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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gospel words from The Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel

“The generation that was delivered out of Egypt all died in the wilderness, though the Lord gave them bread from heaven. Repeatedly in John, Jesus fulfills and bursts what is told us in the Old Testament. Jesus is bread from heaven of which a man may eat and not die. Here death is ultimate death and its counterpart is ultimate life. Jesus said, “I am the living Bread” (John 6.51), What could be a more “I am” statement of life? But there is more. There is life through and beyond the furthest reach of death. Death can reach no further than Calvary. That there was death in Calvary is shown by the fact that flesh and blood are spoken of separately. But they are Jesus’ flesh and blood, so there is life with them beyond the furthest reacth of death—life indestructible, life forever.” (Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel 56).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Wise Words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

,,Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. And a Christianity of that kind is nothing more nor less than the end of discipleship. In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ. Because the Son of God became Man, because He is the Mediator, for that reason alone the only true relation we can have with Him is to follow Him. Discipleship is bound to Christ as the Mediator, and where it is properly understood, it necessarily implies faith in the Son of God as the Mediator. Only the Mediator, the God-Man, can call men to follow Him“ (The Cost of Discipleship 64).

These were not merely words for Bonhoeffer, as he was a young Lutheran pastor and theologian who was arrested by the Nazi regime and executed just days before American forces liberated the city where he was in prison. Yes, sometimes Christian discipleship leads making difficult choices and dying for Jesus Christ as a martyr to the Christian faith.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bishop Jakes Preaches at St. John's Church

Bishop T. D. Jakes, a Pentecostal pastor of a 30,000 megachurch in Dallas, was invited to preach to President-elect Obama and other dignitaries at St. John's Church in Washington, D.C. St. John's is an Episcopal church.

Here is another example of a poor choice of pastors. Now, I do not expect President Obama to be a theologian; he is our president and I expect him to make presidential decisions. But who advised him to invite Bishop Jakes? My issue with Jakes is that his view of the Trinity borders on the heretical. Many times, he has made statements that smack of Sabellianism, which was an early second century heresy also known as Modalism because Sabellius viewed God as one who has manifested Himself in three modes: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Christian doctrine on the Godhead confesses that God is one God, and this oneness is comprised of three separate, distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Every time Jakes has explained his belief, he does not use the traditional language of Christianity, but consistently uses wishy-washy language that leaves room for doubt whether he actually believes God is comprised of three Persons.

So on Inauguration Weekend we have been subjected to:

an Episcopal bishop who is unrepentant in his homosexual sin, and refused to pray a Christian prayer;

a Pentecostal pastor who does not give a definitive confession about the holy Trinity; and

an Evangelical pastor who routinely confuses law and gospel, often preaching the law while believing it is the gospel.

The state of American civil religion is horrendous. In fact, it rarely has been unashamedly Christian. Too often it is headlined with prominent pastors who have serious doctrinal issues, issues that are at odds with the doctrine passed on by the prophets and the apostles in holy Scripture.

Now you may ask, is there anyone who would satisfy my strict criticism. Answer: yes; pastors who are sincere and bold in their confession of Jesus Christ, preach Him crucified and risen from the dead for the forgiveness of our sins, and take seriously the doctrines of the one, holy Christian and apostolic Church. Unfortunately, such pastors are not going to be chosen for such public ceremonies like a presidential inauguration, because they are little fish in a big pond that is filled with mammoth fish who get all the spotlight. Such is, and has been, the state of American civil religion.

I think President Obama deserves better than the pastors who surrounded him this inauguration. He has somber and serious responsibilities, and he deserves pastors who are less inclined to preach in their prayers but who will simply and shortly pray for him, his family, and his cabinet for wisdom, safety, and divine guidance. I am sure many faithful pastors and Christians have prayed this way for him in recent days, and for that we can take hope regarding the state of American Christianity.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Proper Evangelical Lutheran Prayer for the President

O merciful heavenly Father, from You comes all rule and authority over the nations of the world for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of all who do well. Graciously regard Your servants, those who make, administer, and judge the laws of this nation, and look in mercy upon all the rulers of the earth. We thank You for President George Bush, his staff and cabinet, the Congress, and the Supreme Court who have faithfully held office and have publically served our country. We ask You to bless President Barack Obama, his staff and cabinet, the new Congress, and the Supreme Court as they take office and publically serve our country. Grant health and prosperity to them, and grant them wisdom and understanding to rule according to Your good pleasure for the maintenance of righteousness and the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, so that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness, honesty, and prosperity; through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Given the choices President-elect Obama has selected for the prayers for his inaugeration, I felt it important to offer up a proper Christian prayer for him and our government. While Rick Warren tacks Evangelical right, he is so engrossed with preaching the law as gospel that even if he mentions the name of Jesus, I wonder what the actual text of his prayer will be and whether it will truly lift up our leaders to God for wisdom and good governance. Bishop Gene Robinson tacks Episcopal left, and he has publically stated that he will not offer up a Christian prayer for Mr. Obama, but will instead say some sort of generic, non-offending prayer. Here's the video of the bishop's prayer; the text is further down in the article.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Comment on Christian Preaching

Here's something my friend Kelly wrote on his blogsite Helmets Required II in response to my blog ,,Evangelical Preaching?". He is right on target.

Kelly writes:

,,A friend and former classmate at St. Louis Seminary penned a piece about the state of Evangelical preaching today. The assessment that he made is no different than that which I perceive.

,,All too often the call is for "relevant preaching". You know how to be a Christian parent, how to balance your checkbook like a Christian, how one may open a Christian business, and others ad nauseum. Please understand the role of the Holy Scripture is to give voice and view to the heart of God toward us as revealed in Jesus Christ.
The use of the LAW (after all that is what "how to..." sermons are) is as St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit put it - "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." Romans 3:20

,,I know of no more relevant topic than that of a God who can and does forgive. The stresses and strains of life will never be overcome by simple cosmetic applications to our finances, or social interactions...becasue the problem of a broken heart still remains. The means by which we, who are broken, may be bound and healed is the power of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

,,Here is a fine example of a Evangelical Christian sermon proclaimed by the Christ Himself. "And he (Jesus) said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."

,,The Holy Spirit fill all Christian sermons - those you preach and those you may hear with the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Rev. Dr. Zieroth: Men and the Church

Zieroth interview.

Pastor Zieroth recently finished his Doctor of Ministry in Christian parenting. Bound up with this is a focus on catechesis and the duties of parents in the catechesis of their children. (I think that's an old picture, because the last time I saw him he still had a beard.)

I highly recommend listening to this interview that Issues, etc. did a few days ago. It is very sound and practical. Pastor Zieroth has devoted much study and attention to the issues of Christian parenting, men and the church, and sound catechesis in the church. St. Paul's, Kingsville.

Pastor Zieroth is a wonderful pastor, and so is his colleague at St. Paul's, The Rev. Michael Wollman. Pastor Wollman was my physical education teacher and track coach in high school.

St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kingsville, MD was my home church until I was ordained. Pastor Wollman preached at my ordination, and Pastor Zieroth preached when I was installed at my second call.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Epiphany of Our Lord: 6. January

In the Name of Jesus

Matthew 2.1-12
The Epiphany of our Lord, A
6. January 2008

Our sermon text for this morning, dear brothers and sisters, is from St. Matthew’s Gospel where the holy evangelist writes: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying: ,,Where is he having been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and gathering together all the high priests and scribes of the people, he was asking them where the Christ is to be born. Then they told him: ,,In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ,And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the princes of Judah; for from you will come a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called the magi and ascertained precisely from them the time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying: ,,Go and search diligently for the child, and as soon as you shall find him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they left and behold, the star which they saw when it rose was going before them until it stood still above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they went into the house and saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped him and opened their treasures, and presented him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being directed in a dream not to return to Herod, they returned to their own country by another way. This is our text.

It’s Epiphany, and the magi from the east have arrived in Bethlehem to worship the newborn king. These eastern sages were more than mere ,,wise men”; they were astronomers and astrologers; they interpreted dreams for kings and princes; they counseled the rulers when to go to war and when to settle for peace; they studied religion and prophecies.

Yahweh got their attention. Since their focus was always in the heavens, God gave them the sign of a star. The Greek word translated as ,,star” can also refer to a planet or other astronomical bodies in the heavens, such as a comet, a meteorite, or a nova. Shortly before Jesus was born, Jupiter and Saturn conjoined in the constellation of Pisces. A year later Mars joined Jupiter and Saturn in a conjunction that – after the Moon – was the brightest object in the night sky.

We have demythologized the heavens in our pursuit of scientific knowledge, but to the ancients, and especially the Persian magi, events in the heavens meant something. Jupiter was the king’s planet, and Saturn represented the defender of Palestine. Mars was the bringer of change. Pisces represented Syria and Palestine. The magi saw this conjunction and realize that a king has been born in Judah, and not just any ordinary king, but a king of kings, on the scale of Alexander the Great or George Washington.

How did these magi know about the promised messiah? When Daniel was part of the Jewish Exile to Babylon in 587 B.C., he and other Jewish men eventually joined the caste of the magi; Daniel soon became Nebuchadnezzar’s most trusted advisor. Daniel taught the other magi the messianic prophecies from Moses and the Prophets, including the star as the symbol of the Messiah: ,,A star will rise from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel” (Numbers 24,17). When they arrived in Jerusalem, they learn from King Herod and the scribes that the messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem.

The political and religious elite in Judah failed to honor and worship the fulfillment of God’s holy word, while the magi – known for their paganism and idolatry faithfully – journey to where Jesus is, worship Him, and give Him presents. Luke also reminds us that the first to pay homage to the newborn Christ were the shepherds – men and boys who were not the most respected members of Judean society.

The liturgical season of Epiphany reveals the ways in which God’s glory manifested itself through Jesus. Matthew shows us that even the Gentiles are blessed by the arrival of the Christ. The Prophet Isaiah says that the Christ is for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles: nations will walk in your light, and kings in the brightness of your rising (Isaiah 60,3).

But how will this divine blessing be received? Will we receive it like Herod and the chief priests who rejected God’s savior? Will we receive it like the shepherds and the magi who received and believed in God’s savior? Knowing the holy Scriptures is not enough. The priests and the scribes knew the Scriptures; they knew the prophecies about the Christ. They knew, but they did not believe. The holy Scriptures, the star, the magi, and countless other signs that heralded the birth of God’s Christ should have given King Herod, the chief priests, and the scribes’ great joy and an earnest desire to go to Bethlehem and see the King of kings.

The magi and the shepherds heard the proclamation and received God’s word with gladness; they went and saw the newborn king. The magi even brought gifts for the King of kings. We know the Scriptures; we come and worship Christ each week; but what gifts will we bring to Jesus? Our King of kings deserves our very best – the first fruits of our talents and possessions. He doesn’t want us to be merely religious or spiritual – the priests and the scribes were certainly that! – but Jesus also wants us to honor Him, bow down before Him, worship Him, and give Him our very best whether that be worship, stewardship, or helping a neighbor in need.

In the science-fiction TV show ,,Babylon 5", this question is asked to each of the major characters early in the first season: ,,,Will you follow me into fire, into storm, into darkness, into death?’” (Straczynski 22:01). In a similar way, Christ asks the same of each of His disciples. If we say ,,yes”, then know that Christ brings life, couched in the promise of death, and salvation, disguised as defeat. Jesus promised His disciples that He was on the path to suffering and the cross, and that through this death He would bring eternal life to the world. The death and burial of Jesus looked like a defeat, but the empty tomb proclaimed it to be our salvation. The King of kings is the First and the Last, the living one; He died, and behold He is alive forever more, and Jesus now holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1,18).

Jesus is much brighter and more spectacular than the ,,star” that heralded His birth. He is the Light to the nations and the Glory of Israel.

The shepherds came first and paid homage to Jesus. God shows us that His salvation is for the poor as well as the powerful. Economic or social status won’t bar us from God’s salvation. Then the magi arrive and worship Jesus. God shows us that His salvation is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Ethnicity or nationality won’t bar us from God’s salvation. The magi were among the first of many people who would come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and worship Christ the newborn king. They were the first to give Him gifts, but they were not the last. So we gather each week and give gifts to Jesus, and much more do we do for our neighbors during the week in the name of Christ.

We’ve been drawn by the star. Not some celestial object in the nighttime sky, but the Star of David who is Jesus the Christ. He has drawn us to Himself, and once we have been captured by the gravity of His divine love and salvation we continue to revolve around Him, soaking up the warmth of His forgiveness and grace. All that goodness and mercy is packed into a little human body not more than two years old. ,,There is one Lord, one Christ, one Israel, one Church, and one plan of God for our rescue and completion” (Nagel 42). That Christ is Jesus, the firstborn son of Mary, and the glorious light of salvation for the entire world. Amen.

Let us pray. O Holy Spirit, Your word is our light and guide, which draws us to Christ the King of kings. He is not a king of sin, death, and hellish fire, but a King of righteousness, life, heaven, and salvation. For we need a King who is able to make us, lost and condemned creatures, righteous again, redeem us from sin, death, and the devil, and bring us to heaven and everlasting life (Luther 207). Amen.

One Message—Christ!

All Scriptural quotations are translations done by The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind using the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 4th Edition © 1990 by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart and the New Testament Greek Manuscripts, Luke © 1995 by Reuben Joseph Swanson.
All quotations from the Book of Concord are translations done by The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind using Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 12th Edition © 1998 by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Luther, Martin. The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 5. Eugene F. A. Klug, Ed. Copyright © 2000 Baker Book House Company.
Nagel, Norman. Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis. Frederick W. Baue, Ed. Copyright © 2004 Concordia Publishing House.
Straczynski, J. Michael. Babylon 5. ,,Parliament of Dreams”. Copyright © 1993 PTN Consortium and Warner Bros. Television.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Prayer and Politics

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Deutsche Welle has a succinct article about the Leipzig pastor who organized peaceful prayer gatherings at the time. This event showcases the two kingdoms of God and how He uses both to accomplish His means. A book entitled ,,Rebuilding a House Divided" by Hans-Dietrich Genscher looks at how the U.S. Secretary of State and the European Foreign Ministers helped bring about the reunification of Germany. It's a good book; I read it about ten years ago.

Here's the DW article.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Evangelical Preaching?

I take great pride in preaching each Sunday. I spend a lot of time in preparation and study, including translating the text.

So, as I drove to my parents on Christmas Eve, I heard two Christmas sermons on the radio. I hesitate to call them ,,Christmas" or ,,sermons". The name of Jesus was used, but the content of the sermons (I seemed to think they were really pep talks) did not focus on: the gospel or the meaning of Jesus being born as our Savior. What has happened to the state of Christian preaching in America?

It used to be that Evangelical churches prided themselves in preaching about the pure gospel of Christ crucified. There are still some that take this preaching seriously. I heard a Baptist friend preach over the summer, and he did an good job of preaching the gospel. The Baptist church also seemed very committed to remaining faithful in really preaching the gospel. In this respect they were very evangelical and Lutheran.

However, what passes as Evangelical preaching in the 21st century leaves a lot to be desired. I perceive that part of this dilemma is based on the whole church growth methodology that is focused on mere statistics and numbers rather than faithful preaching of the gospel. Too many churches are obsessed with being a business and pursuing commerical avenues of success. It reminds me of the 16th century Catholic Church. In many ways the modern Evangelical Church is similar to 16th century Catholicism.

Evangelical preaching, true evangelical preaching that is concerned about Christ crucified and risen for us sinners is always going to be small potatoes compared to what we are shown on TV with a slick presentation and polished delivery. If the message isn't focused on Christ crucified, then it isn't evangelical. If the message isn't focused on the gospel, then it isn't preaching.

Preaching isn't easy. It takes a good deal of preparation. But the underlying foundation is not rocket science: it's proclaiming Christ crucified and what that means for us. There are so many ways to proclaim this. Lutherans are fond of the forensic method, namely, that justification is described in legal terms of guilt and forgiveness. Jack Preus III wrote a book several years back that looked at other ways to preach evangelically that did not rely solely on a forensic approach.

I view preaching as an art. True masters are rare, but I have read and heard many who are quite good. Unfortunately, modern Evangelical preachers rarely fall into those categories. Much of what I read and hear from them can best be described as children finger painting.

Honestly, we don't need all sorts of gimmicks, jokes, object lessons, etc. What we need to be doing is preaching the pure gospel. If you are consistent with this, over time you will become rather good at preaching Christ crucified.

Our market-engineered society wants fancy presentations. But one of the best preachers I have been blessed to hear and read is Dr. Norman Nagel. He read from his manuscript (this is very much contrary to what we were taught in preaching classes!), but His preaching dripped with the gospel. That's the kind of passion we need: gospel overflowing. Another wonderful preacher is Dr. Rossow. He is very polished, and is a master at using language and imagery to soak you with the gospel. Walter Keller is another great preacher who is a master of Pauline preaching. There are countless other examples.

Evangelical preachers need to get back to really preaching the pure gospel. Americans need to really, really hear the proclamation that Christ died for their sins.