So as the season of Epiphany comes to a close, we return to the recurring truth that is the Son of God: He walks through locked doors. We would have all sorts of walls to keep him out, but instead, he walks right through them and settles in on our sin. What does he do that for?? He comes for one reason: to take it from you. In its place he puts his righteousness and salvation. As you celebrate Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras or Carnival… remember that we celebrate because our God has become a Man and he walks through the mess that is your sin and forgives it all. He comes for you and clothes you in his righteousness. You don’t have to go find him, he has sought you and found you.
Every marriage is about a name. Whether you choose to hyphenate it, or keep your old one, or take up his or hers. When no suitable helpmate was found for Adam, God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep and when he was asleep took a rib from his side, having closed up the place with flesh – God took the rib and made it into a woman and gave her to the man. At LAST, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man. (That’s what all you guys said at your wedding, right?)
And yet it is the sin of Adam that everyone has inherited…coursing through the whole human race. The problem is we aren’t comfortable with the word LOVE… and therefore can’t begin to be comfortable with obey or submit. You have to be accountable to someone else and that isn’t the way we want it. We have to be connected to someone else??! Our god is our belly and our life is narrated by our passions. And the problem with that is that our passions, our bellies, always leave us alone and worse yet, dead in our sin.
What’s love to the world? What’s love to you? Forget about submitting and obeying and listening… What is love? Tina Turner thought it was a second hand emotion. The world talks about falling into and out of love, but it misses the whole point. Don’t confuse love with the wicked passions of your belly. Don’t be tempted by the world to think that love is a passing feeling that resides in some warm fuzzy you feel in your heart. No! We have other names for those feelings. Those feelings are real – ALBEIT fleeting, but real and they are not LOVE. Love has to do with neighbor and with God. Love has to do with looking away from your navel and looking up at the world around you – and the persons around you.
And yet… and yet… we will not do it. There is need all around us and even us who work at the church headquarters are belly watchers. And with all this belly watching going on, how will we learn to LOVE? How can we love the Lord our God with all our heart when it is lent out as a second hand emotion or even a first hand one? How can we learn to submit or even take the time to figure out what that is if we can’t stop thinking about our own passions and lusts?
God loves a wedding feast! “Go bright jewel of my crown! It is time to have compassion, he says. Bring to all salvation, from sin and sorrow set them free!! Slay bitter death for them that they may live with you forever!” OH, this is a mystery, Paul says… This is a profound mystery about Christ and his church. Want to know what LOVE is? Look to Jesus Christ alone. For the Son of God became incarnate and was born of the Virgin Mary to shed his blood for your forgiveness and peace. Therefore the MAN, Jesus Christ, left his Father in heaven and came for you and me. Dying upon the CROSS of Calvary he holds fast to the church, his bride, for there they have become one flesh.
What is LOVE? To die for your beloved. To lay down your passions and your heart and all the fuzzy feelings to give the other your everything. What’s love look like? The Cross alone. That Cross of Jesus is our life… for it is there that Christ loves us. “At last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… she shall be called CHURCH and they shall be called Christians for they were taken out Christ.
In Jesus+ Name. Amen.
Rev. Steven Cholak
LCMS International Center (January 23, AD 2014)
We never would have planned for it to be Judah’s reign… but then again God always seems to turn our reason on its nose. So not only do we have a lion of the tribe of Judah (remember Judah), but Mary places her little lion cub in a manager for you and for me. Isn’t that just strange? The God that made you and the entire universe, that will conquer Satan and Hell and death, we first meet as innocent and harmless as a kitten.
And that is the mystery of our God. He takes created things to deliver to you his promises and the goods of that very promise. He doesn’t beckon you to his high and holy throne; NO… instead he comes to you as part of the very creation he made. He comes as the man… to redeem man… by clothing himself not only in the flesh and blood of you and me, but in the temptations and the sorrows and tears of living in the valley of the shadow of death. Indeed, he who knew no sin becomes sin and devours it like a lion – a full grown, roaring lion.
Judah’s line is a royal line and this King of the Jungle reigns by being crucified on a Roman cross. The full strength of our God is realized in the death of a man… The full strength of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah cannot be stolen from him, but instead he rises again to life and the scepter shall not depart from him. He stooped down, to grab you and by the water of your baptism – now you have lion’s blood in your veins.
Come Lord Jesus. Amen.
This past November 1-3, my wife and I traveled up to the great white north to visit Concordia Theological Seminary for the annual Good Shepherd Institute (GSI). This year’s conference was on the open topic of music in the church… a look at the elephant in the room.
First of all, I should say that I recommend the Good Shepherd Institute for all church workers – EVERY YEAR. It is a great conference on what the church (as church) does. There are discussions of liturgy (ordo), music, hymnody, and how these things have meaning and import in the lives of various church workers and lay people. (A friend of mine likes to refer to catechesis and Bible study as “practice” and the divine service as “game day.”) I love these kinds of continuing education events. Not only do you get to soak in the information coming from the plenary sessions, but then you get to engage various people in individual conversations containing specific application to your situation and the needs at your place. This happens in the hallway, the bookstore, the cafeteria, and at chapel. Not only that, but seeing various people and a plethora (one of my favorite words) of contacts face to face, can’t be beat.
I work in the youth ministry office of our church body’s headquarters. Last year’s GSI was specifically targeted toward youth ministry, and at first glance you would think that this year’s conference had nothing to do with it, and you would be incorrect. Last year’s conference set the stage for a conversation about the ordo (the liturgy of the church) and the hymnody and songs that we sing. This year’s conference took up the difficult conversation of actually talking about those components in their context and identifying problems with a varied practice. Of course, they wanted the conversation to be inclusive of the whole church… and it was. However, it was very appropriate conversation to continue the stream of thought from last year’s conversations. Also, the impact of having the whole church together in an intergenerational ministry situation is best for the youth, the children, and the adults (and the seniors). So you didn’t have to a “youth ministry” shingle outside the door for this conference to take up these very important youth topics.
Rev. Dr. Thomas Winger of our sister seminary in Ontario, Canada (President of Concordia Theological Lutheran Seminary in Saint Catherine’s) opened the conference up with his plenary address titled, “What’s right for the rite?” This was a great conversation about the liturgy itself and where music fits into it. Dr. Winger did a fabulous job of illustrating the liturgical melting pot of what is divinely mandated and what turns out to be human decision (and everything in-between). The gifts of God are wrapped and presented just like every other gift. Dr. Winger identified the gifts as: Word and Sacrament, Absolution, Scripture Readings, Preaching, The Body and Blood of Christ, and the Benediction (I’m sure he did not mean this to be an exhaustive list). What is the box for the gift? That’s the setting or the order of service, a Law and Gospel Order to things, the biblical canticles, the lectionary, the church year, our hymn texts, and music (not a specific kind of music, but that we have music in our services). We wrap the box with our own (human decision) paper and bow: specific music, vestments, posture, gestures, movement, locations, vessels, incense, and the like. “The beauty of this is the person of Jesus.” (Other parts of the discussion: Does “liturgy” mean the same thing to you as me? How do the Lutheran Confessions address worship and music? Does the history of the ancient church have anything to say about liturgy today? There is a difference between what man creates and what the church is creating – in other words, the collective work of the church is quite different from the singular work of any one pastor alone.)
Can that relate to YOUTH? How can the topic of liturgy and worship not be one of youth? For me, this was an immensely important presentation because it broke apart the ordo and its components to show that it can’t just be dismissed in its entirety. The liturgy has to be addressed in some way in every congregation. This particular topic had parallels with Stephen Johnson’s presentation later, which I will get to in more detail soon. But, even in our post-modern, millennial, nexter (mosaic) society there is and must be a Lutheran ethos to our worship and our song. When we engage the youth of our church, we have to give them the distinctively incarnate God – Jesus Christ in the context of how he promises to be present among us.
As we plan youth events and continue to engage the youth of our church at various levels, it is important to have a thorough and serious conversation about why certain things make Lutheran worship and praise, Lutheran. That means that regardless of whether we have a drum set or a timpani, electric guitar or an organ, there is a specific Lutheran backbone that is identifiable.
In order to specifically engage the topic of music itself and the theory behind it, Dr. Barbara Resch spoke on “Music for the Church.” Dr. Resch is the music department chair at Indiana Purdue University Fort Wayne, Indiana. This was very important because we talked about whether or not music is a universal language. Ponder this for a minute, “Music from a style with which we are totally unfamiliar is meaningless.” We rush past this in our everyday world and just assume that because we are familiar with something – then everyone is and it carries the same kind of meaning for others as it does for me. That just isn’t the case. We also need to be aware that bringing what is common from the world into that which is sacred may result in many people having a meaningless experience. Here we might get into a conversation about what happens to the life long Lutheran when new forms of “modern” music are introduced for the sake of the young and the youth.
More from Dr. Resch included what emotion music drags into the scene and how music communicates across borders. How does music’s appeal and power over emotion make it appealing across borders (or does it?). Also, can music be used (even unawares) to manipulate emotions of church goers. These are important topics because we are not the church of emotional heart strings (I’m not saying that we don’t have emotion in church, we do, it’s just they are not the focus – Jesus IS), but we are the church of the incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ. He comes for the lost even if we don’t feel him there.
Does the music serve the Word? or Does the Word serve the music? We have to keep these kind of questions in mind as we think about youth ministry and what we are preparing as we look for worship and praise opportunities. Ultimately, the music serves the Word and must serve it so that Jesus is carried to the youth and even with them into their everyday life.
Now on to Stephen Johnson. Stephen is a hymn tune writer. He explained his fascinating journey from evangelicalism to Lutheranism and how his journey as a musician impacted him through it all. The most important piece I took from his plenary was the discussion about Lutheran ethos in Spiritual Songs. He introduced what he called, “Lutheran Signature Items.” At least one of these items every Lutheran song should engage. This is because of a fundamental characteristic of Christian song: it confesses the Christ. Now, Lutherans are distinct about this Christ. Certain characteristic are important for the ongoing conversation and life of the church within itself and without itself (with the world): Original sin, Justification, Christology, The Sacraments, Theology of the Cross, Law and Gospel distinction, the Holy Ministry, and the Church.
This whole thing reignited my love for catechesis and the ongoing work of the church to teach the faith to Christ’s flock. We are a church of the incarnate Jesus and everything about us shows him. Ordo and music have a profound stake in the formation of catechumens and for the ongoing life of the Christian. We too often overlook how profound an impact this has on our church.
I give kudos to the seminary in Fort Wayne for a job well done. There were many more aspects to the conference that I can’t go into detail here now, but I’m glad that our presenters and the seminary were willing to openly talk about difficult issues for the sake of the church. I’m going to try to include some more posts on specific topics that have come up because of this conference. Look for more soon.
Tune into KFUO tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. for a discussion on the Spirituality of Young People… with yours truly and DCE Andy Bates (program host and personal friend). You can tune in at AM 850 on the radio dial, or http://www.kfuoam.org on your internet browser.
UPDATE: If you missed the show… Here is the link to the program.
The Fifth Chief Part of the Christian Faith: What is Confession ++ Isaiah 6:1-7
We’re okay confessing our sins as long as we can do it behind the safety of a locked heart. That’s the work of the old Adam… as the Holy Spirit is shattering our heart of stone into millions of pieces to make room for a new heart, our sinful nature is gluing the pieces back together – humpty dumpty style. Making sure to fill in all the nooks and crannies… so that no light gets in, because darkness is the best friend of the sinner – the blanket under which Satan does his work – and the way of the world. Under cover of that dark vault we fool ourselves into some kind comfort, thinking that we are at peace with a Jesus that knows we are repentant. The problem isn’t in what Jesus knows or doesn’t know. The problem is with our constant and continual lying.
The incarnation of our Lord attacks our false truths, lies, and omissions head-on. We have a God that is not content with abstractions and feelings. He dismisses the way of the world for tangible, touch you, in your face religion. He won’t have humpty dumpty or your cracked-up, super glued heart deal with your sins, your confessions, or your absolution. It can’t be trusted. You can’t be trusted. And so he comes to deal with your sin in human terms… in flesh and blood.
Just like he dealt with Isaiah. What did God do to the Man of Woe, a person of unclean lips and unclean people?? Seraphim took a live coal (HOT STUFF, burn you, melt your skin off, HOT COALS) and touched Isaiah on the lips. The only time a man or a woman tells the truth… it seems, is when he says, “I AM A SINNER!” In the depths of that truth, there in the safety of the light, Jesus deals with your sin.
HOW? Well, this is the God that engages all your senses. This is the God that isn’t content letting you be in your sin and death. This is the God that won’t leave you here in danger while he tends to the universe. You aren’t going to get his attention… in fact you don’t want his attention. Your comfort was in the darkness. But don’t misunderstand: you are in danger. And it isn’t the hurricanes and the earthquakes, hunger, and homelessness… or even overpopulation that is your danger, your trouble. Your trouble is sin and your trouble is death. You have an accomplice that wants you in hell and he’ll use whatever to trick you into abstractions about your situation. Jesus won’t have it.
So God becomes part of his creation. He is born a man and suffers all the temptations you suffer. And then takes the full force of God the Father’s wrath and judgment. He takes it all on the cross of Calvary for the salvation of your souls. But Jesus wouldn’t leave it there. He takes that freedom… that death of death itself, that life eternal and forgiveness of sins, that love of God himself and he brings it to you and applies it to you. He uses your body to do it. We might be content with just hearing about it. And for sure, that is one of the senses he has chosen to use… but also your eyes, your tongue, your skin, your nose. He uses the things of this creation and he adds his heavenly royalty and spender to it. Think about it… water to wash you – real water (anecdote)… bread that needs baking… wine that you have to crush grapes to get. And the touch…applying your crucified Jesus to your situation and removing your death from you.
And so, like unto Isaiah in our text, Jesus sends a messenger with a live coal. Do not underestimate the heat of that coal. He sends a coal to touch the lips of the those that confess their sins. The heat of God’s wrath, the heat of the cross will destroy those sins. Receiving absolution, from the pastor – God’s messenger, as from God himself. He does this – God does this – so that you won’t have doubt about the status of your sin. It goes the way of burned up, fire induced ash, just like a live coal would do. When you speak it to your pastor, it dies in his ear. It isn’t some kind of status or confidentiality agreement – NO… your sins go there to die and are not spoken of again. In that sense, the pastor’s ear is a grave. Jesus uses that messenger and that ear to destroy your sin and restore you to splendor. He applies the blood of his Cross to you and makes you new. And so, people of God, you are loved… Jesus has come and does come even today to touch you in your place to interrupt you in your way and restore you to live and salvation. What a great gift God has chosen to give to you. No longer liars, but confessors, we go to the throne of God and he buries us and our sin in the death of Jesus and rises us again to life in that same Jesus. You are the forgiven… the touched by God… the living for Jesus declares it. Alleluia! Today he has done all things well. Alleluia!
++Rev. Steven Cholak++
The context of our faith conversations are slightly skewed. It’s not that we have a God that has the power to conquer death. That is a given. Is he a powerful God or is he just a figment of the weak and sinful heart, like idols made with human hands…they have mouths but cannot talk, etc.? (And when we introduce this doubt, and I mean us – Christians, we don’t destroy the sacred. God continues to be what he is despite our doubting and even in the face of our doubts.)
It’s not that we have a God that talks absolutes and declares eternal truths. That too is true and a given. What we so easily miss is that we have a God that HAS conquered death by his very own death.
What are those eternal truths?? What is his power we talk about? He isn’t a God that is made with human hands or human hearts, he is a God that is eternal – that has become the man that by his own crucifixion saves sinners. The creator has taken on creation. God, the creator of all things, has become Man, born of the Virgin Mary. He came to redeem the created. He died to save you from sin and death and the devil. And that God conquered death. He conquered your death and now you are alive in him.
Now you find yourself in the context of a living God-Man, Jesus. You are one of his many members and he is your head. He has mastery over death and he will die no more… which means you too will dwell with him.
I just arrived in Phoenix, Arizona for the start of the Ministerial Care Coalition. This is the first meeting organized by Concordia Plan Services to look at the ongoing health and wellness of member church workers. There are representatives arriving from all over the country (all 35 districts and other LCMS entities) to discuss this very important topic.
First impressions: Arizona is cooler than Saint Louis. It is 75 degrees here (supposedly it’s in the 90s in Saint Louis). AND it’s raining here… something we haven’t really seen seriously (like it is here) in Saint Louis since April.
Check-in starts in a hour or so and the event starts this afternoon.
Back in 2011, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, published a book called You Lost Me. The book is a study on why young Christians are leaving the church and rethinking faith. I just read again some of the criticisms that young Christians have against the church…one of them: “Christians are afraid of pop culture, especially its movies and music.”
“Many young Christians complain that they have been conditioned to fear ‘the world.’ The problem is that, as they explore ‘the world,’ they come to believe (rightly or wrongly) that the world is not nearly as hopeless or awful as they’ve been told. They discover movies, music, and other art and media that sometimes describe the reality of human experience much better than the church does.” (You Lost Me, page 97)
No doubt, he’s right. We Christians condition our children to fear the world and rethink our faith every time we see a new television show or a group has a new single on the radio. Our tendency – at least at the level of the Kinnaman study – is to shut that whole area of the world off completely. I think that’s missing what Jesus means when he says, “You are in the world, not of it.” I try to read the Wall Street Journal each morning. I get electronic subscriptions to Fast Company, MacWorld, and Cigar Aficionado. I listen to AC/DC and Metallica… and KSHE (Saint Louis Real Rock Radio) is on my speed dial. Our pastor opens up Bible study each Sunday morning by saying, “Anything you want to ask or talk about from the news or current events?” I’m convinced that is the way to go. Parents should be asking and talking to their children about current events and songs they hear on the radio. It’s okay to watch a show together and to ask questions about your kids Facebook newsfeeds.
What really struck me about David’s statement is the as they explore the world they find it not so horrible thing. Painting all of pop culture as horrible for our young people like a broad brush paints us into a corner. It’s the act of engaging our young people with the culture that teaches them about the reason Christians are in the world. Satan would have us run only in our own circles and never bump into another non-Christian so that when our children and young people do, they leave and never come back. Let’s call a spade a spade and a club a club… but get out with our kids and talk.
Our kids are going to listen to music with their friends. They are going to be at a mall at some point in their life. The kids sitting with them at the football game may have “potty” mouths. Instead of trying to paint our young people into a silo of Christian solitude, let’s help prepare them to have a defense for the hope the Holy Spirit has placed in their hearts. Our kids have some serious and great questions. They are very curious about the world around them. They want to explore and try new things and they want the thrill of life. The church (which includes parents and church workers and fellow pew sitters and Sunday School teachers) is there to guide them, teach them what the world is and why their in it. We’re there to teach them why and then how.