Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Traveling with the Schroeders -- New Ulm, Minnesota

This past weekend, we took a trip to New Ulm, Minnesota (where else would you want to be in January?) to Martin Luther College.  It was Parents' Weekend, and we had never made it to one.  This would be the last Parents' Weekend Faith would be eligible for, so we made the 13 hour trek to the prairie.  All things considered, it was pretty temperate for New Ulm in January -- in the 20's Fahrenheit, not 20 below!

We were able to catch two games over the weekend.  On Friday, we saw a 85-63 loss to U-M Morris.  You can check out the stats of that game here.  The loss did not come as a surprise since Morris is 2nd in the conference.  Still, MLC was hoping for a better outing than they got.

On Saturday, MLC righted the ship, jumping out to an early, commanding lead and cruising to a convincing 71-45 win over Crown College.  Faith had a better game against Morris though.  Against Crown, she ended up collecting too many fouls to remain as aggressive as she likes.  In addition, the large lead against Crown allowed the coach to make sure that all players got to play a good deal, which was nice for Parents' Weekend.  You can see the stats for that game here.

This will likely be the last time that we get to see Faith play live.  It has been a lot of fun to watch her all these years.  She has sure worked hard at the game, and I suspect that hard work and dedication will be passed on through coaching in the years to come.

Some photos from the weekend.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Something from ... Chrysostom on the Church and the Apostles

Something from St. John Chrysostom (ca. 349 - 407), bishop of Constantinople.

Here, John comments on the benefits we have received through the Apostles and Evangelists who have recorded the words and works of Jesus Christ, by which the Holy Spirit brings people into the kingdom of God.  Though they have departed from this world, their words are still proclaimed.  And we still benefit from their words, as the Church (the commonwealth) gathers around them Sunday after Sunday to receive the blessings proclaimed in them.

“And as a place for this their commonwealth they have assigned Heaven, and God they have brought in as the framer thereof, and as lawgiver of the statues there set; as indeed was their duty.  And the rewards in their commonwealth are not leaves of bay nor olive, not an allowance of meat in the public hall, nor estates of brass, these cold and ordinary things, but a life which hath no end, and to become children of God, to join the angels' choir, and to stand by the royal throne, and to be always with Christ.  And the popular guides of this commonwealth are publicans, and fishermen, and tent-makers, not such as have lived for a short time, but such as are now living for ever.  Therefore even after their death they may possibly do the greatest good to the governed.” (St. John Chrysostom, p 6, Homilies on the Gospel according to St. Matthew; Homily 1, part 12)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lutherfest 500

The website is now live!


Lutherfest 500 is coming!!!

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Epiphany (January 22, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     Our Lord Jesus Christ on the night he was betrayed prayed for the Church and for the unity of all the believers in it.  Specifically, Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for (the apostles) only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you....” (John 17:20-21)  It is a grievous thing that the Church is fractured into so many denominations.  Our Lord is not delighted by it, and neither are Christians.  That is not to say that the divisions are meaningless or should be ignored.  It is easy to insist that denominations should simply get together and forget their differences.  But if that is your sentiment, let me ask you: Are you willing to reject that the Lord's Supper is the body and blood of Jesus?  Or to say that what we receive in the Lord's Supper doesn't matter?  Will you still insist that we are by nature dead in sin and cannot by our own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him?  Or are you ready to embrace the so-called “Sinner's Prayer” in which you choose a Savior for yourself and claim that salvation is your work as much as it is God's?  Sadly, the church on earth is not united.  But as sad as the divisions are, they matter because God's word matters.
     You ought to understand that divisions in the church are nothing new.  Some divisions are over doctrine as we had just considered.  Other differences are much more petty.  But to those who have settled into their strongly held opinions, their differences do not seem petty at all.
     It may seem impossible to you that people could be united in thoughts and judgment.  We get frustrated and even angry with other people because they do not think like we do.  We cast judgment on people who disagree with our opinions and preferences.  In some cases, you risk your life wearing your favorite team's jersey into the opposing team's stadium.  Some terminate friendships because the other person voted for a different candidate.  And if you don't terminate the friendship, you congratulate yourself for your amazing ability to tolerate idiots.
     We all desire to be the god of our own little world.  We believe that our opinions set the standard for what is smart and our attitudes set the standard for what is right.  We judge everyone according to those standards.  If people agree with us, we deem them to be right and smart.  If they disagree, we don't care about their reasons.  We label them wrong or stupid or, if we are being nice, ignorant.  We are not as interested in their eternal well-being as we are in showing them that we are right.  This is the height of arrogance, and it marks us all as idolaters.  Repent.
     When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation, they had already broken up into factions.  They had pledged themselves to be disciples of one pastor and would not submit to the preaching or care of others.  St. Paul wrote: What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)  These pastors were not preaching conflicted messages or competing gospels.  If the pastors were not divided, why was the congregation divided over them?  Even if you should have a fondness for a certain pastor or church, the kingdom of God is not based on men or denominations.  No pastor or church body ever died for your salvation.  Only Jesus did, and he points us to the Scriptures for our hope and for the source of truth.  That is what unites us.  By grace, we are united in Christ.
    Jesus establishes this unity by leveling the playing field for all people.  None of us has anything to boast about before our Lord.  For this is what the Bible teaches: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)  There is no difference or division among us.  We are all sinners.  Whether the world considers you to be a saint or a scoundrel, you are a sinner.  We have all sinned.  We all continue to fall short of the glory of God.  That is why we are all going to die one day.  It is what sinners deserve.  We all alike are under God's wrath.  We are all united in that.
     But the verse continues: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ... to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25)  Again, there is no difference or division among us in this.  We all have the same Savior, and we are all saved in the same way.  The Lord Jesus Christ took from us all our iniquity.  He became a man and took into his body all of our guilt and then took all the punishment it deserves.  Jesus did not try to determine which sinners were worth dying for; he was crucified for all.  Jesus did not crunch numbers to figure out which sins were worth covering and which were too costly.  He assumed them all.  And he consumed God's wrath for us all.  You are not saved because you are better or smarter or more sincere.  You are saved by Jesus' holy, precious blood and innocent sufferings and death.  By grace, we are all united in this.
     Now, it is true that some Christians appear more zealous than others.  Some are more patient.  Some are more eager to confess their faith and invite friends to church.  Some are more generous with their money or time.  Some are exemplary in godly behavior.  But godly living and zeal does not make you better in God's eyes.  By grace, we are all united in Christ.  Have you been baptized into Christ?  Then you are cleansed from all your sin and clothed in Jesus' righteousness.  Do you believe and confess that your salvation is God's gift to you?  Then you are an heir of eternal life.  Do you bear the name Christian?  Then God's favor rests upon you and he regards you as holy and blameless before him.  By grace, we are united in Christ.  You cannot gain greater favor from God; you have his favor already.  He does not love some more and some less.  God's love for you does not change; you are all his beloved redeemed.  You shall receive the same heavenly home.  Therefore, there is no boasting among us at all.  By grace, we are all united in Christ—all saved the same, all saints before God, and all heirs of his everlasting kingdom.
     God has called us into his kingdom by his word.  God has united us by his word, and God keeps us united by that word.  Where God has not spoken, we are free to have different opinions and preferences.  The kingdom of God is not about who you voted for in the last election.  It is not about your favorite hymn, what color you wish the carpeting would be, or who makes the best dessert for pot luck dinners.  It is not even about who your favorite pastor ever was.  By Christ, we are united in Christ.  It is the forgiveness of sins which we all share and our status as God's saints which unites us to Christ as to one another.
     By grace, we are united in Christ.  By grace, Christ has taught us to hear his word and submit to it.  When that word exposes us in our sins, we confess that God is right and that we are wrong, and we repent.  When the whole world seems to set a different standard to what is right and smart, we continue to take our stand on God's word and bear the scorn of a world which boasts that it has moved beyond the word of God.  When we gather together as the church, we rejoice that God has bound us together in this blessed union.  We are not united because we are better or smarter or more sincere.  We are united by God's grace.  We are united for God's glory.  We are united in service to each other and to those who are not yet united with us.  We unite our voices here, and we look forward to the blessed union of all Christians united in heavenly glory as we praise God for his goodness forevermore.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Local Tourist -- River Raisin National Battlefield Park

Today we took a quick run down to the Monroe area to look at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park.  Little did we know that this Saturday was an anniversary of the War of 1812 battle which took place in this area.  Sadly, most of the festivities and re-enactments were in the morning, so we missed that.

Still, we enjoyed the 15 minute video about the battle and ensuing battles which revolved around the River Raisin site.  Peter also got to be a Junior Park Ranger here.

Some photos.

Peter, hard at work trying to figure out his Junrior Ranger assignments.

The oath of a Junior Ranger, successfully completed.

Friday, January 20, 2017

God bless President ______________

Today, the 45th President of the United States will take the oath of office.  For some, it is a day of great joy.  For others, it is a day of angst and mourning.

In one of the litanies we use on occasion, we pray for our leaders by name.  For the past eight years, our prayer was for President Obama.  Now our prayer will be for President Trump.  The particular intercession reads:

Pastor:   Preserve our nation in justice and honor, that we may lead peaceable lives of integrity.  Grant health and favor to all who bear office in our land, especially to President Trump, Governor Snyder, and Bob Gatt, the Mayor of Novi, and all those who make, administer, and judge our laws, and help them serve all citizens according to your will:
Cong:    Hear us, good Lord.

Perhaps you are not a fan of President Trump.  Maybe you even fear his policies.  That is fine; it is your opinion.  (Likewise with President Obama.)  But if you refuse to pray for the President, your problem is no longer with the President; it is with the Lord.

No matter what anyone thinks of the out-going President or of the in-coming President, the Church will continue to heed the word of God which states: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

God bless President Obama.  God bless President Trump.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 15, 2017)



In the name + of Jesus.

     If you meet a person who hates the Christian Church or hates Jesus, it will be for this reason: He hates God’s grace.
     Most people hate God’s grace because they don’t believe they need it.  A lot of people think of God like a neighbor you don’t really get along with.  You can learn to tolerate each other, mainly by having as little to do with each other as possible.  “If he stays in his yard and minds his own business, I will stay in my yard and mind my own business.  I can go through life and take care of myself.  If he leaves me alone, we will both be fine.”  People assume that they are naturally acceptable to God.  Or they think they can be neutral toward God and if so, that should mean they are in good standing with God.
     If it were true that if we left God alone and he left us alone and everyone would be fine, then the Church does the world no favors by preaching.  And St. Paul would have wasted a great deal of time and expense in going to Corinth to preach and establish a church there.  Of course, the world believes that preaching and the Church are a waste of time and expense.  That is because people hate God’s grace, and preaching about it makes them angry.
     People are not naturally acceptable to God.  They are not even neutral.  All are sinners, and the sinful mind is hostile to God.  We don't like what God has to say.  And God is not some nosy neighbor whom you can shut out if you just build a fence high enough.  God is not your peer.  Nor is God someone who will politely stay out of your business.  That’s because you are God’s business.
     The reason you are in this world is because, first God created the world, and then God put you in it.  God not only brought you into the world, he has also supplied you with all that you need to live here.  Year after year, the Lord provides you with clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, and all that you need for body and life.  Your annoying neighbor does not do that for you.  Not even nice neighbors do that.  In response to his love and generosity, God wants you to love him and to do the good works he desires.  He does not only look for it, he holds you accountable for it.  Your life is God’s business because you are God’s creation.
     But it is not just unbelievers who despise God's grace; we do too.  While we are recipients of God’s grace, it bothers us that God would waste his grace on other people.  For, we believe that grace is something that we have earned by going to church or that we deserve because we are more honest and generous than others.  And if that is true, we don’t believe we need God’s grace either.  Beware that you do not despise God’s saving grace.  If you don't believe you need it, God will not force you to have it.  If you are a Christian it is for this reason: You have been set apart by God’s grace.
     St. Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that they were not saved because they were better than their fellow citizens, because they had done works that others had not, or because they had figured out what others did not.  St. Paul repeatedly declares that they were set apart by God’s grace.  St. Paul notes how they were “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)  They were “called to be saints.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)  They were given grace. (1 Corinthians 1:2)  They “were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 1:5)  And “the testimony about Christ was confirmed” (1 Corinthians 1:6) among them.  The Corinthians had done none of these things for themselves.  They were all done for them and granted to them.  And it is the same with you—You have been set apart by God’s grace.
     When St. Paul tells us that Christians are sanctified, that means we are set apart for God’s purposes.  You cannot deliver yourself from death.  You cannot erase your sins.  God must do this for you.  And he does.  It is God’s business to save sinners, and you are, therefore, God’s business.  God has set you apart from your sins and from the condemnation that comes from them.  As John the Baptist highlighted, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29)  All of your sin has been laid upon Jesus who, then, suffers your condemnation in your place.  He is condemned so that you will be pardoned.  He is slain so that you will live.  But the Lamb which was slain is slain no longer.  Jesus is risen from the grave.  And in rising from the dead, Jesus sets you apart from death too.  Though the grave may hold your mortal body for a while, the grave must give you up when Jesus comes on the Last Day.  He will raise you up to be immortal and to live in glory—forever set free and set apart from death.  You have been set apart by God’s grace.
     When St. Paul wrote this epistle to the church in Corinth, he rejoiced that God was so gracious to call these people out of a sinful, depraved society into God's blessed kingdom.  And though they were called to be saints and sanctified in Christ Jesus, that is not to say that they were perfect.  In fact, St. Paul wrote this letter because the church in Corinth was pretty messed up.  There were divisions in the congregation as each group sided with their favorite pastor.  Some of the richer members excluded the poorer ones.  Some of the more gifted members flaunted their gifts and made other Christians feel less-than-Christians.  Some wanted to profess to be Christians but to still live like pagans.  Others decided, “If Jesus forgives everything, then I am free to do anything!”  Yes, the church in Corinth was messed up.
     Sadly, the problems in Corinth were not unique to Corinth.  Every Christian ought to recognize that we don't live up to what God has called us to be.  We have been “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2) and “called to be saints.” (1 Corinthians 1:2), but we prove daily that we are not holy.  Our lives are not as pure, our love is not as constant, our speech is not as beneficial, and our compassion for fellow sinners is not as free as it should be.  We are reluctant to be gracious because we fear it will be wasted on the ungrateful.  We still struggle with cliques, with petty competition, and with pride.  Perhaps you feel that your life is as messed up as it ever was.
     And to you, this is what St. Paul says: Our Lord Jesus Christ … will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:8-9)  You are set apart by God's grace, and he is faithful to you.  Jesus does not dismiss you or renounce you because you are weak or because you have not been as faithful as you should be.  Even though you and I have been set apart for God's purposes, we have not been as faithful to God as we ought.  And yet God remains faithful to us.  We don't deserve his love, and he still pours it out upon us.  Jesus does not get disgusted by us.  He is not angry.  And he does not regret suffering and dying to set us free from sin, guilt, death and hell.  Jesus pours out his grace upon the pious, the ungrateful, and even on the unfaithful.  That is the very essence of grace.
     You remain set apart by God's grace.  You are sustained by God's grace.  And his grace and forgiveness still account you guiltless before the Lord.  Therefore, you do not need to be ashamed because of your sins; you are forgiven.  You do not need to fear death; you have been set apart and marked for the resurrection to life everlasting.  You do not need to fear God's wrath or judgment; you are delivered into God's kingdom and have been given God's favor.  It is God's business to save sinners, and you are his business.  Jesus is not merely concerned about you, he is devoted to you.  He is faithful to you.  He sustains you by his grace so that you will always benefit from it and remain set apart for salvation.  He gives you blessings you neither earned nor deserved, for he is most gracious to you.  And that is what sets you apart from the world.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Something from ... Augustine, on grace and the Law

Something from St. Augustine.  Short and sweet.

“Grace makes us lovers of the law; but the law itself, without grace, makes us nothing but breakers of the law.” (Augustine, Selections from “On Grace and Free Will,” chapter 38)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sermon --1st Sunday after Epiphany: Baptism of our Lord (January 8, 2017)

MATTHEW 3:13-17


In the name + of Jesus.

     We have entered Epiphany.  Epiphany means appearing or revelation.  When something becomes apparent to you, you say that you had an epiphany.  During Epiphany season, we hear how Jesus of Nazareth is revealed as the Christ.  Through his words and works, Jesus makes it manifest that he is the Son of God.
     Perhaps you feel that this already occurred at Christmas.  But the reason we marvel at Christmas is not because Jesus entered the world in some spectacular way.  What was apparent at Christmas is that a peasant woman from Nazareth gave birth to her firstborn son.  What had to be revealed came through the angels' word: “He is Christ, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10)  The Magi needed a star to reveal what Herod and the priests did not know, that “the King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2) was born.  Anyone who was at the manger scene would have observed nothing out of the ordinary.  That’s because Jesus was born and grew up in a most ordinary way.
     The Gospel writers record next to nothing about Jesus’ life from his infancy until he was 30 years old.  St. Luke sums up Jesus’ childhood in this way: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40) That extraordinary silence reflects a most ordinary existence.  But now things change at Epiphany.  Jesus manifests that he is the Lord's anointed.
     Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. (Matthew 3:13)  God the Father had commissioned Jesus to come into the world to do the work of the Savior.  Jesus was not volunteering; he was reporting for duty.  Jesus was the only one qualified to do this work; for Jesus alone had the favor of God upon him.  Jesus had no need to be baptized.  Jesus is innocent in words and deeds.  Jesus is pure of heart.  John the Baptist recognized that.  John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  (Matthew 3:14-15)  
     It was fitting for Jesus to be baptized so that he would save us.  As I said before, Jesus did not need to be baptized.  Baptism is for cleansing.  We baptize our babies because they are sinful.  That is not apparent,  That, too, God needs to reveal to us, although by the time they are toddlers it is apparent to us.  We are baptized because we are not pure—although we like to think that we are.  We like to think that our intentions are enough to excuse us for our lies.  We recognize that giving to charity, praying, and giving our mothers a phone call are good things.  We also think that we should get credit for recognizing it even if we don't do these things as we should.  We like to think that our dreams and musings are how God speaks to us, and we assume we have God's approval on our plans and schemes.  We are convinced that, because we are convinced about something, that it must be from God.
     Thus, we rob ourselves of any assurance that God's favor actually does rest upon us and our lives.  Unless we have a clear word from God, we can never be sure that God blesses us or our actions.  Even worse, without a clear word from God, we can never be sure that God is pleased with us.  And when our consciences remind us that we are impure and unclean, no inventive thoughts of ours can put an end to that accusing voice.  Our hearts are deceptive.  Our thoughts are impure.  Our lives are unclean.  We are not innocent, and we are not even neutral.  We are sinners.  We need to be cleansed and purified.  We need to have forgiveness and salvation revealed to us.  We need an epiphany, and our Lord gives us one.
     When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)  And here is part of the Epiphany.  It is God the Father revealing, “This one.  This one is my Son.  This one has my favor.  This one is the Christ.  He is anointed not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit to do the work of salvation for you.  This one is my anointed who will save you.”  Here you do not need to assume.  You have God's own word: This one is the Lord's Anointed.
     Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism.  This anointing marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  This is where Jesus is revealed as the Christ.  He begins the office into which he is commissioned.  In the Old Testament, people were anointed into their various offices.  Aaron was anointed to be Israel’s high priest.  David was anointed to be Israel’s king.  Elisha was anointed to be Israel’s prophet.  The Lord put them into their respective offices and gave them the authority and responsibility that came along with it.  Throughout Epiphany, it is revealed about Jesus: This one is the Lord’s Anointed.
     Just as offices were conferred on prophets, high priests, and kings in the Old Testament, so these offices were conferred upon Jesus.  At his baptism, Jesus was anointed not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit.  This one is the Lord's Anointed, and he is anointed to carry out the work of all the Old Testament offices—of prophet, high priest, and king.  This one will perfectly fulfill their work.
     This one is the Lord's anointed, anointed to be the prophet who proclaims the Lord's favor, who declares salvation, and who forgives sins.  Jesus does not merely talk about these blessings, he delivers them.  Your sins are, therefore, forgiven because you have God's word on it.  You don't have to assume you are forgiven.  You are assured of it.  It is not your inventive thought; it is God's gracious declaration.
     This one is the Lord's anointed, anointed to be our great high priest.  As our high priest, Jesus makes the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  It is Jesus who enters the very presence of God the Father with holy, precious blood offered up to pay for our sins.  But Jesus is not only the high priest.  He is also the Lamb of God who is slain for our sins.  Jesus sheds his own blood for us.  He has taken our sin from us in order to be the sin offering for us.  He gives his holy life for sinners, and pours out his innocent blood for the guilty.  The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)  
     This one is the Lord's anointed, anointed to be your king.  He is not a tyrant who taxes and terrorizes you.  He is not a king who sends you into battle to win a glorious victory for him.  He is the king who goes into battle to win a glorious victory for you.  He goes forth alone to take on your enemies of sin, death, and the devil for you.  Your sins he covers.  Your death he overthrows.  And the devil he destroys.  Therefore, you are pardoned of your guilt.  You are heirs of the resurrection.  And you are delivered from the torments of hell to the joys of heaven.
     Jesus does all this for you because he is the Lord's Anointed.  He is not your Savior because you say it is so.  Jesus is not even the Savior because he says so, even though he does.  Here is your Epiphany:  The words and the works of Jesus reveal your Savior to you.  God the Holy Spirit anoints Jesus for the work, and God the Father gives you his word: “This one.  This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)  This one has my favor.  This one is the Christ.  He is anointed with the Holy Spirit to do the work of salvation for you.  This one is my anointed who will save you.”  Here you have God's epiphany: This one is the Lord's Anointed.  He is baptized to unite himself to you.  Through baptism, you are united to him.  He takes away your sin.  He bestows on you his righteousness.  Through your baptism, he opens heaven to you.  He puts God's favor upon you.  You are his beloved, and with you he is well pleased.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Pastoral Concern -- Virtual vs. Reality

I grew up watching TV.  For better or for worse, my family regularly quotes from TV shows or movies.  Even one of my children has commented that we do that too much.  So, I am not entirely a Ludite who despises technology.

While I do not despise technology, I do have concerns about how dependent--better: addicted--we are to it.  (And yes, I understand the irony of posting this little rant on the internet.)  Consider how screens permeate our lives -- television, movie screens, cell phones, I-phones, Ipads, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Skype, X Box, Playstation, etc.....  Am I overstating our addiction to watching a screen instead of looking at real things?  Consider: When people go to a rock concert, do they look at the band on the stage or at the large screens above the stage?  After all, they paid to see the band, not the screen.  When there is a celebrity sighting or a momentous occasion, do people watch it unfold or do they view it through a smart phone as they record it?

I remember seeing a clip of a Dallas Cowboys game.  The camera was on one sideline zooming in on a deep throw to the opposite side line.  Just outside the field of play, there were fans on the side line watching the action.  The irony?  They were all watching the jumbotron instead of the play 20 feet in front of them.  (If anyone can find this on YouTube, please provide the link in the comments.  I saw it on an ESPN "C'mon, man!" segment.  Date unknown.  I can't find it now, though.)

If you want to watch a screen so much, why pay to go to the stadium?  We have TV's at home.
Granted, the jumbotron at AT&T stadium is impressive.  I suppose you could argue that many people get a better image of the game blown up in way-larger-than-life-size images than trying to catch the nuances of the offensive line from the 53rd row.  But for the fans on the side lines: If you want to marvel at the athleticism of the wide receiver and the cornerback contesting the ball, how about looking 20 feet in front of your face??????  The video screen demanded their attention more than the actual people who were running right past them!  Here, virtual dominated reality.

A virtual image can serve us well.  It is often the best option to showing us something--whether it is a photograph, a video, or even a police sketch of a suspect.  But it is hardly a fair substitute.  Why do people bother going to the Grand Canyon every year?  Just Google it!  Here you go:

The Grand Canyon.  Bucket List -- check!
You've just saved all kinds of time and money from your summer vacation.  You've experienced the Grand Canyon in the image above!  Oh, wait...it's not the same?  No, it isn't.  Not even close.  Reality is far superior to virtual.

Even when we are watching the video of a loved one, it is not the same as actually being with a loved one.  Skype may be the best option available for families to stay in contact, but I can't imagine any grandparent being content to see the virtual images of their grandchildren on Christmas morning rather than hugging, kissing, and talking with them in person.  Reality far outweighs virtual, even when virtual is the best option available.

This is not a rant from some curmudgeon who longs for the simpler times of the good old days.  This is a pastoral concern about seeing our addiction to technology.  More specifically, it is about seeing that addiction invade the sacred space of the church.  It seems that, even in church, people prefer to live in a virtual world than to focus on the reality of sin, death, and God's presence among his people.  And THAT is alarming.

I am not unfamiliar with the arguments for employing video screens in the church.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that, for the most part, people want to do it because A) we can, and B) it's cool.  Just because we can does not mean we should.  It seems to me that video screens end up making the Church look like a secular venue and/or making worship become entertainment.  Look at the photos below.  One is a worship service.  One is a rock concert.  Can you tell which is which?

Image result for megachurch worship

Granted, the image of the worship service above is an extreme, though not uncommon, case.  (By the way, the top one is the worship service; the bottom one is a rock concert which actually has one less video screen.)  I suspect most churches have the video screens to print the lyrics of hymns, the parts of the liturgy, and announcements.  But even using the screens to print hymns, liturgy, et al., has problems inherent with it which is outside the scope of this little rant.  Perhaps that's another issue of A Pastoral Concern.  My main concern here is that video screens draw our attention to themselves above all else.  If they demand our attention at every other venue, what would make this different in church?  If our attention in the sacred space is drawn to video screens, then they distract from Christ.

What is the focal point of a church?  Take a look below.

Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church, of Novi, Michigan.  Easter 2016.
The altar is the central feature of the chancel and, therefore, the focal point of the church.  Why?  Because an altar proclaims sacrifice.  That's what altars are for.  It keeps us mindful of the atoning sacrifice that Jesus made for us in his crucifixion.  Of course, that sacrifice was a once-for-all death.  It does not need to be repeated.  Therefore, our altar does more than testify of sacrifice.  It is also the table from which we receive the Lord's Supper.  The body and blood of the Lord are on the altar.  What else would you expect to find on an altar but a body and blood?

From the altar, we receive the true body and blood of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.  The Sacrament of the Altar is not a symbolic act.  The bread and wine are not representations.  (The video screen provides only representations!)  What we have on the altar is exactly what Jesus said: "This is my body.  This is my blood."  They are reality.  That which Jesus gave into death for the forgiveness of our sins is given to us for the forgiveness of our sins.  We tangibly, really feast on the body and blood of the Lord, partaking in his atoning sacrifice, consuming his salvation, and receiving forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith.  These are not virtual.  Just as the body and blood of Jesus are reality, so are the gifts they provide.  We do not receive symbolic forgiveness and salvation.  What good would that do?  Here, reality means real forgiveness and real salvation.

Distractions will always find their way into the church.  Children will cry.  Minds will drift.  The pastor can lose his place in the liturgy.  These will happen, but they are unintentional and can be overlooked.  It is different when the distraction is invited into the church and given an intentionally prominent place.  Now when you factor in how addicted we are to looking at video screens, the distraction becomes the main feature.

In virtual vs. reality, reality is always better.  The video screen, however, highlights the virtual.  It draws our attention away from what is real.  We end up focusing on virtual rather than reality.  That is alarming, and it certainly is not the best.  Projected images may be cool.  They may dazzle.  They can even be entertaining.  But Jesus does not come to us through video screens.  Jesus did not come to be cool or to dazzle, and certainly not to entertain.  Jesus came to save, to forgive, and to bless.  He still comes to us--now through the word which is preached by a flesh and blood minister and through the sacraments which are administered under real world elements of water and bread and wine.  Our worship, and therefore our attention, should be focused on what is real rather than on what is projected or virtual.

Real forgiveness only comes from real gifts--most vividly given, seen, smelled, felt, and tasted from the altar.  This is where our attention deserves to be.