Thursday, February 14, 2013

Blessed Lent

Lent truly is a blessed time in the Church Year.  In my own appreciation of the seasons of the Church Year, I find Lent to be the most powerful.  My heart finds its way back to the thoughts and especially the hymns of Lententide throughout the year.  The comfort of the Lententide proclamation of my deep need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified is very powerfully beneficial to me in my daily struggles in this sin-filled world.  Without that comfort I would surely despair.  Thus I treasure this message of comfort.

Today I saw a video that troubled me greatly.  It is a presentation from the current president of my former church body, the LC-MS.  This video presentation reminds me of what a dear friend was recently told by one or our former peers, by a current pastor in the LC-MS.  He was told:

Do you know what your problem is?  Your problem is that you actually believe this stuff.

My heart breaks every time that I think of this.  I most assuredly experienced this myself regarding the “faithful” pastors of this church body.  This is why I am distressed by the following video presentation.

This style of mild mannered preaching is not new.  In the past I was more easily duped by such a style, where the very kind and gentle manner of the synodical president gives the impression that a grandfatherly approach is being displayed.  However, grandfathers who truly love their children and grandchildren do not calmly allow their families to continue in dysfunction and discord.  Rather they take a strong position in calling those whom they love to be turned from the things that cause problems.

In this video Matthew 6 is quoted to make the point that Jesus loves prayer.  Mention is made of Luther’s wonderful explanation of the Our Father.  These are wonderful points to make.  These surely are to be preached and with loving gentleness.

Harrison further notes the value of the Litany.  The portion that he quotes is on pages 288-289 of the Lutheran Service Book and is available online here.  The LSB has slightly altered this responsive prayer from the earlier versions, but it still teaches the same basic points.  It still is a very good example of true prayer.

Harrison directs his hearers to the Litany as a wonderful help in praying as the Lord Jesus and His apostles teach that prayers should be made.  This is wonderful advice.

Then Harrison says at 3:35 on the time line:

Sometimes, when I get to this part, “We poor sinners implore You to hear us, O Lord.  To rule and govern Your holy Christian Church; to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living;” I stop.

At this point he shares the need for a person to pray for and support one’s pastor.  He instructs on the need to be aware of one’s failure to honor God’s gift of faithful pastors and to repent of this, calling upon God to forgive this failure and to move the people to pray for their faithful pastors.

He concludes urging, “Thank You for giving me a faithful pastor.”  Indeed, this is true cause for thanksgiving.

However, can this prayer rightly be urged in a church body where there are pastors who say things like: “Do you know what your problem is?  Your problem is that you actually believe this stuff.”

Is it loving to ignore the fact that congregations in this church body have pastors who are not faithful?  Should this Lenten admonition ignore the urgency for praying that the Lord of the Church rule and govern His holy Christian Church so that the pastors are only those who are preserved in the true knowledge and understanding of God’s wholesome Word and in holy living?

Should this Lenten admonition not also to include the rest of this section of the Litany?

To put an end to all schisms and causes of offense; to bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived; To beat down Satan under our feet; to send faithful laborers into Your harvest; and to accompany Your Word with Your grace and Spirit:

How can Pr. Harrison ignore the fact, especially during this time of Lent when his duty is to call the pastors and congregations to repentance of their waywardness concerning God’s Word, how can he ignore the fact that there is indeed great division in his church body concerning the doctrine and practice of that church body?

Could it be that he is actually one of those pastors who says: “Do you know what your problem is?  Your problem is that you actually believe this stuff.”?

The Epistle of James warns about this idea that faith can somehow exist without the good works that flow from faith.  He warns that such faith is dead.  If a congregation, pastor, church body, synodical president, talk about faith and faithfulness but do not agree in what this means, just making noise to be heard and seen for their words, is this not what the Lord Jesus warns against in the very text that Pr. Harrison used to teach that Jesus loves prayer?

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  (Matthew 6:1-2 ESV)

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. "And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  (Matthew 6:5-9 ESV)

Surely Jesus does love true prayer that flows from hearts that have been baptized into Him and the new life breathed into them by the Holy Spirit.  This new life is one of true unity in the confession of the one true faith, a life of worship in the doctrine and practice of the apostles.

But does Jesus love prayer that stops short of actually embracing this unity in the true faith of Jesus?  Does Jesus love prayer that says, “Thank you for giving me a faithful pastor” when this pastor does not demonstrate this faithfulness?  Does Jesus love prayer that pretends that a pastor is given by God when in fact this pastor is chosen and ordained without true concern for what the Lord has clearly declared as the definition of a true pastor and congregation and worship?

Can the season of Lent be a truly Blessed Lent without recognizing the gifts through which the season is made to be blessed?  If Lent is a penitential season, should this penitence not begin with acknowledging and turning from the trespasses of the church body and congregations and pastors so that the people may be rightly instructed concerning the blessed preaching and administration of the means of grace?

At the end of his video Pr. Harrison says regarding what he and others have to confess regarding not praying for and supporting their pastors: “Lord forgive me, I deserve to be removed from that congregation and for my pastor to be taken away.”

This is truly ironic, for they truly have starved out hundreds of faithful pastors.  Some were driven out forcefully.  They have removed all of the pastors who were willing to stand unmoved so that now their pastors are those who on one side make a show of contemporaneity with the world and much preaching of love and tolerance, and on the other hand, those who make a show of liturgical fidelity and propriety.  Both sides urging the people to remain steadfast to the synod.

Is this the message by which Lent is blessed?

Other people could point to the church bodies most familiar to them and show the same lack of the true preaching and practice that the Lord declares to be the marks of His Church.  I speak of the one most familiar to me, the one in which most of my loves ones still abide.

Lent is certainly a good time to call out with such observations.  As we journey toward the observance of the betrayal of the Lord Jesus, and His false condemnation, suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial, this is a very good season to ask ourselves whether we are congregating with those who are truly His body, His Church on earth.  This is a good season to be asking whether or not the congregation where we seek to receive the blessings of Lent is really a congregation where these blessings are administered as Christ has ordained them.  This is a good season to be examining ourselves to know for certain that we are indeed bound to Jesus Christ in the things that we are receiving.

This is why St. Paul writes:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
  (Philippians 2:12)

Since Lent is a season for being called to remember what is most important to us regarding our everlasting salvation, is this not what we truly need to consider?  Should we not fall to our knees with fear and trembling at the thought that we could have become misled in our beliefs?  Should be not tremble at that thought that we could have chosen for ourselves an alternative to what Christ and His apostles have proclaimed?  Should we not scrutinize everything that we embrace as true to be certain that what we believe really is true?  Should we not be moved beyond our complacency to study with the utmost care to be certain that our salvation has not slipped away from us while we sat in the pew praising God from our own imagined safety?

What one of us is truly safe?  What one of us can be absolutely sure?

Such certainly is promised.  Such certainty is declared in the Holy Scriptures.

And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
  (John 20:30-31)

He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
  (1 John 5:10-13)

For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
  (1 Corinthians 11:31-32)

Jonah was sent with a very simple message to the people of Nineveh.  The people of Nineveh heard the warning and in their hearts they were turned again from their waywardness to the Lord and they were saved, at least that generation was.  But over time their children and grandchildren drifted and forgot and they lost the salvation in which their parents believed.

Isn’t it time that we begin to pray the entire Litany again, praying it from the heart and not just as part of a Lenten liturgical tradition?  Isn’t it time that we begin again to pray confessing ourselves as poor miserable sinners who desperately need the pure medicine that only in its purity has the power to save and heal us?

Surely then this would be a most blessed Lent.  Surely this would also be a truly blessed celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.

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