people for His own. 

 

Ever since sin came into the world, God has wanted to have human beings back in His presence.  But people did not want Him.  Even among the people He claimed as His own and taught His ways, the same painful story repeated itself—His people turned away and became just like the nations around them.  They were supposed to be a light that would turn the world to Him; instead the light was darkened and the people of God became like the world.  And that meant nothing else than that they too were enemies of God.  God could not dwell with them without either having His holy name blasphemed, without His people bearing false witness to the world, representing Him falsely.  Read more…

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