It Doesn't Make Sense

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” To prepare for the reception of The Sacrament of the Altar, children in our congregation must take a class that allows them to gain a basic understanding of God, His promises, and the tangible signs of His grace known as the Sacraments, namely Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. Recently, we offered another set of classes and two young people are preparing to receive Holy Communion for the first time, which we will celebrate in the midst of our congregation during the liturgy of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday. In this particular class, we have bright students who often ask insightful questions, seeking to deeply understand just what God has done for us and why it matters. As I’ve taught, I’ve found myself amazed at the depth of their questions, though they do not seem to perceive this. Rather, they are simply asking out of a desire to learn, a curious desire to inquire about the value of God’s promises, especially as we receive them through the gracious work of Jesus.

I'm Just Not Into The Culture Wars

In 2017, the abstract artist Makoto Fujimura wrote a book called, Culture Care. The idea behind the book for Makoto is that artists are called to be “border-stalkers” who hope “to speak into the hearts of all those who desire to seek the truth and fill the world again with beauty.” Makoto wrote this book in response to the never-ending culture wars that inflict the American scene. He believes that culture is part of what will be renewed in the new creation and so it should not be abandoned. The problem is so many who agree with the sentiment of non-abandonment spend all of their energy participating in conflict with the culture. Makoto believes artists (interestingly he includes pastors, among other Christians, in this category) are called to be generative within culture, instead of participating in degenerative activity. 

The Promise of Liturgy

Recently a Facebook ad came across my feed that was promoting Easter at a nearby church. It opened with the pastor saying that he didn’t want the viewer to be shocked that he would invite them to spend Easter at, of all places, a church. While that was strange enough he went on to say that the visitors would encounter only people who “want to love them” while then proclaiming they would not be fed politics—or any promises! While I am sure that was meant as a way to bridge across a barrier, to say on Easter “no promises” is troublesome. St. Paul says, “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29). And, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6). To be honest I just typed in “promise” in the ESV online Bible and found over 140 references, many of which are in Paul related to faith in the resurrected Jesus and those two are just a couple examples. To say a church makes no promises makes a liar out of Paul and to put the best construction on it, perhaps a misstep in terms. 

Participation Trophies and the Righteousness of Every Generation

In 1989, Billy Joel released an album titled “Storm Front,” and with it came the track, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” He begins in the year of his own birth, 1949, and runs through explosive headline after explosive headline, year by year, covering forty years worth of the stuff that happened in his lifetime. As a Billy Joel fan, I’ve heard him in interviews say that the song is kind of a defense of his own generation—the baby-boomers—who, from his perspective, were being blamed for all of the moral downfall of American society in the late 1980’s. As a millennial I can empathize with this. In fact, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is my go to song for karaoke—and I don’t need to look at the lyrics. Of course, the chorus goes like this: “We didn't start the fire; it was always burning since the world's been turning; We didn't start the fire; no, we didn't light it, but we tried to fight it.” I like the song because I think it’s a remarkable expression of what I have begun to call collective intergenerational dysphoria

Unbroken Chain: The Faithful Forebearers

When I was younger, I remember making a radical discovery. I discovered that the Bible was not just a whole bunch of little, fascinating yet unconnected stories. Instead I learned that it was one giant story. I remember realizing that Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Peter, and Paul were all connected. The whole Bible was a great adventure about God saving his lost people, eventually by coming to save those people himself. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is all tied together as that great story, with Jesus at the center. This was a mind-blowing discovery. Hopefully it’s one that you have experienced yourself. But much later in life I had another mind blowing discovery. And that discovery was this: your story and my story are also not just little, fascinating but unconnected stories. Instead they are part of the same story.

The Long Walk Home

John’s gospel includes a gem of an account that speaks directly to our experiences of God’s delayed promises in the midst of present suffering. This gem is found in the fourth chapter and it is the second sign of Jesus that John records. Remember at the very end of his gospel John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

....And I Feel Fine

In September of 1987 (a year before I was born), the band R.E.M. released an album titled, “Document.” Side 1, track 6, of that album is a song called, “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine).”  It begins: “That's great, it starts with an earthquake; birds and snakes, and aeroplanes; and Lenny Bruce is not afraid.” The chorus eventually follows: “It's the end of the world as we know it; it's the end of the world as we know it; it's the end of the world as we know it …and I feel fine.” 

The Sacramental Church

In the preface to the late Robert Capon’s The Romance of the Word, he makes a few comments on the nature of a sacrament in the Christian church: “For Christians, a sacrament is not a transaction—not an operation that produces an effect that wasn’t there before.” [1] I take this too mean that the only thing required in order to make a sacrament effective is the giver of the sacrament. In this sense, the sacrament is a gift. It is a gift given and received, but its effectiveness is predicated on the giver.

The Confession of Ashes

The use of ashes on Ash Wednesday has become so common that even some non-liturgical congregations are known to creep into the local Catholic supply store and purchase them. Anymore the strangeness and old fashioned symbol of repentance and contrition is far from strange or obscure, that is unless you live in Appalachia. In this part of the country wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday is strange, it is different.

If You See Something, Say Something

“We need to be people of God who love our neighbors, care about our communities, and recognize that we are reminded to be imitators of Jesus in our earthly lives…[so] we might better prevent future tragedies within the church, especially ones rooted in sin that communicate our being the opposite of that which we are called to be by God.”

No More Outcasts

“None of us belong, none of us by our own effort do anything remarkable whatsoever for God. By his call, by his Word, he makes us his own and something greater still that can change the world.“

Being Pro-Life in New York

Making assumptions are a terrible approach to understanding life. As a pastor in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, I have spent the last number of days witnessing how a multiplicity of assumptions can paint an image of darkness even where light remains. The Reproductive Health Act (RHA) was recently passed by New York State legislature, which allows for the legal abortion of children beyond 24 weeks in cases where there is an "absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient's (read: mother’s) life or health”. For many, hearing this brought forth a swift response of anger, frustration, sadness, and hopelessness coupled with much assumption about New York, its residents, and the perspective and desire of those who live here.

The Neglected Art of Christian Meditation

About a month ago I wrote a piece called Drill and Kill: Memorization Isn’t a Dirty Word. That article garnered a plethora of responses, both positive and negative. Many of the negative responses centered on the idea depicted in the comic above. Why bother to memorize Scripture when we carry digital, searchable Bibles around with us 24/7? In this installment I’ll answer that question and make the case for the importance of not only of memorization, but also of mediation in the daily life of a Christian. 

The Conversion of Saint Paul

Today we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul who saw the risen Lord on the Damascus road. The story is familiar to many Christians. If it isn’t please read Acts 9 to refresh yourself or to read the story for the first time. It is a truly powerful event. Saul, who persecuted the Church, who approved of the stoning of St. Stephen and many other disciples of Jesus, now was on his way to persecute more disciples in Syria. Yet on the road he encountered the very one he did not expect. Jesus appeared to Saul and asked, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The blood of the martyrs of the Church is the blood of the Christ. Saul was then taken to the Street Called Straight, where he received his sight back and was baptized. In effect Paul was converted, he was changed. No longer did he persecute the body of Christ but now was part of it and began to proclaim that Jesus was the Son of God. 

Enjoy Your Flight

There was a pastor I became closely acquainted with in Seminary who had served in New York for a number of years. He recounted that during his time there, he would frequent an Irish Pub near Times Square which became his usual place. Often times he would stop in after a hospital visit or a church meeting still wearing his clerical attire. He always paid in cash, so the staff didn’t know his real name. It’s not that he was trying to hide his identity or anything, just that they came up with a nickname for him that stuck so quickly it didn’t matter what his real name was. Thus, staff and patrons would always greet “Father Ted” when he arrived at the pub and the bartender would set him up with his usual drink. 

Alone in Power or Together in Christ

Some time ago I came to the realization that in our popular culture in general there really doesn’t seem to be any room for acknowledging error—in public life at least. We do not do a very good job of extending mercy. Nobody wants to admit that they’re wrong or that mistakes were made especially when there is something major on the line. In fact, people make sport of things that are tragic as if the misfortune of one is a spectacle or even a game for another. 

A Gathering of the Faithful

This week a major planning meeting was held for the 2019 Gathering. This planning meeting included over 200 faithful members of the LCMS. The theme for this year’s Gathering is “REAL. PRESENT. GOD.” The theme is centered on the idea that God is real in the midst of our real and messy lives, that He is present in His Word (Jesus, Scripture; Sacraments, Proclamation) and in His people, and that He is all powerful and all personal, especially as we know Him in Christ Jesus.

Weekly Communion: Why Not?

The practice of weekly communion crept up on me. The churches I attended during high school and college usually offered the Lord's Supper every other Sunday. This was the case at my field work church during seminary as well.

It wasn't until we moved to Florida for my vicarage year that I had ever encountered the practice of weekly communion. As far as I knew, it was standard practice in the LCMS to break bread on first and third Sundays, or something like that—but not every week. During that year, weekly communion became my new normal.

And then we moved back to Saint Louis. Guess what my field work church was now in the process of doing? You guessed it, moving toward weekly communion.