"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Transitional Times?

 IN EARLY July of ‘59, I was planning to celebrate the 4th with hamburgers, roasted corn and watermelon. The echo of firecrackers and cherry bombs had already started. Everyone who had taken a long holiday vacation was already hyped. Even with all this, I had been busy that early morning throwing hay bales to feed the dairy cows where I worked. I had just picked up my favorite three-pronged pitchfork, getting ready to distribute the feed, when a phone call surprised me.
 The old rotary-dial phone in the barn’s milk house almost never rang. Maybe that’s why the receiver blared its Ma Bell yodel loudly for at least a full minute before I ran in to pick up the call. I blathered a bit as I answered, not quickly saying in the mouthpiece what the official name of the farm was... in any business-like manner. I simply said, “Hello”.
 On the other end of the line was my father. Dad said that he wanted me leave work for a while to go to a funeral viewing. He said that it was important. After he'd stated the time of the gathering, I took the wisp of Timothy hay from my mouth and used the stem to calculate on the wall how long it would take. Certainly, I had to go home, take a bath so I wouldn't stink of barn, and dress in something suitable to attend the viewing… and then get back to do the afternoon milking. Though I’d just flunked high school algebra once again because of missing too many school classes to milk cows, I figured that there was plenty of time to go.
 I said, “Okay dad, where shall we meet.”
Arrangements were quickly made between us. We’d get together in front of the residence where the viewing was to take place.
 Right at high noon, I stood somewhat sheepishly in front of the house as my dad drove up in a super-clean, black ’59 Ford sedan. The car still had a holiday US flag flying from the windshield antenna. Dad was dressed in a well-tailored suit that I’d never seen on him. It was his Navy uniform. My father had been a lanky sailor who had drowned my mother’s heart with love after his tour in WW2 was over. He stood tall when wearing his formal Navy uniform. It was firmly starched. The bell bottom pants were neatly pressed. His shoes sparkled.

Once out of the car, he checked his uniform. Then, as soon as he came close to me, he sniffed. He wanted to be sure there was no cow manure smell that lingered. Dad then reached up and smoothed my hair. My father had dressed carefully, even somewhat religiously… before driving the car down from a funeral home in a nearby town. So he wanted me to look good as well. He said he was helping his friend who was the funeral director.
 Dad said to me softly, “You might need to help carry the casket out of the house. There may not be a lot of people here. I think it might be a fine thing for us to do, since this young fella went to your school just a couple of years ago.”
 Really? I said. He answered my puzzlement by telling me that the young man was a soldier who had been killed-in-action overseas. When dad mentioned the name, I immediately knew who he was. A few years older than myself, Kenny had graduated high school and entered the military in ’57. I only knew him by the car he had driven. His choice Ford two-door had been a regular at the fire company dances. His girlfriend Mary lived just across the street from the house where we stood helping to officiate at the funeral. Yes… I did remember Kenneth.
 Certainly Ken was a well-known boy. He played on almost all the high school sports teams. To this day, I am amazed as I consider his marvelous intellect, since he held grades that would make a bottle rocket seem to fizzle. He was a trim guy who was always in great physical shape. He seemed determined to become more than an everyday hay chucker working a dairy herd. Indeed, Ken had worked very hard to stand tall as an Army Ranger. I admired him for that.
 Admiration for him was what I felt as I attended that funeral so many years ago. It was hot in the living room, for it was early July. A small group of people had already gathered. They looked and nodded to us as we entered the room. The deceased young man was laid out as nicely uniformed, with a snazzy weaved rope laced around his shoulder. His uniform was sharply tailored and his chest was adorned with medals. Though his eyes had been closed by death, it seemed his firmly placed jaw still held a seriousness of military duty.
 My father joined me in front of the casket to pay our respect. I asked, “Why did he die?”
  “We don’t know much.” he responded. My father simply said, “He was killed overseas, shot by someone in a place called Viet Nam.”
 I’d never heard of that mysterious place back then. As many can now attest, the years ahead would teach me. Within the next year I found myself also in military uniform. By happenstance, I served our nation in what was called a peaceful time. However, I know now better… that there is no such thing as a peaceful time. Our unit got fully involved in the Cuban Crisis.
 I know for certain now… as the ‘60s rolled on, I occasionally remembered that particular funeral. I still recall it with a bit of pain. I thought about Kenneth when the bombers I helped to maintain stared down the hostilities raised against our nation during the Crisis. I remember today with my mind’s eye that weaved rope that was laced around Ken’s shoulders. Its threads joined together men and women who have served, some who had given everything for the defense of others. I think now of those who are woven and bound, and stand the wall even yet.
 I know that my heart was struck at the time of the funeral, not by the somberness in the heat of the day, but by what seemed to be a lack of recognition. There was no official honor guard; only a few men like my father had come from the local veteran’s club. There was no twelve gun salute though firecrackers still popped. Kenneth was buried quietly in a grave far removed from Arlington, almost as if there was a power that did not want it known that he was to be missed.
 I thought of these missing markers as I opened the Holy Bible recently to help finalize my study and preparations for a sermon. The message is to be delivered on this Sunday after the 4th of July. Maybe it was the reports of firecrackers that reminded me again of a great text containing the words of my Lord…

 “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” 
                                                                                                          (John 15:13)

  Those words reminded me to remember Kenneth here. I know that they were spoken to our Lord’s disciples just before he, even knowing what dangers lay ahead, prepared to go to Jerusalem. There he was to be crucified. The difference between Jesus and Kenneth, however, is that Jesus was completely without sin. Most of all, Jesus knew beforehand that he would be killed. Still… he went.
 By doing so, the sinless Son of God known to us as Jesus the Christ, showed us that he is certainly the Way. According to blessed John's gospel, who made the record of our Lord’s speaking, Jesus chose his path of personal sacrifice. He demonstrated the cross as the way for us to get into the heavenly rest. It was a path set down by his Father that has since been marched, either deliberately or inadvertently now by many of God’s servants for several millennia. Jesus sacrificed his life. His death paid the penalty for those faithful who cannot but painfully live and die while doing war.

Today then, even as the smoke of holiday celebration rolls up to heaven in this wondrously free land, I offer thanksgiving for Jesus’ footsteps trod to the cross. I can’t help but think of military uniforms. Miraculously I am reminded of that rope woven of pure love that Kenneth wore in death. That rope ties the good and brave together. I stand reminded that very likely… when the roll of salvation shall be finally called… faithful young Kenneth will be there.

Please be invited to watch this video...

Blessings to You and Yours!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Nudging Newbies!

Sometimes the Christian Church needs to spend less effort in deciding what human being is going to be a leader, and be praying about those who do not yet know our Lord...

If you've heard, you should know the Truth

Friday, June 23, 2017

Shake It Up or Shake It Off?

IN A recent move, the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has voted to place certain redemption language on the shelf whenever they are communicating in the wider religious world. The Synod has approved a resolution for national discussion of this tact, to be presented and voted on at this year's nationwide ELCA assembly. This move offers the ecumenical thrust that when working with persons of the Jewish and Muslim faith expressions, the bringing others to the person of Jesus Christ shall not be mentioned. This stance is to be held in spite the clear biblical mandate from Jesus to preach, teach and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Obviously, this action now approved by the New England Synod, soft-pedals our faith and places the already apostate ELCA farther out of historic and traditional Christian heritage, and moves them closer toward cultivating a rampant religious universalism.

Here below is the text of the motion placed and approved ( I have noted in bold typeface the text that is in my opinion, the most contentious )

Resolution for New England Synod Assembly
 June 2017

Whereas the evangelical mandate of Christ to his apostles in Matthew 28:18-20 calls us to make
his teaching and presence known throughout this earth's nations
1; and  

Whereas the discipleship and gospel entailed in that Great Commission is obscured and diminished if the dissemination of its witness is thought of as exclusively intended for or achieved in the conversion of others to Christianity; and… 

Whereas Christian discipleship and witness bids us reach out with a love that not only gives account of our faith but also genuinely values and respects our neighbors; and…

Whereas the current wording of the ELCA Constitution in C4.02b and its parallels in the model
synod and congregation constitutions ("reaching out to all people to bring them to faith in
Christ") can too easily be heard to narrow the definition and motivation of our outreach and stand as a contradiction of the good faith of witness; and…

 Whereas the ELCA has declared itself "committed to fostering unity among the children of God for the sake of the world;” 2 and, 

Whereas in the Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community (adopted by the ELCA Church Council, April 18, 1994) we officially expressed "our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people” and offered “prayer for the continued blessing of the Blessed One upon the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and the Jewish community;” and, 

Whereas in the ELCA’s Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations we affirm that “encounter with living and faithful Judaism can be profoundly enriching for Christian self-understanding;” and..,

Whereas in the ELCA’s Guidelines for Christian-Muslim Relations we affirm that “the Gospel of
Jesus Christ calls Christians to mutual understanding and friendship with Muslim people in the
United States and around the world. By learning about Islam and seeking opportunities to know
Muslim people better, we bear witness to God’s saving love incarnate in Jesus;” and

 Whereas “the Scriptures have no single teaching about the relationship between the people of the
covenant and those who practice other religions;” 3 and

 Whereas "reaching out to all people to bring them to faith in Christ" goes beyond the previous C4.01 which states that "The Church is a people created by God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, called and sent to bear witness to God’s creative, redeeming, and sanctifying activity.

1 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

3 Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves: A Lutheran Calling in a Multi-Religious World
in the world," we are called and sent to bear witness, not to "bring" which is the work of the Holy Spirit; and,

 Whereas Martin Luther teaches in the Small Catechism that we believe that we cannot by our own “understanding or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him, but that the Holy Spirit calls us through the Gospel;” and,

 Whereas Martin Luther’s theology of the cross calls into question all human efforts to speak with certitude about the pathways of God; and

 Whereas in the light of the growing positive and rich multi-faith engagement of the 21st century, we have come to a new humility about the question of God’s relation to other religions:

Be it resolved that the New England Synod memorialize the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to initiate a process to amend the phrase “bring all people to faith in Christ” in C4.02b and its constitutional parallels in order to achieve greater consonance with both our understanding of Christian witness and sensitivity to our interfaith contexts. And,

Be it further resolved that the resources of the ELCA enlist and consult its teaching theologians,
Bishops, and other leaders in the drafting of such an amendment for consideration at its
subsequent CWA.

Submitted by: Pr. Ross Goodman Pr. Donald Larsen Pr. John Stendahl

+ + +

 As an ordained clergy of the North American Lutheran Church, who formerly served in ELCA congregations, I find this memorial offering to be part of the demonic, liberal and progressive slide that has infected the ELCA for several decades. We as the Church are not just called to rightly proclaim God's Word, but to baptize and teach. Therefore I ask, "Is it loving to cease evangelical declaration that leads to baptism, so that persons tend to continue in their scattered, lost and condemned state? Is it right to allow them to remain in jeopardy, without providing a road map to salvation?"
 To offer others less than the Truth in ecumenical dialog is to shelf the exclusive righteousness of Jesus Christ and his deeds upon the cross for our salvation.  As well, to reduce the Holy Spirit's work as a category that can only occur after Christian witness is an absurdity and folly. The Spirit of God works as it wills. We cannot put Jesus our Lord on a shelf, only to call him down when convenient; and we cannot restrict his Spirit. We have been told by scripture that the Spirit will work for and with us through the Word and the Sacraments, but we cannot put the breath of God on a leash. I say to you that by grace, we of the Church were called by God through Christ Jesus... to witness in the world and work diligently in the Spirit to convert persons into the Christian faith.