Friday, July 30, 2010

Little in Your Own Eyes

In Morning Prayer this morning, we read from 1 Samuel 15 and heard this Word of the Lord to King Saul: "Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission . . ." The apostle Paul speaks similarly to Timothy (1 Tim 4:12) when he says, "Let no one despise you for your youth."

There is a difference between the man and the office into which the Lord has placed him. Whether King Saul was little in his own eyes or not, he was the anointed one of God, placed into his office by God as king of Israel. Whether Timothy was young or not, he was the one called by God and placed into his office as pastor. In the office is the authority of God. On that we rely, not on how we see ourselves or not.

I often find myself, as a pastor, as "little in my own eyes." I know my own shortcomings and failures, weaknesses and struggles. In many ways I still see myself as a "young pastor," even though I have been in the office for 15 years now. It is a struggle for me to see myself as someone who has experience and who others look to for leadership. I still often see myself as a young guy just out of seminary.

These verses remind me that it doesn't matter how I see myself, and that, in fact, satan would very much like me to look at myself instead of at Christ and the office into which He has placed me and given me authority to teach and preach and administer the Sacraments. As it always is, when we take our eyes off Christ, we become filled with doubts and fears. It doesn't matter how old a pastor is - as he is called and ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry, he speaks with the authority of the office, and as such can have full confidence.

Even Luther, at times, struggled with this, I believe. In those moments he looked at himself, he wondered how he could presume to teach the church; he who was just a little friar. Who was he? Yet when he considered the Office into which he had been put to speak the Word of God, he knew it didn't matter who he was - he had been chosen by God and called and put into that Office to speak this Word, no matter what. And with his eyes off himself and looking to Christ, his confidence was renewed.

I will, no doubt, struggle with this in the future. When I do, I thank God for these words! Did God not put me here? Am I not called and ordained into this office? Then speak and do not fear. It matters not who I am. But "as a called and ordained servant of the Word and by His authority, I therefore . . ."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Interesting Article

I am not a big fan of the magazine Lutheran Forum - I don't find most of the articles each issue very interesting or helpful. But as I recently received a free copy, I was reading in it and found an interesting editorial piece from Paul Sauer on ecumenism. I won't go through the entire article, but what he said that intrigued me was this (paraphrasing): ecumenism must start by an active engagement with those we are already in fellowship with.

Now, that's a funny sounding statement, for the (broad) purpose of the ecumenical movement is to establish fellowship with those separated from us - how can ecumenism start with those we are already in fellowship with? Well, here's what he meant: we need to stop thinking and acting like isolated church bodies co-existing in the world, and more like the body of Christ in the world. This would most easily start with those we are already in fellowship with, and then grow to those who disagree with us.

Practically, this would mean taking our relationships seriously, and especially when significant changes are proposed in our church body. For example, how would our sister Lutheran churches around the world respond to our "Specific Ministry Pastors?" What would they say about laymen "licensed" to do Word and Sacrament ministry? What do they have to say to us about the jettisoning of the liturgy and the importation of contemporary worship practices in many of our parishes? When these issues arise, is our first instinct to deal with them on our own and think of them as our own (specifically cultural) issues, or to think bigger - that our sister church bodies can help us? That they might have something to say? That what we do will also impact them? Are we thinking "colonially" instead of Christologically-bodily? Do we seek their wisdom before moving forward, or think we can manage just fine on our own.

Perhaps we are doing this at a high level that parish pastors like me aren't fully aware of. Perhaps this is much of what goes on in the International Lutheran Council. If so, I think that is a good thing. But I wonder if it is? And if it is, how can we get this same thinking to come down to our parishes, where [significant] changes are often made unilaterally without regard for sister parishes in the same or next town? This is a real problem (and one that I'm sure I am just as guilty of as the next guy). One example that has impacted me in recent years is the practice of early communion before confirmation. Such a change of practice not only impacts the parish deciding to do this, but my parish also, when a family comes after moving to our area. What do we do?

The point of Rev. Sauer's article, I think, was that our thinking about ecumenism must start at these small levels before we can move on to bigger levels. Such a change of mindset would be a true blessing. Perhaps our newly-elected president, who has a wealth of experience in working with and talking to our partner churches all around the world, can help us to do this. I pray so.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Out of Season" Hymns

Today we commemorated St. James the Elder, Apostle in the Divine Service and we sang the appointed Office Hymn, which was LSB #420, Christ the Life of All the Living. This is a hymn that we normally only sing during the season of Lent. I always find it interesting to sing a hymn such as this "out of season." I get a different perspective on the words and the hymn seems to have a whole new "flavor" for me. So even though it seemed odd to me at the time I was scheduling the hymns to sing this one this day, I rather enjoyed it and think it fit the readings and sermon rather well.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I'm Back

We got back from vacation last night. It was a good two weeks, but as usual, went by awfully fast! But it is good to be home, in my own bed, and back in the regular routine. I now have approximately a month to get my summer projects done before school starts in late August.

But just a few getting back thoughts . . .

(1.) From Morning Prayer this day, in the reading on St. Mary Magdalene, this line struck me: ". . . Jesus lets it be clearly understood that with these three courses (Mary's tears, kiss, and anointing) Mary served a much more glorious meal than the host of the home himself." This was written with the belief that Mary was the "sinful woman" who anointed the feet of Jesus at the home of Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7. Whether or not she was, what a great thought - a more glorious meal she served than Simon. I love it. (Watch for that in the sermon next time this reading comes around!)

(2.) While on vacation, the LCMS Convention both came and went. I usually try to follow these as closely as I can while they are going on, and I certainly was interested in the years leading up to this. But while on vacation, I forced myself to stay away from all computers and e-mail - so I could enjoy the downtime and family time. So coming back is very weird; it has all come and gone. Now I have the task of catching up on all that has happened. I must say that I am pleased with the election of Matt Harrison as our new president. I am very hopeful for the future of our synod now. Which leads me to . . .

(3.) I watched the video of the presidential election being announced. How hard it must have been for current President Kieschnick to stand at the dais and announce his own defeat. Wow.

(4.) Before the convention, there was a movement afoot to move the presidential election up to the beginning of the convention, instead of dealing with the restructuring first and then proceed with the regular convention type stuff. This was actually talked about by both supporters of the main candidates for president - for different reasons. This was brought to the floor of the convention, but was rejected by the delegates - which I think was good. For while I still need to catch up on how everything unfolded, it seems to me best to deal with the restructuring on its own merits, not on the basis of who got elected or not.

And finally . . .

(5.) While we were away, we asked a friend to watch our house for us - which means pick up stuff left on the doorstep, feed our fish, water our plants, stuff like that. Well . . . I cannot tell you how surprised we were when we got home to find that not only had she done this for us, but left all sorts of goodies in the kitchen to greet us when we got home! A gallon of milk, fresh fruit, homemade soup, and other goodies, so that we wouldn't have to run out to the grocery store today! :-) What a great idea, and what love shown. I and my wife are overwhelmed. And to conclude this post similarly to the way it started, her love and thoughtfulness are a more glorious meal for us than the wonderful food she left. How blessed we are!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Well, I just got into the swing of posting more and more regularly on this blog . . . and now its time for vacation! So, no posts for a couple of weeks while I enjoy some R&R with my family. For R&R for me means no computer, no e-mail, no internet, but to get away from all that! :-) So I'll have a book to read, some crossword puzzles to do, and my family to enjoy. See you in two weeks!

Monday, July 5, 2010


The longer I am a pastor, the more I appreciate many of Eugene Peterson's pastoral writings. While not agreeing with everything he says, he makes me stop and think and often offers some very good wisdom.

One thing he said has stuck with me: "You're congregation is filled with sinners. How come you don't expect them to act like it?"

Such a simple statement, yet one that has helped me greatly. When I grow frustrated or disappointed, I remember this, and it helps me come off my high horse, deal gently and patiently with my flock, and remember that I too am a sinner.

But it is not only me - I need to reinforce this mind in all the folks in my congregation. When member sins against member, when hurts cause problems, when conflicts arise . . . yes; why do we not expect these things in our congregation? Why do you not expect to be sinned against? The church is a place for sinners and forgiveness, not a group of folks who always get along famously. And so we sin and repent; we are sinned against and forgive. That is what separates us from the world: the love and forgiveness of Christ that we receive and give.

If only we remembered this more, would there be less fires to put out?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

World Cup

I have been watching the World Cup matches when I can. The end of the Uruguay-Ghana game yesterday was simply amazing. A Uruguayan player named Luis Suarez hand-balled a sure goal off the goal line at the very end of extra time (that's overtime for Americans!). Without it, Ghana would have won. With it, Ghana should still have won, but the penalty kick was missed, and Ghana went on to lose.

In reading the story about this, here's what caught my eye:

"To think that Suarez, when he committed the handball, knew what was going to happen afterward would be something superhuman," the coach said. "The hand of Suarez is the hand of God and the Virgin Mary -- that's how Uruguayans see it."

Uh, no.

VBS Offering

In our VBS this year, we decided to include an offering from the children. We've never done that before. We've always offered our VBS for free and never asked for any contributions. But this year, since part of what we were learning included how the early Christians in Rome followed Jesus and how they were persecuted, our offering was designated to help Christians around the world today who are being persecuted.

We decided to do it this way: after introducing the idea on Monday, we collected pennies on Tuesday, nickels on Wednesdays, dimes on Thursday, and quarters on Friday. I really didn't know what to expect or how much we would receive - but to help us raise the amount, I said I would kick-in double of whatever the children gave. So if they gave $1, I would put in $2 more. I was thinking that maybe that would get our offering up to the $100 range.

Boy was I wrong! The children went bonkers and brought in almost $200! So now we'll be sending almost $600 to help persecuted Christians. I am astounded, and also grateful and thankful. We had a great VBS this year. This was just the icing on the cake.

Friday, July 2, 2010

End of a Long Week

Well, VBS is done and I've reached the end of a rather long week - but a good week! Many good things happened this week, the joy of the children's faces in VBS one of the best of them. Still have to finish getting ready for Sunday tomorrow, and finish up some things for my vacation, but it is coming up fast! I am really looking forward to the R&R with my family.

In other news . . . I have begun working on a Lenten series for next year based on the book of Lamentations. It has long been a tradition of the church to read Lamentations during Holy Week, so it seemed like a good series to do. I think it will work well. But did you know that the church fathers basically did not comment at all on the last chapter, chapter 5? It is a strange thing. Lots of writing through the first four chapters, then . . . nothing. A friend of mine, and a patristics scholar, Dr. Joel Elowsky, confirmed this for me, but I do not yet have a reason for it. Hopefully after vacation I'll be able to buckle down and get it figured out.

Finally, pray for some rain for us. We've had the hottest June ever (a whopping 6 full degrees above average!) and very little rain. Things are drying up. The water situation is fine - no rationing; but grass and plants are all brown and drying up. I'm trying to keep our lawn going (which we got sodded last year) and have been doing okay so far, but won't be able to water while we're on vacation (of course!). So I hope the rains will come.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Challenge

One of the challenges I face with the current church that our Lord has entrusted to my pastoral care is distance - the members of my church live so very, very far apart, and often, very, very far from the church. I have folks that drive over an hour on Sunday mornings for the Divine Service.

One the one hand, that is inspiring! The desire and belief that it is important to attend a Lutheran Church that is confessional in what we believe, confess, teach, and practice causes these people to come from so far and sacrifice to get here. Yet on the other hand, the distance means that Sunday morning is often the only time many can be with us. They live too far away for midweek services, midweek Bible studies, and other service and fellowship opportunities.

Now, certainly, the Divine Service is the central thing, and these folks are living out their Christian vocations in their homes and workplaces. One need not be at church many times a week to be a good Lutheran or a good Christian! In fact, being too often at church may take a person away from their other vocations, which would not be good. Being a father to the children God has given you is just as important (if not more important) than being at a meeting at church during the week!

The difficulty, I think, is in building a sense of community with such a group; that they are, together, the Body of Christ in this place. With a more local, neighborhood church, I think that must be a bit easier, though our modern day individualistic mindset militates against it. But when you only see your brothers and sisters in Christ for such a short time each week, and then drive so far home, I think it can seem like you live on an island so very, very far away.

This means that the times we get together are most important, that we use other means of developing this sense of community, and that it is important to work hard to maintain it - and not assume it will always be there. Do I succeed at that? Well, probably yes and no. What creates even more difficulty is the frequency at which people come and go also. I think this is a problem everywhere these days, but especially here in the metro DC area. Military and government workers routinely cycle in and out, and high tech people come and go with their jobs and assignments.

The people God has led to our congregation are the best. I love them dearly. I pray that God enables me to serve them well and provide what they need.