I have been absent from this world for a while. I am preparing to leave Missouri and head to Illinois for a year on a vicarage assignment. I am hoping through the nest year I will be more faithful in corresponding what is transpiring in Staunton through this medium.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Meditation on Matthew 22

God is continually calling his people to listen to him and receive the wonderfully free gift of His Grace. We see this in our OT lesson where God calls his people Israel to a new covenant, which is based on the earlier Davidic covenant of Grace. God calls us freely to be his people and yet we are prone to bow down to earthly gods. We bow to earthly gods that ultimately have a higher price on our bodies and souls, and the gods themselves end up being nothing more than ashes and dust. We view this gracious call of God in our Gospel lesson. Jesus is teaching the pharisees by parables. What is taught about the kingdom of God by this parable in Matthew?
First, there is only one king.
Second, we must be invited. No invitation no admittance.
Third, there are two possible responses to this gracious invitation. We see from our OT lesson and the Gospel these responses. Messengers are sent with the gracious invitation of God to come and be his guests; we are left to believe the invitation is true and trust the one sending it or we ignore the invitation and turn to our work and perhaps kill the messengers.
In our Gospel lesson Jesus uses a parable to illustrate what the kingdom of God will be like, or perhaps it is better to say, what the “Reign/Rule of God” will be like. The reason we should not think of a kingdom is because the “Kingdom of God” is not a location. When we speak of the Kingdom questions arise like, “where is it” or “what is it” and we are left with puzzled looks and poor answers. No, we are better-off talking of the Reign of God.
The Reign of God is more clearly understood as an active thing not a location. Who is reigning? God. When is he reigning? Now. And, that is the point of the Gospel of Matthew. The Reign of God proclaimed by the Prophets and Judges of the OT is now on earth in the man of Jesus. Jesus is God and He is reigning. This makes the “Reign of God” a divine action that is accomplished through the words and deeds of Jesus and wherever they are present. And so, in light of this fresh teaching on the “Reign of God” we can take a look at the parable concerning the Reign of God with refreshed vision.
We have two parts in this parable. The first section deals with a people who ignore the invitations of God. They received previous invitation from the king. The king has sent messengers to remind them of the king's gracious invitation. But, the people ignore the invitation and turn to their own work, some of them even kill the kings messengers for reminding them of their invite. On account of their ignorance to the invitation they are destroyed.
The first section of this parable leave me a bit breathless, but this parable gets even better. As if the first parabolic punch were not damaging enough to the Pharisees, Jesus goes on to tell the second part of the parable. The first group is destroyed, which means they are no longer under the Reign of the God. However, God is not happy with an empty hall, in other words, he wants people in and under his reign, but he is in no way going to get them by force. So he drafts a new invitation of grace. One sealed and signed by the body and blood of His Son. He sends out more messengers with the invitation on the tips of their tongue.
The messengers are sent out into the streets to spread the invitations and gather everyone they can into the wedding hall. This invitation is so well recieved that the hall is filled with guests. This is where we find ourselves today. We are thrust into the middle of the parable story. We too have been gathered under the Reign of a king, our God, by hearing the gracious invitation of God and trusting it to be true. We are marked by the blood and body of this new invitation of Grace. We are in the kingdom and under Reign/Rule of God. We have been gathered in by the ordained servants of God who are still spreading the invitations of God from their lips. So, being people under the reign of God, or as it is called nowadays being the Church, let us take a closer look at what this church in the parable is like.
What do we see in verse 10? Servants sending out the invitation, good and bad being gathered with the result being a full wedding hall. Seems simple enough, at least until we apply a negative question, which is: what do we not see in verse 10? I hope this is not too confusing a question. But, if the people in the wedding hall are the ones living in and under the Reign of God, otherwise called the church, then we can learn a great deal of what the church, as the consecrated people of God, does not look like. So, what do you not see? (Pause)
I will tell you what I do not see and perhaps that will help us. I do not see divisions among the people in the hall. I do not see groups forming and bickering over carpet or hymnals. There is no finger pointing back and forth. There is no one complaining, wagging their head saying, “this church blah-blah-blah.” Something else I do not see, the gathered people bragging or complaining about the servant that gathered them. No servant is too arrogant, quiet, long-winded or introverted. I do not see those who have been gathered taking the place of the ordained servants. Perhaps we should keep that in mind in our evangelism efforts as a church. These are just a few of the things I do not see. And, do you know why I do not see them? Because there is only one King and Lord and when he comes he will have no tolerance or patience with any other “kings” or “lords.” Because when we “wear our own clothes” in the hall or thumb our nose at the gracious invitation of the king, we are telling Him, we rule ourselves and your Grace is not needed. And, when we communicate to the king that even though we are in his hall that we will have nothing to do with him ruling us, we see clearly why the Kingdom of God or the Reign of God is much more than a location.
The missdressed man from our parable is in the wedding hall of the king. He is in the right location we might think. We might say today, “we are in the church” this is the right location, isn't it? However, when the king comes what is very clear is that even though this one man is in the right place he is certainly not of the right Kingdom. No, he has established his own reign and rule in his life. We learn that his kingship and God's kingship are not compatible. And we are crushed to find that our kingship is much the same as the man in our parable. If we want to rule ourselves we thumb our noses at the invitation of God. We ignore his Grace and turn to our own ruling ways. Now, if there is one thing we have all observed in the reigns of unrighteous kings, presidents, and magistrates of this world it is that when one ruler comes into power he does his best to eliminate all opposition and subdue his enemies. How much more, then, will a righteous God who is our King and Lord cast out those who consider themselves to be kings of what God has made for them?
Beloved, there is not time to spare. The King is coming. He is on his way and the time is short before he will return to inspect the guests who have been gathered. Do not worry about gathering more people in if you yourselves are not wearing what is proper. Leave the gathering to Pastor Gleason, to Pastor Fritsche, and all those ordained servants who go forth from God to the streets. Do not take it upon yourselves to fix whatever you see wrong within the wedding hall or the church, it is not your house and therefore not your problem. God will come and clean house in his time, and that is bittersweet at best. Bitter because there are those among us who are not garbed in the proper attire, which is the righteousness of God that comes by Grace through faith. Sweet because the King is coming.
Beloved let us draw near to the Lord with a true heart. Let us look to the king for our healing. It does not come from any of us. The healing we need is that of the King, our Lord Jesus. Pastors will not fix what ails the church. You and I, the rabble who has been gathered in, we will not fix the church. It is only the maker of the church, the one who rules over it, the Lord, only He will fix her. By the forgiveness that comes through the Grace of God in the blood of Jesus we will be healed and restored to being the church. It will not be great campaigns, new evangelism models, or new pastors, it will only be the Blood of the King himself that heals the Church. That is why the Lord came. He came to make us right with him. He came to gather. He came to Reign.
Beloved the time is short. The king is coming. Let us prepare for his arrival by examining our hearts and minds. As people who have been freed from the reign of the devil by the blood of Christ let us examine our hearts and be ruled by God as guests and beggars He has no need for other kings. Repent, and return to God, the invitations of Grace have not yet ceased, the doors are not yet closed. Amen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What comes out of the heart?

I have had a great deal of interaction with the heart of commercial America recently. Jesus in Matthew tells us that it is what comes out of the heart that corrupts, not what enters through it. Words are, truly, the first things that pour forth and spill our of the heart. Therefore, the words that I have been hearing lately from commercial America have been hurtful, grating, greedy words. What am I to expect? Consumerism is dying when the consumer becomes despised. The customer has become a competitor when he demands right service from a producer, that is what I am experiencing. I am trying to take from the bottom line. I am growing weary of this all take and no give relationship we have.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Excerpt from Stark

I cam across this gem today in my prayers from Stark,

"Keep my heart to this one thing, that I fear thy name. Grant that this week I become more pious and godly, increasing in the knowledge and love of thee, and as I leave week after week behind me, so may my inward man grow, that when the last week of my life arrives, I may be assured of thy grace. Should this week prove a week of crosses, strengthen me by the Holy Spirit, that I may bear and overcome everything by thy powerful assistance. Be thyself my help, and my preserver from all trouble. Now I comment myself, body and soul, to thy fatherly protection, as all Christians should do."


Saturday, September 26, 2009

St. Michael and all Angels

I am excited about being able to read a Luther sermon tonight to the congregation. I was hit in the mouth by its potency. I hope people listen to the whole thing.

ON a different note; the October fest 5k Cassie and I have been preparing and training for is a week away. We are physically prepared as well as mentally prepared. WE are just in the process of trying to reduce our times for each mile.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Absolution and the Vicar

Thanks again to Pastor Brown and Meador for their input and insight into this area of discussion as well as the rest of us for feeling comfortable enough to share our insights and thoughts throughout this discussion. As well as the blessed men who have guided me through prayer and meditation.

This section will be a review of the circumstance that has brought this reflection and discussion into fruition. If you have followed the discussion all along then you might want to skip down a paragraph if not and you would like to have a greater grasp on what is being discussed, please read on.

This week a child was brought to me, he was heavy with guilt on account of a trespass committed at home. We discussed it, I led him into the sanctuary and we knelt together at the altar. He had no words for his confession so I opened him to the confession that is printed in the LSB. He acknowledged that the confession he had read was his own and according to his confession I proclaimed the Grace of God to him. (That is the short of it) I halted though because I felt a desire to proclaim to the child, “I forgive you all your sin, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus” but did not. I resisted because I believe that these words are given to the pastor according to the keys and authority given to him by the church. (Properly understanding the keys is critical and I thank Nathan, a classmate of mine from Concordia Austin, for the review in Lutheran Catechesis. So if anyone needs an explanation of “the office of the Keys” then look to the Small Catechism of Luther first, go to a local Lutheran Parish second, or call me if you have my number) So, I was unsettled because I wanted to remit him of his sin because I had compassion on him in his grief but was bound not to overstep the lines of authority which have been established for proper order of the church and for the care of souls. Now, back to the discussion…

I have read through all of the comments that have been posted and read through the confessions. I have talked to my Bishop, I have talked to Pastors who are around me daily who are wiser more learned men than I could hope to be in a lifetime and think that now I have a satisfactory presentation of “Absolution and the Vicar” which I hope challenges us in our thinking but more importantly our DOING. Here is my brief presentation (and it is important also to remember that as a vicar I am neither laity or Pastor, so my view will be different than that of a lay-man but I will try with all my might to make it so for the sake of the casual reader that might happen into the confines of this correspondence) thanks for all your patience and careful thought through all of this. I hope and pray this is for the mutual building up and education of us all, I know it has been for me, and perhaps a re-inforcer and refiner for others.

There are three realms that confession/absolution reign in and may be applied. These are not realms that you will find in a systematic or worship book, as far as I know and have read, but just three different areas of faith that the “sacrament” may be celebrated. I will begin with the one closest to the situation I have previously presented; between a penitent believer and a third party.

It is important to point out that the child in my story did not trespass against me, making me a third party in his story. I was the one asked to lead him in confession/absolution not being his father or mother. In this celebration of confession absolution I resolve that any lay-man not holding the authority of the Pastoral Office and the vicar alike absolve the sins of a third party in the form and fashion of that presented to us in Compline. In this confession and absolution the leader as well as the congregation confesses sin before Almighty God, the whole company of Heaven, and all gathered brothers and sisters of faith. Then the response is given in the third person asking that God forgive, remit, and pardon all sin. This is what Pastor J. Brown is talking about when he mentioned in his comment that I am left with a third person absolution. This is a declaration of Grace upon a penitent believer. This is where my tension stemmed forth on account of the literature I read.

I am being trained as a Pastor, like all vicars, and as a candidate we are being taught the necessity of a first person to second person dialogue in our speaking, Baptismal Speech, W. Willimon might put it and well as G. Forde. A speech that bears full authority to remit sins; as if it were God himself booking the declaration from heaven! That is why I think there was great tension. I am being trained to say words that I have not yet the authority to mutter. This might lead to a further discussion on the propriety of a third year vicarage. But, that is another topic altogether. Let us move onto what I label the second realm or celebration.

The second realm is what we see presented to us by Jesus in so many of his teachings concerning forgiveness; when a brother or a sister trespasses against me. In this celebration of confession/absolution there is nothing restraining me from using a first person to second person discourse in my absolution. If I am sinned against I will tell the trespasser, “I forgive you of all your sin by the command of Christ my Lord” or something to that effect. In this celebration there is nothing keeping a priest of the saintly priesthood from declaring full pardon. In-fact, we should hold fast to the command of Christ and forgive or else (Matt. 18:35). After this stern reminder from Christ let us move on to the third celebration of confession/absolution.

In the third celebration we see the richness of the Pastoral Office. Standing before a gathered crowd or a homebound soul the Pastor declares a first person to second person absolution in the stead of Christ and by his command. This absolution is authoritative to remit any sin committed. Not limited in only pardoning the sins committed to him in a first to second person setting or limited to grant only a third person absolution; the Pastor declares as if God were there in-front of the penitent, “I forgive You.” This is the Kerygmatic Public Ministry, if there is such a term. The declaration of First to Second person absolution which is bound by nothing because it is from God and not man, as my friend Shawn Barnett has pointed out so wonderfully. I should say make mention, the other celebrations of confession/absolution are also not bound for God in any way, and are powerful indeed, but as far as humanity we are bound by their form or the realm they are celebrated in.

A lay-man ought not to cross the lines of the Pastoral Office in celebrating absolution according to the third celebration I have mentioned above. In the same way, as we are being trained, a Pastor should not act as a lay-man in the pulpit. He ought to celebrate the full practice of this third celebration of absolution; using a first to second person correspondence between God and Man. “I forgive you all your sins!” This is the election of God and the full measure of his Grace which the church has authorized the Pastor to practice publicly, so let him practice it.

This brings into light the comment concerning the authorization of any person to hold the keys. I am not sure yet how to answer that and might take a few more days of looking, asking, praying, and reading to come up with a coherent response. Perhaps one of our other contributors might be able to sufficiently respond in less time.

If the question is, “could” the church authorize a man to perform absolution the answer is yes they could. Now, I think there are all kinds of other factors that come into play here. The question I have is, why does the church make use of its God given keys more often? Why don’t we gather sinners before the whole communion, confess, and then absolve as the body of Christ? I think Pastor Meador had an experience like this when he was visiting his current parish in Plymouth, WI. The communion gathered and forgave. That might also be a topic for another discussion/reflection.

I hope that you have endured through all of this. I hope that you have enjoyed it in some way. I pray that I have not been a stumbling block and that the devil and his evil angels keep away from these words and this discussion. Let us not be led astray and to divisions over words that we do not understand or agree. Let us, as brother, try to explain and teach simply, patiently, and calmly in love, so that the communion may be built up and the church protected. Pray that St. Michael and all the company of heaven be will us in battle against the evil one not taking his power for granted but reminding him of his defeat in Christ and lack of power over us. Let us practice and celebrate daily the richness of confession and absolution. As vicars let us pray to remain steadfast in our current vocations and not give into desire and temptation. As Pastors I pray that all you blessed men celebrate the Authority given to you by Christ through His Church to absolve by his Power and Might. As lay-men I pray that you/we would remain prayerful in our support of the Pastoral office not neglecting or becoming envious in anyway the position our Pastors have been granted.

I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear son, that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger, and that you would keep me this day from sin and every evil. That all my doings in life may please you. For into your hand I commend myself. My body and soul and all things. Let your holy angel be with me that the evil foe may have not power over me. Amen and Amen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Power of Private Confession and Absolution

A theft from a mothers purse and the subsequent fear of punishment weighted upon the chest. I know of only one relief, confession and absolution. However, do I, as a vicar have the authority to absolve of sin? It was not a random disciple that Jesus lectured on forgiveness but Peter. Or, does what Jesus said to Peter expand to the whole body of forgiven restore people as Jesus taught in a parabolic way using an unmerciful servant as an example, with the warning do it? I am left wondering because today I was confronted with a child who was suffering from the shame and guilt of trespass. He had no words to confess to God so of course I led him by the words given to us through the Apostles. I absolved him as he believed, that the forgiveness was of God and not man. I am just wrestling, in my short-lived vicarage career, with several incompatibilities that we seem fine in glazing over, like Augustana XIV, within our vicarage experiences. So I am asking the question, is the authority to remit/retain sins a key that all believers are given on account of their righteousness or rather a specific aspect of the Public Ministry handed down by the Spirit through Apostolic Succession?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mums and Morning Light

Light rays originating beyond our space and time somehow made the mums pouring out from our porch much more vibrant this morning. As if they were singing a morning prayer to their creator they beamed and saluted the radiance from above. I was stopped by them and reminded to sing a morning prayer to my creator as well because I am far more radiant than these small buds.