Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bp Schultz's sermon comments by a traditionist Canadian Lutheran pastor

For those of you south of the border, the practice of the Bishop writing a sermon to be read on the Sunday of a Synodical or National Convention is common. Our conventions almost always include Sunday worship, which all delegates, clergy or lay, are expected to attend. As the e-mail which announced this sermon said “National Bishop Raymond Schultz has written a sermon suitable for use on Sunday July 24, 2005. Many clergy will be attending worship that morning at the National Biennial Convention in Winnipeg. Congregational leaders are encouraged to use this sermon in their pulpits that day.” Not in my congregation.

Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of
these is love.

Paul was trained as a lawyer.
The quote from 1 Corinthians is a summary statement.
In order for Paul to say what he does about love,
he has to talk about faith and hope first.
And that’s what he does.

Time was when there was a shared understanding of what terms like “faith”, “hope” and “love” meant. Unfortunately, that time is past, at least in the ELCIC. Just because everyone uses the same words, is no guarantee that they have a shared meaning. As an aside, if there is any justice in the world there
will be a special accounting for those who have bastardized the rich
language of Scripture and the church to the point that words which once
bespoke Christ, have been made vacuous in an attempt to further a man-made

First: faith.
So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through
the word of Christ.
Romans 10:17 (NRSV)
Faith is trust in Christ.
Faith believes Christ’s promise and agrees to follow.
But Paul knows that simply following out of duty
is pretty dreadful.
The religion of people like that is often dry
and sometimes very unfeeling.
There has to be some dynamic to the relationship,
something to keep looking forward to.

There is also something to be said of a sense of duty, born out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us by his death and resurrection. But as we should know by now, nothing is more important than “feeling”. Scripture and the Confessions are fine, but only so long as they don’t make anyone “feel” bad. If that happens then obviously there is a deficiency in our understanding of Scripture because God would never want anyone to” feel” bad. It also seems according to Bp. Schultz that God needs to keep His children entertained—there “has to be…something to keep looking forward to”. Time was that the promise of eternal life with God was enough to look forward to, but guess we need something more immediate to hope for.

Thus, Paul’s next point: hope.
So Paul writes:
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For
who hopes for what is seen?
Romans 8:24 (NRSV)

Religion is not just about security with God.
Paul went on a journey with Christ into the unknown.
He learned to trust Christ in spite of the suffering.
He learned to expect things to happen.
And he wanted to have the same happen to others:
that gave him the energy and the patience to keep going.

Reading this description of St. Paul, it bears a striking resemblance to motivational speakers hawking tapes on late-night infomercials—sharing their story of how they overcame (insert struggle here) to become healthy, wealthy (insert any other positive attributes here), and now they want to share their formula for success with you.
As for the source of Paul’s mission and energy, I thought that was Christ.

That brings us to today’s readings.
Today’s readings call upon God’s people not to lose hope
when things don’t happen the way they expect.
Jacob learns that getting to marry Rachel
includes an unexpected marriage to her sister Leah first.
The letter to the Romans reminds the readers
not to be dismayed when drastic changes take place.
No matter how crazy things get,
nothing can separate them from the love of God.
“Keep your hopes up!” Paul writes to them.

Permit me to indulge in a bit of cynicism. Written for the day after the vote on the resolution for a local option allowing same-sex blessings, this smacks of spin. Regardless of how the vote goes, “it’s all good” don’t anyone get angry, upset or anxious and for heaven’s sake don’t anyone quit sending in benevolence.

The gospel reading shows us how Jesus did that.
Jesus spoke about
planting seeds,
salting food and
leaving a light out for people.
Will the seed grow?
Will the food spoil in the heat?
Will the traveler return?

O.K., which special version of Matthew is Bp. Shultz using here, because in any text I have of the Gospel, only the bit about the seed is found in ch. 13, the others are in ch. 5.

Humans do not have the gift of foretelling the future.
Therefore, when they face the future, what they can do is:
look forward in hope and
get involved in the needs of others.
If it goes nowhere, it goes nowhere.
But by hoping in the future,
they leave the door open for something more to happen.

While humans may be unable to foretell the future, as children of God the future for us is by no means unknown. While the details aren’t clear we know our destiny by virtue of Christ’s resurrection and our participation in it. Further, our hope is not in the future, but in Christ. And while we would never preclude the possibility of God doing something new, it also isn’t too much to expect that God would act consistently with His Word – something those pushing this whole same-sex thing have yet to adequately demonstrate.

Paul’s mission to Gentiles was a risky business.
His own religious community hated him for it.
Some stirred up riots when he was in town.
Some got him arrested, flogged and imprisoned.
Many who started with him abandoned him.

Which “religious community” would we be talking about? Jewish or Christian? A rather sweeping and uncharitable judgement of groups which were by no means monolithic in their beliefs or practices in the first century.

But Paul knew that the mission wasn’t his.
He was the ground in which Christ had planted a seed.
Christ was crucified for the risk he took,
telling God, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Can someone make the connection here? Is it self-sacrifice? Obedience to the will of God? Or perhaps more of the motivational “Take a risk and see what happens” school of theology?

The Christian church began as a hope in something
that seemed absolutely impossible,
given the odds against it.
People joined even at great risk to themselves.
They saw a future in the church
that they didn’t see in their old religion
or in the Roman empire.

Interesting, I always thought people joined the church because of the message of Jesus Christ and the promise of the Gospel.

So these texts cause me to wonder what has happened
to the church of today?
How did we get so cautious and self-concerned?
When did we lose the faith to say to God,
“Not my will, but yours?”
Instead, people shop around for a church that assures them
the way things are now is the way God wants it.
When did we quit trusting God
just because God is ready to move us around a little?

The ELCIC is in its present mess precisely because many in its leadership have lost the faith to say to God, “not my will but yours” and instead have been investing huge amounts of time and energy to put their will into action and labeling it as God’s, hoping no one will notice or ask too many questions. We haven’t quit trusting God; we have quit trusting the ELCIC’s leadership. We aren’t unwilling to be moved by God – we are unwilling to have the ELCIC’s leadership try and move us from God.
People looking for a church that can give some assurance of what God desires are not looking to have all the “i’s” dotted and the “t’s” crossed with regards to their faith—they know the need for mystery and trust. What they are looking for is a church where the leadership hasn’t seen fit to try and edit the faith once delivered to the saints to suit the needs of a particular agenda. Or where ignorance isn’t held in such high esteem e.g. “How can we know God isn’t doing something new?”, “How can we know what Scripture really means when it mentions homo-erotic behavior?”.

The Promise is this:
God provided a creation that was intended to be used
to create a just and peaceful society.
That creation is in pain.
The pain comes from human unwillingness to be just or peaceful.
God experienced that pain in the death of Jesus, God’s Son.
Religious people caused much of that pain:
religious people who were absolutely sure
they knew what God wanted.

Out of curiosity, what “Promise” is Bp. Schultz talking about? Further, what about sin? Creation isn’t in pain simply because humanity lacks the willpower to do what is right, it’s in pain because of sin. But then of course we can’t mention that “s” word, because someone might “feel” bad. Also, might it be possible to actually identify these “religious people” Bp. Schultz keeps referring to? If I were to hazard a guess, probably those fanatics who believe the Word of God is clear and understandable, and not the textual Rubic’s Cube most revisionists would have us believe.

Paul had become part of such a religion.
It felt good.
It was very active.
Paul felt like he was really accomplishing something.
But it wasn’t until Paul was stopped dead in his tracks
and could do nothing
that God’s will really got through to him.

Guess in the interests of political correctness, Bp. Schutlz can’t state the obvious that Paul (Saul) was Jewish and a Pharisee.
So Paul knew what he was talking about when he wrote:
…we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit
intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches
the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit
intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane,
he prayed in a posture of surrender:
Not my will but yours be done.

Cynicism alert! Can’t help but get the feeling the call here is less to surrender to the will of God than surrender to the collective wisdom of the ELCIC’s national leadership—which of course has a hot-line to God and is in the know about the “new thing” God would like to do but keeps getting thwarted by the knuckle-dragging fundies, who hold uncritically to Scripture and the Confessions.

God never abandons us.
Instead, we push God aside by our plans and activities.
But when we are silent enough to let God do the talking,
God often surprises us with new directions.
Maybe not the action
we think is on the agenda for religious people;
Maybe action that is not as esteemed as we would like it to be;
but action that is meant
to alleviate the world’s pain through God’s compassion.

Hello! Did Bp. Schultz even read what he wrote here? “…we push God aside by our plans and activities”? Sounds like a good description of the process that resulted in the same-sex blessing resolution, the same process Bp. Schultz has consistently held up as a positive thing. As far as his suggestion that “God often surprises us with new directions”, its seems more accurate that in this case the ELCIC’s leadership is surprising God (if that is possible) with the new directions it is trying to implement.

God has enough salvation available to include every human being.
We don’t have to be stingy with it.
We can offer it in generous handfuls to whoever.
That’s what Paul learned after his conversion.
That’s what his religious community hated about him.
They had no hope, no compassion for those not like them.
Paul, on the other hand, had nothing but hope.

Here is a prime example of the “gospel” of inclusivity as preached by many in the ELCIC (and ELCA) these days. The same “gospel” that would bless what God has called sin, that would give communion to the unbaptized, that would water down Scripture and the Confessions to the lowest common denominator so that everyone can “feel” good. O.K., everyone except those who aren’t afraid to identify this for the nonsense it is—they are just “unfeeling” and “religious”.

Our church is closing its 10th biennial convention this morning.
For three days our delegates have lived under the theme:
In Mission For Others.
The main word in the theme is Others.
We have no need to be afraid of the future.

I would disagree (big surprise) with the Bp.’s assessment of the convention’s theme. The main word is not “others”, the main word is “misson”. The fact he missed that says volumes about the state of the ELCIC. The church is supposed to be about the mission Christ gave. Unless the church has a clear understanding of why it exists (e.g. Matt. 28:19-20) and understands that it is not autonomous but exists by the will and power of Christ, it is in danger of becoming nothing more that a social club or service group. The church exists for others, only insofar as it exists for Christ and to do His will.

As Paul wrote to his friends:

…I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor
depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

A favorite proof-text of the Bp.’s used to: a) give assurance that no matter what direction the ELCIC heads, God still loves us; b) condescendingly respond to cries of clergy and laity that by blessing same-sex relationships we are inviting the judgement of God.

This is the gospel of the Lord.

If Bp. Schultz is referring to the text from Romans 8, then I can agree that the Gospel is spoke in that text. I can’t say the same for the sermon, but such is life in the ELCIC these days. One can’t help but fear for the future of an organization that would send this sermon out to be read from the pulpits as the Word of God.

1 comment:

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