29 February 2012

Maggie Karner Speaks at Heritage Foundation

On Monday, February 27, Mrs. Maggie Karner spoke before the Heritage Foundation. The topic? The recent overreaching mandate of the U.S. Government to force religious organizations, other than houses of worship, to provide abortion-causing drugs quite contrary to their tenets and their consciences. And to prove that, yes, women too stand up for the First Amendment right that the government "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Way to go, Maggie! And thanks for keeping the mercy work of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod front and center.

Homily for Lent 1 - Invocabit

The Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Lent, Matthew 4:1-11, presents us with our previously baptized Lord Jesus, the Son of  God, as He endures and conquers the temptations of the devil. We certainly face many and sundry temptations, and it is great comfort to hear the Good News of Jesus conquering those temptations and forgiving us when we fall.

This year, however, I chose not to focus on the temptations, but rather on the doubt. Yes, doubt. The tempter uses the tactic of doubt when he seeks to lure Jesus into breaking His fast: "If you are the Son of God...." It was the same tactic the sly, satanic foe used in the Garden of Eden: "Did God really say...?"

Not only does Jesus, our great High Priest, conquer the temptations Satan hurls our way, but He also overcomes the doubts, especially the doubts about who and Whose we are.

Click here, download the audio file, and listen to "Overcoming the Doubt(s)."

Homily for Ash Wednesday

Last week's Ash Wednesday homily, "The Sacrifices of God," focused on two things: 1) the notion of giving things up for Lent (sacrificing) and 2) the sacrifices that Psalm 51 proclaims and sets before. While we may certainly "give something up" for Lent (chocolate cake, Starbucks runs, or even Facebook!), and while that may certainly be fine outward training, Psalm 51 guides us to sacrifice our sins for Lent. Yes, you read that correctly! "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17). You see, when we sacrifice our sins--that is, bring them out into the open in Confession--then we joyously receive the Lord's genuine sacrifice for us--His blood-bought Absolution.

To listen to "The Sacrifices of God," click here and download the audio file.

22 February 2012

KFUO's "The Bible Study" - Feb. 21

Here's the audio archive of yesterday's "The Bible Study" on KFUO (AM 850; kfuo.org). We read and discussed Genesis 1:1-2:3.

The World and Everything in It & Pres. Harrison

WORLD Magazine also produces a weekly news magazine radio/podcast program called "The World and Everything in It." This last weekend's edition (Feb. 18) led with the story of the clergy, including LCMS President Matthew Harrison, testifying before the House Committee on the overreaching HHS mandate on contraception and abortifacients. Listen to the segment, Hour A, Segment 1, here.

Homily for Quinquagesima

Quinquagesima ("50 days") is indeed fifty days before Easter. On this last Sunday before Lent, we hear Jesus once again prepare His disciples, and us, for His passion, death, and resurrection. But they just don't get it. It's no accident that the following section of the Gospel reading, Luke 18:31-43, gives us Jesus healing a blind man. His faith in the Christ made Him well. That is, the formerly blind man saw who Jesus is, the Suffering Savior, and followed Him.

Yes, Jesus must open our eyes to see that the coming season of Lent is vital for understanding and trusting who Jesus is and what He has come to do for us. He shows us His "Sacrificial Grace" by going to Jerusalem, suffering, dying, and rising again for us. It's the very love proclaimed in the day's Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 13. "The great love chapter" is the chapter about His great, sacrificial love for us.

To listen to "Sacrificial Grace," click here and download the audio file.

20 February 2012

Pretty much sums it up

Here's a picture that pretty much sums up what transpired at last Thursday's House Committee meeting in which Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, along with other clergy (Roman Catholic, Baptist, and Jewish), testified to defend our First Amendment religious liberties:

Sorry, liberal, leftist politicians who merely wanted to make the "absence" of women an issue, your weeping and gnashing of teeth just don't cut it!

17 February 2012

An Excellent Piece from Mollie Hemmingway

 A Lutheran, a Jew, a Baptist and a Catholic Walk Into A Hearing
HT: ricochet.com
Right now, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee is having a hearing titled "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" Witnesses include the head of my church body, the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod).

Also there: Dr. Ben Mitchell of Union University, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University, Dr. Craig Mitchell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Roman Catholic Bishop William Lori of Connecticut.

The hearing included many of the members (on both sides of the aisle) engaged in grandstanding, but that shouldn't take away from the unity shown by the many religious bodies taking the threat to religious liberty very seriously. This is routinely treated as an issue for bishops or a Catholic issue, and that is far too narrow. This is an issue that poses serious threats to all religious groups. In fact, we're talking about threats to our individual freedom that go well beyond religion -- the federal government telling individuals how to run their businesses with no detail too small.

At one point, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., suggested that the religious leaders were lying when they said they were concerned about religious liberty and called the hearing "a sham."

How wise of a political strategy is it for Democrats to shake their finger at Catholic, Lutheran and Jewish leaders while calling them liars? It didn't sit particularly well with me.

Rev. Harrison revisited the topic later by saying that he loathes politics and reminding the members that 98% of what we Lutherans do has nothing to do with politics and that our church is full of Democrats and Republicans. We are focused on preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments, rather than politics. We pray for President Obama daily, he noted. He said he was there for one reason and one reason only: the HHS threat to religious liberty. Other leaders echoed those sentiments.

I believe that the church has much more important work to do than weighing in on politics every day. I can't emphasize how rare it is for our church to get involved. I don't know if the head of our church body has ever testified before Congress before.

And we do think this is a worthy fight. Earlier today Rep. Nancy Pelosi told reporters she believes the federal government should require the Catholic Church itself to pay for free birth control. And Rep. DeLauro claimed, in the hearing, that religious liberty doesn't extend beyond the right to worship. She basically said that so long as religious people keep their beliefs secret and private, she won't bring the boot heel of the state down on us. Why thank you! It's really amazing we're complaining at all, isn't it!

We don't want to engage in these politics, but we will if forced to. And it looks like we're being forced to.

15 February 2012

"By Blood, Sweat, and Tears"

For those who haven't seen it yet, here's a new blog from a fine young man, a faithful Christian, and (let me burst the buttons a bit on my "super-pastor uniform") a son of Hope congregation in St. Louis. Check out:

"By Blood, Sweat, and Tears" by Aaron Nielsen.

Harrison to speak before House committee

LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison will take part in a Capitol Hill hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in Washington, D. C., on Thursday, Feb. 16.

Check out the whole article here.

President Harrison Video on HHS Ruling

Thank you, once again, President Harrison, for a bold and fabulous testimony to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His gift of life from conception! Thank you also for making this bold witness in the "public square" and in the face of increasing government overstepping and intrusion.

It's not about contraceptives; it's about conscience!

14 February 2012

LCMS Pres. Speaks Again on HHS Mandate

Just a couple of weeks ago, we posted LCMS President Matthew Harrison's first letter about the ungodly HHS mandate coercing religious institutions to provide abortion-causing drugs against the tenets of their faith.

Now President Harrison has issued a second letter, responding to the so-called "accommodation" from our over-reaching federal government. Thank you once again, Pres. Harrison, for a bold confession of faith in the face of injustice and a strong example of standing on the Word of God as we bear witness to Christ Jesus, the Giver of life!

While I appreciate and certainly agree with the Scripture passage quoted at the end of the letter, Mark 12:17--along with its parallel verses and Romans 13--may I also suggest another verse to go hand in hand? It was indeed cited in the first letter, but let's not be afraid to use it every time we must speak out against such government abuses of conscience by abusing its power. Let's keep the "Render to Caesar" verse close, but let's keep Acts 5:29 even closer: "We must obey God rather than men."

Here is President Harrison's second excellent letter:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In response to President Obama’s announcement Friday concerning an “accommodation” to a previous mandate that health plans must cover all forms of birth control (even those that can kill the unborn), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) remains deeply concerned. We strongly object to the use of drugs and procedures that are used to take the lives of unborn children, who are persons in the sight of God from the time of conception. Drugs such as “Plan B” and “Ella,” which are still included in the mandate, can work post-conception to cause the death of the developing child, so don’t be fooled by statements to the contrary.

We see President Obama’s action Friday as significant, in that it appears to have been prompted by the many voices united in concern over an infringement of our religious liberties. But the “accommodation” did not expand the exemption for religious employers, nor did it restrict the mandate in any way. It simply described a temporary enforcement delay and a possible future change—a change that, unfortunately, would not adequately protect religious freedom or unborn lives.

We remain opposed to this mandate because it runs counter to the biblical truth of the sanctity of human life. We are committed to working to ensure that we remain free to practice the teachings of our faith, that our religious rights are not violated, and that our rights of conscience are retained. Freedom of religion extends beyond the practice of our faith in houses of worship. We must be free to put our faith into action in the public square, and, in response to Christ’s call, demonstrate His mercy through our love and compassion for all people according to the clear mandate of Holy Scripture.

The government has overstepped its bounds. This controversy is not merely about “birth control” and the Catholic Church’s views about it. It’s about mandating that we provide medications which kill life in the womb. And moreover, and perhaps even more ominous, it is about an overzealous government forcing coercive provisions that violate the consciences and rights of its citizens. We can no longer expect a favored position for Christianity in this country. But we can, as citizens of this great nation, fight for constitutional sanity against secularizing forces. As we have vividly experienced in discriminatory state legislation with respect to homosexual adoption, we, and our institutions (and those of other religious citizens of good will), are being robbed of the right to the free exercise of religion absent government intrusion or threat. The next assault will come upon church-related retirement facilities. How much longer will it be legal in this country to believe and act according to the dictates of biblical and creedal Christianity?

Jesus bids us, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Mark 12:17). We will pray for and support our government where we can, but our consciences and lives belong to God.

In His peace,

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

12 February 2012

Homily for Sexagesima

Today's homily for Sexagesima ("About 60 days before Easter") draws our attention to our Lord's "Sufficient Grace." The Gospel reading, Luke 8:4-15, gives us Jesus' parable of the Sower sowing the seed of His Word. In the Epistle reading, 2 Corinthians 11:19-12:9, St. Paul boasts of His weaknesses, being told by the Lord Himself that His grace is sufficient. Put the two readings together, and we have a great way to prepare for Lent. Hearing the Word of our Lord's "Sufficient Grace" is what we need the most, because, after all, our gracious God plants His Seed on the Cross for us and for our salvation.

We were also treated to these fitting words from Martin Franzmann:

The sower sows; his reckless love
     Scatters abroad the goodly seed,
Intent alone that all may have
     The wholesome loaves that all men need.

Though some be snatched and some be scorched
     And some be choked and matted flat,
The sower sows; his heart cries out,
     "Oh, what of that, and what of that?"

Of all his scattered plenteousness
     One-fourth waves ripe on hill and flat,
And bears a harvest hundredfold:
     "Ah, what of that, Lord what of that!" (Lutheran Service Book 586:3-5)

Click here to download the audio file and listen to "Sufficient Grace."

05 February 2012

Homily for Septuagesima

“The period of Pre-Lent is, so to say, the narthex in which we Christians pause for three Sundays before we begin our spiritual pilgrimage to Calvary in the great 40 days of Lent. It comprises the Sundays Septuagesima (70), Sexagesima (60), and Quinquagesima (50). These number-names do not designate exact periods of time until Easter but are rather to be considered only as general markers like the milestones of antiquity on the roads that led to Rome, in this case marking the general number of days we are from the Easter goal toward which we are traveling. From Septuagesima until the Saturday evening after Easter—on which the Easter octave in its strictest sense ends—there are 70 days.” (Ralph Gehrke, Planning the Service, 42)
For those who follow the Lutheran Service Book One-Year Lectionary, today begins the season of Pre-Lent--otherwise known as the "Gesimas." It also provides a great opportunity for a homiletical mini-series as we prepare for the great 40-day season of Lent. For this "narthex" to the season of Lent, one could easily and reasonably preach on "Grace Alone" (Septuagesima), "Word Alone" (Sexagesima), and "Faith Alone" (Quinquagesima)--and I have done just that in past years.

This year, however, we'll focus on the grace of God for all three Sundays of Pre-Lent. Today gave the opportunity to focus on our Lord's "Generous Grace." (Next week, we'll focus on "Sufficient Grace," and the following week, we'll focus on our Lord's "Sacrificial Grace.") The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard most certainly shows our Lord's "Generous Grace" as He gives the "day's wage" of eternal life to all, regardless of when we enter His vineyard--the Christian Church--in order to labor. However, as we hear in this parable, our Lord operates His vineyard completely by His "Generous Grace," not by our works to negotiate a "fair wage."

To listen to "Generous Grace," click here and download the audio file.

03 February 2012

LCMS Statement on Ungodly HHS Mandate

Thank you, President Harrison, for this excellent statement on the recent ungodly mandate from the U.S. government that requires health plans offered by religious employers to cover controversial contraceptives--against their consciences and tenets of religious belief! I couldn't agree more with your statement: "Increasingly we are suffering overzealous government intrusions into what is the realm of traditional and biblical Christian conscience."

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We are deeply distressed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) recent decision to require nearly all private health plans, including those offered by religious employers, to cover contraceptives. This will include controversial birth-control products such as “Ella” and the “morning after” pill, even though the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that such drugs can cause the death of a baby developing in the womb. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) objects to the use of drugs and procedures that are used to take the lives of unborn children, who are persons in the sight of God from the time of conception, and we are opposed to the HHS’ decision mandating the coverage of such contraceptives.

This HHS action relates to a provision in the “health care reform” legislation (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) signed into law in 2010. The church’s benefits partner, Concordia Plan Services, which provides health care coverage to nearly 48,000 people, has been actively monitoring this legislation and, as a result, Concordia Health Plan (CHP)—the LCMS church workers’ health plan—has been maintained as a “grandfathered” plan. As such, employers and workers participating in CHP would not be subjected to the mandate. However, many religious organizations do not have grandfathered plans and cannot avail themselves of the extremely narrow religious-employer exemption, which only is applicable to religious employers that primarily serve and employ members of that faith.

For centuries, Lutherans have joyfully delivered Christ’s mercy to others and embraced His call to care for the needy within our communities and around the world. In a nation that has allowed more than 54 million legal abortions since 1973, we must consider the marginalization of unborn babies and object to this mandate.

In addition, I encourage the members of the LCMS to join with me in supporting efforts to preserve our essential right to exercise our religious beliefs. This action by HHS will have the effect of forcing many religious organizations to choose between following the letter of the law and operating within the framework of their religious tenets. We add our voice to the long list of those championing for the continued ability to act according to the dictates of their faith, and provide compassionate care and clear Christian witness to society’s most vulnerable, without being discriminated against by government.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, a church body of sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus, has affected the lives of millions of people with care, aid, housing, health care, spiritual care and much more. We have been a force for good in this nation, promoting education (the nation’s largest Protestant school system), marriage and giving people the tools and assistance to be good citizens. We live and breathe Romans 13:3–7. The governing authorities are “God’s servant for good.” We pray constantly for our President and those in authority. We have sent our sons and daughters to fight for this country. We have provided military chaplains, elected officials, officers, including some who have held the highest military offices and other appointed positions in this country. Our people have and are serving as congressmen and women and senators.

Increasingly we are suffering overzealous government intrusions into what is the realm of traditional and biblical Christian conscience. We believe this is a violation of our First Amendment rights. We will stand, to the best of our ability, with all religious and other concerned citizens, against this erosion of our civil liberty. Come what may, we shall do everything we can, by God’s grace, to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

In His peace,

Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison 
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod