Monday, October 30, 2006

Those Who Leave...

Sometimes men leave the holy ministry. I can’t say how many leave because it’s often hushed up, appearing as quiet notices in the Lutheran Witness, usually months after the resignation happened, and notices of vacancies filtered through congregational grapevines. It seems somehow shameful, unless the man goes to something glamorous, like a “call” to administrate at a District or Synodical level, or a teaching position within the system.

We are speaking not of them, however, but of the ones who are not suited or whose conscience leads them elsewhere. How many leave the ministry for these reasons? Many of them scatter, leaving quietly. They do so because of the scarlet letters thrown at them, or because of the pursed lips and shaking heads of pastors and laymen. Those who are “left behind” feel betrayed. Sometimes for good reason. Oftentimes out of ignorance.

Fr. John Fenton of Zion Lutheran Church, Detroit, announced his resignation yesterday and posted a copy of his letter on his blog. Fenton has a well-known reputation in the LCMS for the liturgical life of his congregation. He often reminded others that he inherited such a liturgical and Lutheran congregation–most of Zion’s practices had been in place long before he arrived, and all of them were once well-known and used among Lutheran Churches (e.g., calling the pastor “Father.” This neither originated with him, nor is it un-Lutheran. Luther’s flock called him “Father Luther” Generations of Lutherans addressed their own pastors this way). He is not an innovator.

But he is a publicist, in the best sense of that word. He shared the fruit and richness of Lutheran doctrine and practice at Zion with the entire Synod, frequently speaking and publishing. He opened the eyes of many congregations, pastors, and future pastors. He also caused great consternation, as he challenged the LCMS to look harder and more critically at our Confessions and how we “believe, teach, and practice” according to them. Lutherans are not good at change, nor are we gifted with humility. When someone shows us possbile errors, we tend to get frustrated and angry. Fenton took a lot of abuse for following his conscience and faith. Yet he remains a friend to many. He may say otherwise, but I get the feeling he is a friend to everyone who comes knocking.

The reasons for his departure from the LCMS come best from him. Do click on that link and read his letter.

I wish to commend him for his honesty and for following his conscience. To many of us, it would have seemed a natural thing to simply remain in his parish where so many things were done well, and where he was insulated from the abberations of the LCMS (to some degree), where he had the support and love of his people. Why didn’t he? Read his letter.

God bless you, John! You will be heartily missed in the LCMS. But as the Orthodox say, “Many years!”

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

When Will We Look Like Them?

I do not talk “Synodical Politics” too much in this congregation. The most I’ve done so far was after I came back from serving as a delegate to the 2004 Synodical Convention. We had a good sized group gathered to hear my report, and when I was finished, they were done. Who likes to hear discomforting news? I could have pressed it more than I have. But I didn’t want to rock the boat too much, and I don’t believe they wanted it rocked.

Fellow pastors I see often have expressed similar feelings. “I am the Pastor of x Lutheran Church, and I will be faithful to them and make sure they are faithful to God,” more than one has said. “I’ve been called to serve these people in y.” There is a lot to be said for this approach. I’ve taken it myself in many respects.

But there is real danger there, and we can see the consequences of such a parochial attitude all around us: congregations who are faithful to Scripture, who believe and practice according to the Lutheran Confessions, with faithful Lutheran pastors whose denominational leaders deny the Resurrection and are working for ordination of active homosexuals–the ELCA. When congregations remain ignorant of the leadership, the leadership can change right under their noses.

There have been rumors and murmurings in the Synod of changing the representation at Synodical Conventions from one pastor and layman per circuit to one pastor and layman from each congregation. The most common (only?) objection has been, “Our convention would be too big then.” How big would it be? About 12000-13000 delegates (from some 6000 congregations). Is that too big? It would certainly be a large group. I couldn’t say if it would be too big though.

What would that accomplish? They would see what is happening. It would keep our Synod from becoming the ELCA or the SBC. The majority of our congregations would not allow it. Perhaps.

Are there other solutions? Absolutely! But what are they?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The End of the World

There are lots of people out there suggesting that it’s coming…oh, in about six years. Our friend the President of Iran wants it sooner, of course. But if not sooner in a fiery apocalypse with Iran, then why six years from now?

It seems the Mayans had two calendar systems that were highly intricate and accurate. One system calculated solstices and equinoxes for every year and season in the future. But it ends on December 21, 2012. No more Mayan time after that. Well, not quite. There are precious few Mayans to ask these days, but they probably believed that the world would be re-created, or Quetzalcoatl would return (a strangely Christ-like god who dies and lives and will return, whose blood gives life to the new generation). Hmm…

Then there is the scientist, R. Duncan. Simplifying his argument, we are already past the peak oil production and are now in decline. The years until 2012 will be marked with increasing economic depression, followed by catastrophe from 2012-2030. Modern civilization is at it’s peak.

And Christians, too, noting the “prophesies” of St. Malachy (does that sound alarmingly like “malarky” to you too?). In the 11th Century he supposedly made predictions of the last few popes before Christ returns. As it turns out, Benedict XVI is the second to last.

I’m Lutheran so I can’t help but ask, “What does this mean?”

1. We do live in grim times. 115 meaningless cable channels, shiny SUVs and hybrids too, new construction, ethanol plants, hardwood floors and modern healthcare may hide it, but we are in dark days. We saw it around these parts in April 1995. The rest of the country saw it in 2001, if only for a moment. And you feel it too. Everyone does. Look around at the new television shows. Listen to music.

2. No one knows the day or the hour. I can say for certain that the world will not end on December 21, 2012. Our Lord gave true prophesies about His return and the foolishness of trying to predict a certain day.

3. But the most dangerous game we can play is thinking, “No one knows when the world will end/when Jesus will return, so who cares? Besides, our “judgement day” will be the day we die, and we don’t know when that will happen either.” — This is exceptionally dangerous because of where it leads, the inevitable thought–”…and I feel pretty good now.”

Apparently this was the popular interpretation back in the day. I have one devoted, faithful member who constantly interjects whenever I mention Judgement Day. “But Pastor, when we die that’s judgement day for us, right?” Well, sure it is, I suppose. But that undermines the foundation of Christian living. Listen to the rest of that passage:

Matthew 24:36-39 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. ” (ESV)

Elsewhere Jesus’ Word to us is “watch!” The coming Lord Jesus connects and sustains our Eucharist (see Schmemann). Watching, waiting, expecting is the Christian attitude.

When I hear that dear member say, “Well, Pastor, the last day is really…” I hear some foolish pastor in her past, whispering in her ear, “Don’t look for Jesus to return. Don’t look for the world to end. Everything will go on and on as it is.” Except that’s not the voice of a Christian shepherd, is it? We know who speaks like that and we have denounced him.

“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” (Matthew 24:44-46 ESV)

4. While no one will know the “day or the hour” Jesus also says watch–watch for the signs. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. ” (Matthew 24:32-33 ESV) We will not know the day, but we certainly can see it approaching. Indeed, we ought to see it approaching no matter what day or age we live in. That Day of the Lord may indeed come in six years time.

Of course He may not wait until 2012. Or it may be 2112. In the meantime, what shall we do? Six years is not a lot of time to accomplish much. Should we already flee to the mountains (Luke 21:21)? Should we forget our 401k’s and give to the poor? Should we not make plans for tomorrow, knowing that our lives in this world may soon be snatched away from us?

Jesus says much about these issues. But here, let these words suffice: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matt. 24:45-46 ESV). These words, spoken to the apostles about their work, also speak to us. When our Lord comes, let Him find us faithfully doing the tasks set out for us, living for the day, working while it is day, for the night will come when no one may work (John 9:4).

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

The National Distraction

Sunday afternoon was perfect. The Sacrament was offered, and I received. I fed the faithful the Word of God, Marjorie’s choirs sounded excellent, lunch was cleaned up, and Jack was asleep on my chest as the Bears slowly defeated Minnesota on their turf. Usually I’m not much of a Football fan. Sunday afternoons are usually full enough without spending a couple of hours watching a game. Monday nights I read or watch a show. That is the way it’s always been for me. I was raised to do things–projects, hobbies, work, books, or even just while away the hours playing a game…but not just sit there and watch one. The same principle applied to music: listening is fine, but if you really love music, learn to play it yourself. Be a doer, not just a hearer. So I did… usually.

I share this in the interest of full disclosure. But this post is more than my gripes at passivity and the near idolatrous relationship we have with sports. This goes beyond my interests and disinterests. The New Orleans Saints won…in the Superdome… amid wrecked houses and entire neighborhoods that are crumbling to ruin, 65,000 fans packed into the Hellhole of Katrina. Saturday night I saw pictures of destruction that had yet to be cleaned up–one year later. Monday morning I heard on the radio that some season ticket holders were still waiting to buy sheetrock for their homes.

On NPR, a Times-Picayune reporter extolled the crazy, unconventional lives of New Orleanians. “The Saints come marching in,” he cried stridently. It all made sense, he assured us, a bit defensively. Rebirth. Renewal. A Sign of Hope. A light shining in the darkness.

Or is it playing the fiddle while Rome burns?

Where did the money for repairs and renovations of the stadium come from? How much effort was exerted to ensure this game could be played, while homes remain infested with vermin and disease and schools sit empty and thousands live in trailers, in exile? And they call themselves the “Saints.” It’s blasphemy.

“They have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.” (Jeremiah 5:28 ESV)
“O you who put far away the day of disaster and bring near the seat of violence? Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.” (Amos 6:3-7 ESV)
Lord have mercy on us.