Sunday, September 17, 2017

God Works Through Means - Even In Genesis

When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father's house. Joseph lived 110 years.
(Genesis 50:15-22 ESV)

"What a mighty God we serve," we sing in songs like this one.  "God can do anything," we say.  "God is omnipotent, God is omnipresent, and there is nothing in life that is too big for God."  "My God is mightier than my problems!"  

The sayings never end.  Over and over.  "God is greater than my inability to pay my bills."  "God is greater than my inability to lose weight."  "God is greater than the storm that blew the roof off my house last week."  "God is greater than that jerk who cut me off on the highway on the way into work."  "God is greater than that co-worker I can't stand."  "God is greater than that in-law I only see at Christmas and still can't stand."

...and yet, we flinch at the very concept of God working through means.

We do a double take at the idea of Jesus healing a blind man and restoring his sight by spitting in dirt, mixing it into what's essentially spit-mud, and then rubbing that spit-mud in the blind man's eyes in John 9.

Does the average Christian even know about Psalm 50, where God unmistakably says, "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine?"

What kind of idol have we created for ourselves when we claim to serve a higher power who's great and mighty and created everything yet this "supreme being's" very creation is off-limits for some unfathomable reason?

It's His Creation, fallen though it may be.  It's His decision, if He is truly as omnipotent and all-powerful as we say He is in our pretty little First World Christianity sayings about how God is mightier than that unspeakably evil person who dinged our door in the supermarket parking lot last week.  It's His everything, however little sense that makes grammatically.  Sometimes even trying to talk about God is over our heads, nevermind anything He chooses to do.

...and choose he did, with the grace we see evident in what happened to Joseph, that should give us a glimpse of the Lord's mercy and the center point of redemptive history with Jesus on the Cross for us.  This lectionary reading for today out of Genesis 50 doesn't even begin to do justice to Joseph's life, but for the sake of good order, let's recap, because by the time Joseph's brothers were trying to strike a deal with their brother to be his servants (striking deals for salvation - a very Old Adam thing to do indeed), Joseph had lived one whirlwind of a life which makes our petty 21st Century struggles look quite tame.  

In Genesis 37 he has dreams hinting at this future event where his brothers will end up begging to be his servants, but his brothers become angry.  "Are you indeed to reign over us?  Are you indeed to rule over us?"  If you doubted the illustration of the Old Adam in Joseph's brothers, in verses 19 and 20 the brothers plot to kill him and make the incident look like a wild animal caused it.  Again, a rather Old Adam thing to do, assuming the role of God and judging that whoever isn't up to your standards just shouldn't exist.  If you wonder why Scripture relates anger towards a fellow human being to murder in Matthew 5:21-22 or 1 John 3:15, here's a little something way back in Genesis to go with it.

Reuben, Jacob's firstborn son, fortunately, has a change of heart and breaks ranks with the brothers (change of heart away from what Scripture would call a murderer - this behavior change should also be familiar to most Monergists).  He proposes to merely leave Joseph in the pit they dug to bury him in and rescue Joseph from it later.  Reuben, fortunately, is not the only one who has this sudden change of heart, as the rest of the brothers eventually decide not to murder Joseph and instead sell him into slavery to some passing traders en route to Egypt.  Huzzah!  Joseph's life is spared, and now he gets to be a servant to Potiphar, an officer of the Pharaoh, who eventually buys him from the traders in Egypt.

Feeling better, or should I say repentant, about those first world problems you think are so big in your life yet?  Joseph essentially had his youth wrecked by his jealous brothers who went from having a death wish for him to merely selling him into slavery instead, landing Joseph in a strange land far from home living in a culture different from his own.

But even still, despite all that had gone wrong for him, Genesis 39:2 shows God's mercy and working through means, even in what should have been the worst part of Joseph's life.  Genesis 39:2 - "The LORD was with Joseph..."

I would dare to say the Lord was with Joseph even before this verse, back when his jealous and angry brothers suddenly decided not to kill him.  This remains a pattern, the Lord was with Joseph, the Lord was with Joseph, the Lord was with Joseph.  In his turbulent years as a servant in Egypt, the Lord was with Joseph.  When famine spread through Egypt, the Lord was with Joseph.  When the famine spread beyond Egypt, the Lord was with Joseph.

Fast forward a little further.  When famine hit Joseph's homeland and Jacob found out there was grain for sale in Egypt, the Lord was with Joseph.  When Joseph wound up providing for his brothers and family to get them through the famine, the Lord was with Joseph.  By chapter 45, Joseph finally reveals everything about what had been going on to his brothers, not only that he was the one they had sold into slavery all those years ago, but that God was behind all of it.  Verse 8 - "So it was not you who sent me here, but God."

Ultimately, we see chapter 50 come around, and with it the death of Jacob/Israel, at which point Joseph's brothers think Joseph might repay them for all that they had done to him.  Strange how that works, that even when we've heard that something was of God's mercy the Old Adam can still act up from time to time and doubt God's promises.  We see similar behavior from the prodigal son in that well-known parable where the son returning from living in the hog pen thinks he can't be his father's son anymore but should just settle for being his servant instead, and much like the father having none of that in Luke 15 and forgiving his runaway son no strings attached we see the exact same thing from Joseph all this time earlier in verse 20.  "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today."

When Jesus asserts that all Scripture bears witness about Him in John 5:39, this is but one example of how our wickedness does not stop God's good purposes.  Who do we see here in Joseph's actions?  Certainly not anything we would do with how easily we can be offended by the actions of others.  If anything, we're more like the brothers trying to strike deals to avoid punishment, but as usual, the Lord has so much more in mind for His people than merely that.  Even in this adversity and what seemed like ancient mundane life events, God was at work, because the Creation is His, despite its fallen state.

Even today, we can be assured that the means of grace are still something outside of us that we can point to no matter how horrible we feel about how our lives have been going.  Our baptism - water and the Word - bringing the Lord's promises of new life to us in something involving water much as Noah's family was brought by God through the waters of the flood into new life in the ark, or the children of Israel eventually leaving their Egyptian captivity behind into new life in the promised land through the waters of the parted Red Sea.  The bread and wine of the Lord's Supper - "This is my body, which is given for you."  "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins."  In a sense things are better for us than they were in the days of the Old Testament believers.  We actually have means of grace instituted by Jesus Himself and don't have to wonder whether these things are of God or not.

Indeed, God is mightier than anything we may be dealing with in life, but in our rush to come up with a faithful-sounding statement to make ourselves feel better, we only scratched the tip of that gracious iceberg.  :-)  Take Care and God Bless.  :-)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

All We Are Is Clay In The Wind

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.
(Jeremiah 18:1-10 ESV)

He is the Potter, we are the clay, the illustration goes, whether we sing it in a praise song, hear it in a sermon, or encounter it elsewhere.  The illustration is certainly Biblical-looking or Biblical-sounding enough to show up in numerous places in Christendom.  Perhaps our encounter with this analogy will refer us back to the original context of Israel's unfaithfulness and disobedience - perhaps it will not.  Such a detail will not matter to the Old Adam, who loves and relishes making everything about him.

Indeed, such is the fruit of our sinful approaches to the gift of Scripture.  It doesn't matter how long ago it was or who the text was written to (or who the text was written for), if it's not relevant to the Almighty Me, the Old Adam is quick to dismiss it, even if he then goes around getting frustrated at the same old things going wrong in life over and over again and may even be audacious enough to say something like, "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

But we can learn from history, even if we are that proverbial dog who returns to its vomit, or the fool who repeats his folly (Spoiler Alert - We Are).  Time and again and again, however, we choose not to.  After all, it's just so much more fun to shred the context of an Old Testament passage and extract some current day promise to cling to by any means necessary without understanding the context in the middle.  Isn't it fun, after all, to go around bragging to your friends about holding on to the promises of God even if your atomized source texts were originally written for people living under the iron fist of Babylonian captivity - the ultimate spiritual humiliation of ancient Israel?  Our Lord endured death on the cross, and yet in our First World Christianity in our day and age, we complain and rebuke away when life so much as throws us a spiritual splinter.

He is the Potter?  We are the clay?  Not good enough, the Old Adam screams.  Let's swing the discussion away and talk about how we need to let ourselves be molded by God, or how we need to stay on the pottery wheel and not jump off.  Wait - this is clay we're talking about - right?  Not that proverbial frog who jumps out of the hot pot if the heat is turned up too quickly?  Perhaps I missed something here.  Last I checked, clay is not sentient.  It doesn't think for itself.  It doesn't transform itself in rebellion against the Potter.  If clay is unmoldable, it is that way due to what it inherently is.

Our lives here on Earth may merely be dust... err... clay in the wind, but if we're going to use this analogy to describe our relationship with God, it should be one of comfort.

Let us acknowledge the obvious.  If we're truly playing the role of that bad clay that can't be worked with and has to be reworked from scratch, that is indicative of our state as sinners incapable of saving ourselves.  We cannot earn our salvation and righteousness any more than unmoldable clay can suddenly become workable again.  It is what we are, by virtue of what we already are, and we are in no position to change that on our own, it takes the willful loving intervention of the Potter for anything of that sort to happen.

...and what a Potter we are blessed to be molded and shaped by, who despite being in the position to discard us unmoldable wrecks, freely chooses to make us into something good in His sight through something He chooses to do, for us.  Look again at verse 4.  The clay that became an unsatisfactory product wasn't discarded though the potter was in a perfect position to do so.  

This was the Lord's message to rebellious disobedient ancient Israel, and instead of directly claiming the text as though it were for us, let us acknowledge this history, and learn from it, since it should be plain as day that we can see Jesus in the acts of this Potter.  How moldable or unmoldable we think we currently are is irrelevant.  We are saved from being eternally discarded by the Good Potter Himself, who through His Own Work on our behalf transforms us from the mess we've made of ourselves to something pleasing to Him.  Right.  Enough with the parodies.  This is the Good Shepherd we're talking about here, who willingly lays down His life for us wayward sheep, and willingly took it up again on the third day.

Life has its way of making us feel like works in progress spinning round and round, but take comfort in the fact that when all is said and done at the eschaton, you'll finally understand that your Abba Potter knew what He was doing all along.  :-)

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Incarnation Is The Reason For The Season

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 
(John 1:14-17 ESV)

Alas, another awkward first Sunday in January is upon us.  That Sunday where people think we Christians are completely and totally nuts for still saying Merry Christmas and singing Christmas hymns after New Year's Day.  But as this festive season of Christmastide concludes and perhaps some dust has already collected on some of the very gifts we just received on December The 25th, it is best that we remain vigilant about having received the greatest gift of all despite our culture's desire to be over and done with "Christmas" on December 26th.

The Incarnation, sadly, is something we have to militantly try to remain thankful for, just like many of other blessings we receive in our lives that we grow used to, so the good things we have become less and less good to us the more we benefit from them.  Indeed, in this world of Sin and corruption thankfulness is a thing that turns heads.  Echo the words of St. Paul that you are learning to be content with whatever your station is in life and you can expect at least a few double-takes.  Why?  Because we are far too used to a fallen world where good things never last.  Those gifts we unwrapped on Christmas Day will age just as we do, and perhaps wear out, or perhaps we might change such that we can't make use of them anymore, like if we received a piece of clothing that's a certain size and our size changes later on.  Please don't hate me just yet.  I didn't say which way our size could change, and will be glad to leave that as open speculation.  :-)

But amidst our surroundings of good things either becoming less good because of age or because of our failure to appreciate their goodness, the Incarnation of Christ, that gift that we have to work to appreciate because such an idea doesn't seem to resonate with us, remains true, despite our failures and shortcomings.  This Word who became flesh and dwelt among us took on our humanity, came into this world in a humble manger, wound up in the Biblical "land of bondage" in the flight to Egypt, and continued His path to the Cross on our behalf.  He is the Good Shepherd who willingly lays down His life for us His wayward sheep.

Our culture likes to separate Baby Jesus from the Agnus Dei, the Lamb Of God who takes away the Sin of the World, much as they like to separate the manger from the Cross, but just like our assorted shortcomings in appreciating the glorious gift of the Incarnation that doesn't fall apart with age and isn't dependent on us remaining a certain way forever in order to be a proper gift for us, this greatest gift of all to us and for us is still what it is despite anything we do, and this Word made flesh is still who He is and is still for us, despite anything we do.

So go ahead on these remaining days of Christmastide and continue celebrating.  Sing another hymn.  Enjoy another evening by the fire.  Watch another Christmas movie.  Let our culture say what it wants about our celebration of Christmastide.  This Word made flesh for us who is our Good Shepherd is more than worth celebrating.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Merry Christmas.  Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Born To Die - The Scandalon Of The Cross On Christmas Day

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
(Philippians 2:3-11 ESV)

Born to die.  If you want to kill someone's joy, bring up something morbid like that.  If you want to kill it even further, bring up something like that around Christmas.  With how we've commercialized, holly-jolly-ed, and greeting-card-ed the living daylights out of the birth and nativity of our Lord and the 12 day celebration known as Christmastide you will most certainly strike a nerve by daring to bring up something as blunt as death, this time of the year moreso than others perhaps...

Yet in our Sin we try to tell ourselves somehow that our lives are something more than simply being born to die.  We entertain feel good thoughts of somehow being remembered for our life's achievements after we're gone.  We make up sayings like such-and-such age is the new such-and-such younger age, as if 50 could ever be the new 20.  We engorge our denial of our Old Adam's condemned sinful mortality via various things to try to stay young as long as possible, even so far as getting ourselves sliced up under a surgeon's scalpel, and we rejoice in life-extending medical technology that so far has only extended the part of our lives when we're elderly.

At the end of our grand marathon to run away from the Truth though, we face the daunting reality, that we truly are slowly being consumed by what some would call "creeping decrepitude" and that the curse of Sin and Death truly does reduce us to merely being "Born To Die."  "The wages of Sin is Death" means nothing short of that, and many things that Scripture calls Sin only accelerate us on the path to our graves.

We truly bear the mark of the first Adam.  Fortunately for us, we also know of a second Adam.  A man you may have heard about sometime this holiday season.  A man named Jesus.

Indeed, this time of the rolling year is perhaps when our culture can stomach the concept of the Messiah the most, so long as Jesus remains within the confines of who they think He should be.  It's almost as if the Baby Jesus were a separate person entirely from our Lord and Savior with how even our suffering servant prophet, priest, and king has been caricatured much like St. Nicholas eventually was morphed into Santa Claus.

"Yes," says our culture, "Let us keep the Baby Jesus as the cute little smiling baby with a halo around His head.  It'll make for some cutesy greeting cards for religious loved ones and keep Jesus within the confines of who we want Him to be."  Fortunately for all of us, the story doesn't end there.  

As our text points out this morning, even the "cutesy baby in the manger with the halo around his head" had already completed a massive act of divine humility just to be born in that manger.  Here was God The Son, not considering his glorious and exalted status with the Father as something to be grasped, but willfully giving it all up to be born under very lowly circumstances in a manger in Bethlehem.  "Nails, spears, shall pierce him through," sings the Christmas hymn What Child Is This.  Indeed, the manger should be a symbol of humility to us much like the Cross and points toward the Cross right from the very beginning, that the Good Shepherd would lay down His life for the sheep, willingly, for us.

Much like us, Jesus was born to die, not because of any Sin on His part, but to forgive us of ours, to take our place on that hill, to be the one instead of us crying out, "My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?!!"  The God Man gave up His status to come live among us, for us.  He experienced our suffering and the sickness of what we deal with each day in this life, for us.  He was born under humble circumstances, for us.  He walked the path to the cup He was to drink so to speak, for us, and the Good Shepherd willingly gave up His life for us wayward sheep, for us, and rose again on the third day, for us.

There is much Law and Gospel to be found in the phrase "Born To Die."  The word of the Cross remains as scandalous as ever, even at times when people are allegedly celebrating our Savior's birth.  Yet as Scripture teaches it is still Good News and the Power Of God to those of us being saved, that we may echo some more lines from What Child Is This and truly sing, "Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary."

Merry Christmas, and Amen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Meanwhile At Friedens...

The polar opposite of what I encountered last Sunday where the pastor started with the texts and veered away to stuff in our time.  If you want to tie the Scriptures to our lives today, this is how you do it, by doing the inverse and making it so God's Word is what everything ties to.

One of various reasons why I added this church's Vimeo channel to the links on the right.  :-)

A Note On Preaching In The Age Of Google

After the main shock of last Sunday's disappointment wore off I decided to get a little curious and try to find who the pastor of the church I visited was talking about when he basically let the whole "tsunami survivor who clung to a tree the way we should cling to Jesus" thing hijack the sermon, so I ran that sentence fragment through Google...

Interesting.  The one missing detail in the sermon is that this person who "survived by clinging to a floating tree the way we should cling to Jesus" was actually a supermodel.  Hmmm....  so did that pastor have supermodels on his mind?  Almost sounds scandalous.  :-D

She does have an inspiring survival story though, but it's interesting how the whole supermodel thing was omitted.  Not going to get all tabloid-y or anything though about this.  :-)  This actually isn't the first time I've been able to use Google to unearth some surprises related to stuff preachers were preaching about either.  You'd think that this far into this millennium that people ascending pulpits would realize that it is very easy for people to look into what they're hearing these days, but apparently some folks need a little more time to catch up with that sort of thing.  ;-)

Let this be a good example of why it's not a good idea to allegorize current or recent events into sermons.  Plus, while this guy was trying to sound relevant, what about the people who run around like maniacs all week and maybe don't nerd it up on the Internet like I do and have an RSS program keeping several sermon podcasts at the ready in case what one hears on Sunday is an exegetical dud?  Though it shouldn't be this way, it's nevertheless the sad reality that a Sunday service may be the only place someone gets to hear God's Word rightly divided all week, so if the pastor decides to do something else...

By the way, the Enthusiasm thing gets even more hilarious now that this detail is added in.  So God allegedly speaks to us these days through supermodels clinging to palm trees during natural disasters?  :-D  None of the charismatics I've known over the years ever came close to anything as wild and crazy as that.  Right.  Enough joking here.  Bottom line - when someone goes to all the trouble to get a Master's Of Divinity degree they'd probably be better off sticking with the divine...  :-D

Sunday, December 28, 2014

When The Sermon Makes Or Breaks The Liturgy

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. 
(1 Corinthians 4:1-2 ESV)

This morning having gone to a Christmas doubleheader at my church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I decided to change things up a bit and satiate my local Missouri Synod curiosity and visit the second-closest LCMS congregation in my area - not that any LCMS congregations are close other than "relatively-speaking" with my synodical doughnut hole of a situation with this organization having churches literally in the surrounding counties in three different directions but not where I am, but every so often it's good to see what else is going on in one's area to maintain proper perspective on their own church and where they stand relative to the local area in terms of doctrine and practice.

What I found at this much larger Lutheran church that I've been curious about for quite some time was the largest disappointment of a Divine Service that I've ever been to, as well as other issues that were complete ringers for local ELCA places in my neck of the woods.  I've been tossing around the idea of transferring to this congregation if my job required me to move to a different town that tipped the balance such that this church became closer than where I am right now, but when a Divine Service goes from me wanting to "MOVE... NOW... ASAP!!!!!!" to me deliberately skipping Communion it doesn't make for a good first impression.  :-(

First, this congregation advertises that their worship is traditional and liturgical, and from the moment the service began I did an about-face because this church did some things that even my church doesn't do, such as leave the baptismal font with some water in it by the door so people entering can cross some water on their foreheads as a reminder of their Baptism, an actual procession of the Cross and use of a sanctuary lamp, and actually kneeling during Confession and Absolution.  Literally.  Everyone found room in the wooden pews to kneel at the beginning of the service.  When I saw out of the corner of my eye that people were "sitting down" I thought they were just going to sit down and bow their heads.  Nope.  They kept going right to the floor and literally KNEELED for Confession!  Talk about starting a service off on the right foot when it comes to Repentance!  WOW!!!  :-)

Unfortunately, after that was where the issues popped up.  First, the communion card in the pews only asked that people understand what the Lord's Supper is before going forward, as opposed to overtly asking people to refrain from coming forward unless they either were a member of the synod, a member of the congregation, or had talked to the pastor about it first.  So a slight difference in the historical practice of Closed Communion there.  Then of course the readings were divvied up between the pastor and the assistants in the robes helping out with the service - a practice I'd previously seen in the local ELCA places in my neck of the woods, but the assistants were good at reading to the congregation and didn't botch any names in the passages or anything, so that difference could be brushed aside as adiaphora.

The sermon - however - wrecked everything, and serves as a great example of why even in liturgical traditions where the sermon's just a small part of the overall service that it shouldn't be fluffed off.  One of the weird things I've observed over the years is that in both Evangelical and Mainline Liberal environments that sermons can easily not be taken too seriously.  Big Box Evangelicals might keep it as a lighthearted talk that's part of some series that they'll sell on CD or MP3 later on, and Mainline Liberals may turn a sermon into the spoken word version of abstract art, where you don't have a clue what the pastor said nor do you need to but at least it sounded kind of scholarly and/or deep, but the Reformation wasn't about this sort of thing.  The Reformation was about congregants (a.k.a. "dumb laity" like me) knowing what they believe and why they believe it.  It's why people like Luther wrote stuff like the Small Catechism and others like Tyndale spoke of longing for a day when plowboys knew more Scripture than the Pope.

Where today's message went off the rails was when it didn't stay with the text and began with, "Usually I'd preach from such-and-such reading but..." and proceeded to be hard to follow and what little could be followed wasn't related to exegesis.  The homiletics, assuming there were any, were about as scatterbrained as some ELCA preaching in my neck of the woods that I'd heard before.  The main point of the sermon that I remember was a story about a survivor of the Thailand tsunami 10 years ago who survived by clinging tightly to a big tree branch that floated on the water and we as Christians should do likewise and cling to Jesus to survive the flood of issues in this life... or something like that.  :-P

I don't need a Lutheran Divine Service to find stuff like this.  I can find it easily in dumbed-down Sunday School lessons being taught to kids because kids allegedly can't handle theology or anything other than "Kiddie Christianity", or among the more grown-up audiences I can find this sort of stuff in eisegetical Evangelical "Devotional Bibles."  I also don't need to be making large road trips to find staunchly liturgical churches where the sermons are way out in left field somewhere.  I have numerous mainline liberal choices for that sort of thing in my neck of the woods - no road trip necessary.  I've heard various Christian podcast hosts encourage both Lutheran and Reformed listeners that if they couldn't find a faithful church to just go to some liturgical church and hear about Christ in the liturgy and hymns but just tune out the preacher when sermon time rolls around, but I'd rather not do that.  :-P

The coup de grace was when this Thailand tsunami story was identified as "a way in which God speaks to us today", completely contrary to Smalcald VIII mentioning the idea that God does not want to deal with us apart from the spoken Word and Sacraments, and anything praised as being from the Spirit apart from the Word and Sacraments "is the Devil himself."  Again, I don't need to be making these road trips to find churches where pastors and laity alike tell me lavish stories about the myriad of non-sacramental ways that "God speaks to them."  There's plenty in my area already.

So, why should I go back?

Seriously, what point is there to me making the road trip to ever visit them again if the service is going to be similar to numerous places around here in these respects?

It is unfortunate that American Christianity has created this culture where sermons are joked about, blown off, tuned out, or in other ways belittled.  It is even more unfortunate that in some places pastors do a double-take when you actually acknowledge that you actually listen to what they're saying.  It is most unfortunate that any of this needs to be discussed at all when we're the spiritual descendants of the very same apostles who told the church at Galatia that if they ever veered from the Gospel to run them out of the church and treat them like they're not even Christian, as well as the spiritual descendants of the Reformers who put their lives on the line for us to be able to understand what's being taught and practiced in church, only for these gifts and achievements to end up so horrendously squandered.

Pastors - not everyone's tuning you out.  Don't forget about those of us who are listening...  :-)

Vivamus Sub Umbra Crucis!!!  :-)