In the Shadow of Worldly Power the Glory of the Lord Shines

Even though many are not familiar with the finer points of his career as a general and senator, Julius Caesar is a household name. In the ruins of the once glamorous Roman Forum, he is laid to rest to this day. Visitors are welcomed to see his grave, which is always covered in a bright bouquet of flowers strewn about by the millions who have come to pay homage to his life and legacy. 

The Gate of the Lord

This year, Advent has been rather interesting for myself and the congregation where I serve. In the midst of our preparation for the celebration of Christ’s incarnation and for His return, we have also found ourselves in the midst of grief as a few within our “family of faith” have been translated from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant. At their funerals, the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus was welcomed and I am thankful to have been able to do so by the guidance and power of the Spirit. In many ways, the funerals were as “routine” as any funeral might seem to be if viewed objectively. It wasn’t until the graveside, though, that I found myself moved differently than ever before.

Sermon Highlight: Worn Out

After my wife and I had been in Albany (my previous and much loved parish) for somewhere around eight months, we bought a house. The house needed some updating- it was beautiful but a little outdated. Good bones, as they say, but needed a facelift. So, right after we bought it, we had a “gutting” party; The bathroom, the kitchen, the stuff that was tucked away in the basement… we rented one of those industrial portable dumpsters, and “gutted”. And a bunch of friends came, from not only our congregation, but also a few from a different Lutheran congregation. One of them was a man who would quickly become a lifelong friend. 

Don’t Send Me: A Reflection on St. Ambrose of Milan

If you were at church this past Sunday there is a good chance you heard the hymn Savior of the Nations, Come. The first line of the hymn set to Martin Luther’s arrangement goes like this, “Savior of the nations, come, Virgin's Son, make here Thy home! Marvel now, O heaven and earth, That the Lord chose such a birth.” The tune was later refined by J.S. Bach and is in our hymnal as the second hymn listed for the season of Advent and the second hymn in the Lutheran Service Book altogether (#332). Hopefully you picked up on the strong trinitarian nature of the hymn especially concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ, for Advent especially this is an important theme but far more for the one who authored it. 

Love Will See You Through: A Brief Meditation On Absolution (with help from The Grateful Dead)

In traditional Roman Catholic parishes you make your confession to the priest inside a confessional. When you walk these spaces the confessional looms large and yet its intimidation is also somehow inviting. There is something appealing to the inconspicuous nature of life inside this box. As to your name, you can be known or you cannot be known. As to your sin, you have to be known. There’s no escaping being known inside the confessional box. This is at the same time liberating and terrifying. To unburden yourself of your specific brokenness is both liberating and terrifying but, above all else, it is also necessary. Humans need to step inside the box to lay down the burden.

RSO Feature: Doxology

This month’s RSO feature is Doxology, whose purpose is to “provide training, mentoring and consultation services for pastors seeking to enhance their ability to help people struggling with the ever-increasing personal, family and social complexities of contemporary life.”

Take Him At His Word: Preparing for Life, Death, and Advent with Martin Franzmann

In June of 2017 my wife and I lost our daughter in the womb. We had gone in for a routine scan only to find that there was no longer a heart beat. My wife delivered her, we named her Anastasia because of the connection that name has to the Greek word for resurrection, and we had a funeral for her. We trusted then, as we do now, in the Holy Spirit’s ability to work faith through the Word, even for those in the womb. As a pastor I knew it probably was not the best idea for me to preach the day of her funeral, as emotionally compromised as I was, so I didn’t. Instead, Martin Franzmann preached, which was quite the feat for someone who passed away in 1976. That is to say, at my daughter’s funeral I read one of his sermons. 

Christ the King?

The political nature of this feast may be shocking to anyone who participates. It is rare to find a feast that was founded to specifically counter the spirit of the age, as it were. As part of his official pronouncement Pius XI says, “Nations will be reminded by the annual celebration of this feast that not only private individuals but also rulers and princes are bound to give public honor and obedience to Christ.” [2] The annual celebration of this feast will come back round again to remind nations and rulers that there is one king and lord and he is Jesus the Christ.

Some Thoughts About "Thoughts and Prayers"

We suffer under an awful national liturgy.

A senseless act of violence sends a tidal wave of horror across the nation. As deep wounds are reopened once again, some offer thoughts and prayers. Others call for action. And still others begin to curse the very mention of thoughts and prayers.

What are we to make of "thoughts and prayers?" Are these medicine for the grieving, or salt on an open wound—a reminder that we live in a world where God often seems absent?

Remember Me

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a tradition celebrated in Mexico on All Saints and All Souls Day. If you were to go to Mexico during one of those days, you’d see a lot of people in cemeteries and graveyards remembering their family members and friends who have gone before them. One of the reasons they pray for them is to try and get them out of purgatory, which is not something we Lutheran Christians would acknowledge, but the biggest reason is to remember them. The Disney movie “Coco” is based off this tradition.

Confidence Thus Far

I don’t know where I would be without close friends that I trust. If it wasn’t for a place and a person to confide in and trust I would be lost. Recent events drove me into a place of rather deep sorrow—and I found myself in need of a person and a place to embrace me by the grace of God. The darkness crept in and rather than bottling it up I called a pastor who I was confident I could trust. He answered as he always does not acting as if I was wasting his time. He listened and responded in the way a truly good pastor does by bringing the penitent—the broken and the lost—to the gospel.

Casting Cares

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.” — Matthew 6:34

These words of Jesus have become the refrain for my life. In a time when there are so many things to worry about, the Word of God allows me to keep centered, to stay focused, and to remain thankful for the gift of each day. At the same time, I find myself wrestling with these words of Jesus, especially because I cannot help but ponder the future in almost every vocation that I hold in life. And, when pondering the future, it often feels filled with worry.

A Battle Fought At Night: Navigating Theological Language Before and After Nicaea, Part I

Theological controversies often have this character with many a pastor and layperson not fully aware of what is at stake or left unable to navigate the nuances of the language and terminology involved. Frequently people on either side of the debate end up proverbially shrugging their shoulders at the subtleties or furiously raging like a kicked hornets nest, preferring to attack first and ask questions later when unfamiliar language is used. This was no different in the fourth century.

e pluribus unum…in christo (from many, one…in Christ)

In the Book of Genesis, just before the account of Abram (Abraham) begins, the human narrative culminates in the events of a city later known as Babel. It’s a story of pride and greatness, hope in the human endeavor for power and authority: the world bound together as one by the spirit of empire. In many ways Babel is the archetype of human civilization, not only in its illustrious rise but also in its fall. Since the events of Genesis, it is a story that has played itself out over and over again from Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica. Drunk on their own arrogance, empires rise in power to make a name for themselves only to fall and shatter. Empires proclaim a message of unity on human terms instead of God’s terms; so, God disperses them. 

Politically Homeless

In my own little slice of Christianity I also find myself politically homeless. What follows is definitely a bit of insider baseball regarding the political demarcations in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, so please bear with me. A few years ago in the pages of the Lutheran Forum I argued that the LCMS is in a constant struggle between maintaining purity of doctrine and maintaining relevancy as the way to manage its own insecurity as a church body. I still feel that this is true. I believe that ecclesiological insecurity is part of the DNA of the LCMS.

For All the Saints

Over a year ago an older member of the congregation walked into my office. I could tell something was wrong and he gave me the devastating news; he had been diagnosed with a liver tumor that was inoperable. Whether it was cancerous or not the doctors didn’t know but it was in the worst possible place and it was beyond risky to try and remove it. The last few months of his life were remarkable to say the least. The community that knew him as “a good man" saw this dying man exemplify what it means to be a saint. He spent his last days living with family and one day in particular I gave him the commendation of the dying.

You Are Not Alone

You are not alone. On All Saints’ Day, or any other day, the Lord is with you, and so is his Church.

When your spouse is lying in still unsettled earth, you don’t care whether the person sitting next to you at All Saints’ Day worship singing “For all the saints” is a Republican or Democrat. You just appreciate their voice singing words of truth that are still too raw for you to utter (Romans 8:26). 

When you are going through treatments that are your last hope before hospice is called, there is no checklist for the prayers ascending on your behalf. It doesn’t matter whether they are chanted, spoken—or spoken with piano chords softly vamping in the background. It’s enough to know that God our Father is hearing prayers from your family of faith for you.

Social Media and the 8th Commandment

“The unity which we strive for and which gives power to the church requires that we refrain from corrections, negative comments, and criticisms made through social media. In fact, we ought to strive to find a favorable interpretation whenever possible.”