Missouri Synod Church in Downtown Memphis

Pastor’s Posts

The Hand that Holds the Trumpet

The Hand that Holds the Trumpet

For a few years now, I’ve kept a box on the shelf in my prayer chapel next to the church office. It’s a simple wooden carton, filled with people’s names and conflicts, burdens and joys, all of which I’ve scribbled onto scrap paper and handed over to God as an offering. These are my prayers for all of you; prayers of complete submission. Struggles and marriages. Addictions and deepest fears. I write them down and give them over to the God who holds them with or without our submission. So many of your names are in that box. Your husbands, your wives. Unborn children and budding relationships. Two of your daughters and one of your sons; names written with ink stained with the tears of pre-funeral prayers. My son’s name is in that box too. Ministry is more than just caring for people. It’s living together with them. Weaving your life together with theirs in the hope that somewhere within that tapestry Jesus is weaving His life together with ours. It was never about any of us; it was always about Him. Scripture reminds us that the Spirit scatters His Word through a humbling array of messengers. He spoke through Moses; through Jeremiah and St. Peter. And just when that starts to go to your head, that same Spirit reminds you that He also spoke through a pack mule when His people once got too stubborn (Numbers 22:28). It reminds me of Paul, writing to the Corinthians when they got

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The Corrosion of Myth

The Corrosion of Myth

The spirit of Independence that birthed this nation of ours sends us into the unknown bearing the values and the mind of our country’s founders. They teach us how to form our own future boldly and without compromise.

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The Illusion of Choice, or: How to Stay Sane in an Election Year

The Illusion of Choice, or: How to Stay Sane in an Election Year

There is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God. ~ Romans 13:1 “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.  Show us which of these you have chosen to take over…” (Acts 1:24).  That was their prayer as the disciples hurled a Buffalo Nickel into the air to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot.  “Heads, it’s Barsabbas.  Tails, it’s Matthias.”  No partiality. No favoritism. Inclination is blind when decisions are made by casting lots. I remember watching the News in early February as the story broke that Bernie Sanders had lost the Iowa Caucus by a series of six coin tosses.  It turned out a bit exaggerated, but the talking heads were up in arms none-the-less.  That’s not how the Republic chooses leaders. In a Democracy the people choose.  Or at least we have the illusion of choice. The illusion of choice makes for good television. It also cranks the stove on an already-angry electorate, encouraging our collective anger and dissatisfaction to boil over into our homes and office buildings.  Tension grows from the soil of perceived control; each team convinced they’re championing a holy cause, fighting for a weak God who sometimes doesn’t get what He wants because people aren’t listening. To the Church in Rome: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”  Of the sociopath, Nero Claudius Caesar: “The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).

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Shame. Distance. An Open Letter

Shame. Distance. An Open Letter

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.  Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on, you will catch men.”  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”  ~ Luke 5:8-11 The shame is palpable. You can almost hear Peter’s heartrate quicken.  Smell his palms begin to sweat as his body collapses to the hull of his fishing boat.  “Go away from me, Lord; I’m too broken to be around you!”  That’s how Shame talks. First within, to the self; then outward, giving birth to isolation. Distance. Everybody has “stuff.” The baggage you carry is heavy and it’s real. That much is evident. The weight of a thousand bad decisions, of misspent nights and misspoken words whisper first from within, “You’re not quite good enough. You’ve messed up too much.  And you’ll probably mess up some more before you’re done.”  Hesitant to speak for fear of saying the wrong thing, to sit close because you might do the wrong thing, you look for any excuse to turn around before you make it to the front door. Surely God would want you to do better, to be better before you drop by His House on a Sunday morning? Guilt whispers, “I’ve

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The Midnight Protest

The Midnight Protest

“The Incarnation is the ultimate reason why the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of man.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer Where do you come from? In John chapter 19, Jesus is standing trial before Pontius Pilate. The people He came to save were gathered in the Praetorium courtyard demanding His crucifixion. Pilate, who was growing more fearful by the minute, comes to Jesus and he asks Him, “Where are you from?” That’s the question of Christmas, isn’t it? And while Matthew and Luke both give us some great insights into the human origin of the incarnation of Christ – that beautiful story of Mary and Joseph; the baby Jesus lying in a manger – I’m just not sure that’s what Pilate was getting at. St. John’s is more what we might call a “Cosmic Infancy Narrative.” His Gospel gives us a Heaven’s eye view of the Incarnation. For John, the answer to the question of the origin of Jesus goes back a little further than just His birth in Bethlehem. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world…

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The Day Before Tomorrow

The Day Before Tomorrow

They asked the wrong question. The religious upper-crust went once to Jesus and wondered, “When will the Kingdom of God come to be?” I’ve been waiting for tomorrow for over a year now. On December 18th, the Imperial Countdown Clock will expire, my childhood will be redeemed from Prequel Purgatory, and Star Wars Episode VII will catapult me once again to a galaxy far, far away. Tomorrow. And yet… Here we are. The sun having set not long ago, my be-Leia-bunned wife and I are sitting this very moment in a crowded theater on, of all days, the day before tomorrow. We’re early, and yet right on time. Because as it turns out, our anticipation; this thing we’ve been waiting for was never a date on a calendar. It was always an event. And that event came early. The religious upper-crust went once to Jesus and wondered when the Kingdom of God would come to be. They were waiting for some settled future. A date on a calendar. Instead, Jesus spoke of awareness and scope; of presence and awakening. “The Kingdom of God does not come with careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the Kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21) Time is an illusion. A learned constraint that we must somehow unlearn. To wait and look forward – always forward – as if the answer comes in time. A manifestation of a brighter present sometime in the settled future. It’s

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Discernment

Discernment

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”  ~Psalm 130:5-6 Discernment /di’ sǝrnmǝnt/  noun.  Perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding. “My soul is overwhelmed,” the Teacher said.  “Sit here while I pray.  Keep watch.  Wait.” (Mark 14:34) Not long ago, I was in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, noticing the surprise of my fellow awaiting-patients as their names were called.  One by one, they awakened from the glow of their iPhones, put down their magazines, and snapped to as if they’d forgotten why they were here to begin with.  Of course, when my name was called, I found that I too had to awaken from the strange social experiment that had captured my attention so fully.  It was as though we’d all won a prize of some sort. Waiting is a truly disciplined endeavor.  A deliberate state of inaction.  A posture of non-doing while we watch diligently for something to happen that’s beyond our control.  Waiting will not split time with another activity.  It refuses to be multitasked. Jesus asks of Simon, “Are you asleep?”  The disappointment in His voice palpable; His tone both familiar and unmistakable.  “Could you not keep watch even for an hour?”  The answer returned in the disoriented yawn of one awakened from deep sleep.  It’s hard

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A Small Magnificat

A Small Magnificat

Forgive me a deeply personal reflection. Our three-year-old Sage said it best. It’s like he’s been here before. My wife – Melissa, having weathered childbirth like Super Woman – asked him, “August, what do you think of all this?” His stoic response, “I don’t know, Mommy. It’s actually pretty weird.” The more I think about it, the more I realize I have a conflicted relationship with the Book of Job. Sure, it’s a beautiful treatment of the mystery of suffering; an undeniable defense of God’s unknowable depth, but the ending. The ending, in the words of my son, is a little weird. In chapter 1, Job loses absolutely everything. His money. His property. His children. Forty-two chapters later, the Bible says, God blessed the latter days of Job’s life more than the former. v.13, “And he also had seven sons and three daughters.” A case study in restoration. Our spirituality is bathed in restoration. So deeply it permeates that anything other than the hope of it deafens us to the reality that God is Both. And. All in All. And so, thrown into a sea of a thousand conflicting emotions, what floats to the surface as I hold my newborn daughter is the echo of another from the great Cloud of Witnesses. The prophet Jeremiah who sings not of restoration, but of reclaiming. Of rebuilding. “Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, for so great is His unfailing love,” he says, surveying the desolation of Jerusalem. So few are

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Coersion

Coersion

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” ~ John 6:66-68 There’s a quiet gentility to fishing. A loneliness. It’s hard to fish in a crowd. As I sit the morning by the water, three fishing lines fly delicately over the lake, each hitting their mark without much notice and back again ever so quietly, ever so gently. A wonder, these fishermen who fail and fail over again without a hint of frustration and without going away. It takes patience to fish. I wonder how Jesus felt as He watched the crowds dissipate the second He was really vulnerable with them. Was it the eventuality of it or some longing disappointment that drew Him to ask the disciples, “The crowds have all gone. I suppose you’re leaving me too, then?” What do we do when the crowds go? When it becomes clear that following Jesus is a lonely business. An isolated walk. Can we stand to acknowledge our loneliness, or is it possible that our fear of solitude moves us, not to follow the crowd as it goes away, but to coerce it, if not oppress it, into staying. And not entirely for their sake, but for ours. After all, it’s easier to walk in company with Jesus than it is to walk

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This Faith is Mine

This Faith is Mine

“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” ~ Romans 1:17 This faith is mine. My own and no one else’s. It looks different than maybe yours does. Feels different. What speaks to me leaves you confused. What strengthens you leaves me empty. This faith is mine. My own and no one else’s. About a week ago, as my three-year-old son and I were re-arranging the track on his train table, I caught myself overstepping. As a master architect of track, bridge and depot, surely I could transform this hodgepodge of pieces into something spectacular; something more spectacular than it would be otherwise. But then it would be my masterpiece. My brainchild.  It would reflect the sum of my experiences and not his. And where’s the fun in that? No. Somewhere in the depths of my spirit, I know this to be true. That “better” is a matter of preference; not of objectivity.  So we built what I would not.  Set bridges where I would not. Ramps where settles his spirit. We built what at some point ceased to be ours and becomes only his. His design. His vision. The object of his construction that at last achieved perfection and understanding if only in the eyes of its author.  Brought out by guided expression of his own creativity. Why do we teach the faith if not for this? That the faith may become your own. That at some point,

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Disruptions

Disruptions

“The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”  – Isaiah 40:7-8 Disruptions. The water moves and the reflection is distorted. Moment by moment it moves, interrupted by the current the origin of which is entirely entirely irrelevant. The mirror marked with impermanence. Some ripples are hopeful, the elation of newness and possibility. Some are momentary disruptions, some the illusion of new permanence. None good, none bad, they simply are and become themselves in the pool as it moves up and down. Up and down. Up and down, clouding the reflection. The one constant above the reflection, high above. Where no newness affects and no mirror distorts. It stands unchanging, though the view from the water hides it’s true character. Following the ripples, the eye can never see the tress reflected, but retreat to the permanent and the ripples pass almost undetected. They become small, insignificant, passing. We behold them for what they are. Impermanent disruptions that pass and settle as the stream. God Himself, transcendent and permanent, towering in the reflection of baptismal water. Let pass the ripples and disruptions. Let settle the hopes and illusions. The trees aren’t going anywhere. ________________________________ About the Author Josh Hatcher is the Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, an open and caring, distinctly Lutheran, deeply sacramental and sometimes eclectic ministry in the heart of Downtown Memphis. Like

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Beneath Muddy Waters

Beneath Muddy Waters

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” ~Galatians 2:20 You have to look really close. But if you do, you’ll see swarms of little fish below the murky surface of the water. Life. But you have to look really close. There’s a life that swarms beneath the surface of our perceived selves. The ones we think we know so well. To reach into the depths of the self, and to know our sacred center is to reach below the mud that the rest of the world sees so clearly. That often enough we ourselves are not able to see past. Mistakes. Sorrows. Struggles. Trauma. Sins and unkept promises. The murky surface.  Look closer. Recalibrate. Look with new eyes at the sacred Life beneath. Life created and recreated by the Author of all Life. Once you see it, you won’t be able to see anything else. You’ll know it’s there. The Spirit of God that tabernacles within you, calling you to Life; always to Life. Calling you to recognize itself within the other as well. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to Spirit, Jesus says (John 3:6). Recognizing the Spirit of the Living Jesus in the other, you won’t be able to see anything else in her either. Look closely. Closer still. Hidden beneath

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