Thursday, July 9, 2020

Masks Might Be Stupid...But You Are Bound as Christians to Wear Them (If Your Authorities Say So)

I think masks might be stupid. As an American, it seems absolutely contrary to the idea of a free nation that I should be forced to live as some sort of modern-day leper, moving about as though I might infect anyone I come within the magical six-foot radius of contact. There are "experts" that say wearing a mask reduces the transmission of COVID-19. But what we've been told by "experts" seems to contradict what the same "experts" told us previously. As a freedom-loving patriot, I want to reject the tyranny that tells me how I must live my life in such a restrictive fashion.

But before I'm an American, I am a Christian. I'm a person claimed by God in the waters of Holy Baptism, joined to Jesus Christ and redeemed by His holy, precious blood. As a Christian, I am bound to heed the Word of God and live according to the standards It sets forth. That means I have to, at times, set aside what seems good and decent to me as an American. In far too many cases, many of us who consider ourselves to be conservative-minded and liberty-loving have conflated being American with being a Christian. We have equated American democracy with Biblical Christianity, thinking that as Christians we are promised by God that we should have religious liberty and access to all the rights that our Declaration of Independence and Constitution guarantee.

By all means, fight for those things. Speak your mind, go to the ballot box, and strive to elect those who will allow you to pursue "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." I promise you that's how I will go to the polls this year...yes, even if it means voting for the current occupant of the White House.

I'll be the first in line. Being forced by tyrannical politicians to wear a mask seems asinine.  Rather than ordering the distancing and mask-wearing of the healthy, why aren't we ordering the sheltering-at-home of the elderly and immunocompromised? Why are we even considering not letting kids back into schools when the 67,000 members of the American Association of Pediatricians are urging us to resume classroom instruction?

Still, you would have to do some serious interpretive gymnastics to convince me that an order to wear a mask somehow forces you to violate the command we've been given in Acts 5:29, that "we must obey God rather than men." For the past four months, I've been trying to figure out how to strike the balance between those words from Acts and what St. Paul says in Romans 13:

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." (Romans 13:1-2, ESV)

Gathering together for worship? Can't not do that. We're commanded by God to do so. (Hebrews 10:25)

Singing praises to the Lord? Sorry, Gavin Newsom. (Psalm 96:1-2, Ephesians 5:19)

The only qualification that Holy Scripture gives us regarding the command to being "subject to our authorities" is that we never let the commands given to us by man stand in the way of our obedience to God. While I detest being told by politicians who would rather shut the doors of our churches and steal our tax dollars to fund the murder of the unborn and pay for gender reassignment surgeries how I should live my life from day to day, being told "wear a mask" isn't religious persecution when it's being applied evenly across the board. And it in no way prevents me from "obeying God rather than men."

So I'm wearing my mask. Even if it's stupid. Even if it's "unAmerican." I'm wearing my mask because the Word of God compels me to do so. And the Lord God will work through our matter who wins in matter what party they belong matter what may come.

"He is God's servant for your good." (Romans 13:4a) Even if what he/she tells you that you must do is stupid.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

New Podcast from Lutheran Public Radio

Along with tomorrow being (properly) Reformation Day, it's also the debut of a new podcast from Lutheran Public Radio (Issues, Etc.). "The Word of the Lord Endures Forever" is a Bible study hosted by Pastor Will Weedon.

If you've never listened to Pastor Weedon before, you'll want to give him a listen. Not only is his knowledge of the Biblical text profound...he talks about the Christian faith with an energy and passion that is infectious.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Season of Death Is Upon Us (Already)

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1, ESV)

I hate winter. Let me rephrase that with a stronger word. I detest winter. I will tolerate snow until Christmas. But then it can just go away.

Living in the Upper Peninsula means having to deal with your fair share of the white stuff. Every year we play a little game called "Can We Make It Without Snow Until After Halloween?" This year, we were losers. We've been losers before. I recall several Halloweens where my $10 plastic costume from Shopko with the paper mask whose string always broke before lunch hour was stretched and ripped over snow pants, winter jackets, hats, gloves, and boots as we hopped in Mom's car to go trick-or-treating. (We lived in the country ... we had to be driven from driveway to driveway.)

The powder of death...the non-Narcos variety

There are lessons to be learned with every harsh winter that falls upon the U.P. ... and wherever else it may happen to fall. Solomon is right when he says "For everything there is a season." But sometimes those seasons of death ... plucking up ... killing ... breaking down ... weeping ... mourning ... they come sooner than expected. You know that there will always be death and grief. You know that there will be times in life that are filled with sorrow. Yet even though we know that they will come, they still manage to sneak up on us. Like a wintry covering over the leaves that have yet to be raked.

I envy the people who delight in winter. My Facebook feed is filled with those knuckleheads who have been counting the days until Christmas since June ... those who are for some reason excited to have to put on boots and hats to go out the door when we should still rightly be enjoying autumn. Winter is indeed a time of death. It's a time when measures must be taken to protect ourselves from the elements. It's a time when plant life gives up the ghost. It's a time when animals struggle to find food and some (hopefully those with many-pointed antlers) will end up in our freezers.

And still in the middle of all of this death, so many people find joy in winter. Christmas gifts and celebrations with families. Beautiful ice formations hanging from tree branches. Reasons to stay inside and keep warm with loved ones. Seeing the homes and businesses covered in lights. Even in the middle of death, life and joy can be found.

This is one of the many mysteries of how God Almighty works. He reveals Himself in the middle of what seems to be only death. His mercy is shown to someone going through turmoil. His compassion is given to someone riddled with guilt. His saving Gospel is proclaimed at the "walking dead" gathered on a Sunday morning. His promise of resurrection comforts the grieving at the death of a loved one.

God saved humanity through death. The cross isn't the source of our grief. It's the source of our unending joy. Crosses adorn our necks, our homes, and our church buildings as a reminder of that great joy purchased by the One who hung upon it. He became death. He became the cursed One. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

When everything around you is death, look for life in the God who brings life even in the darkest seasons. Find life in Christ our Lord. And remember that every season of darkness meets its end in Christ. There is indeed "a time for every matter under heaven." And the deep winter of sin that covers this world will melt away when our Lord Jesus returns in glory.

Jesus as Preacher and Liturgist

An excerpt from John Kleinig's paper, "The Real Presence and Liturgical Preaching":

The story of the appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 shows us how Jesus continues his ministry in the present age. happened, as you all know, on the evening of Easter Sunday. The two unnamed disciples had heard about the resurrection of Jesus, but did not understand the significance of what they had heard. When Jesus joined them on their journey, they did not at first recognise him. As far as they knew he was dead and gone from them. So Jesus made himself known to them in two stages. First, he preached himself to them from the Old Testament. Yet, even though their hearts burned with joy as he spoke, they still did not recognise him. Then, when they had invited him to stay overnight with them as their guest, he acted as if he was their host when they sat down for the evening meal. He took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, just as he had done when he instituted his holy supper three nights earlier. They recognised him in the breaking of the bread, Luke’s term for Holy Communion (Luke 24:35; cf. Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7). As soon as they recognised him he vanished from their sight.

That story gives us the basic theology of worship in the Early Church. Each Sunday the risen Lord Jesus, who travels with us through life as our unseen guide, makes himself known to us in the divine service. This happens in two stages. First, Jesus uses the word of God from the Old Testament to preach himself as the crucified and risen Lord. Then he hosts a meal in which he feeds us with his own body and blood.

We discover two things about preaching from this dramatic account. First, Jesus himself is the preacher in our congregations. He is also the sermon; he preaches himself to us in the divine service. By his word he speaks to us. We human preachers are merely his mouthpiece, his spokesmen. He says: “He who listens to you listens to me” (Luke 10:16). Second, the preaching of the gospel is closely connected with the Lord’s Supper. What Jesus tells us about himself he gives to us in Holy Communion. The same Jesus who preaches himself to us in the gospels and in the sermon gives himself and all his gifts to us there. There he presents the body and blood that he offered up for us by his death on the cross. So preaching goes hand in hand with the administration of the sacrament. By preaching of the gospel we tell our people what Jesus gives to them in Holy Communion; by offering Christ’s body and blood to them we give them what we have preached, Jesus and his gifts. In his Large Catechism Luther says: “For here in the sacrament you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts” (LC 70).

To read the paper in it's entirety, click here.

Sermon for Reformation Day (Observed), October 27th, 2019, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Kingsford, MI