Wednesday, September 9, 2015
My Anglophilia is no secret. However, this is a fine and beautiful tribute to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, delivered by British Prime Minister David Cameron in Parliament today. His speech begins a session of remarks noting the historic occasion.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Higher Things: Te Deum Conference
30 July 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is more than meets the eye. And you don't want to see it. You hide your eyes from the blood and gore, finding the sight of Christ crucified distasteful,violent, and scary. "Lord, I love you, but working through blood?! Really?! Yuck!"
There is more than meets the eye. To the naked eye, the wormhole is confusing, looking like a dreadfully violent storm, the likes of which you've never seen. After a while people could actually see the Chitauri coming out of it, bringing death and destruction to New York.
The Avengers know what needs to happen. The people need to be rescued. They need to be saved. And to top it all, a nuclear missile is headed for Manhattan, which will bring inescapable death to all.
Tony Stark steps up. He goes beyond what can be seen, and enters the veiled reality of the wormhole. He enters, knowing he may very well be sacrificing himself, giving up his life. He enters the unseen in order to destroy the forces bringing death and destruction.
There is more than meets the eye. To the naked eye, the crucifixion was confusing, looking like a dreadfully violent execution, the likes of which you've never seen. Onlookers did not comprehend that this was a result of the crafty Evil one who once overcame by a tree now being overcome on this tree, even while seeming to bring only death and destruction to Jesus.
Our Lord knew what needed to happen. The people needed to be rescued. They needed to be saved. Ever since Satan had deceived Adam and Eve, their rebellion had brought inescapable death to all.
Our dear Lord Jesus steps up. He goes beyond what can be seen, and enters the veiled reality of the heavenly temple. He enters, knowing that He is indeed sacrificing Himself, giving up His life.
There is more than meets the eye. Tony Stark enters the wormhole with an overwhelming task. And while he is in the clutches of certain death, his friends start giving up. They wait, but gradually lose hope that he will be successful, and they know they need to protect others. So in unbelief that Tony could succeed in getting rid of the missile and returning safely, the wormhole is closed.
You are like Natasha Romanov and the other Avengers. You fall into the same unbelief all the time. You show disbelief that Jesus could really complete His task, as He hung on the cross and simultaneously entered the heavenly temple, splashing His blood in the Holy of holies. You doubt He completed the task, and like Natasha closing the wormhole, you carry on.
You're not crass enough to say it, or maybe even to think it through, but you have thoughts and urges that you need to keep your end of the deal--to be good and please God, or even crying out "faith alone," but trying to please God by being sorry enough for your sins and believing sincerely enough, and so on.
Dear friends, the once-and-for-all sacrifice is complete! You don't need to add anything or be anything "enough!"
And "too much blood!" you say. Can't we talk about Jesus as Teacher. Can't we just focus on Jesus loving everyone? Can't we just stop and look at the nice things? Blood?!
Blood is everywhere. It was gruesome enough with over 200,000 lambs every year for Passover and all the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. The innocent creatures were led to the Temple, and had their throats slit, pouring out their blood. It is said that so much blood flowed down the mountainside from the Temple that the water of the Kidron Brook ran pink. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest was clothed in his vestments and entered the Holy of holies, splattering blood all over the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant, with his feet shackled, so that he could be pulled out of there if the wrath of God struck him and the high priest died. The lifeblood he splashed over everything was quenching the wrath of the Father.
You look at this and say, why the blood? It's so messy. Gross! The location of God's mercy, covered in blood! Forgiveness, rescue , and salvation, welling up from His blood that issues from the waters of the font; sprinkling you from the mouths of His preachers; pouring forth from His chalice.
There is more than meets the eye. [pointing to altar] There is where the Lord assembles you to Himself. There is the perfect and holy "wormhole," if you will, through which the same Jesus who entered the Holy of holies and splattered His blood now comes to you, pouring His blood into your mouth, along with His holy body that He gives you to eat. Behold, the altar of the Lord -- it's more than meets the eye. It's the location of God's mercy, covered in the blood of the Lamb. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Thursday, February 19, 2015
18 February 2015
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In October of 1913 a crowd of thousands gathered together on 40 acres in River Forest to dedicate Concordia Teachers College. Almsgiving, you might say, gifts above and beyond tithes and offerings, had been gathered and helped construct the campus. The Word of the Lord was preached. The faithful responded in prayer. It was a great day.
Just five months later, tragedy struck, as President William Kohn was making his night rounds and discovered a fire. The frustrating things was the fire hoses were discovered to be too short to reach from the hydrants to the administration building. The building was gutted.
Yet from the midst of ashes, the Lord raised up the school. Immediately they decided to rebuild, undeterred by the fire and ashes. The destruction of the college -- the "death" of the building, if you will, would not crush them. Life and hope came from Christ.
We often see ashes simply as the remains of death and destruction. But they are also reminders of a fresh start. A new birth and rising, such as that of the mythical Phoenix. Ashes can be signs of cleansing too, as throughout history they have often been an ingredient in the making of soaps and cleansers.
You are like the ashes; sad, charred, used up remains of what you were created to be. Death has laid its grip on you. Yes, no matter how young or healthy you are, you are dying.
So he we are, a bunch of defiant dead people. Here we are; ones who like our stuff, and would rather not give too much away. Here we are, people who are happy to spend hours each night in front of a TV or on the Internet, but are simply too busy for prayer. Here we are, ready to gorge ourselves on Fat Tuesday, to make up for anything we might resentfully "give up" for the next 40 days. Here we are, warm, dry, and comfortable, trying not to even think on the unpleasantness and sheer evil of this fallen world -- like the struggle of Christians who are persecuted elsewhere. In repentance and grief, we remember 21 Egyptian Christian martyrs this week, calling on Jesus as the unbelieving agents of the devil did their wicked work.
How do you think you stand before God, with all of this baggage? You were right; each one of you is a "poor, miserable sinner." The value of your wretched, rebellious, commandment-breaking, human self is less than that smudge of ash on your forehead.
But our dear Lord does not want you to be "ashes to ashes and dust to dust." He is heartbroken that He ever had to tell our Father Adam, "Dust you are, and to dust you shall return." He knows it is a dreadful reminder of mortality for anyone to see the 90-year-old grandma, the 40-something cancer survivor, or even the toddler with ashes on their foreheads, reminding them all of their mortality. His heart goes out to you, as the Law crushes you into realizing you damning sin, and the death you face.
But our sweet Savior also gives forgiveness. He climbed the hill of Calvary and laid down His life for you. He gave to you in your need as He allowed His body to be broken and His blood shed to remove your sin. Jesus prayed for His persecutors, executioners, indeed for you and me as He hung there, dying. And He fasted from the wealth and splendor of His heavenly, divine power, permitting Himself to be sacrificed for you.
And now, He gives cleansing. He did it at the font. And He renews that cleansing with Holy Absolution. Ashes are a common ingredient in simple and ancient soap recipes. The charred cross on your forehead is a reminder not only of your mortality, deserved at that, but also a reminder that our Lord Jesus cleanses you! He washes away the guilt of breaking His Ten Commandments. He purifies you from all unrighteousness.
He thoroughly cleanses you as His own, so that with boldness and confidence, you also may have precious words like, "My Lord, Jesus," "Jesus, help me!" on your lips when you face your mortality on this earth and breathe your last. He will take and keep your dust and ashes until the day that He gathers you together in perfection and glory, to be resurrected and live with Him forever. In the mean time, Jesus Christ lifts you up, cleanses you, and makes you His holy and righteous disciple. And He bids you to come and feast on the Body broken and Blood shed, which are the very gifts that cleanse you from within. Amen.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
A Common Language
Rev. Peter Bender, arguably one of our Synod’s foremost experts on the Small Catechism, is fond of saying that one of the functions of fixed terms, translations, and figures of speech in our regular liturgy and the Small Catechism is having “a common language” to understand the Lord and His Word, and the faith He gives.
Children learn language even before they can speak it. They soak it up like sponges! This happens even more so when certain phrases and responses are in patterns and can be anticipated. The most basic example is a two-year-old picking up on responding to a prayer with a hearty “Amen.”
Of course, we have had challenges even in our hymnals. In the 1970’s and 80’s, there was a movement to give fresh translations to even basic phrases. The “salutation” and response that precede some prayers is a good example. The Latin phrase spoken by the pastor was, “Dominus vobiscum.” The congregation responds, “Et cum spiritu tuo.” In German, the excellent translation is, “Der Herr sei mit euch.” “Und mit deinem Geist.” For centuries, the English of this was the precise, “The Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit.” Sadly, committees in the later 20th century felt the language of the response was outdated, and wanted to jump on the Vatican II band wagon. They changed it to: “And also with you.” Sure, that is the “gist” of it, but it is more paraphrase than translation.
Ironically, while Lutheran Service Book was being compiled and edited, Rome returned to the translation, “And with your spirit,” while LSB kept a mixed bag of using one response in some services, and the other for the rest. The result is we have mixed, garbled responses even within the same congregation, since no one is sure from memory which way to respond. People are confused. The elderly who have learned one way are frustrated, while the very young are confused by multiple possibilities.
Luther said in his preface to the Small Catechism that pastors should choose a translation and stick with it, for multiple generations. This serves the Church in caring for her people and serving them God’s Word with the repetition of it in preaching, teaching, and liturgy. In 1986, a new translation of the Catechism was produced. In a number of ways, it is not as strong as the 1943 translation that many of us grew up with. Still, over 90% of our Synod uses the 1986 edition. So for the sake of this common language, we use it, and simply incorporate some explaining into catechesis, to be sure our people understand it better.
Serving Your Neighbor
When I was in confirmation instruction, my home parish purchased the 1982 hymnal, Lutheran Worship. LW had changed a great number of hymns to push for updated language, and in the process, often changed the entire poetry and rhyme scheme. A few of us in the youth group took pride in singing the older Jacobean/Elizabethan English, while everyone else was singing the new words. At the time, we felt we were being more authentically “Lutheran,” and took pride that we sang hymns the “right” way.
Looking back, I see that we were not serving our neighbors. Even though it may have been more helpful to our understanding of those hymns, it was confusing (or at least distracting) to those in the pews around us. Singing “you” rather than “Thee” in a particular hymn may feel right, but if it is delaying the pre-schooler from learning it by heart, or throwing off the grandmother whose sight is failing, is not helpful. Rather, it is selfish. I had been wrong. And I repent.
Repetition is the Mother of Learning
The “new” translation of the Catechism is now 28 years old. The “new” hymnal is now eight years old. The “new” translation of Scriptures in our midst, the English Standard Version, is now 13 years old, and many pastors like myself have been preaching from it for at least 12 years now. No translation is perfect. Still, we have agreed to “walk together” as a Synod, and part of walking together is using that “common language.” Use it. Speak it. Again and again. The Holy Spirit uses this to nourish and sustain you, and builds you up with your neighbors to receive Christ’s forgiveness and life. Treasure the tools the Lord has given for that common language: The Scriptures, Lutheran Service Book, and Luther’s Small Catechism. Learn them by heart, according to your ability, and the Lord will use that as a blessing to you and your neighbors. And when you fail, or when you have moments of speaking in other “dialects,” that are not helpful in walking together, remember your loving and forgiving Lord has rescued and redeemed you, His baptized child, washing that guilt away, that you ”may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”
What Does This Mean?
A Series of Articles on Luther’s Small Catechism
for this 485th Anniversary Year
by Rev. Richard A. Heinz