Archive for August, 2011

Sermon 11 Pentecost – August 28, 2010

Messiah Lutheran Church
The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS
August 28, 2011

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

We begin this week where we left off last week.
Jesus asks the disciples “who do you say that I am?”
Simon son of Jonah has confessed Jesus to be “Messiah, Son of the Living God,”
referring to him with the ancient titles of the King of Israel.
Jesus declares him right, and blessed; gives him a new name, Peter, and great promises.
But then he does something strange.
He orders the disciples to tell no one that he is the Messiah.

This doesn’t make sense.
After all, we are beginning our campaign season for next year.
If you want to be the President, or the Senator, or the Congressperson,
you start to tell everyone (well, at least everyone in Iowa and New Hampshire)
that you are the right person to be the President of the United States,
to turn the country around, to fix the problems and propose brilliant solutions
and unify the country again.
If you are in Judaea of the first century,
and one of your disciples says that you are the Messiah,
and you say, “You’re right,” then the next step is obvious.
Your disciples start telling everyone that you are the Messiah,
and everyone flocks to your banner,
and you get rid of everyone who oppose you,
and you expel the hated Romans from God’s country.
You lead a successful revolution.
This is the script that has been followed by
political and religious leaders of every age.
The only thing is, Jesus isn’t going to follow the script.

You see, Jesus is following another script.
He is following the script written by God,
which says that might doesn’t always make right,
that the ends do not always and perhaps do not ever justify the means,
and that the blood of those who are murdered in the name of progress,
or convenience, or religion, or hatred, cries out to God from the ground.
He is after bigger game than simply enemies domestic or foreign.
Jesus is hunting the biggest game of all –
the power of sin, which condemns us to separation from God,
the power of death, which dogs us our every waking moment.
Sometimes death is far from our minds
but sometimes it surrounds us and pervades our lives
so that even our life is a kind of living death.
So Jesus the King, God’s anointed one, tells the disciples that he goes to Jerusalem to die.
In the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus tells this story, the storyteller adds,
“He said this quite openly.” Matter-of-fact.
This should not be a surprise, a shock, or even something to get excited about.
But do the disciples ever get excited about it.
Death is the most powerful thing in the universe.
If Jesus dies, then their hope is gone, then God is not victorious,
then what shall happen to them?
And Peter, who has stood for the disciples in their confession of faith in Jesus as Messiah,
also stands for the disciples in their instantaneous rejection of Jesus’ pessimistic vision.

Peter gets a bad rap here.
We shouldn’t think that the rest of the disciples were there saying,
“Oh, I see, Jesus, that makes sense, you’re going to go get crucified, uh-huh, yeah,”
and Peter’s the only one who says, “Hey, hold on a minute!”
Peter speaks for all the disciples, just like he spoke for all of them
when he confessed Jesus the Messiah.
He speaks for us.
Because if we’re following him, and he takes up a cross,
then we take up a cross.
If he is hated, we are hated.
If he dies, we die.
Peter should be commended for having the guts to say what we’re all thinking.
He represents us, both in our faith, and in our unfaith.
The Church through the years has been the community of the people
who have embraced Christ’s call to the cross
and who have rejected him because of the cross.

Take up your cross and follow me, Jesus says.
What can this possibly mean for us?
It means that we do what we do for Jesus’ sake,
and not for our own.
It means that we give up what we give up for Jesus’ sake
and not for our own.
It means that we love others not for what they can do for us
but for who they are in Jesus’ eyes.
The disciples saw the pompous Pharisees and the imperious Romans
and the common folk that didn’t understand or didn’t care,
and they saw godless people.
Jesus saw them and saw people whom his Father had created,
whom he himself had come to buy back for his Father,
and to give them the Holy Spirit.
So he was willing to forgive them their sins,
to live with them, to endure their misguided hatred.
He calls us to that same willingness, to follow where he goes,
to live the way he lives, to hear his call that leads to death and life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his masterful spiritual work The Cost of Discipleship,
said this about taking up the cross:
it is losing one’s attachments to the world,
and serving others, including bearing with them and forgiving their sins.
As we at Messiah embark on the GROW! initiative,
which invites us to commit to faithful worship, seeking understanding,
and financial stewardship,
we find these challenges to be opportunities to take up the cross.
If we find ourselves spending more per month on entertainment,
on escape from reality,
than on the mission of the church,
we should draw the appropriate conclusions.
Jesus said in another place, “Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.”
No one is talking about going without food or shelter.
But we spend more on entertainment than on the mission of Christ.
If we find ourselves neglecting the worship of God on Sunday
or engagement with his Word
for the sake of purely personal concern or comfort,
we ought to be honest enough to draw the appropriate conclusions.
“Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.”
If we nourish anger and bitterness in our hearts
and cherish our independence from others more than our community with them.
we ought to draw the appropriate conclusions.
We have opportunities to take up our cross every day,
to follow Jesus, to be with Jesus,
so that he is the center of our life.

Taking up the cross is living for Jesus in a world that doesn’t want him.
We might want a Jesus who is going to help us out of our messes,
who is going to get rid of our problems with a wave of his hand,
who is going to give them us good things of this life,
but we certainly don’t want the cross.
But Jesus wants to give us his life,
eternal life,
the life that is not afraid of sin, death, and evil,
the life that lives in the midst of sin, death, and evil,
and yet clings to the unshakeable hope that God will be faithful to all his promises.
That’s eternal life now –
and eternal life hereafter will be to see God and the fulfillment of all his promises,
and to be freed from sin, death, and evil forever.

August 28, 2011 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

The need right now…

As those of you who are pastors or who work with the needy know, there is a lot of need right now. We are getting at least two calls a day with requests for help. Please pray for those who are having trouble putting food on the table, wondering how they are going to keep a roof over their head, stay healthy, or get school clothes for their children, and feeling guilt because their children are seeing other children vacation and be entertained. The most important are the first four, but the fifth is also tough to deal with. If God gives you opportunity, please reach out in whatever way you can.

August 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment

Sermon Pentecost 10 – August 21, 2011

As I preach this sermon,
many college students are back on campus or there for the first time.
Some of you work with these people or have worked with them.
Some of you are these people.
They are the young, the hopeful, the shy ones, the outgoing ones,
the rich ones, the poor ones,
the ones who know why they’re there
and the ones who don’t.
But they are there – coming from a certain place,
and moving towards a certain place,
all asking who they have been, and who they are,
and what they are going to be.

This is a key time in their lives.
At our most recent Youth Encounter event,
our speaker, The Rev. Jay Gamelin, was talking to junior-high
and high school students,
most of whom believe that college will be a great liberation
from boredom and routine.
Instead he had this to say about college:
“a four-year-long identity crisis.”
I doubt he was doing it to scare people away from going to school.
As a full-time campus minister at the Ohio State University,
he has a unique perspective on the possibilities and pitfalls of college life.
But many of you can see it too,
whether you’ve been to college or work at a college
or have a son or daughter in college.
At school, away from family and community and church,
young people have the opportunity to try on different and endless identities
from the ones they have been given.
Some of this can be positive, as young people can feel liberated
to discover more about themselves than they could before.
But some of this is negative, as in trying different identities
people become lost, or indeed begin to wonder if any identity is real,
if we simply have masks that we put on for different situations.
Perhaps the process begins before college begins.
I have my church life, my home life, my school life, my social life
my personal life that no one sees,
and I can put on masks and attitudes and different identities
depending on where I am and who I am with.
If you have been paying attention,
you have heard this before from this pulpit.
Why bring it up again?
Especially to a crowd of people
who are mostly not of college age?
Because our identifications,
who we say we are and who we say others are,
define our lives and what we do.
And as others identify us, so we start to think of ourselves.
Ever get one of those loan or credit in the mail
that identify you as a “preferred customer?”
Here’s the part of the sermon where I plug for Vince and Diane’s
presentation of Financial Peace University.
When someone calls you a preferred customer,
that makes you feel pretty good, doesn’t it?
Doesn’t matter that some people’s dogs have received mail
identifying them as “preferred customers,”
if you’re not aware of that,
you might feel pretty positive about the offer they’re making you.
Or that letter you got from AARP the other day, or five or ten years ago.
And suddenly you are a “senior citizen.”
How you’re identified, how you identify yourself and how you identify others,
changes the way you feel and think and how you act.

In Isaiah, the author urges the people
not to identify themselves with the Babylonians
who have them in captivity,
not to identify themselves as lost people whom God has forgotten,
but to identify themselves as Abraham and Sarah, their ancestors;
wanderers whom the LORD brought home,
those lost whom the LORD found.
those solitary two from whom the LORD brought forth a great nation.
The promises that the LORD fulfilled for Abraham and Sarah
he would certainly fulfill for them.
For those who believed, for those who “looked to the rock from whom they were hewn
and the quarry from whom they were dug,”
they were the ones who took the opportunity
to return to Jerusalem after Babylon had been conquered by a greater empire.
There were many Jews who stayed in Babylon.
There were only some who returned to their true identity.

In Romans, after eleven chapters of enraptured prose in praise of God,
Paul turns to the issue of identity.
Because of this God’s identity, this is who you are.
and this is your neighbor.
You are members of the body of Christ and indeed members of one another.
Paul identifies the members of the Roman church
based upon the identity of God in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, do not be conformed to how the world identifies you,
as producers or consumers, superstars or losers, those who matter and those who don’t,
be transformed into the image of Christ, and use your different gifts
in the service of him who bound us into one body.
Our doing is so closely related to our being that we can hardly imagine
one without the other.

And of course we cannot leave this sermon on identity without Jesus’ question:
“Who do you say that I am?”
Last week we heard of a Canaanite woman,
someone who was outside of the people of God,
someone who would be identified as a godless person,
address Jesus in terms of his kingly identity – “Lord, Son of David.”
Her identity is inexorably tied to who she names as her authority, as her source of life.
This is only logical.
After all, we have been born United States citizens,
but for whatever crazy reason we should wish to renounce our citizenship,
it would be possible.
Our identity is who we say we are and who we say others are.
It wouldn’t change the USA, but it would change us.
And so while it does not change who Jesus is one bit
no matter who anyone says he is,
it certainly makes a difference to us.
When Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,”
he does not need to say, “And I am your servant.”
If we call Jesus “Lord,” then we necessarily are committing ourselves
to be his servants, to listen to what he says, to do what he does.
The Church is the community of those who with St. Peter, call Jesus Lord,
who are identified as his in the Sacrament of Baptism.

At Ohio State University, at Pennsylvania College of Technology,
Lock Haven University, Mansfield University,
and on college campuses all over the nation,
people like Jay Gamelin, Sharon Comini of St Mark’s, Jeff Seeley of recent ,
Detlef Huckfeldt from St Michael’s,
and others like them will be calling arriving college students,
all searching for who they are,
to an identity based upon God’s identity in Christ.
They will call these students to affirm an inheritance already given
or announce to them an inheritance yet to be received.
they will call them to acknowledge an authority who has a claim
on what they think and say and do,
but who also calls them by name, saying, “You are part of my Church.”

This past week the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, strapped for cash,
announced a 38 percent reduction in grants for campus ministry.
Perhaps they were reading the last line of today’s Gospel –
“Then he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”
But maybe that’s not so much about the state of this particular Churchwide Assembly
as it is about the state of the Church.
Why talk about the identity crises students face on campus
when it doesn’t apply to us?
It does apply to us.
These are our children and our grandchildren and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The answer to Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am,”
cuts to the heart of our response to the needs on campus today,
and perhaps cuts to the heart of why our congregations are graying.
Whether the answer is heightened synodical funding
or engaging in local financial and personal support of our campus ministries
or praying for and staying in touch with those who are out there,
what we do, we do because of Christ and his Lordship.
Let us then pray in solidarity for those on campus who seek who they are,
that they may remember who they have been,
who they are now,
and who they shall always be:
children of God our Father, made known to us in the Messiah Jesus Christ,
Son of the living God.
So may they and we always stand, on the rock of this faith. Amen

August 21, 2011 at 10:18 am Leave a comment

Sermon August 14 – Pentecost 9A

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. –Matthew 15:21-28

My latest pet theory about the state of the world
involves the deficiency of its grammar.
Now this statement could get me in trouble.
For I have an intuitive sense of grammar.
I have learned to write well from seeing what is written well,
from trying things and failing until I find what is right.
On the other hand, Annette has a deductive sense for grammar.
She not only endured diagramming sentences in school,
but looked forward to it.
She enjoys a well-diagrammed sentence
as others enjoy a good cup of coffee or fine wine.

But grammar is important.
A comma can make a world of difference.
You’ve heard the joke about the bear who walks into a bar,
orders a sandwich, eats it, shoots a pistol into the air,
and walks out again.
One of the patrons said, “What was that all about?”
The bartender handed him an encyclopedia,
where he looked up the definition of a bear.
Under “diet,” he read, “Commonly eats(,) shoots(,) and leaves.”

But most sentences have a subject, a verb, and some kind of object.
Obviously, you don’t need to have an object.
A child comes home from school,
and his mother asks, “What did you do in school today?”
“I learned,” the child reply.
The obvious exasperated rejoinder would be “What did you learn?”
Most good sentences that communicate something have at least
a subject, a verb, and an object.
“I learned how to diagram a sentence,” the child says.
That leads to a more extended conversation.
“How did that go?” “It was boring.”

Many of our problems today may spring from this lack of awareness
that a sentence needs an object to make sense.
Take this sentence for example: “I believe.”
Grammatically correct, but not able to communicate much.
In what, or in whom, do you believe in?
This makes a world of difference.
“I believe in the full faith and credit of the United States government.”
That statement of faith has kept the economy going for many years.
It would be well if we might continue to place a limited, but substantial,
belief in such credit.
“I believe in music.”
Which music, and why?
And if the old saw is true about Nero fiddling while Rome burned,
why would one say that she believes in music?
“I believe in God.” Oh, very well, which God?
“All of them, or a non-specific one.”
That’s like saying, “I am married.” “To whom?”
“All of them, or a non-specific person.”
It’s a nonsensical statement.
Faith reaches out for an object, a specific object,
something in which to trust or someone in whom to trust.

But even God perhaps was not immune from indulging in grammatical subterfuge.
When God told Moses to tell the people of Israel
that he was to lead them out of Egypt,
Moses said, “Whom shall I tell them is leading them out of Egypt?”
God said, “I am who I am.”
This prevented the people of Israel from objectifying God too easily,
from making themselves the subject and God the object to be controlled.
But in Jesus Christ, God himself steps down into the world,
and becomes the object of faith for us human beings.

The problem with the Pharisees, law-abiding creatures that they were,
was not that they did not believe.
It’s that their belief was directed toward the wrong object.
Their belief was directed towards their keeping of the ritual
which had been passed down,
and it was to that ritual, that tradition, that they looked for salvation.
To put it another way, although believing the fact of God,
their trust was in their tradition – in themselves.

The woman of the outlands, however,
had no such tradition, no such pedigree, and certainly no such luxury.
Her daughter was tormented by a demon,
and she was confronted by the urgent need of the moment
and the arrival of the one who had been spoken of even outside the circles of his people,
even among the foreign peoples whom Jews hated.
But the Scripture foretold of the time
when people of every race and nation would be welcomed into God’s circle.
And so she was bold to put her faith and trust in this man, Jesus.
“I believe in you,” she is saying,
“I believe that you are Lord, that you can defeat the powers of evil, death, and sin,
I believe in you despite who I am, a foreigner, and who you are,
a member of God’s chosen people.”
I believe that you are the answer to my prayers.”
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me,” she cries,
using the words of a faithful member of God’s people.

“Woman, Great is your faith,” says Jesus.
That’s very nice.
but imagine if Jesus had said, “Wow, girl, you have mega-faith!”
And that’s exactly what he said.
The word for “great” in Greek is “mega.”
Faith in something is conceivable and perhaps attainable
but mega-faith, the faith which grasps and holds Jesus Christ
as the object of faith,
mega-faith which can only be inspired by the Spirit of God,
that’s the faith to which we are called.
The faith that holds the God of the universe as the answer to our deepest needs,
and yet does not seek to control that God or make him anything less than God.
Waiting upon Jesus’ word,
the woman displays the greatest of faiths
by not insisting upon her own worthiness,
by refusing to appeal to justice,
but simply asking for mercy; not the whole loaf,
but a crumbs-worth.
That is mega-faith.
Mega-faith is faith that does not seek to control,
but only entreats, only asks, only trusts
that here in this God revealed in Jesus Christ
faith finds its object.

We pray to God that this mega-faith would become our faith
today, tomorrow, and each day,
clinging to Jesus even in the darkest circumstances,
never doubting that though our healings be not instantaneous,
that our graspings seem to be as at empty air,
Jesus is indeed Lord,
victor over sin, death, and evil,
and that even as we grasp him as our Savior
he holds us in his arms as his own
and prays for us to the heavenly Father.
To the Father who answered his every prayer and kept every promise,
to the one who raised him from the dead,
Jesus says, “Behold your children who cry to you in faith.”

August 15, 2011 at 10:32 am Leave a comment

Review: Winston’s War: Churchill 1940-1945 by Max Hastings

Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945Winston’s War: Churchill, 1940-1945 by Max Hastings
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As I began this book, I wondered whether I should be using time on another Churchill book, as I had just finished “Franklin and Winston” by Jon Meacham. I needn’t have wondered. As he did with Nemesis and Armaggeddon, his fast-paced histories of the final years of WWII in Europe and the Pacific respectively, Hastings avoids both the Scylla of hagiography and the Charybdis of utter deconstruction as he chronicles Winston Churchill’s tenure as war Prime Minister of Great Britain.

While flawed in many ways and wrong on many things, Hastings sees Churchill as most acknowledge him to be, the indispensable man of World War II and the towering figure of the history of the twentieth century. He was so because he was the only Briton of the times whose imagination was still fired by war, although Hastings refutes the charge that WSC was bloodthirsty. Hastings makes the convincing case that no other Prime Minister could have possibly held out against Nazi Germany without having to succumb to the realistic prospect of a negotiated peace settlement which would have left Hitler undisputed master of the world’s future for an indeterminate period of time. WSC’s idealism, as opposed to a political realism, carried Britain through 1940 and 1941, until events that could not have been foreseen in June 1940 changed the course of history.

A more realistic Prime Minister might not have insisted on ill-fated British interventions in Greece in 1941, against sending the
capital ships Prince of Wales and Repulse into the Indian Ocean as an ill-fated “show of strength” against the Japanese, or in encouraging resistance movements in occupied Europe and committing British forces in ill-fated assaults on German-occupied islands in the Aegean in 1944. But, Hastings observes, if WSC had been been more timid, less willing to act, what would have been the consequences? Had he not been willing to risk defeat, for instance in Greece in 1941, would the West have been able to play a role in Greece in 1944 or beyond?

When Churchill’s idealism trumped his realism, there were often heavy consequences, but his idealism preserved the live option of Western democracy’s vitality in an age where Fascism and Communism were live options as well. While his idealism could not save Poland from Communism, nor restore the waning British Empire, it did play the crucial role in opening a future that, though very different from what he had hoped for, would at least not be dominated by Hitler’s Germany, and eventually would see the end of Stalin’s Communism as well.

Hastings consistently, and to my reading convincingly, debunks the idea that Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had what could be referred to as a “friendship.” Indeed, in reading “Winston’s War” after Meacham’s “Franklin and Winston,” one wonders how much wishful thinking went into Meacham’s book, or indeed whether the content of that book itself was wittingly or unwittingly contrary to the original idea.

It is tragic that William Manchester’s trilogy about Churchill, “The Last Lion,” went unfinished. It is romantic to think that with Hastings’s book, although it does not cover the final twenty years of Churchill’s life, the circle is complete. For although Manchester’s books are not in the select bibliography, one has the sense that Hastings would agree with Manchester’s assessment that Churchill was “The Last Lion,” the only man left in Britain who saw in Britain the “Land of Hope and Glory,” and for just enough time, made his country and the world believe as well.

View all my reviews

August 10, 2011 at 8:31 pm Leave a comment

Luther’s Large Catechism – Eighth Commandment


The Eighth Commandment.

254] Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

255] Over and above our own body, spouse, and temporal possessions, we have yet another treasure, namely, honor and good report [the illustrious testimony of an upright and unsullied name and reputation], with which we cannot dispense. For it is intolerable to live among men in open shame and general contempt. 256] Therefore God wishes the reputation, good name, and upright character of our neighbor to be taken away or diminished as little as his money and possessions, that every one may stand in his integrity before wife, children, servants, and neighbors. 257] And in the first place, we take the plainest meaning of this commandment according to the words (Thou shalt not bear false witness), as pertaining to the public courts of justice, where a poor innocent man is accused and oppressed by false witnesses in order to be punished in his body, property, or honor.

258] Now, this appears as if it were of little concern to us at present; but with the Jews it was quite a common and ordinary matter. For the people were organized under an excellent and regular government; and where there is still such a government, instances of this sin will not be wanting. The cause of it is that where judges, burgomasters, princes, or others in authority sit in judgment, things never fail to go according to the course of the world; namely, men do not like to offend anybody, flatter, and speak to gain favor, money, prospects, or friendship; and in consequence a poor man and his cause must be oppressed, denounced as wrong, and suffer punishment. And it is a common calamity in the world that in courts of justice there seldom preside godly men.

259] For to be a judge requires above all things a godly man, and not only a godly, but also a wise, modest, yea, a brave and hold man; likewise, to be a witness requires a fearless and especially a godly man. For a person who is to judge all matters rightly and carry them through with his decision will often offend good friends, relatives, neighbors, and the rich and powerful, who can greatly serve or injure him. Therefore he must be quite blind, have his eyes and ears closed, neither see nor hear, but go straight forward in everything that comes before him, and decide accordingly.

260] Therefore this commandment is given first of all that every one shall help his neighbor to secure his rights, and not allow them to be hindered or twisted, but shall promote and strictly maintain them, no matter whether he be judge or witness, and let it pertain to whatsoever it will. 261] And especially is a goal set up here for our jurists that they be careful to deal truly and uprightly with every case, allowing right to remain right, and, on the other hand, not perverting anything [by their tricks and technical points turning black into white and making wrong out to be right], nor glossing it over or keeping silent concerning it, irrespective of a person’s money, possession, honor, or power. This is one part and the plainest sense of this commandment concerning all that takes place in court.

262] Next, it extends very much further, if we are to apply it to spiritual jurisdiction or administration; here it is a common occurrence that every one bears false witness against his neighbor. For wherever there are godly preachers and Christians, they must bear the sentence before the world that they are called heretics, apostates, yea, seditious and desperately wicked miscreants. Besides, the Word of God must suffer in the most shameful and malicious manner, being persecuted, blasphemed, contradicted, perverted, and falsely cited and interpreted. But let this pass; for it is the way of the blind world that she condemns and persecutes the truth and the children of God, and yet esteems it no sin.

263] In the third place, what concerns us all, this commandment forbids all sins of the tongue whereby we may injure or approach too closely to our neighbor. For to bear false witness is nothing else than a work of the tongue. Now, whatever is done with the tongue against a fellow-man God would have prohibited, whether it be false preachers with their doctrine and blasphemy, false judges and witnesses with their verdict, or outside of court by lying and evil-speaking. 264] Here belongs particularly the detestable, shameful vice of speaking behind a person’s back and slandering, to which the devil spurs us on, and of which there would be much to be said. For it is a common evil plague that every one prefers hearing evil to hearing good of his neighbor; and although we ourselves are so bad that we cannot suffer that any one should say anything bad about us, but every one would much rather that all the world should speak of him in terms of gold, yet we cannot bear that the best is spoken about others.

Therefore, to avoid this vice we should note that 265] no one is allowed publicly to judge and reprove his neighbor, although he may see him sin, unless he have a command to judge and to reprove. 266] For there is a great difference between these two things, judging sin and knowing sin. You may indeed know it, but you are not to judge it. I can indeed see and hear that my neighbor sins, but I have no command to report it to others. Now, if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than his. But if you know it, do nothing else than turn your ears into a grave and cover it, until you are appointed to be judge and to punish by virtue of your office.

267] Those, then, are called slanderers who are not content with knowing a thing, but proceed to assume jurisdiction, and when they know a slight offense of another, carry it into every corner, and are delighted and tickled that they can stir up another’s displeasure [baseness], as swine roll themselves in the dirt and root in it with the snout. 268] This is nothing else than meddling with the judgment and office of God, and pronouncing sentence and punishment with the most severe verdict. For no judge can punish to a higher degree nor go farther than to say: “He is a thief, a murderer, a traitor,” etc. Therefore, whoever presumes to say the same of his neighbor goes just as far as the emperor and all governments. For although you do not wield the sword, you employ your poisonous tongue to the shame and hurt of your neighbor.

269] God therefore would have it prohibited, that any one speak evil of another even though he be guilty, and the latter know it right well; much less if he do not know it, and have it only from hearsay. But you say: 270] Shall I not say it if it be the truth? Answer: Why do you not make accusation to regular judges? Ah, I cannot prove it publicly, and hence I might be silenced and turned away in a harsh manner [incur the penalty of a false accusation]. “Ah, indeed, do you smell the roast?” If you do not trust yourself to stand before the proper authorities and to make answer, then hold your tongue. But if you know it, know it for yourself and not for another. For if you tell it to others, although it be true, you will appear as a liar, because you cannot prove it, and you are, besides, acting like a knave. For we ought never to deprive any one of his honor or good name unless it be first taken away from him publicly.

271] False witness, then, is everything which cannot be properly proved. 272] Therefore, what is not manifest upon sufficient evidence no one shall make public or declare for truth; and, in short, whatever is secret should be allowed to remain secret, or, at any rate, should be secretly reproved, as we shall hear. 273] Therefore, if you encounter an idle tongue which betrays and slanders some one, contradict such a one promptly to his face, that he may blush; thus many a one will hold his tongue who else would bring some poor man into bad repute, from which he would not easily extricate himself. For honor and a good name are easily taken away, but not easily restored.

274] Thus you see that it is summarily forbidden to speak any evil of our neighbor, however, the civil government, preachers, father and mother excepted, on the understanding that this commandment does not allow evil to go unpunished. Now, as according to the Fifth Commandment no one is to be injured in body, and yet Master Hannes [the executioner] is excepted, who by virtue of his office does his neighbor no good, but only evil and harm, and nevertheless does not sin against God’s commandment, because God has on His own account instituted that office; for He has reserved punishment for His own good pleasure, as He threatens in the First Commandment,-just so also, although no one has a right in his own person to judge and condemn anybody, yet if they to whose office it belongs fail to do it, they sin as well as he who would do so of his own accord, without such office. For here necessity requires one to speak of the evil, to prefer charges, to investigate and testify; 275] and it is not different from the case of a physician who is sometimes compelled to examine and handle the patient whom he is to cure in secret parts. Just so governments, father and mother, brothers and sisters, and other good friends, are under obligation to each other to reprove evil wherever it is needful and profitable.

276] But the true way in this matter would be to observe the order according to the Gospel, Matt. 18:15, where Christ says: If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. Here you have a precious and excellent teaching for governing well the tongue, which is to be carefully observed against this detestable misuse. Let this, then, be your rule, that you do not too readily spread evil concerning your neighbor and slander him to others, but admonish him privately that he may amend [his life]. Likewise, also, if some one report to you what this or that one has done, teach him, too, to go and admonish him personally, if he have seen it himself; but if not, that he hold his tongue.

277] The same you can learn also from the daily government of the household. For when the master of the house sees that the servant does not do what he ought, he admonishes him personally. But if he were so foolish as to let the servant sit at home, and went on the streets to complain of him to his neighbors, he would no doubt be told: “You fool, what does that concern us? 278] Why do you not tell it to him?” Behold, that would be acting quite brotherly, so that the evil would be stayed, and your neighbor would retain his honor. As Christ also says in the same place: If he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. Then you have done a great and excellent work; for do you think it is a little matter to gain a brother? Let all monks and holy orders step forth, with all their works melted together into one mass, and see if they can boast that they have gained a brother.

279] Further, Christ teaches: But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. So he whom it concerns is always to be treated with personally, and not to be spoken of without his knowledge. 280] But if that do not avail, then bring it publicly before the community, whether before the civil or the ecclesiastical tribunal. For then you do not stand alone, but you have those witnesses with you by whom you can convict the guilty one, relying on whom the judge can pronounce sentence and punish. This is the right and regular course for checking and reforming a wicked person. 281] But if we gossip about another in all corners, and stir the filth, no one will be reformed, and afterwards when we are to stand up and bear witness, we deny having said so. 282] Therefore it would serve such tongues right if their itch for slander were severely punished, as a warning to others. 283] If you were acting for your neighbor’s reformation or from love of the truth, you would not sneak about secretly nor shun the day and the light.

284] All this has been said regarding secret sins. But where the sin is quite public so that the judge and everybody know it, you can without any sin avoid him and let him go, because he has brought himself into disgrace, and you may also publicly testify concerning him. For when a matter is public in the light of day, there can be no slandering or false judging or testifying; as, when we now reprove the Pope with his doctrine, which is publicly set forth in books and proclaimed in all the world. For where the sin is public, the reproof also must be public, that every one may learn to guard against it.

285] Thus we have now the sum and general understanding of this commandment, to wit, that no one do any injury with the tongue to his neighbor, whether friend or foe, nor speak evil of him, no matter whether it be true or false, unless it be done by commandment or for his reformation, but that every one employ his tongue and make it serve for the best of every one else, to cover up his neighbor’s sins and infirmities, excuse them, palliate and garnish them with his own reputation. 286] The chief reason for this should be the one which Christ alleges in the Gospel, in which He comprehends all commandments respecting our neighbor, Matt. 7:12: Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

287] Even nature teaches the same thing in our own bodies, as St. Paul says, 1 Cor. 12:22: Much more, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary; and those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. No one covers his face, eyes, nose, and mouth, for they, being in themselves the most honorable members which we have, do not require it. But the most infirm members, of which we are ashamed, we cover with all diligence; hands, eyes, and the whole body must help to cover and conceal them. 288] Thus also among ourselves should we adorn whatever blemishes and infirmities we find in our neighbor, and serve and help him to promote his honor to the best of our ability, and, on the other hand, prevent whatever may be discreditable to him. 289] And it is especially an excellent and noble virtue for one always to explain advantageously and put the best construction upon all he may hear of his neighbor (if it be not notoriously evil), or at any rate to condone it over and against the poisonous tongues that are busy wherever they can pry out and discover something to blame in a neighbor, and that explain and pervert it in the worst way; as is done now especially with the precious Word of God and its preachers.

290] There are comprehended therefore in this commandment quite a multitude of good works which please God most highly, and bring abundant good and blessing, if only the blind world and the false saints would recognize them. For there is nothing on or in entire man which can do both greater and more extensive good or harm in spiritual and in temporal matters than the tongue, though it is the least and feeblest member.

August 8, 2011 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

Sermon Pentecost 8 – August 7, 2011

Elijah in the cave.
The disciples in the boat.
All of them are rocked by storms that are not of their own making,
or of their own controlling,
or of their own imagination.
Elijah is in the cave
because he is hiding from the murderous Queen Jezebel –
the disciples because they cannot cross the dangerous lake
without buttoning themselves up inside its protective cocoon.
But when chaos breaks out,
threatening to overwhelm their protection,
it is then that God proves himself master of chaos.
God comes to Elijah at Horeb,
and reveals himself as the God of a sheer silence – peace,
the one who tamed the chaos of creation
and brought a world of order into being.
Jesus comes to the disciples on the sea of Galilee,
not being swallowed up by the chaos
but revealing himself as the God who tamed the chaos of creation
and brought a world of order into being.
And Elijah, and the disciples, are left – speechless.
All Elijah’s protestations of being abandoned by God are stilled.
All the disciples fearful cries are silenced
and their frantic strugglings go limp
as Jesus stills the storm in their midst.

Our God is a God who saves in the midst of the storm.
Here is good news for all people.
And yet we turn these texts around so quickly into making them about our action,
a lesson we can learn about how to live our lives better
or to more purpose.
We should have more faith.
We should meditate more often, seeking God in silence.
If we really had faith and did not doubt, we could walk in water, or move mountains,
or heal people simply with a touch, or some such other thing.
That’s not what these stories are about.
They are about us only insofar as they are about God.
They are about us because they are about the God who has to do with us,
who lives with us in the storms which furiously assail us.

These stories are not instruction manuals about what to do
when caught in a storm at sea
or attacked by an enemy not of one’s own choosing.
They are stories that form us as characters in God’s story,
as the people with whom God has to do.

I’ve been reading several books lately about Winston Churchill,
the famous prime minister of Great Britain
who led his people through the dark days of World War II.
He was animated and thrilled and inspired by the stories he was told as a child,
about the purpose and greatness of England,
about its role in world history,
about its indomitable nature – now there is an English word –
and at the moment of decision it was not he who acted from and for himself
but from what he had been formed to be for others.
And thank God he knew those stories,
stories from English history and also from the Bible.
And others knew them as well.

Caught in the jaws of the Nazi armies in 1940,
a desperate seaborne evacuation of the British army was underway from Dunkirk, France,
across the Channel coast to England.
From the white cliffs of Dover the watchers could see a Morse Code message
flashing over and over from the embattled French Coast.
The repeated message: “But if not.”
And with chills running down their spine,
the watchers recognized the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
as they were threatened by the fiery furnace:
“If our God is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace,
well and good.
But if not: be it known to you, O King, that we will not worship your gods
and we will not worship the golden statue you have set up.

The world is full of stories from the Bible
and extrabiblical sources which form us and shape us
into ideas of who God is, who we ought to be
and what we ought to do.
Not as foolproof methods of escape,
for often these stories lead to sacrifice,
but as character studies.
Today the best may be found in fantasy – The Wrinkle in Time series, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia
– all of them stories in which ordinary people are called with their flaws and their fears
to look beyond themselves and those fears and flaws to a world and a life
where all is at peace and at rest.

We as an American people used to be full of these stories.
George Washington’s honesty.
Paul Revere’s ride.
Rosa Parks’s resistance.
And yes, the stories of Daniel and Elijah and Jesus.
Unfortunately, in some places at least,
there seems to have been decisions made that say to teach children these stories in school
is to give them a false impression of what is real,
to indoctrinate them into false conceptions of heroism,
when the truth is far more complicated.
For Washington wasn’t a great general, and certainly didn’t chop down a cherry tree.
Paul Revere was a complicated and not always heroic man,
and yes, Rosa Parks planned her act of civil disobedience –
it wasn’t just a matter of a tired woman saying enough is enough.
But do we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater?
Do we need to say that nothing is true?
We need to embrace these stories with a critical realism,
and to say that they point to a heroism and a development of character
which ought to form ourselves much more than the open dismissal
of any value other than the value of self-promotion and self-enrichment.
For we are real people who are called upon to deal with God.
We are real, flawed, yet called people who provide free clothing for others,
many of whom will never set foot in the halls of this worship space.
Who cares?
We are real, flawed, yet called people who provide food, shelter, and love
to those who are also real, flawed, and yet called people,
who may or may not be able to make it to live independently.
We are real, flawed, and yet called people who preach and teach and believe the Gospel
and yet who struggle with doubts and demons not of our choosing.
And we need these stories of others like us who dealt with the same God –
Elijah at the moment of his greatest triumph fearful for his life
and yet called to stand before before God’s presence.
Peter walking towards Jesus on the water
and failing because he was full of doubt and fear – remind us of anyone?

"Lord, save me!"

And we can be formed in the language of need:
“Lord, save me!”
and the language of doxology, the language of praise:
“Truly, you are the Son of God.”
The Holy Spirit works through the Word,
the Word that proclaims God’s faithfulness again and again
in spite of our unfaithfulness and our failures.

So let us pray that by this Word today
and by the Word that must shape our lives,
we would be formed into people who depend on the Word for our very lives.
Let us pray to be Elijah and Peter who call to the Lord for help,
and who are delivered in ways in which we cannot imagine.
Let us pray to be the people of the Word,
the people saved by the God we did not choose,
but who chose us in Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

Heavenly Father, come to us and overwhelm us not with thunder and lightning, with wind and storm, but with the silence and calm that is the givenness of your peace. In that silence, allow us to know who you are and who we are in your sight, and command us to our tasks, that we may be your willing lips, feet, and hands in the world. In the silence, we rejoice in your call to us.
Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

Make bishops, pastors, parents, and teachers to live in your Word, to share the stories of salvation, and to themselves be formed as your disciples. In the silence, we pray for those who speak the Gospel and those who hear. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember that we are to be caretakers of this earth, out of which we were born, and to which we return. Make us your good stewards of the earth, the sky, all waters and every living thing, both honoring and preserving your creation.
Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

We pray for the restoration of trust in our Constitutional form of government, and for the renewal of the stories which make our people a people who bring honor to you. In the silence, we pray for our President, Congress, courts, state and local officials, and for those who protect us. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Our fragile lives need your constant attention, your Holy Spirit, and your healing, over and over again. Teach us to cry continually, Lord, save me, Lord, save us, and lead us to the doxology, those words of praise: You are the Son of God. In the silence, hear us as we name those whose needs are known only to us.

We thank you for those who have gone before us, who know the haven of rest, the sanctuary from which no enemy will assail them, no storm will disquiet them. As we approach your sanctuary, and receive the bread and wine of Jesus’ own presence, fill us with your peace and your strength, that we like Elijah, Paul, Peter, and all your faithful may know ourselves to be your children. In the silence, we pray for the resurrection of our lives and the life of the world to come.

August 8, 2011 at 10:35 am Leave a comment


August 2011
« Jul   Sep »

Posts by Month

Posts by Category