Archive for August 2011

Lunch With The Saint Louis Archbishop

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and President Matthew C. Harrison

Today, ecumenical relations between The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis began with a good start when President Harrison had lunch with Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Several months ago, Dr. Lawrence  Welch, Ecumenical Officer for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and Professor of Systematic Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, contacted Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations for the LCMS, to see if President Harrison would be available to meet with Archbishop Carlson for a luncheon. The Archbishop asked President Harrison to lead the blessing for lunch. After praying for fruitful conversation between separated brethren and that the church may be one as Jesus prayed, President Harrison blessed the food with the prayer from the Small Catechism, “Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” The Archbishop noted that he had used that very same prayer to bless the meal in certain settings. The Archdiocese of St. Louis sent representatives to attend the installation of President Matthew C. Harrison last September. Since then, the LCMS and the Archdiocese of St. Louis has had regular contact on a variety of matters. In particular, both churches are interested in further discussion and possible cooperation in the public square in matters relating to natural law and general morality in society.

Residence of the Archbishop

Archbishop Carlson is the tenth bishop of Saint Louis and the ninth archbishop of Saint Louis. President Harrison is the thirteenth president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. The Archbishop and the President had the opportunity to become better acquainted as well as to discuss common challenges both in the area of Christianity in a hostile world and in the area of ecclesial supervision. At one point, the Archbishop described a letter he had received from an individual the other day describing a problem in one of the local congregations. President Harrison replied in jest, “I think I know that person; he sent me the same letter about one of our congregations last week.” Humor aside, there are several challenges shared in common between our churches.

Dr. Lawrence Welch and President Harrison Discuss Seminary Education

Serving as chief ecumenical officer for the Missouri Synod, President Harrison presented Archbishop Carlson and Dr. Welch with copies of Walther’s Law and Gospel, Lutheran Service Book, Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal, and A Little Book On Joy (all published by Concordia Publishing House) to better acquaint them with the Missouri Synod. President Harrison also was able to give a brief description of the Missouri Synod’s emphasis on Witness (martyria), Mercy (diakonia), Life Together (koinonia). Dr. Welch was surprised to learn that Lutherans celebrated the feast of Saint Mary, Mother Of Our Lord (see the blog post). He mentioned that this was a good example for him to use in his class on other church bodies. The Archbishop then asked what other feasts and celebrations Lutherans held, to which we referred them to the front of the Lutheran Service Book for a listing of recognized feast days. Once again, there was a recognition that both churches face similar challenges in the areas of preaching and worship life.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis

The luncheon concluded with appreciation and thanksgiving for the opportunity to meet and discuss. Drs. Welch and Collver agreed to remain in contact and to follow up on a couple of items from the meeting. A theme repeated in the meeting is that church bodies actually come closer together by honestly recognizing the differences between them and when each respects the other and allows the other to hold its position with integrity. The Archbishop noted that true unity is a gift from the Holy Spirit and not the result of our own efforts; however, it does not mean that we ought not talk to one another. Thank you Archbishop Carlson for your gracious invitation to lunch. Thank you Dr. Lawrence Welch for facilitating this meeting.

+++

Rev. Albert B. Collver, Ph.D.

Director of Church Relations — Assistant to the President

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord

I.N.I.

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord, 15 August 2011 Galatians 4:4 – 7

International Center Chapel, Saint Louis –

Rev. Albert B. Collver, Ph.D.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” — Galatians 4:4 – 7.

__________

What has become of this place? Today on August 15th, the International Center celebrating the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord! Lutherans don’t celebrate St. Mary! After all, didn’t the Reformation happen to purify the church of saints days and such? You might even be thinking, “I have been a Lutheran my entire life and have never celebrated St. Mary before.” Some of you might even be thinking that you are going to check this out with the CTCR after Chapel. Joel’s and Larry’s offices are right next to mine on the fourth floor. But before getting too concerned, if you open your LSB hymnal to Roman Numeral page xxii and look at the second line from the bottom you will see, “St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord” listed as a “Feast and Festival” with one of the given readings Galatians 4:4 – 7.

The Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord, Article XXI says, “Our churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling.” Saint Paul in Galatians sets out to do precisely that, to show us an example of their faith. However, doesn’t even mention Mary’s name. He writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Saint Paul confesses that the Son of God was born of woman, that is, born of the Virgin Mary. This is precisely what we confess in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Notice that both the focus of Saint Paul and the focus of the Creeds is not on what Mary does, but on Jesus.

Saint Paul’s description of the Virgin Mary is very specific. He says that Jesus was “born of a woman.” In our every day speech, we do not usually pay much attention to the prepositions – “of, on, in, through, et al.” what difference does it make? Yet Saint Paul is very specific and says that Jesus is born “of a woman.” One of the most scandalous things the Christians confessed about Jesus is that he is truly human, with real human flesh and blood. The Ancient people did not have too hard of a time imagining that Jesus was some kind of a god, but they had a very difficult time imagining that this Jesus was truly a man. In the ancient world some people said that Jesus was born through Mary, as light passes through glass untouched. You see, there was a concern about tarnishing “divine” things with physical matter such as human flesh.

On the surface, there seems to be quite a contrast between the Ancient world and our world today. If you turn on the History Channel, most of the shows portray Jesus as all too human. Many modern skeptics have a hard time seeing Jesus as God. Yet modern people have just as much difficulty seeing Jesus as truly human, that is a human just like you and me, except without sin.

You see, the physical world and human flesh is messy business. If you need proof, think about how messy your life has been, or how much of a mess the lives of your friends and family have been. People had a hard time imagining that God could become involved in all of that. Yet this is precisely what Jesus did by being “born of a woman.” Here is why prepositions are so important and in this case makes all the difference in the world that Jesus was born of woman. He took on human flesh, so that he could redeem you and me from the messes that we make of our lives. Jesus took your sin upon himself, from the moment of conception until his death on the cross. Jesus became a human to redeem you from the messes we make of ourselves at every stage of life. What ever sin you have done, whatever you have been called rightly or wrongly because of your sin, now belongs to Jesus, because he was born of a woman. All his righteousness and holiness now belongs to you. He has forgiven you all your sins.

You see, we celebrate the Feast of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord, first and foremost because of what this confesses about Jesus, namely, that he became a true human being so that he could take our sin and the messes we make of our lives upon himself. For Lutherans, the celebration of St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord is really about Jesus: first about him becoming human; secondly, it is about the faith that Jesus worked in Mary, his mother. She serves as an example of one who heard the Word of God and believed. For this we give thanks to our Lord Jesus and pray that he may accomplish this work in us also.

Go in Peace.

Amen.

“Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” – Collect for Saint Mary, Mother of Our Lord.

St. Mary's Lutheran Church, Tomsk, Russia (Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church)

The Secret Place of the Storm

Matthew 14:22-33
Proper 14A, Gospel
Thursday, August 11, 2011
International Center Chapel

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” [ESV}

What’s a disciple to do when Jesus isn’t where you expect Him to be? In Matt 14:22-33, if you’re a disciple looking for Jesus, he’s not there. He’s someplace where he seems singularly unhelpful.

First, He’s off by himself. Jesus sends the disciples away. Right before this the disciples had suggested that Jesus send the crowd of 5000 listeners away—who wants to provide dinner for thousands, anyway? Jesus refused to send the crowds away and fed them instead.

Now he sends the disciples away! Hardly what they would expect. We don’t have his words, but the jist of it is something like this: “Yes, you’re my followers, but don’t follow me now. I’m going away alone. You get in the boat and go that way.” Matthew makes sure we notice this. He tells us explicitly that Jesus was “alone,” and the disciples are just as alone without Him. What’s a disciple to do without Him?

In this case, keep rowing. After He sends the disciples away, they encounter a storm. It’s the second storm mentioned in the Gospels, but Jesus isn’t sleeping in the back of the boat this time. He’s gone. They’re facing the storm alone! Although it seems like they’re managing it okay, even though the wind and waves are against them. Matthew says nothing about any terror in this storm—no fear that the boat is about to be swamped by the stormy waves.

No, the fear comes when they see a ghost right there in the storm, walking on the stormy waves!  Jesus not only isn’t with them in the boat, He’s the one who is scaring them in the storm. He’s scarier than the storm itself!

What a great thing that the Holy Spirit put this story into the heart and pen of Matthew. Every generation of disciples needs it.

We too wonder what to do when Jesus isn’t doing what we expect of Him? Every generation of disciples knows how often we feel alone—like Jesus is nowhere to be found. Like the disciples, we just keep rowing and figure that’s all there is to it.

The storms hit and you cope with them yourself. You decide what to do when the doctor gives you bad news. You deal with it when trouble comes, when you feel abandoned, when families start to fall apart. You deal with the worry of economic decline and threats of unemployment and retirement uncertainty. You seek help when you’re sick or depressed or despondent.

Like the disciples, we keep rowing, but where’s Jesus? Is He really here? What difference is He making? Yeah, we know that lonely feeling. It’s scary to be alone in the storm, even if we’re coping and not curled up in a corner. But this Word of God gives us two strong words of comfort in our loneliness and in the sometime sense of Jesus’ absence.

First, it informs us that although our Lord might seem distant, He’s praying. While the disciples are struggling away without Jesus in the boat, His absence from Him means prayer, not neglect.

It is no different for us. In the creeds, when we confess the Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father, we may think we’re just confessing an absence—that’s He’s not walking the shores of Galilee anymore. Rather, Hebrews reminds us that we’re confessing Him as our Great High Priest—our Intercessor (Hebrews 8:1).

Paul in Romans 8(:34) also assures us that no matter how far we might feel from God that such distance never means isolation from the goodness of God in Christ. No, not even the reality of our sin does that for God’s repentant children: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” That same promise is there in the assurance that the Holy Spirit also intercedes for us (Rom 8:26-27).

Yes, there’s no doubt. We’re in some very scary storms, but Jesus is praying for us. And His prayers mean a security that is always there, even when we don’t perceive it. That’s the first strong word of comfort.

The second is even stronger—so strong it’s kind of scary. Look at the second word of encouragement in this text. It’s strange, because it instilled the greatest fear in the disciples. As Jesus comes to them on the water, they’re scared to death, because they don’t recognize Him.

How could they? Who would expect a Man walking on water? Worse, who looks to the storm for hope—storms bring danger, not safety. But Jesus is in the very middle of the storm—on top of it, literally, walking on the roiling waves. Jesus Himself scares them because He’s not the way they expect Him to be; He’s not where they expect Him to be or doing what they expect Him to do.

And that is the strong Word of hope. In their absence from Jesus, He comes to the disciples where no one would expect Him. He comes to their aid in the very storm they are battling.

It should make us think twice about the storms of life—about distress and the grief and misery that life contains. It should make us think twice about how God brings His help into our lives. We like it best when we see God working gently—in a lovely day, a “sweet hour of prayer,” in encouraging words while all is well in our lives. I don’t even want to think about the storms as the place where God intends to make Himself known.

Okay, so He gave His Law in the thunderstorm of Mt. Sinai, but our faith is anchored in the Gospel, isn’t it? And that’s all sweet and tender, right?

Maybe not. Luther considered a puzzling line from Psalm 81 in which the Lord says in our English Bible: “In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder.” (v. 7, ESV; 8 in German). “The secret place of thunder?” Luther’s German translation of that last phrase said something closer to this: “I heard you in the secret place of the storm”  (Wetterwolke storm cloud). What Luther puzzles over is the idea of a thundering storm being a “secret place.” He writes:

“It is called ‘the secret place of the storm,’ … because the soul, even though there is storm and persecution out in the open, nevertheless is inwardly safe and at peace before God through hope and trust in Him…. How is the storm a secret place for us? It can be called that because ‘Thy visitation has preserved my spirit’ (Job 10:12). Thus storm and persecution preserve in the fear and love of God, but peace and security destroy and betray them. Therefore the secret place of the storm is very useful and much better than the appearance of peace and security. The latter brings forth the spirit into the open, while the storm drives the spirit inward and pushes it toward God. [AE 11:108-109]

So it goes: the storms of life are the very thing by which the Spirit is pushed toward God. No wonder Christ comes striding on the stormy sea. He needs to prepare His disciples, then and now, again and again, for the real heart of the Gospel.

We hate to admit it, but we need that push, for we’d rather have false comfort and a sweet spirit of sunny skies and “all-is-well.” We forget that the greatest good news—the heart of the Gospel—is a dark and stormy Friday filled not only with that ugly darkness but also with an uglier cross and bloody wounds and sheer agony.

Jesus scares His disciples that day. They can’t imagine Him coming to them in the way that He is. But it’s true. It really is Him. He calls out: “Be courageous. It is I. Fear not.

So Peter is at first emboldened. “If this is real, then let me come to you.” Then he steps into the storm, only to panic because he starts to see only the storm, and not the Lord who strides through it. Faithless fear begins to drown Him until He screams for help from the only one who can help.

Back in the boat, the disciples rightly worship Jesus—Jesus, who can not only still storms, but can stand on top of them.

That’s the Lord Jesus for you.

Better, that’s the Lord Jesus for you! He’s praying for you when you think He’s long gone. He’s striding through the storms of our lives so that fear might be the beginning of wisdom. He comes to turn our fear into faith. He compels us to see that in the storms of our lives where it is apparent that we have no hope in ourselves He will be our strength and salvation. He uses all that fear and anxiety and loneliness to draw us up out of the waves to Himself where we will find real peace and courage in His Word. In the midst of the storms of our life, here again is Jesus’ strong word to each of us: “Take courage. It is I. Fear not.”

—Rev. Larry Vogel

ELCK Visit to LCMS and Audit Report

Archbishop Obare, Charlie Rhodes, Rev. John Halahke

Today, Archbishop Obare and Rev. John Halahke, General Secretary, representative the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) at the LCMS International Center. Archbishop Obare and Rev. Halahke paid a visit to the United States in connection with the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI) and to meet with representatives from the LCMS regarding various projects supported by the LCMS in Kenya. Since the turn of the 21st century, the LCMS has partnered with the ELCK on projects such as Cows for Kenya, 1001 Orphans, Project 24, and the Kenya Hymnal Project (See the August 2011, Lutheran Witness). These projects have been well received and supported by LCMS members as they provided care for the body and soul of people in Kenya.

In order to assure accountability and donor integrity regarding LCMS supported projects in Kenya, Archbishop Obare requested in January 2011 for a financial expert from the LCMS to travel to Kenya to review the financial records and the projects supported by the LCMS. This past month a team lead by Mr. Charlie Rhodes, Executive Director of Accounting for the LCMS, visited Nairobi and other sites in Kenya to review financial and project accountability. In addition to LCMS projects, Charlie Rhodes also reviewed the past two or three years of the ELCK’s audited financial records. This afternoon, Charlie Rhodes, Archbishop Obare, Rev. John Halahke, and Dr. Albert Collver met with President Harrison to discuss the findings of the LCMS team. Charlie Rhodes was pleased to report that for the audit period, all LCMS funds sent to the ELCK were accounted for and that they were used for the projects in Kenya as intended by LCMS donors. Charlie Rhodes reported, “We have concluded all funds have been utilized for their intended purposes and no one in ELCK or DCM personally benefited.” Charlie also reported that he was pleased both with the co-operation and hospitality shown to him by the members of the ELCK during his visit. President Harrison indicated both to Charlie Rhodes and to Archbishop Obare that he was pleased with the results reported. Charlie Rhodes is preparing a report of his findings for the Board for International Mission, which will provide them with an example of how project accountability is maintained.

Archbishop Obare, President Harrison, Rev. John Halahke

After Mr. Charlie Rhodes concluded his report, Rev. John Halahke, who graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary this past spring presented President Harrison with a gift in honor of the doctorate he received from Concordia Theological Seminary.

After the presentation of gifts, President Harrison took the group for  lunch at the Elephant Bar in honor of Kenya.

Rev. John Halahke and an Elephant

Instead of finding simba (a lion), Rev. John Halahke found an elephant in America. After conversation over lunch, the group from Kenya returned to their hotel for rest in preparation of their journey to South Dakota for a LMI event to be held this weekend.