Don’t Miss Part of the Story This Week

Nobody picks up a novel and reads the first chapter then the fourth and then the final.  Or if they do, they certainly will not take away everything that the author wanted the reader to know about in that story. In order to truly understand the novel, you need to read all the different chapters in the novel.

 And yet many people treat Holy Week in this way.  They come to Palm Sunday and Easter but never make it to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.  Other families perhaps pick one or the other of the evening services deciding that it would be too hard to make both services work into their schedules.  I understand that sometimes there are legitimate reasons why one cannot devote themselves to be all of the services. But I also suppose in many cases it’s not such reasons that really keep us away.

 I want to use this newsletter article as a chance to challenge you this year to make the four prime Services of Holy Week (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter)  an absolute priority. First, I do this because throughout the week a story is being told, the greatest story ever told. One service really does lead into another and missing services can leave a giant hole in the story being retold. If you’re here for Palm Sunday and then Easter Sunday. Jesus is lauded as he enters Jerusalem and then next thing you know He is rising, having never died. It just doesn’t make sense. Of course, you can and do fill in the details with the knowledge you have.  However, the impact of this special week of meditation on Jesus has its greatest impact when you get to sit in the pew and spend time meditating upon all of the events of that week.  The whole story comes together beautifully and powerfully.

Secondly, I would urge you to do this because each service has a unique gift to offer.  Of course at the heart of all the services is ultimately Jesus.  However, each service reminds us of a part of that gift.  There are things is each service not offered in the others. To miss one service is to miss out on something that God wants you to have.

Finally, I urge you to do this because in our society we often end up devoting a little attention to many things.  It is our lifestyle. Focusing on one thing for an extended period of time is not something we do very well.  And yet God calls us to such focus in the matters of faith. It is an important spiritual discipline for us to have.   

I would challenge you at least for this one week to pay great attention to this one thing. Oh, I understand you’ll still have to go to work, you’ll still have to put food on the table, and you’ll still have to deal with all of the dynamics of family and friends. But I urge you to make this week, this Holy Week, intentionally focused on the final week of Jesus’ life. I urge this not because you have to because you need to and because it is good for you. There is nothing that can bring more comfort, peace, and joy into your life than meditation upon the greatest act of love the world has ever know, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for you.  See you there.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on April 12th, 2017 under Theology and Practice • 1 Comment

How Modern and Post-Modern Thought Neglect Proclamation

Scholars say that people have organized their thoughts regarding truth according to one of three ways throughout time.  They claim that these ways of thinking can be charted according to when one lived.  People living before 1500 generally are thought of as pre-modern thinkers.  People from 1500-1960 generally became more and more modern in their thinking.  And those living since 1960 have been taught to think in a postmodern way.  Before your eyes glaze over, let me explain the difference using a baseball analogy. Imagine three people watching a pitch go over the plate.  A pre-modern thinker hears the umpire call the pitch a strike and marks it down as a strike on their program. In contrast, the modern thinker sees that same pitch go over the plate.  Regardless of what the umpire says, they begin to analyze whether the pitch was really a strike. They consider its location over the plate and its height in relation to the batter. In their mind,only after such reason-based observation can it be determined whether it really was a strike.  The postmodern thinker upon seeing the same pitch is rather unconcerned about whether it was a strike or not.  They believe that each person must make up their own mind based on how they saw it from their vantage point.  To call it a strike would suggest that there is an absolute answer to that question.

Remember that each one of you reading this has been raised in a world that operates on modern and postmodern assumptions about the world. Most of you were raised in a world when reason was king.  You rather like the idea of proving things to be true.  You like arguing about the umpire’s call.  Instant replay is a treasure for the modern thinker.  The younger people reading have been taught that arguing over such things is divisive and unnecessary.

Why am I writing about this?  Well because these three ways of thinking truly impact how we think about the truth of God. Pre-modern thinkers accept the things spoken of in the Scriptures as true simply because God has revealed them to be truth. Modern thinkers want to test each thing revealed in the Scriptures through their reasoning powers. Postmodern thinkers leave it up to each person to determine what is true.

But the implications for our Christian life do not stop there.  It also affects how likely we are to speak to others about our faith. When we think in modern or postmodern ways we are very unlikely to ever open our mouths and speak about the truth of God. If we think in modern ways, we wrongly will believe it is up to our reasoning skills to convince the other person to become a Christian. We convince ourselves that we are not up to the task or that the people that we are talking to will unquestionably not be open to hearing the Gospel.   If we are thinking like a postmodern thinker, we don’t share because we think everyone looks at everything so relatively that making absolute truth claims about the world is useless.  Or we decide that the truth we believe is not necessarily true for others. We believe that people will just stick to the truth they already believe.  

But God desires that we think in a much more pre-modern way.  We are to know that what the Scripture reveals is true because the One who is True has revealed it. And here is what the Scriptures tell us. They tell us that the Word of God is living and active. They tell us that faith comes through hearing. They tell us that the proclamation of the Gospel is the very power of God unto salvation. And when we believe these things, we will be much more likely to open our mouths. We will not care that there are a hundred reasons to say that our attempted evangelism will fail, but simply trust that if the proclamation of the Gospel is powerful because the Spirit is at work in it. God will bring the results He desires. We will also not buy into the lie that sharing the Gospel is useless or offensive in a world where absolute truth is not even considered to exist.  We will instead trust God to convict the one we are speaking to of such a reality.

The Gospel IS the power of God unto salvation.  It is for us and it is for all those around us.  May we speak it leaving behind the lies of both modern and postmodern thoughts simply trusting the One who is True.        

Posted by Philip Hoppe on January 30th, 2017 under Theology and Practice • 2 Comments

Church Membership: Nothing or Everything?

recordsThis post should go viral. After all, church membership is just a red hot topic in Christianity today.  I can not even list all of the books that are one the Best Seller’s list that ruminate on the issues surrounding church membership.  The blogs devoted to it are too many to list.  

Either that or records of church membership are something mostly kept to once a year to appease the record keepers at the LCMS Roster and Statistics Office, lest we be chastised by District Presidents and Circuit Visitors.  Either that or they are something we keep in order to track giving and to fill out those back pages in the pictorial directory.  Either that or we have them but don’t really care about them unless they give us reason to boast or judge someone else’s pastoral care.

Truth be told most of the time we act as if church membership does not really matter all that much. Membership is in many cases granted after a very brief introduction to the congregations and its doctrine.  Members are left on the rolls even when there has been no tangible connection to the congregations in some cases for decades.  Sometimes pastors arrive at a church to find there is no definitive way to even know who is on the list.

So which is it?  If membership is just a formality that only is really needed for a few statistical purposes, well then let’s treat it as if it is really nothing.  Who cares who joins and who cares who remains on the rolls?  Who cares if we even have a list?  Just serve those who show up and don’t waste time with the paperwork or membership software data entry.

But if it is important, then let us act like it.  And what does that look like? Well, it means that we do our best to really make sure those joining our rolls hold to the confession our congregation binds itself to.  This involves good catechesis and the integrity to make clear that people joining for other reasons simply does not make sense and is not our desire.  It means that we do not let people join who we know are engaged in ongoing unrepentant sin.  It means that we remove those who are on the rolls who no longer hold our confession or are letting sin reign in their lives without repentance, including not being gathered to Jesus for the divine service.  And when we remove them, we do not just release them, but warn them of the spiritual peril they are in.  In short, we practice the church discipline pastors and lay leaders promise to be diligent about in our vows before God.   

Furthermore, we must treat those who are fellow members with affection and care. We must be willing to share all things with them.  We must mourn when they mourn and rejoice when they rejoice.

And why would we ascribe such importance to membership?  Because God deals with us through His Church and her pastors.  While so much has been done in the last few decades to cause people to not remember this truth, the Scriptures are clear.  What the Church forgives is forgiven in heaven.  What it binds is bound in heaven.  Church membership traditionally then has been understood as the temporal record of the Church’ exercise of the keys entrusted to her by Jesus.  And therefore, it is also a record of one’s eternal standing with God.  It is assumed rightly that those on the rolls are not just in good standing with a congregation but with God himself.  And, likewise, those removed or not welcomed onto the rolls are not in good standing with Him.

Of course, there will never be a one for one correspondence between the congregation’s record books and the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Churches, pastors, and congregations can err.  And many times those that have fallen into disbelief through unrepentant sins are not manifested as such easily.  But those of us entrusted with such records should do our best to get them as close as we can to the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Finally, even as we commit ourselves to this understanding and the practices that follow it, let us realize that that which has been broken for decades will not be fixed overnight.  Instead, we must bear with one another as we move in this direction. Let the one with perfect rolls throw the first stone at others who are seeking to work towards the loving and regular practice of church discipline that gives confidence to the saved and caution to the erring.  Treat one another as brothers fighting for the same cause.    Help one another with resources to help teach this important understanding to our people.

Membership is everything in so far as we treat it as a record of the spiritual condition of those entrusted to our care.  May God forgive us for forgetting that truth and the courage and encouragement to change it with His Spirit’s constant aid.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on September 26th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • 4 Comments

What the NYG and Higher Things have in common.

nygThis year I went to the National Youth Gathering with my youth group.  A lot of my friends are right now in Colorado at a Higher Things gathering with their youth.  

And of course many keystrokes have been tapped over these gatherings before and will be again. One group claims one of these gatherings is something to be avoided like the plague.  The same group often speaks of the other gathering as somewhat of a little heaven on earth.  In contrast, another group claims that one of these gatherings is lacking needed application to real life and borders on boring.  They speak about the other gathering as if it is the best experience any youth could have on this earth.  

There is much that could be said about either gathering.  (If you want my opinion of the National Youth Gathering this year, hit me up personally). But I want to focus on something that can and should be said of both gatherings to our youth.     

What should be said?  This: They are not as important as they might appear as you watch them scrolling by on your facebook feed.  This is not to say that no good comes from them.  But neither will really accomplish much by itself.  Whether the rock band pulses through your veins in a way that seem to shake your soul or whether you think the Te Deum could not sound even a bit more sweet if a choir of angels performed it, this is not what will sustain your faith over time.

The rock band will not make Jesus any more present in his word or sacrament and neither will the cantor extraordinaire.  And as for all those sectionals, most of their content could be taught to you by your local pastor if you would give him the time and attention needed to do just that.  He can teach you just as easily as the rock star hipster pastor or the confessional juggernaut celeb.  

htHere is my point.  Way too often we adults are promoting these gatherings as the thing kids should be most excited about.  We act as if they will change everything.  We post pictures and videos as if nothing else could measure up.  

But I want my youth to know this.  These gatherings may be fun.  They may be enlightening.  They will likely give you a sense of the universal church that is hard to grasp locally.  But they are not even close to the most important things in regard to your faith.  

So what is?  Two things.  First, connection to and participation in your local church as it gathers around the Word and Sacrament weekly.  Second, daily prayer and catechesis in your home.  Your pastor and your parents are much more important than the celebrities at either youth gathering.  While those famous types might encourage you to follow them on twitter, your pastor and pastors will be right by your side throughout the ups and downs of life with Christ.   And if they are doing their job well, they will make sure to take your hand and lead you back to Jesus time and time again.

I have nothing against going to these gatherings. But if any of them becomes looked at as way better than what you pastor gives you at church and your parents teach you in your home, there is need for repentance.

Participate in your church.  If you do not have one, start looking here.  A pastor will be waiting there to help teach you and give to you God’s gifts in Jesus.  Pray and learn in your home. If you need help having time of regular prayer in the home, check out  Listen to the faith that your parents are seeking to pass along to you.

What do the NYG and Higher Things have in common? Neither is as important as they seem.  Your church and pastor are.  Your home and parents are.  Find Jesus first and foremost there.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on July 27th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • 9 Comments

Hating the Dead

deadOn my recent trip to New Orleans, we went to the national WWII museum.  In the 4D movie featured there, Beyond All Boundaries, they mentioned that famous WWII journalist Ernie Pyle had one last column tucked inside his pocket when he died.  Reflecting on the war, he had written these words:

“Dead men by mass production — in one country after another — month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer. Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous. Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them.”

He wrote these powerful words about literal dead men he saw lying on the ground wherever he went.  But as I heard them, I could not help to think about the spiritual dead all around us, those without the life of Christ dwelling inside of them.

For many years, we as American Christians only saw the spiritually dead laying on the ground once in awhile.  Oh, they have always existed, lots of them.  Each of us was one at least for a few moments ourselves.  But they were not always so obvious.  Most people we met and knew at the very least gave lip service to belief in God.  They did not lie there on the ground for everyone to step over.

But it is no longer so.  Just today I talked to a woman who is dying.  She told me she asked one of the help if they believed in God.  They responded with a quick and cold, “No.”  We see the spiritual dead lying everywhere now.  In our families, at our workplaces,  and in our community.  We hear them speak in Ted Talks.  We watch them sing from grand stages.  They even walk among our youngest children in the schools.

The dead should be mourned. They should draw forth our compassion.  Our eyes should well up with tears. Our Lord’s eyes did.  “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

hopelessBut the more they are lying around, the more likely we are to lose our compassion.  The more likely we are to begin to hate them.  The more they become an inconvenience to us. We get sick of stumbling over them. Their smell inflames far more than our nostrils.  We begin hate them.

But Jesus still loves them.  He still desires to breath life into their dead bones.  Their death is His sorrow.

Dear Lord, remove from us our hatred of the spiritually dead.  Forgive our sinful frustration with their continual presence.  Give us hearts that love the dead all the way into Your arms.  Amen.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on July 25th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • 3 Comments

Theology for Laypeople – Baptized into Christ – Jordan Cooper

bicIn his new book, Jordan Cooper seeks to fill a hole that many, including myself have noted over the years.  While Lutheran Publishing Houses have produced tremendous theological resources of for pastors and academics, theological writing for laypeople has been often overlooked or not published.

Many pastors struggle with how to take their laypeople onto theological topics of importance that are not specifically covered in the Small Catechism.  While Lutheran clergy operate with a wide array of theological axioms and assumptions, most laypeople have never been familiarized with these assumptions.

This book is a good aid in that direction.  It seeks to help laypeople better understand topics like baptismal identity, passive and active righteousness, law and gospel, sinner and saint, two kingdoms, vocation, etc.

It is a book you could put right in people’s hand and let them absorb some of the key tenets of  our understanding of the Christian faith.

This book also is good because it reminds us that the Christian faith is not meant just to be understood but is meant to be lived out.  It serves as a good buffer against false teaching in the some parts of the Church which often say nothing on this topic for fear that the Gospel will be lost or overshadowed.  The Scriptures do not share this fear and neither should we.

I would encourage any Pastor to buy and read this book, and think about whether it might be something you can put right into the hands of your laypeople.


Posted by Philip Hoppe on June 13th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • No Comments

The Scalia Sermon was not as good as you thought.

frscalia-jesusofnazarethMany Lutherans have been praising Father Scalia’s Sermon at the Mass said for his Father on the occasion of his death.    But I would suggest that those Lutherans let one or two lines shield their eyes from the great error throughout this sermon.  Let me prove this point as I comment on each part of the sermon.

Your Eminence Cardinal Wuerl, Your Excellencies, Archbishop Viganò, Bishop Loverde, Bishop Higgins, my brother priests, deacons, distinguished guests, dear friends and faithful gathered:

I will not overstep early, but the deference show here is to the hierarchy of the church, extending all the way up to Pope, who demands absolute obedience for salvation.

On behalf of our mother and the entire Scalia family, I want to thank you for your presence here, for your many words of consolation, and even more for the many prayers and Masses you have offered at the death of our father, Antonin Scalia.

He thanks them for the prayers and masses they have offered.  These masses are offered as works of man to move God to release his father from purgatory into heaven.  Jesus’ death is not sufficient. Prayers and masses must be offered.

In particular I thank Cardinal Wuerl, first for reaching out so quickly and so graciously to console our mother. It was a consolation to her and therefore to us as well. Thank you also for allowing us to have this parish funeral Mass here in this basilica dedicated to Our Lady. What a great privilege and consolation that we were able to bring our father through the holy doors and for him gain the indulgence promised to those who enter in faith.

First, he finds particular comfort is having this Mass at the Basilica dedicated to Mary. Secondly, having this mass in this location he believes will grant his father a special indulgence.  Again, he suggests that this pilgrimage of sorts has eternal merit before the Father in heaven.

I thank Bishop Loverde, the bishop of our diocese of Arlington, a bishop our father liked and respected a great deal. Thank you, Bishop Loverde, for your prompt visit to our mother, for your words of consolation, for your prayers.

This sounds just fine, but again prayers offered by the bishop are assumed to move his father closer to eternal glory.

The family will depart for the private burial immediately after Mass and will not have time to visit, so I want to express our thanks at this time so that you all know our profound appreciation and thanks. You will notice in the program mention of a memorial that will be held on March 1st. We hope to see many of you there. We hope the Lord will repay your great goodness to us.

The Lord is asked to reward the people for their works.  Not only will their prayers help in his father’s salvation, but in the salvation of those praying also.

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.

It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of him. because of his life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

These are the lines that have received such rave reviews.  The rhetoric is awesome, since many supposed the funeral would be all about his dad.  It no doubt hooked the hearers. And out of context, the things said are laudable in many respects.  But the very last line is telling.  Even with all the talk of Jesus, we still need to simply commend Antonin to the mercy of God.  There is still more to be done, more to perfect (more to come later).  It fails to realize that Jesus is the mercy of God in all its fullness.  He is not just the start of the mercy but the finish as well.

Scripture says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. And that sets a good course for our thoughts and our prayers here today. In effect, we look in three directions. To yesterday, in thanksgiving. To today, in petition. And into eternity, with hope.

We look to Jesus Christ yesterday, that is, to the past, in thanksgiving for the blessings God bestowed upon Dad. In the past week, many have recounted what Dad did for them. But here today, we recount what God did for Dad, how he blessed him.

Again, the Lutheran wishes to rejoice at this last line.  Yes, we are going to talk about God’s activity rather than eulogizing the dead.  But again, listen to the three fold suggestion.  God has done things in the past, and so there is thanksgiving.  But in the present there is needed prayer, not for the mourners but for Antonin himself.  He is still not free  of need.  The people must pray him into heaven.  They must pray to part the doors of purgatory.  And so the future remains only hopeful and not certain.

We give thanks first of all for the atoning death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our Lord died and rose not only for all of us, but also for each of us. And at this time we look to that yesterday of his death and resurrection, and we give thanks that he died and rose for Dad.

Further, we give thanks that Jesus brought him to new life in baptism, nourished him with the Eucharist, and healed him in the confessional.

Awesome stuff if read by one with a Lutheran understanding of salvation.  But notice the talk is mostly about new life and not forgiveness.  Why?  Because because this is the Roman view of salvation.  God begins that work in people through Jesus, but then it must be perfected through man’s works.

We give thanks that Jesus bestowed upon him 55 years of marriage to the woman he loved, a woman who could match him at every step, and even hold him accountable.

Nice shoot out to Mom.

God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith: The conviction that Christ’s presence and power continue in the world today through His body, the Church. He loved the clarity and coherence of the church’s teachings. He treasured the church’s ceremonies, especially the beauty of her ancient worship. He trusted the power of her sacraments as the means of salvation as Christ working within him for his salvation.

The keys words here are working “within him.”  Again this is the Roman teaching of infused grace.  God puts His grace in you and then you must use it properly to earn salvation.

Although one time, one Saturday afternoon, he did scold me for having heard confessions that afternoon, that same day. And I hope that it’s some source of consolation, if there are any lawyers present, that the Roman collar was not a shield against his criticism.

The issue that evening was not that I had been hearing confessions, but that he had found himself in my confessional line, and he quickly departed it. As he put it later, “Like heck if I’m confessing to you!”

The feeling was mutual.

Cute story.

God blessed Dad, as is well known, with a love for his country. He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was. And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing, a blessing quickly lost when faith is banned form the public square, or when we refuse to bring it there. So he understood that there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, between one’s faith and one’s public service. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better a citizen and public servant he became. God blessed him with the desire to be the country’s good servant because he was God’s first.

To comment on these thoughts would be to distract from the point of this post.  It would be worthy of more type strokes sometime though.

We Scalias, however, give thanks for a particular blessing God bestowed. God blessed Dad with a love for his family. We have been thrilled to read and hear the many words of praise and admiration for him, for his intellect, his writings, his speeches, his influence and so on.

But more important to us — and to him — is that he was Dad. He was the father that God gave us for the great adventure of family life. Sure he forgot our names at times, or mixed them up, but there are nine of us.

He loved us, and sought to show that love. And sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured. And he gave us one another, to have each other for support. That’s the greatest wealth parents can bestow, and right now we are particularly grateful for it.

Beautiful talk about family and the blessings of it.  Such eloquence about the blessing of families is always welcome to my ears. My only sadness here is that the words seem to suggest to me that Scalia was not particularly present for his family. But maybe I am reading more into it than is there.

So we look to the past, to Jesus Christ yesterday. We call to mind all of these blessings, and we give our Lord the honor and glory for them, for they are His work. We look to Jesus today, in petition, to the present moment, here and now, as we mourn the one we love and admire, the one whose absence pains us. Today we pray for him. We pray for the repose of his soul. We thank God for his goodness to Dad as is right and just. But we also know that although dad believed, he did so imperfectly, like the rest of us. He tried to love God and neighbor, but like the rest of us did so imperfectly.

He was a practicing Catholic, “practicing” in the sense that he hadn’t perfected it yet. Or rather, Christ was not yet perfected in him. And only those in whom Christ is brought to perfection can enter heaven. We are here, then, to lend our prayers to that perfecting, to that final work of God’s grace, in freeing Dad from every encumbrance of sin.

Here we get to what I talked about before.  The present is a time to pray that Scalia’s soul might finally rest.  It is not at rest yet.  Prayers and masses must be said in order that it might someday rest.  He cannot rest because he did not in his life perfect the grace given to him through Jesus.  Jesus did not free him from every encumbrance of sin.  Such freedom was not deliver to him in baptism once and for all.

But don’t take my word for it. Dad himself, not surprisingly, had something to say on the matter. Writing years ago to a Presbyterian minister whose funeral service he admired, he summarized quite nicely the pitfalls of funerals and why he didn’t like eulogies.

He wrote: “Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thanks for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.”

Now he would not have exempted himself from that. We are here then, as he would want, to pray for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner. To this sinner, Antonin Scalia. Let us not show him a false love and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers. We continue to show affection for him and do good for him by praying for him: That all stain of sin be washed away, that all wounds be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. That he rest in peace.

Again we hear phrases here that cheer the Lutheran heart.  But it is not biblical doctrine.  The basic point is this.  Don’t just praise dad.  He needs you prayers.  His perfection must be completed by your prayers in order that he can rest.  Jesus did not provide that rest, despite His promises to do so.  This is pure purgatory talk.

Finally we look to Jesus forever, into eternity. Or better, we consider our own place in eternity and whether it will be with the Lord. Even as we pray for Dad to enter swiftly into eternal glory, we should be mindful of ourselves. Every funeral reminds us of just how thin the veil is between this world and the next, between time and eternity, between the opportunity for conversion and the moment of judgment.

So we cannot depart here unchanged. It makes no sense to celebrate God’s goodness and mercy to Dad if we are not attentive and responsive to those realities in our own lives. We must allow this encounter with eternity to change us, to turn us from sin and towards the Lord.

The English Dominican, Father Bede Jarrett, put it beautifully when he prayed, “O strong son of God, while you prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that we may be with you and with those we love for all eternity.”

Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

Again this seems just almost right.  And yet, Roman Catholic doctrine suggest that this turning is one of works and not faith primarily.

My dear friends, this is also the structure of the Mass, the greatest prayer we can offer for Dad, because it’s not our prayer, but the Lord’s. The Mass looks to Jesus yesterday. It reaches into the past — reaches to the Last Supper, to the crucifixion, to the resurrection — and it makes those mysteries and their power present here on this altar.

Jesus himself becomes present here today under the form of bread and wine so that we can unite all our prayers of thanksgiving, sorrow and petition with Christ himself as an offering to the father. And all of this with a view to eternity, stretching towards heaven, where we hope one day to enjoy that perfect union with God himself and to see Dad again and, with him, rejoice in the communion of saints.

Here the Lord’s Supper is taught as an ongoing sacrifice to the Father.  We offer Jesus  to the Father in order that He might have mercy.  The Scriptures teach us that in the supper Jesus offers Himself to us in mercy.  Big difference.

I understand why Lutherans thought they loved this sermon.  It was the basic idea that the funeral sermon was to be about Jesus and not the one in the casket.  But the Jesus proclaimed is not the one we worship.  We do not worship the Jesus who is just the author of our faith but the perfecter.  We do not worship one who simple infuses grace into us in order that we must strive then towards perfection.  We do not worship a Jesus who needs to be offered time and time again to God weekly in the mass but a Jesus who offers himself to us weekly because He was offered once and for all to God on the Cross.  We do not worship a Jesus who sits and waits for prayer and masses to be offered before giving him people rest.  Those who died in Him rest with Him right away and will be raised up on the last day.

This sermon was a pure exposition of the very Roman Catholic doctrines Luther rallied against: infused grace, salvation by works, the sacrifice of the mass, indulgences, and purgatory.  They still take glory away from Jesus just like they did 500 years ago.  Let not the beauty of the ritual and one point about not eulogizing the dead close our eyes to the serious errors throughout this sermon.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 22nd, 2016 under Theology and Practice • 2 Comments

Turning Acts 6 Upside Down

pmwActs 6:1–4 (ESV) — 1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.

In Acts 6, we are told that the Apostles recognized that as the Church was growing that they were being stretched too thin.  There was much holy work to be done, but they could not do it all.  It caused them to stop and ask what the primary work they had been called to do by Jesus.  In such reflection, they were reminded that the Lord had given them first the work of prayer and the Ministry of the Word.  They found others to take up the other God-pleasing work that needed to be done.

In today’s Church, I keep reading things that seem to suggest just the opposite.  They say things like “Pastor must stop being chaplains.” or  “Pastors must not be the primary caregiver.”    They suggest a Pastor must give up much of the Ministry of the Word and prayer to others in order to truly lead the people.  In fact at times, they suggest the pastor must go out and essentially wait tables instead, doing the very work the Apostles said they had to leave behind to others in order to be faithful to their calling.

We have forgotten what the true work of the Pastor is.  It is not to lead, unless of course you mean the leadership that flows from the proper work of the Ministry.  It is not to wait on tables in the local coffee shop unless of course you meet there to pray with others.  The work has been and remains the work of the Ministry of the Word and prayer.

People suggest that congregations will not grow if the pastor focuses on these things.  I say all growth that occurs because the pastor leaves behind his true work is not the true growth of the Church.  The true growth of the church, whether it be numerical or simply in faithfulness, occurs precisely because of the work the Lord does through pastors as they devote themselves to the Ministry of the Word and prayer.

Let us not turn Acts 6 upside down because some sociologist suggests that it will produce better results. Let us model Acts 6, trusting the Spirit to bring about the results He desires.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 16th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • No Comments

DON’T Follow your Passion

fypDo what you love! Find your passion! Find a job you adore and you’ll never work a day in your life. This is the kind of stuff that is being served up and devoured by the people comprising the younger generations in our world. Maybe you have found yourself motivated by such inspirational dictums. But here is the problem. You might notice the common root word in all of these phrases is “you.”

Every generation loves to fantasize about their own importance to the world. However, most generations very early on have that kind of narcissism corrected. Whether by words, actions, or situations, the young have been reminded that the world is not all about them.

But it seems the members of our younger generations are being told the exact opposite. Do to overwhelming concerns about the lack of self-esteem is previous generations, many of our young people have been assured of their overwhelming specialness all their lives.

While older generations might have dreamed of greatness, many individuals in these younger generations assume greatness to be their God-given right. The “spiritual” leaders of these generations feed this belief at every turn. The inspirational leaders of the day are telling people that fulfillment in life is found by doing what you love, by following your passion. It is the sure path to manifest your unquestioned importance in the world.

The Godly life though is not about doing what you love. It is about doing what the others around you need. You may well in the end get to do things that you love to do but that should never be your motivation. You should be motivated by those around you. You should form your life not around your passions but around their needs.

It is a clever deception that is being spread no doubt. Our younger generations actually believe that by doing what they love and following their passion is the secret to helping those around them. That is why every video that talks about finding your passion ends up suggesting that somebody out there is going to be affected in a positive way by you doing what you love. People are becoming convinced that navel gazing is somehow also altruism.

But that’s all backwards. It assumes that focusing on yourself and what you love is the best way to help others. It is not. This is not to suggest that sometimes when people follow what they love that they do not end up helping people. It can happen but most often the needs fulfilled are mostly those of the person following their passion. The Scriptures speak about being very cautious when following one’s inner passions for this very reason.

The Scriptures do speak about God giving specific gifts to specific people. But it always talks about that in the context of using those gifts then for the betterment of others. It is not about fulfilling some purpose for yourself but for meeting the needs of those around you.

Some days in life you will get to do things you love. Others days you will do things you hate. Everybody’s life is that way. Even the people who act like is not. But if you meet others needs each day, you have lived well.

Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 9th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • No Comments

Word Vs. Sacrament?

wasIt is a personal pet peeve of mine: the tendency of people to demean one thing in order elevate the thing they want to laud when there is nothing wrong with the thing they demean.  All of us do it at times, but all of us also should be called on it when we do it.

I have had many real conversations recently that have revealed one area where this seems to be going on, particularly among the younger members of the confessional Lutheranism.  And lest anyone in honor of the Superbowl wants to throw the straw-man flag at me, I will provide actual comments.

What is being demeaned in this case is the preaching of the Word.  It is being demeaned in order that the Sacrament of the Altar might be elevated.  Three examples will follow.

First, there was discussion on a Facebook group about what was appropriate for Vicars (those apprenticing at a church during typically their third year of seminary instruction) to be doing during worship.  The question was why everyone seems to be livid when they see a Vicar consecrate the elements during worship and yet sits comfortably while they preached.  All of this while the article of our confession (AC XIV) that would not allow administration of the Sacraments to one without a regular call also forbids preaching to the same. I ended up having this exchange with one Vicar from our Fort Wayne Seminary after asking him why he felt so comfortable preaching and so uncomfortable consecrating the elements:

Vicar: I feel comfortable preaching because I am being trained to preach. It is like a med student learning to diagnose a patient. They have the tools but they are still learning. Once they are done learning they give them the license to be A Doctor. To me it is the same, preaching is diagnosing the issue, but I am not ready to give them the medicine till I have my training done.

Philip Hoppe: If you do not think you are delivering medicine in the sermon, you need to rethink preaching.

Vicar: Well it is medicine, but not the strong stuff, the body and blood of our Lord.

Someone else thought his distinction brilliant.  I say it demeans preaching in an effort to laud the Supper.  And demeaning the preaching of the Word stands against both the Scriptures and our Confessions.

A similar understanding must underlie this overture.  It contains this whereas:

Whereas, our Lutheran Confessions state: “nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call (rite vocatus).” (Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, page 36);

And yet, there is no resolved that deals with publicly teaching or preaching.

Thirdly, the following comment was posted on a thread about long sermons being a bad practice:

A long sermon is Satan filibustering the Eucharist.

This was received with high fives all around.  This despite that it suggests that the preaching of the Word unless kept brief is tool of the devil.  Again, we see in this the idea expressed and applauded that the sermon should be brief in order that we can get to the real thing, the Eucharist.

I could add also that  I have seen posted several times in discussions about having the Lord’s Supper weekly a statement that suggests many feel that if they go to a worship service where the Supper is not present, they are not sure what the point is or why they are there.  Again, I agree that weekly communion is the Scriptural precedent and a blessing to those who have it, but why act as if a service where the Word is preached and Absolution is delivered is nothing?  It may not be the fullness of the Divine Service, but it is something I rejoice to receive.  Where the Word of God is preached and forgiveness is received, there is Jesus.

Brothers, laud the Sacrament.  Long and Loud.  I will join with you on every occasion. . But but do not demean the preaching of the Word.  Through it comes faith.  Yes, even the faith which receives the gifts of the Supper.


Posted by Philip Hoppe on February 6th, 2016 under Theology and Practice • 5 Comments