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Considerations while Receiving Communion

Remember This at All?

Remember This at All?

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13-14)

“Dear Savior, we come to your table at your gracious invitation to eat and drink your holy body and blood. Let us find favor in your eyes to receive this holy sacrament in faith for the salvation of our souls and to the glory of your holy name.” (Lutheran Worship, Prayer before Reception of Holy Communion.)

I think about this scripture and pray this prayer when I go take communion often. I’m not sure why (a version of the prayer is in the front of LSB), except that I might have something to with the fact that I’m always rushed because I have to go back up to the choir loft and tape another hymn, or I’m the last usher in line and have to tell pastor who to go give to communion in the pew to. Point is, I go to communion with a busy mind and a guilty heart sometimes. I still get Christ’s body and blood, which is fear-inducing.

It’s probably a good thing that communion is for sinners.

John 17:20-26: One Because of Christ’s Glory

John 17 is a prayer, the sacerdotal prayer, that Jesus prays in the midst of the disciples, somewhat as a sermon. What is prayer? Jesus knew what was going to happen and what the Father was going to do, even after he ascended. But he prayed for His own strength, and that His disciples would be strengthened. In the prayer that Our Lord gave us, we ask for him to do things He has already done (“hallowed be Your name”), but we ask them because we are weak.

Throughout this prayer, Jesus connects himself to His Father, and then Himself to His disciples, and finally, His disciples to His church. It is through this line we receive the Gospel.

Jesus has spent the last couple of hours giving His final teaching to his disciples, and with this prayer, He first looks at himself. He needs His father’s help as much as His disciples. Then he turns His attention to His disciples, those He has trained and prays for their strength.

v. 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,”

Note how Jesus connects the church to the Apostles. Jesus has first testified to the father, and now the disciples will testify to what they have seen and believed about Jesus. (16:30, and post-resurrection). Throughout this prayer, Jesus has connected his work (His “glory”) to His union with God, and the work that God sent him to do.

Grammatical point: the word of the disciples comes before in me. Faith always come through hearing the message, God’s word to us. (Mary conceived through her ears.)

v. 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

We have access to the Father via the Son. Through the Son’s work, we can stand forgiven before the Father.

Where are we one with Christ? In His supper. This is an uncomfortable topic. In the age of ecumenism and our ELCA cousins badgering us, we de-emphasize how we are united to our fellow believers at the Lord’s table. It is an easy trap to fall into-we only talk about the forgiveness we receive at the table, and then, we feel awkward when we tell our neighbors they can’t go to the supper, and they take it personally. We need to take seriously how the Supper judges us.

Through Christ word’s here, we can be assured that no matter what disagreements we may have, we will always be one in Him, because of how He is one with God.

v. 22 “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” God’s glory is through suffering. Glory doesn’t just mean shiny stuff. Glory is the work of Jesus, that He would set His majesty and titles aside, all so that we should be forgiven.

Prayer Books Just Sitting There…

My Treasury of Daily Prayers stares at me from its post on the kitchen table. I try to read it over breakfast most days, and I hope I succeed more than I fail. I rotate other devotional books through-a daily Luther book, a daily Walther, both of whom are worth reading. The daily Luther blog was great too, when it was being update. (Whoever did that, please come back and continue it.) A word of advice to Christian youth: you never think that you’ll get caught up and need devotional time until you really do.

Devotions always feel sluggish to me, but that’s just how they are supposed to feel. That’s probably the devil too, telling me I already know what’s in the scriptures. It’s the same thing I hear in my ear when I go to listen to Issues, Etc., podcasts and choose the quick, 10 minute social issues-cast over the in-depth Bible study. Yes, it’s easier to get into that controversial, call-to-arms, but I still need to carve out time to listen to God’s word. I keep having to remind myself how low the standards of our culture are.

I keep theology books in my bag. I don’t read them that often; they serve more as a talisman than anything else. Sometimes, I peruse them at stops when my brain isn’t going too fast, or when I’m out in Lincoln and don’t want to go home yet. I remember hearing an antidote once that, just like you can’t remember every meal you’ve ever eaten, so you can’t remember every sermon you’ve ever heard, or every devotion you’ve ever read for that matter. I hope that is true, but what concerns me more is when I forget sermons hours after they’re preached or spend my free hours thinking about drivel rather than what Pastor Todd says on the radio.

This is what the hypocrite does: he carries around something just for others to see, or more importantly, for himself to believe that he is a good person. But I do have them with me. Perhaps I need to remember that my vocation isn’t to just read theology books or listen to podcasts; it’s too be a good worker, and a good writer. I listen to sacred music and read God’s word because Jesus died for me on the cross, and I need to be reminded of that over and over.

Right here for you...

Right here for you…

Study on John 16:12-22, The Trinity and the Holy Spirit’s Job

All Scriptures English Standard Version (ESV)

This morning, I had the privilege of leading a Bible study at St. John in Seward on John 16:12-22, the reading of the day for the fifth Sunday after Easter on the sending of the Holy Spirit and “a little while, and you will see me no longer.” (v.16). The Heritage Room study is a very talkative group, which allows for a very open discussion and easy day if you are the leader. Here’s some notes from that study and thanks to everyone who was there who contributed.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (v. 12) Jesus has told his disciples that one of them will betray him and now has lead them to the garden and has warned them that the world will hate them (15:18), all before his crucifixion. Jesus has laid on them many tough teachings on how the church will be after He is gone and their minds must have been swimming.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (v. 14-16) We see the interplay in between the members of the Trinity. In mysterious fashion, Jesus will have to leave His disciples after His great victory over death for the Spirit to come. But the Spirit will not lead people according to their whims or directives, but “will not speak on his own authority.”

Our God is modeling within himself what relationships are to be, as each person of the Godhead serves according to the will of all three. Jesus said in John 5:19  “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” Proper relationships are all based upon service and how we serve our neighbor.

This is a mystery: how does an almighty God not only exist as three persons, but be one. If God would have wanted us to know how this could be, he would have told us, but, as Jesus said to His disciples, they already had enough to bear. This goes against the grain of American culture, where storing up things is encouraged and we can access a wealth of information on the internet. How can we not understand how the persons of the Trinity submit to each other? And yet, in this regard, it is a blessing not to know.

As the Lutheran Study Bible notes (literally), the Spirit is “guiding” the church “in truth”, that is the truth that is already revealed in the Scriptures and through the Apostles. This is not meant to be a directive to deduce new revelations from God, as some would assert. In a speech dissected on Issues, Etc. earlier this year, openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church in the USA used “the Spirit…will guide you into all the truth” as the reason believers should disregard all the passages against homosexuality. Basically, whatever anyone asserts comes from the Holy Spirit is valid truth, even when it’s contrary to other parts of Scripture. This is why clear passages interpret unclear passages.

‘…A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father”?’ (v. 16-17) In retrospect, we know that Jesus was talking about his death and reappearance after his Resurrection, but these words must have come to them as a play on words. (In verse 29, the disciples will thank Jesus for saying plainly that he is going to the Father.) If a husband telling his wife that he will take out the trash “in a little while”, the wife may wonder when a little while is. So the disciples wonder here.

Productive Lutheran Worship Discussion?

After reading Pastor Todd Wilken’s Worship Wars article in the Fall Issues Etc. Journal, I would like to examine  the choices that lead a congregation to worship the way it does. While I agree that doctrine is inevitably at the center of worship controversy, looking across our synod and making a sweeping judgment that a return to doctrine is going to automatically going to cure worship-related-anxieties is not the only answer that everyone will accept. It starts with doctrine, but it doesn’t just end there.

As I’ve traveled around our Synod, I’ve been many different congregations, some who use the liturgy in its fullness, and some that use some or all contemporary. One thing I’ve found that’s a bit surprising is that the churches who use the liturgy (and keep closed communion) are more friendly and outgoing than the churches who use contemporary worship. I suspect this in large part because the liturgical churches know that they are asking more of people, and they are okay with that. Some people may find their worship dense and confusing, but the liturgical church uses this as an opportunity to present the gospel. Meanwhile, the non-liturgical churches often have greeters with authenticity and zeal of a car salesman.

As I’ve heard the stories of the advocates of alternative worship, they all follow the same narrative. Dying church, no young people are coming, older adults panic, so contemporary worship gets instituted. Visitors come in and don’t understand the liturgy. Instead of explaining it, the pastor says “Lord have mercy on me” and runs for his guitar. Notice how all these methods are reactionary, presumptuous, and don’t even involve discussion with the people they are trying to reach.

So, in some sense, the difference in our synod between those who use the liturgy and those who use the praise band can come down to “Inner Scoreboard”, as Warren Buffett would say. If your congregation is a middling 150 people, how do you feel about it? Are you okay with consistent attendance by a select few who give and who do a lot of the work, or do you want more? To put it within the context of Wilken’s post, are you okay with worshiping in the way that best reflects the doctrine you believe, or do you have to go chasing people? I will say this: while it’s admirable to try to reach more people, if a congregation holds steadfast to its doctrinally principals, even the most worldly people will admire that.

But of course, none of this deals with the primal issue in our synod, namely we are divided on the nature of what worship should be, going down multiple generations, and don’t have a platform to discuss these issues. In my CUW class, there was a per-seminary student whose father was the pastor of a LCMS parish who embraced contemporary worship and church growth practices. His senior seminar tried to justify contemporary worship’s place in our synod, but it lacked any opening for anyone from the opposing side to come in and engage him on the topic. Even the moderate students didn’t respect it.

So how do we create a platform to have meaningful conversations about worship in our synod? Doctrine is a huge part of the worship wars and at the center, but to find a real solution to the worship wars, we have to talk about practice within the context of doctrine. First, we talk about what we believe and why we are part of this synod (given how we are slaves to tradition at times, such self-examination). Then, let’s move beyond that and talk about what’s essential to teach our churches through worship and preaching. Then, move on to circumstance. If people are leaving our church, what’s the solution? Is changing the worship style the real solution? What about the churches that are taking in more people with alternate worship? Do we want to do everything that they do and believe what they want to believe?

So, there are two parts to this discussion, first doctrine (in the pastor’s study and in the sanctuary) and then practice. The way to have a productive discussion about worship is starting with doctrine, working through this issues, clear through to practice. But it’s important that as we move the discussion from doctrine to practice, we don’t suddenly stop talking about doctrine and jump to practice, because these things are inevitably connected. And even if they aren’t we should weigh them to be sure.

The LCMS is divided on this issue, and working through it is probably going to take another generation. Be honest about what you’re doing and consistent in doing it. Don’t sit on the differences you have with your brother; instead, bring them to the front, and share them openly. Even if we don’t come to a consensus, maybe we can at least move forward.

ACELC Conferece: Time for Me to Get Over It

This next week, I will be attending a theological conference as a participant for the first time in a while. I had been monitoring the site Brothers of John the Steadfast looking for upcoming conference, and there happens to be one in Lincoln. It is the conference of the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations, focusing on the Lord’s Supper and hosted by Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. But that’s not what hooked me into going into this conference.

For the last few years, I have been running away from church conferences and theological discussion. At a church conference a number of years ago, I had a falling out with some of my college friends, so church conferences have been a sore spot for me. But this summer, I helped with a music/liturgy conference that St. John in Seward hosted (Sign His Praise, His Love Declare), and I realized, one, I was burying these feeling of anger and resentment, and two, conferences address issues that are more important than any resentments I have against people who shouldn’t be dignified that way.

So I am going to this conference at Good Shepherd, mainly because as an educated layperson, I care about what our Synod believes, and I also care about where we’re going. We are Synod that keeps get ourselves in fights (see ULC at the University of Minnesota), and I want to be a part of the out-cause by developing relationships with our pastors and lay people in our Synod, so that I can understand their concerns and goals. And yes, I do plan on taking notes at the conference and expect regular updates next week on this blog. If anything comes out of the conference, I hope that you, my dear readers, will be refreshed by the notes that I post on this blog.

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