Sunday, June 22, 2008

Trinity 5

Sermon on Luke 5:1-11
For St. John Lutheran Church, Racine, Wisconsin
June 22, 2008 (The Fifth Sunday after Trinity)

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” With these words Peter expresses the first reaction of anyone who knows that he is not perfect and holy upon realizing that he’s standing in the presence of the holy and perfect God who made heaven and earth. It is, of course, a natural reaction. It’s a reaction that comes from our God-given instinct of self-preservation. We know that to be sinners and to stand in the presence of a holy God, is to die. And we don’t like that idea. And so it’s so much more comfortable for us to not be reminded that we are in God’s presence or in His sight. Even though God is everywhere, we’d like to pretend that there are some areas of our life that He can’t see, so that we can pretend, at least for a little while, that He isn’t watching our pet sins or our habitual failings. And so we try to fend off His wrath by beating Him to the punch, by hoping that if we make a big show of punishing ourselves, He will just leave us alone.
In this case, it was actually a great blessing from God which prompted Peter’s wish that Jesus go away. Simon Peter and his coworkers, James and John, had just experienced a miracle which could only have come from God. After a long night of unsuccessful fishing, Jesus had used one of their boats as a pulpit and then asked Peter to take Him fishing. Despite being in the wrong part of the lake, during the wrong time of day, they caught an unbelievable number of fish, so many that their nets were breaking and their boats were sinking with the effort of bringing it all to shore. It wasn’t human wisdom or ingenuity or fishing experience which had provided all these fish; it was God. Of course, He is always the one providing for us even when the things we need for this life come to us in the ordinary way. But on this occasion it was obvious that it was God Himself who was with them in their boats, and despite the great blessing He had given them, His presence made Peter uncomfortable.
That’s the way it is sometimes with us, as well. It is precisely in giving us His greatest blessings, namely the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation itself, that God can make us the most uncomfortable. You see, the old sinful nature doesn’t want to die. He’s got the same self-preservation instinct that God originally created into us (after all, he is us), and so he would rather come up with all sorts of plans as to how he can make it better, cover over his sin, work his way back into God’s good graces, invent his own punishment, and otherwise keep God at arms length and himself in charge. But God wishes to give us salvation and eternal life as a free gift. And that means that the old self, which wants to work for God’s gifts, either by doing lots of good things or by punishing ourselves so that maybe He won’t punish us, must die. That’s the only way we can be reborn as those who fear, love, and trust in God above all things: if the self who fears, loves, and trusts in himself above all things is put to death. And putting to death the old self isn’t pleasant. The old self would rather just avoid God instead.
Of course, that tactic only works for so long. Really, it doesn’t work at all, because God is everywhere; even apart from His gracious presence, He’s still there. But He hides His presence most of the time, and so people delude themselves that He’s not there watching them, or that He doesn’t exist at all. But the day is coming, either when Christ returns as judge, or at each person’s own death, when that delusion will be stripped away. He is there, and He has always been there. Those who are not in Christ will then be completely exposed with their sin before His righteous wrath.
But those who are in Christ, who have been put to death and raised to life again in Holy Baptism, whose old Adam is continuously put to death by the Holy Spirit through the law and whose new Christ is continuously raised to life again through the Gospel every day and every moment of their lives, react totally the opposite from the way Peter reacted here. Since you are new creatures, your reaction is the same as the reaction of the psalmist who wrote the verses included in the antiphon to today’s Introit. “Do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation.” In Christ’s presence is precisely where we need to be. Those who wish Christ to depart from them must face His Father’s wrath over their sin without His help. But those whose sin has been covered by Christ’s righteousness, whose punishment has already been taken by Him on the cross, are shielded from His wrath by that white robe of righteousness which Christ has given them. Having died to sin and been reborn to righteousness, then, we wish to be in His presence as much as we possibly can, to receive again His Word and His body and blood by which He again gives us that new life and salvation which we so urgently need in order to face the battle that is life in a world messed up by sin, including the sin that remains in our own hearts.
And that is, of course, what happens here, today. Christ comes to you. He is here. Wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them. We don’t come together as the Christian Church simply to talk about Jesus. We come to hear Him speak to us in His own words on the mouths of His chosen shepherd as well as ourselves and each other, as we sing and speak back to Him what He says to us. We come to be refreshed in the new life He has given us in Holy Baptism, and His Word of forgiveness restores us to the water and again drowns the old Adam so that the new man in Christ can arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. And we come to eat His body and drink His blood, by which he sustains and nourishes us and gives us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation He won for us, not just in our hears and our minds, but in our whole selves including our bodies. He is here among us today. He will be in you when you eat and drink Him shortly. And that’s not something to be afraid of. The Lord’s Supper is not something to fear, to put off until we feel really holy or spiritual. That’s the old Adam talking, wanting to fix the situation himself and for God to stay at arm’s length until then. Rather, the Holy Supper is something that we need as often as we can get it, especially when we’ve been dragged down and around by the battle against sin, death, and the devil, because by it our Creator comes to us and dwells within us, giving us salvation. “Do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation.” And indeed He will not. He will stay with you, and you with Him, in our Father’s house, forever. Amen.
✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Saturday, June 21, 2008

CRM Status

I'm officially on CRM status right now. A few folks asked back when I started this blog what that means.

It's an abbreviation for some Latin words that basically mean, "Candidate for the Ministry." (Somehow it seems typically LCMS of us to take a Latin phrase and create a bureaucratic three-letter abbreviation from it. But maybe that's just me.) I think it's officially referred to as "Candidate status" in the Synodical bylaws, but "CRM" seems to be the way most pastors refer to it. We tend to be traditionalists in the Church, which is why the silly name Winkel has stuck around for the monthly circuit pastors' conferences (it means "corner," by the way, as often the pastors would hold their meetings in a corner of the church). So also with CRM, which is I believe the way it used to be referred to officially.

One problem with being on CRM status is that often it's a black mark on your record as a pastor. Normally pastors leave one parish by accepting a call to another, or by retiring if they are of sufficient age to do so. Sometimes pastors resign and enter CRM status to pursue an academic degree that is simply not available in their immediate area, and that's not looked down upon all that much. But usually when a pastor resigns from his call without either going back to school, retiring, or accepting a call to another parish, that raises eyebrows and causes questions to rise in people's minds. What happened that caused him to do that? Who was to blame for whatever conflict most likely led to his resignation? Was he such a bad pastor that they finally pushed him out? Even if most of the blame lies with the congregation, wouldn't a pastor worthy of the office be able to manage the conflict in such a way that it wouldn't end so badly?

The result is that, unless one is pursuing an academic degree, being on CRM status itself can hinder one from receiving a Call. And that's unfortunate. The fact is, all pastors are sinners. Every pastor makes mistakes. And every congregation is full of sinners, and every congregation, collectively and individually, makes mistakes. And even apart from that, every pastor and every congregation is unique. One pastor may thrive in a place that would drive another pastor to insanity. And that latter pastor may do just fine in the church in the next town.

It is true that there are men in the ministry whose faults tend to get in the way of their ministry more than the average pastor's do. And some such men do end up on CRM status because of it. And some don't; they move from congregation to congregation and finally find one where their particular personality issues aren't problematic. But in many cases the pastor who ends up resigning is a perfectly good pastor who ended up in a difficult situation for which he was not well prepared, and who would do fine in a different sort of congregation.

But often we aren't given that chance, since when given the choice between a pastor who obviously has some sort of conflict in his background that ended badly (after all, if nothing bad happened he wouldn't have resigned), and one who seems to be doing reasonably well in his current parish, the safe bet for most congregations seems to be to go with the guy who doesn't have an obvious black mark on his record. And that's understandable, even though it's unfortunate and even, dare I say it, sometimes it can be a failure to honor the Eighth Commandment injunction to "put the best construction on everything" on the part of congregational members.

If that's all that happened to CRM pastors, however, I wouldn't be writing this blog post. What frustrates me more is how the opinions and perspectives and even the theological reasoning of those on CRM status is discounted and dismissed by other pastors at times. It seems to be an easy ad hominem argument in the midst of an online disagreement over some point of doctrine or practice to point out, even if in passing, that one is on CRM status and may or may not ever get a call again. Something along the lines of, "If the Lord sees fit to give you a parish, you would do well to consider what I'm saying or else you'll have problems there too," or, "Well, the fact that you don't see thus and such my way is probably what got you into trouble at your last call," is used more often than it should be by pastors when one of the participants in a discussion is currently without a parish. And that is a violation of the Eighth Commandment. Usually what led to one's resignation of one's call had nothing to do with what was being talked about in the discussion, and in any case, pastors who use that sort of argument tend to forget that CRM-status pastors are also members of congregations right now, in many cases serving in some sort of (assisting) pastoral capacity, and despite the other pastor's insinuations, the subject of the disagreement is not causing any trouble with the congregation at all.

I recognize that I didn't handle my situation in Kansas perfectly. I doubt my situation today would be any different even if I had, however. The congregation in question's ears were simply itching that badly, and I could not in good conscience scratch them without denying what our Lord called me to preach and teach. But to use the fact that I was involved in a conflict that ended badly for me, as an argument in an unrelated discussion, is simply bad manners.