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Bald Moralism

There seems to be a worsening condition in the pulpit today.  Preaching has generally considered to be declining over the years and lately has seemed to be bromides and moralism.  Moralism is a bane when it comes to preaching the Gospel.  I have just been reintroduced to a blast from the past by reading a quote from one of the Sloane Coffins.

There were two Coffins back in the day who were famous clergymen.  One was kind of a hippy, peace activist whose name was William Sloane Coffin.  A caricature of him was featured in the cartoon “Doonesbury” for years.  His uncle was Henry Sloane Coffin who was President of Union Theological Seminary and by all accounts a pretty decent preacher.  I wonder of he was referring to his nephew when he wrote…..

“The curse of our pulpit is its bald moralism. The ambassador of Christ forgets his embassy, says next to nothing of the Master he is representing, and spends his time telling those before him what they ought to be and to do. . . . Movements, crusades, campaigns, missions have filled the horizon. One sometimes wonders what there has
been in public worship for the very large number of persons who were in no position to participate in these strenuous efforts …. Our Lord’s gracious invitation to ‘the weary and heavy laden’ has not been prominent in American preaching …. ”


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The Second Commandment and Potty Mouths

Kirsten Hildebrand, Democrat from New York was reported to have cursed when making a speech.  It has been commented on that there is a lot of cursing and swearing going on out there.  The head of the Democrat National Committee cannot, it seems, put three sentences together with out binding them with obscenities.  What is strange is that these remarks and words are used to show frustration with someone that they claimed to be a vulgarian who said terrible things.

It is a truism that most people are religiously ignorant and that there is even among Lutherans an inability to think in Biblical ways.  The catechism that we relentlessly teach still seems to be a closed book to many.

So back to the catechism.  Cursing and swearing is listed in the explanation of the Second Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”.

Cursing is a specific thing dealing with the majesty of the divine name.  Using the name of the Lord to call down His anger or punishment on a person is a curse.  I haven’t heard anyone cursing each other yet although I wouldn’t doubt it has happened.

Swearing is a specific thing when we use God’s name to witness to a lie or confirm a truth in a frivolous or silly way.  Most people are stunned to find out that the thousands of times a day they say “I swear to God” they are breaking this commandment.

So the deluge of filth and obscenity and real barbarism that passes for comedy, award acceptance speeches, political rallys and late night TV is not cursing or swearing, at least not in the religious sense.  I do not doubt that some have tried to damn others to hell but I am not sure the Biblical prohibition was breached.

What has been breached however was a certain sense of decorum, of public civility, of discourse that led to knowledge or conveyed it.  The weaponization of language and the filth and innuendo that passes for political speech is beyond the pale and marks a new low in a society that many thought had already reached it.









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Luther Comments on the Trinity

Jesus said, “I and the Father are one”.  Luther said  –

“Consequently, when Christ speaks thus of the Father, do not flutter about, do not run away, do not seek God in heaven while you ignore this Man Christ. Outside this Man Christ I must not search for God, and I will find no God. If I do find one, it will not be the true and the right God, but a wrathful one. Thus the Father draws us to the Son by His mouth, His doctrine, and His word. The doctrine passes from the Father through the Son, and at the same time He thereby draws us to the Son. And when you have Him, you are grasping the very Son of God; and then you see and grasp God ‘the Father Himself.  Here the entire Holy Trinity is known in the Person of Christ. If

We come to the Son, we are at the same time with the Father. He who sees the Person born of he Virgin Mary also sees the Son of God, for the Father places the Son’s word and Person before you. This includes all, so that all comes to rest in that Person, lest anyone conceive of God otherwise. Whenever this Person speaks, whenever you hear the Son’s word and voice, it is God the Father’s voice that speaks and proclaims that the Son was sent into the world for you, suffered and died, etc. With this message He delights your heart and leads you only to Christ. He does not lead you beyond that; nor does the voice of the Father direct you elsewhere when He speaks through the Son.

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Treasures In a Heap

Sunday is Trinity Sunday.  Last week was Pentecost.  People including preachers sometimes get down in the weeds with trying describe the relationship between the persons of the Trinity or worse trying to describe the nature of the Trinity.  The work of the Spirit is wonderfully described by Martin Luther

It is not enough simply that Christ be preached; the Word must be believed. Therefore, God sends the Holy Spirit to impress the preaching upon the heart–to make it inhere and live therein. Unquestionably, Christ accomplished all–took away our sins and overcame every obstacle, enabling us to become, through him, lords over all things. But the treasure lies in a heap; it is not everywhere distributed and applied. Before we can enjoy it, the Holy Spirit comes and communicates it to the heart, enabling us to believe and say, “I too, am one who shall have the blessing.” To everyone who hears is grace offered through the Gospel; to grace is he called, as Christ says (Mt 11, 28), “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” etc. 

The believing heart never sees God with jealous eye. It does not fear being cast into hell as it did before the Holy Spirit came, when it was conscious of no love, no goodness, no faithfulness, on God’s part, but only wrath and displeasure. But once let the Holy Spirit impress the heart with the fact of God’s good will and graciousness towards it, and the resulting joy and confidence will impel it to do and suffer for God’s sake whatever necessity demands.

Let us, then, learn to recognize the Holy Spirit–to know that his mission is to present to us the priceless Christ and all his blessings; to reveal them to us through the Gospel and apply them to the heart, making them ours. When our hearts are sensible of this work of the Spirit, naturally we are compelled to say: “If our works avail naught, and the Holy Spirit alone must accomplish our salvation, then why burden ourselves with works and laws?”

In the Tolkien Classic “The Hobbit”, a great heap of treasure is guarded by Smaug, a dragon.  He can’t use the treasure but he doesn’t want anyone else to have it.  The devil is described as a dragon.  Guarding the treasure of the Gospel and trying to make sure that anyone else doesn’t get any, Jesus has already defeated him, and the Holy Spirit dispenses the treasure of God’s grace.


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A Free Grateful Service to God’s Creatures.

Barmen Declaration Thesis 2

“Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)
As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

The free grateful service motivated by the Gospel is of course a marvelous image of what the child of God can be like.  The areas of our life that we hold away from Christ as if He were not the Lord of our life and salvation are the places that we create out of our hearts other Gods.  This is the heart that Luther called an idol factory.

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I’ll Be There If There is Nothing Else Going On.

I remember like it was yesterday the first time I knew that the “times they were a changing”.  To that point in my ministry there had been a general truth that if something was happening at the church the congregation for the most part would be there.  Anything from shingling the roof to hymn sings and LLL dinners were sure to be well attended because that is what was done.  Suddenly one day late in the 1980’s  I announced a prayer service after some catastrophe that had befallen us and one of our faithful said, “if there is nothing else going on I will be there”.  My understanding had been up until then that there was nothing else going on when there was something going on at the church because that is where we meet the Lord our God.  Wow was I wrong.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

This statement from the Barmen Theological Declaration of 1934 was about the notion that a government could and would try and establish a national church in its image and by definition that would be idolatry.  Oswald Bayer makes a connection that is inescapable but it is fashioned by his words into a frightening and devastating connection to the first commandment.  “I am the Lord your God”.  Bayer says is the language of love and love can be scorned and found boring.  God is saying in that small statement that He is ours and we are His.  Yet we who are His find other “events and powers, figures and truths” to be “more interesting, more important, more real, and more necessary than He is”.

We have way too much going on if worship and praise are on a menu list that we pick and choose.


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The Pious Lie

There is an interesting document that came out of the churches in Germany that is presented to the world as a heroic stance by Christians against what was at the time, the growing danger of National Socialism.  It was apparent that the Nazi’s were going to establish a church in their image and the Barmen Declaration sought to witness and warn against it.  One of the main purposes of the Declaration was to establish a three-church confessional consensus opposing pro-nazi “German Christianity”. These three churches were Reformed, United and Lutheran.  Participating in the declaration the Lutheran Theologian Hermann Sasse later spoke against it because it had the effect of unionism.  That means that churches that don’t believe the same thing pretend like they do.

Matthew Harrison has translated much of Sasse’s work and explains that what seemed a good counter to external threat really wrecked the church from the inside because of the dilution of doctrine and a false understanding of the Gospel.  He writes,  “For Sasse, these internal dangers were greater than the external. “No atheism [a reference to Nazism?], nor Bolshevism can do as much damage and destruction as the pious lie [reference to unionism], the lie in the church.” It is still the “lie” today and Sasse’s analysis is still helpful. “There is actually more unity of the church present where Christians of differing confession honorably determine that they do not have the same understanding of the Gospel, than where the painful fact of confessional splintering is hidden behind a pious lie.” (“Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison”,  blog spot, search Barmen on this blog site).

There are some striking words in the declaration despite overall effect.  We will look at some more in the days ahead.



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Millennials and Fake News and Did Jesus Take Polls?

My initial reaction when I saw this pie chart was, “why bother to poll these folks at all”?  Then I remembered that they can vote which is dismaying.  They don’t know who their Senators are but they can vote anyway.  It begs two questions about polling.  One, can they be trusted?  Two, what is the point?

Jesus took a poll.  Who do people say that I am?  That is a poll.  Some said this and some said that, and Jesus, to separate the disciples from those who weren’t sure or those who rejected Him polled them.  Who do you say I am?  The answer, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” was as Luther said, “a gift given to beggars”.

Divine polling is good.  In Revelation 5 there is a poll taken.  Who is worthy to open a scroll? There is weeping and mourning because no one in heaven or on the earth was worthy.  And them there is reveled  a lamb that had been slain and that lamb is the Christ the Son of the living God.

There are other instances of polling in the Bible.  The choosing of deacons in Acts and the polling of those who proposed to serve the Lord by Joshua are a couple.  Polling was conducted to illicit a confession or a choice or as a snapshot of opinion.

Todays polling beggars description.  It seems to be part and parcel of the nattering nabobs of negativism, and much ado about nothing.  It also at times seems designed to change or influence public opinion.

Sometimes I just have to step back and ask a question and analyze the nonsense we have shoved down our throat everyday.  So here it is – polls say that overwhelmingly millennials do not like the current President and that he is in the 90% disapproval rating.

Now there is a poll that shows that the current President is breaking up relationships.  42% of millennials polled said that they have had really bad arguments over the President and some of them have had breakups over him.  Not being a statistician and not knowing how all this extremely important stuff works, I wonder how it is that if almost all of the millennials hate the President why would there be any argument about him at all?  Unless the poll about relationships means that the basement dwelling millennials are arguing with mom and dad this makes no sense.  The polling suggests that the arguments are among millennials themselves and that when they do come out of the basement and talk among themselves there are arguments about politics that have lead to breakups. I imagine that the smart phones and the tweets must get really brutal.   So does a small sample size represent the arguments between the vast majority of millennials who hate the President and the miniscule number who support him, or is the first poll wrong and more millennials support the President than they tell us?   Why is this even news?  Is it fake news and do our journalists still rely upon polls when they were so severely shattered by them before?  Could this be another plot by the waskily wussians to mess with our heads?  Does it make a difference and who really cares?

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The Back Channels of History and Journalism

I wonder if there is such a thing as a journalist anymore and if there is what kind of education they get?  Most news reports seem to be psychological analysis, poll studies, hit pieces and jargon.  Propaganda is a word that comes to mind.  Fake news rings true.

It appears obvious that journalist don’t study history and if they do it may only come from pop culture blockbusters and TV shows.  Had they read any books they might have understood the fact that back channels for all leaders, be they kings or dictators or presidents are important, and legal.

For Presidents back channels are not only frequent and common, they are sometimes essential.  When I heard the attack on the new President that back channel talks were off the map, I just about screamed.  Not mentioning anyone but the pantheon of Democrat Party god’s there are back channels everywhere and their work was considered heroic.

FDR had Viscount Murray with the British and if journalists only care about movies and media they must remember the back channel FDR set up with Britain and the Soviet Union in “Pug” Henry.  The “Winds of War” protagonist is the perfect example of the type of back channel operative presidents look for when they cannot trust their own government, or the press that covers it.

Maybe the back channel champion is JFK whose hagiographers report that his back channel workings were the product, of course, of his being smarter than the rest of us.  His “two track approach” was so smart that the rest of us should thank God we had such exceptional leadership, Berlin Wall, Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis, etc, etc, not withstanding.  In fact, a President that got us into so many crisis used back channels to get us out of them and for that he goes down in history as the apotheosis of the cool and the smart; that is until Obama came along.

The press might want to pay attention to movies to learn about back channels.  Another hero and denizen of the left is Tom Hanks.  Tom Hanks was in a great movie entitled “Bridge of Spies”.  This is the story of an insurance lawyer who will ultimately become a back channel to Castro for Kennedy, James Donovan.  Of course the use of Donovan was audacious and perspicacious but if Trump has one it must be nefarious and probably stupid.

The biggest back channel of all was Robert Kennedy, the president’s brother who was named as Attorney General, a bit of nepotism that was of course audacious and perspicacious.  Robert was up to his eye balls in back channels with the Soviet Union who knew Washington well since FDR had his love affair with them through his administration.  They certainly knew the best restaurants in the Capitol and Robert knew where he could find them for those famous martini lunches.  The press could have figured it out of course, but we have to remember that the press was aligned with Kennedy to an extent that we may never see again especially with Republican Presidents.  In todays world if Trump brings members of his family into the White House with some kind of power position it is nefarious and probably stupid, but I digress.

We are living in a strange time when history is being rewritten and changed for the benefit of something that we do not yet see quite clearly.  When a candidate for President remembers Richard Nixon being impeached when he wasn’t, and her husbands entanglements and impeachment are ignored and there is no comment on anything, let alone the irony, we are living in strange times.  When everything that we read and hear comes from unnamed  sources and even after the story is proven wrong it becomes fact, we have some real issues of trust.  When those who reported poll after poll that were so widely wrong it was stunning, continue to use those polls, we are living in a strange land.

What are the back channels that so called journalists use to publish stories that according to the people that were actually there never happened?  What are the sources for direct quotations that are not sourced?  Why are so many stories simply not reported or under reported?  If the press is protecting their back channels, to what end?



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Memorial Day Echoes

There are many Pastors in Minnesota and North Dakota who have children in the Military.  We appreciate their service and we offer prayers for them every Sunday.  Our Synod President Matt Harrison has said many times that the Missouri Synod is an incubator for good citizens.  Here is a picture of Minnesota North District President Fondow’s son and grandson.  Learning how to respect the flag of the United States used to be part of our heritage.  Those days are gone but the tradition is proudly carried on by many.






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