Missouri Synod Church in Downtown Memphis

Pastor’s Posts

Lent and the Return to the Sacred Self

Lent and the Return to the Sacred Self

Here it is. Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which hangs in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. He had lost nearly everything he had by the time he painted it. Nearly broke, he would die two years after its completion. I think about Rembrandt’s magnum opus near the beginning of every Lenten season. Its themes leap off the canvas: Repentance, Sonship, Love, Forgiveness, the list goes on. But the one that stands out most to me, as we begin this Lenten journey to the Cross and the Empty Tomb, is Identity. Sacred Identity. Have you ever wondered why the ashes imbedded on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday – you know, the ones that accompany that jarring promise, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return – have you ever wondered why such a morbid sentiment forms itself in the shape of a Cross? I’m sure there’s some deep theological and historical precedent for this, but for me it calls to mind the chasm that stands between the “me” that will inevitably return to dust when I die or when Christ comes again – the shells of our temporary identities that won’t seem to matter much in the Kingdom – and the me that has Risen with Christ, our sacred selves that at last will reflect the glory of God. There are two men kneeling at the feet of the Father in Rembrandt’s painting. On the surface, they appear one in the same, and in

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The Rust of Memory #TBT

The Rust of Memory #TBT

Look at this kid. It’s 1982, and things couldn’t be better. At least for me. My mom had those rockin’ glasses and I had my bear. To me, 1982 was as good as it gets. I’m the oldest of four brothers, which means that, at least for another little while, I had my parents all to myself. Sesame Street hadn’t sold out quite yet, and I had plenty of G.I. Joe’s to keep me entertained. Things couldn’t have been better. At least, that’s the way I remember it. In Physics, the Hawthorne Effect refers to the changes that occur in any situation once an observer is introduced into the equation. For instance, when you use a pressure gauge to measure the air in your car tires, measuring that pressure actually releases a small amount of air and lowers the pressure. It’s also why there’s really no such thing as a true “Reality” TV show. People tend to naturally improve or modify their behavior when they know they’re being observed by someone else. Nostalgia tends to work that way as well. The reason that the early 1980’s were so great isn’t because it was an objectively more peaceful, settled time. In fact, to hear my parents talk about it, it wasn’t anywhere close to that. 1982 was the year my Dad lost his job at International Harvester after the fourth largest worker strike in US history. There was a nationwide Recession, and money was tight – real tight – around the

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Is This True?

This is an image making the rounds on social media. It has gained a wide acceptance as an utterance of profound truth. It is a reminder of the words of Christ, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” St. James writes, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no [good] deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” In fact, the Bible is filled with admonitions to be kind, loving, and supportive of one another. At the same time, we read in Proverbs: “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” We don’t usually think in terms of God hating, after all, God is Love. However the Bible never hides the fact that God abhors sin and evil of every form. But who of us is without sin? It is our sin

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How to Worship When You’re Just Not Feeling It

How to Worship When You're Just Not Feeling It

This post is actually a few weeks behind, but I thought I’d share some left-over thoughts about worship and the Apostle Peter and our own tendencies to sleep in anyway. So for this edition of “The Cutting Room Floor, rewind to Sunday, August 10th, and Matthew 14:22-33. A few weeks ago, one of our folks gave me a t-shirt that I’m looking forward to wearing to our church picnic on September 7th. It’s a long list of things commonly considered wrong with parish churches – filled with hypocrites, boring worship, cliques, closed-minded, that sort of thing – followed by a pledge to get out of bed and actually go on Sundays, because, as I have to remind myself on some Sundays, “I am their pastor. I am their pastor. I am their pastor…” I love that joke! I’m reminded of this every time I hear a baby screaming in the pews during one of our worship services (No joke. A sure-fire sign of a church alive and growing). That baby’s not crazy! Would you want to sit still for an hour on a Sunday morning if you had that much energy? And so my hat’s off to all of you parents who teach your kids how to worship the Lord and try to keep them from jumping clear across the sanctuary while trying to get something (anything!) out of worship. Maybe they don’t want to be there, but the Spirit is still working on them and we’re glad to have

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How Jesus Totally Ruined My Golf Game

How Jesus Totally Ruined My Golf Game

Last Wednesday, I shot the round of my life at Overton Park Golf Course.  I’ve played that course since I was a little kid, and despite the now nearly unplayable greens and spotty hazards the likes of untended grass and loose car batteries, it’s still my favorite place to play.  So last Wednesday, after nearly 30 years of spoiled walks through the woods, I finally shot a perfect round of golf. As I’ve done nearly every second or third Wednesday all summer, I walked into the Clubhouse around 7:00 and paid for the Round.  My golfing buddy and I were about to step out onto the first tee when an unnecessarily angry little fellow with a clipboard and a leaf blower announced in what seemed like a highly rehearsed tone of voice that there was a tournament on that particular morning – one, incidentally, that I shot a 35 in years ago in Elementary School; a proud moment to say the least – and that we’d have to come back another day.  And there it is.  Call Guiness.  I shot a Zero. Golf is a weird little game.  You can’t really win so much as you can play better than you did the time before or shoot lower than the other people you’re playing with.  Because the game is so ridiculous, each course has what it would consider a “Par” that people tend to shoot for.  At best, it’s what a good golfer “should” score, at worst – and as is the

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Cutting Room Floor: The Never Ending Search for God, Part 2

Cutting Room Floor: The Never Ending Search for God, Part 2

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares Matthew 13:24-30, 26-33 July 20, 2014 (Listen to the Sermon) Read Part 1 of “The Never Ending Search for God, Part 1” It’s an issue the faithful have argued hotly since the Reformation, each side (as if, in 2014, we’re somehow still on opposing ones) loading their debate revolvers wth several very pointed chapters and verses on the topic of Election, Predestination, whatever you want to call it.  In Matthew 13, It seems to me that Jesus offers us another way to look at this little piece of the theological puzzle. These three things, I know for sure: 1. We’re Saved Because Jesus Found Us, Not the Other Way Round. I probably have as much chance of finding Jesus, and discovering in Him the key to eternal life as my keys have of finding me (Seriously, if anybody knows where they are, please shoot me a text). The overwhelming scope of Scripture makes it pretty clear that we, who belong to Christ, should spend less time patting ourselves on the back for our enlightened reason, and more time praising God for rescuing us from ourselves. This comes in particularly gnarly during those crises in the night where I wonder if my belief is strong enough or my life is holy enough to keep me in the faith; which incidentally they probably both aren’t.  It’s the sign on the back of the front door that says, “By the way, you’re here because I

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Cutting Room Floor: The Never Ending Search for God, Part 1

Cutting Room Floor: The Never Ending Search for God, Part 1

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares Matthew 13:24-30, 26-33 July 20, 2014 (Listen to the Sermon) Last week I had lunch with my friend Mark, who’s one of the pastors at another Church here in Memphis. When I got home, my wife Melissa asked me how Mark’s family was doing; his wife and kids – you know – normal people stuff.  I tilted my head to the side as I only do when searching my memory for something that’s not there, and answered, “Come to think of it. I really don’t know.”  Melissa said, “Well, then what did y’all talk about for an hour and a half?” Another head tilt. “Theology.” Here’s the thing about the Bible: It’s not just a collection of bullets to keep in your holster and fire out one little verse at a time. The Scriptures are this fascinating, complex dance of competing ideas each finding their meaning in contexts riddled with problems and questions that quite often people of faith just aren’t asking anymore. And because of this, often we find ourselves asking questions of Scripture that they just weren’t write to answer. And so there’s no question I love to “answer” more than this one: “Pastor, what does the Bible say about… fill in the blank.” So for the past two weeks in a row now, I’ve gotten to preach on parables about seeds growing in the ground and sprouting different things for farmers and servants and enemies to reckon with; which

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Cutting Room Floor: Everybody, Panic!

Cutting Room Floor: Everybody, Panic!

The Parable of the Sower Matthew 13:1-9, 24-30 July 13, 2014 (Listen to the Sermon) Before I get going, here’s the link I promised: Gene Weingarten’s article about Joshua Bell from 2007, “Pearls for Breakfast.” It’s worth a read. I should begin by saying again how much I absolutely adore the parables of Jesus. God (the Father) is always so mysterious. It always seems like one day He’s telling us how much He wants to have mercy on everybody, no exceptions (John 3:16 stands out, but why stop there? Acts 10:34-35, Ezekiel 18:32, Romans 11:28-33), and the next He declares His arbitrary rejection of folks like Esau (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13). It’s maddening! Especially if we’re trying to figure out what kind of Father God the Father is to us. What’s it like in this family of His? Well, as it turns out, life in His family is a whole lot like the parables Jesus tells in the Gospels, which is not obvious in the variable minefield of Scripture. You have to weed out a lot of other stuff to get to what God is getting at. His is a family where the worthless, snot-nosed younger brother who blew all of Dad’s money is welcomed back no questions asked while the older brother who always did everything right sulks in the corner (Luke 15:11-32). It’s a family where everyone is equal. Neighbors, enemies, brothers and sisters, all charged to care for each other (Luke 10:25-37). Again, none of this stuff

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On Why the Church is Sometimes a Little Like Star Wars

On Why the Church is Sometimes a Little Like Star Wars

“The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it.” ~ Charles Spurgeon I am, this very minute, introducing my five-year-old nephew, Will, to the (original) Star Wars trilogy. It’s the responsibility of any decent godfather, and it’s already a hit. He just leaned over to my brother and sister-in-law and said, “Mom; Dad! Do you know why I love Star Wars so much? Because it’s awesome! That’s why!” I remember how much I adored these movies when I was a kid. The special effects are (or at least were) absolutely incredible. How cool to see them through five-year-old eyes again! But honestly – and I say this with due trepidation of being disowned by fully two-thirds of my closest friends – they’re not nearly as jaw-dropping awesome as I remember. I blame Mark Hamill. Or maybe George Lucas for casting Mark Hamill. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because nostalgia rarely holds up under the weight of time, and instead of trying to recreate what can’t be recaptured, I should just appreciate these masterpieces for what they are. This, of course, is one of the handful of things the Holy Church has in common with the Star Wars universe. There are several, but for now, we’ll hold our reflection to just this one. The longer we live, the more glaring the imperfections of both become to us. Like Christ Himself, and the Holy Scriptures as well for that matter, the Church exists within that mysterious paradox

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Cutting Room Floor: June 29, 2014

Cutting Room Floor: June 29, 2014

Many of you probably don’t know this, but each Sunday night I make a habit of reading through the next week’s Lectionary passages to start my sermon prep. I think this is a fairly good habit for all preachers to have, and our Synod’s “founder,” if you will, CFW Walther cautions that preachers who wait until much later run the risk of inadvertently sending their parishioners – and likely themselves – to hell. Hyperbole is the best! Anyway, that’s when I try to get started. Sunday before last, I was thrilled to discover that I would once again get to preach on John 21; the third appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the apostles, and the restoration of St. Peter. This, incidentally, was also the reading last April 14, 2013, the 3rd Sunday of Easter. Here’s the issue. The regular reading for Easter 3 includes the context of Jesus’ conversation with Peter (which for those of you able to swim through flooded streets, was the basis of my sermon), the reading I had in front of me offered no context at all. So here’s what wound up on the cutting room floor. John 21:1-14 brings with it this awesome parallel in Peter’s life. It’s as though St. John takes nearly half a chapter of his account – in prime post-resurrection real estate no less – to show us how far Peter has come since the Lord first called him. It’s a bookend, if you will, the compliment of which is

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The Traveler’s Guide to Everywhere

The Traveler's Guide to Everywhere

Sojourn (sō – jûrn’) – intransitive verb. Anglo-French.  def: To stay as a temporary resident: <ex. sojourned for a month at resort> It’s fascinating the people you meet when you travel to faraway places.  A few years ago, Melissa and I spent the better part of her cousin’s wedding reception talking politics with an incredibly quirky human rights activist named Vincent.  He was from France – we were just outside of the Champagne region where her cousin lives – and our new friend had more than a few deep-seeded convictions about the direction of the French government under the leadership of the then newly-elected President, Nicolas Sarkozy. It was a strange exercise in self-reflection. We listened, but with far less interested ears than most of our late night conversations about human rights and the responsibility of government.  The difference: We were Sojourners.  We didn’t live there. Visitors. Tourists.  Passing through for a short time with no thought of putting down roots in the community.  Our hearts, our minds, and soon enough our bodies belonged somewhere else. St. Peter opens his first Epistle by addressing Christians by that very label.  “To God’s elect Sojourners” (1 Peter 1:1).  In fact his entire Epistle is, if nothing else, an instruction manual outlining how to live as a stranger in a strange land; how to get by as a visitor, a tourist, one who’s just passing through for a short time with no thought of giving in to the temptation to put down roots

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All In, Part 2

All In, Part 2

… a continuation of: All In, Part 1 “All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.” ~ Psalm 86:9-10 It seems simple enough. One Sunday, we’ll all gather for our regular 10:30 worship service. Sometime during the week that follows, one of our Trustees will lug a power drill to the front of the church building – take the old sign down and put the new sign up. And the next Sunday, some of us will show up at 8:30 and others at 11:00. Done and done. The Reality: Our Transition Team has spent the last 13 months praying, planning, praying, surveying, adapting, and praying some more to make sure that by the time that new sign does go up, we’re ready to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the adjustment process that will inevitably follow. As I write this article to the sounds and smells of my favorite coffee shop, we sit exactly 206 days away from Transition Sunday. Holy Cross Day. September 14, 2014. Our Team is about to start a tour of Home Bible Studies and Committee Meetings; answering questions and addressing concerns. With that in mind, I’d like to revist the heart of what got us started on this journey to begin with. We believe God is calling us to reach the lost for the sake of Christ. And

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