Septua*what*ima?

I’ve recently begun sending a weekly pastoral letter to my congregation. When the contents of the letter are universally helpful, I’ll post them here for the benefit of all. This week, I cover the practice of preparing for Lent with the “Gesima” Sundays (something which was done in many Lutheran congregations through the lifetime of The Lutheran Hymnal, but which was dropped with the lectionary used in Lutheran Worship. It has been restored along with the Historic One-Year Lectionary in Lutheran Service Book. I believe this is one of the stronger arguments for use of the Historic One-Year Lectionary over against the Three-Year.

Codex_aureus_Epternacensis_Parable_of_the_Workers_in_the_Vineyard_700

Dear beloved in the Lord,

Last Sunday we said goodbye to our alleluias as we came down from the mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Just after the events of the Transfiguration, Luke records that “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)

Jesus knows that His glory is not revealed fully until He is hanging from the tree. When John writes in the beginning of his Gospel “We beheld his glory,” the event of the crucifixion for the sin of the world is to which he is referring.

We sing of this in the hymn “Alleluia, Song of Gladness” at the end of the Transfiguration Divine Service:

Alleluia cannot always Be our song while here below;
Alleluia, our transgressions Make us for a while forgo;
For the solemn time is coming When our tears for sin must flow.

That solemn time is all of Lent, though most specifically Holy Week (from Palm Sunday through sunset on Holy Saturday), when we hear of the full impact of our sin: the Son of God dies in our place.

The season of Lent is a penitential season in which we spend 40 days pondering the weight of our sin. We gather on Wednesday evenings to hear in Scripture and sermon of our desperate need for God to provide the solution to our sinfulness. Sometimes Christians will fast – that is, give something up – as an expression of their striving against sin. Lent itself is not static: As the season progresses the liturgical custom of the Church is to continue giving things up in the Divine Service. We’ve given up the Alleluia. On Ash Wednesday we give up the Gloria in Excelsis. Finally, from Judica (5th Sunday in Lent) we also stop saying the Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father, etc.) All this is done as an action which expresses our great sorrow over our sin. Is it mandated or required? No. But it is good to teach just how serious our sin is, and these ceremonies help convey this truth clearly to all who are gathered in the Divine Service.

In fact, Lent is taken so seriously by Christ’s Church that we’ve even set aside the three Sunday before Ash Wednesday to begin preparing for the seriousness of Lent. These three Sundays are called Pre-Lent or sometimes the older name of Gesimatide is used.

These Sundays are a way of coming down the mountain. We’ve been through the joyful Time of Christmas, ending with Transfiguration. Now we prepare to face the seriousness of our sin yet again. We don’t do this without hope, though: The conclusion of Lent and Holy Week has traditionally been the great Vigil of Easter, which takes place after sunset on Holy Saturday (the night before Easter morning). While we don’t yet meet for the Vigil here at Good Shepherd, we can keep in mind the main theme of the Vigil: baptized by God into the death and resurrection of Christ, our sin is conclusively dealt with, having been washed away from us as far as the east is from the west.

The Gospel readings for the three Sundays of Pre-Lent preview this truth that God Himself is for us, is with us, and is helping us. The three Sundays respectively reflect the wonderful Gospel truth that we are: saved by Grace Alone; converted by Scripture Alone; received by Faith Alone.

You’ll notice these three themes highlighted on the bulletin covers for the next three Sundays. Listen carefully to the readings, and especially the Gospel reading, to discover these truths. I’ll do my best – by the grace of God – to clearly bring these out in the preaching as well.

If you want to know more about Pre-Lent, look for an insert in this week’s bulletin. We’ll leave some extras on the center counter in the narthex if you’re unable to be in the Divine Service this Sunday.

In the Peace of Christ,
Pastor Schuermann

Thrivent Reinstates Funding to Crisis Pregnancy Centers – An Open Letter

bigstock_Falling_Money_669153Dear Mr. Hewitt and Thrivent Board Members,

Imagine my pleasant surprise when today, while doing some research for a follow-up article on Thrivent’s neutrality policy, I discovered that a bit more than 70% of the pro-life organizations that Thrivent had kicked out of their charitable giving programs in the name of “neutrality” have been quietly reinstated.

Thanks be to God! Wonderful organizations that are serving men, women, and children in their time of need are again eligible for Thrivent Choice dollars as well as other Thrivent charitable giving programs. This is a great first step for Thrivent. I do wonder why you are being so quiet about it; nevertheless it is very good to see.

Now for the next step. The faithful organizations that provide education about life and bioethics issues should be reinstated. These organizations are doing faithful, Christian work. They are providing resources to men, women, and children – Christian or not – in times of great need. These organizations are:

These organizations are not political, but instead exist to provide the truth about life issues to Thrivent’s Lutheran Members. I can see no reason they should not also be reinstated, given that what they do is in many ways indistinguishable from the life-issues education I provide in my congregation, and as many other congregations are also providing on a regular and ongoing basis (all receiving Thrivent funds, by the way!) As Rev. Matthew Harrison stated, “the LCMS and every one of its entities and congregations are both pro-life and nonprofit, so we certainly hope that Thrivent will continue to support such pro-life, nonprofit organizations.”

There are a few other organizations that have yet to be reinstated. I hope it’s only a matter of time before they too can receive Thrivent funding. According to my information, they are:

  • CareNet Pregnancy Services of DuPage County, Downers Grove, IL
  • Crisis Pregnancy Center of Tidewater, Chesapeake, VA
  • Harbor Lights Pregnancy and Information Center, East Tawas, MI
  • Pregnancy Assistance Center North, Conroe, TX
  • Pregnancy Care Center, Fresno, CA
  • Pregnancy Support Center, Canton, OH
  • Sanctity of Human Life Network, Fair Oaks, CA

The Triune God whom all Thrivent Members confess in the Apostles’ Creed is pro-life. Full stop. It is our privilege as God’s people to imitate Him in serving our neighbors in order to promote and protect life. I hope you will continue in this positive direction. This is my ongoing prayer. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Rev. Michael Schuermann

 


 

This is an open letter. Feel free to use it yourself to send to Thrivent CEO Brad Hewitt and the Thrivent Board of Directors. Thrivent is listening to Thrivent Members. Thrivent Members, make your voices heard.

Brad Hewitt, CEO
Thrivent Financial
625 Fourth Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN 55415-1624

Religious Liberty on the Docket – Pray for Protection of Conscience

I penned this letter to my congregation this morning, regarding today’s arguments before the Supreme Court in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. May it be helpful to you, too.


Today Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby is argued before the Supreme Court.

You’re going to hear a lot about this case on the news, on social media, in the newspaper, on the radio; basically everywhere. It’s a very big deal. Some will falsely portray it as all about religion trying to impose a ban on contraception in the public square. Some will paint a politicized picture of a boss with one set of beliefs forcing certain health-care choices on his employees. Neither is correct.

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod – which signed an amicus brief in this case – holds to the Scriptures’ teaching that life is a gift of God, that God alone is the one who has the ultimate say over life and death (Deuteronomy 32:39), and that the willful, unauthorized-by-God taking of life is sinful (Exodus 20:13). The Green family (who privately own and run Hobby Lobby), being themselves Christians, hold to the same scriptural teaching.

They (and we) are opposed to the HHS Contraception Mandate of the Affordable Care Act because four of the twenty mandated contraceptive drugs act to prevent implantation of an embryo in the womb of the mother, thus causing an abortion. The Greens cannot justify paying for these drugs through their company’s health plans because they run Hobby Lobby as a Christian business. The LCMS has a vested interested in this case – as do I, your pastor, and as do you all – because the conscience of any particular Christian (or any religious person) should not be burdened with having to pay for drugs that end human life.

These abortifacient drugs will regrettably continue to be available for no cost to a large swath of the country under this HHS Mandate. We as Christians mourn this fact, and on other fronts should continue to work to stop the casual ending of human life that has become the norm in this country. However, this case isn’t about that. This case is solely about whether the government can impose a regulation on its citizens, even against their religiously-informed consciences.

Please be praying for all involved today, but especially that the Justices of the Supreme Court would ultimately decide to uphold the protections of conscience and religious liberty which are intrinsic to the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.

In the love of Christ,
Pastor Schuermann


President Matthew Harrison, of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, yesterday wrote an op-ed for the LCMS Reporter to encourage us all to not give up the spiritual warfare necessary in this matter. I encourage you all to read it for yourself:

Tired of Hobby Lobby?

For further information on various religious liberty matters that concern us, be sure to check out the Free To Be Faithful section of the LCMS website. There are plenty of excellent and helpful resources there.

A Statement From Lutherans for Life Regarding Thrivent

Lutherans for Life, an educational pro-life organization, has made a statement regarding Thrivent’s recent removal of pro-life organizations from it’s giving programs. Lutherans for Life was among those organizations defunded. The statement is not yet posted on LFL’s website, but permission has been granted to publish it here.


Because human life is created in the image of God as proclaimed throughout scripture (Genesis 1:26-27, 9:6; Psalm 8:5, Colossians 3:10), and because every human being is someone for whom Christ died to restore the image of God, the sanctity of human life is a basic Lutheran/Christian value. Martin Luther strongly condemned abortion: “Those who have no regard for pregnant women and who do not spare the tender fruit are murderers and infanticides.” (Plass: What Luther Says, entry no. 2826, p. 905, Concordia, St. Louis, 1959).

Lutherans for Life is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) Lutheran ministry that defends the sanctity of human life, including the life of the unborn child. We believe abortion and certain other practices are fundamentally inconsistent with the Lutheran belief in the sanctity of human life.

We appreciate the generosity of Thrivent in funding many Lutheran projects and causes. We regret that Thrivent has recently allowed a local chapter to fund Planned Parenthood, an organization that commits more abortions than any other organization in the nation and engages in many other practices that are inconsistent with the Lutheran commitment to the sanctity of life.

We further regret that Thrivent, after receiving complaints from Lutheran leaders about the funding of Planned Parenthood, has worsened the situation by suspending the funding of over 50 pro-life ministries and organizations. In monetary terms, this has cost pro-life organizations far more than it has cost pro-abortion organizations. Even worse, Thrivent’s 6 February 2014 statement on its “Neutrality Policy” indicates that Thrivent has made this temporary suspension its permanent policy, and has applied this policy to Thrivent Choice, Care Abounds in Communities, Thrivent Action Teams, Thrivent Communities, Thrivent Gift Multiplier, Thrivent Volunteers, Employee Giving Campaign and the Thrivent Financial Foundation.

It appears that Thrivent believes “neutrality” is treating pro-life and pro-abortion groups on an equal basis. But they should not be treated on an equal basis, because:

(1) Lutherans for Life is a Lutheran organization , has RSO status with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and works with many other Lutheran synods and associations; Planned Parenthood is not Lutheran or even Christian.

(2) The efforts of Lutherans for Life and other pro-life organizations are consistent with the Lutheran commitment to the sanctity of life; Planned Parenthood’s pro-abortion practices and policies are utterly contrary to the Lutheran commitment to the sanctity of life.

(3) The suspension of grants to pro-life and pro-abortion organizations does not impact both sides equally, because it suspends funding for over fifty pro-life organizations and only one pro-abortion organization.

We therefore hope and pray that Thrivent will reconsider its action and reinstate those pro-life organizations for which Thrivent has stopped funding. We call upon Christians to pray that Thrivent will correct this policy, to call the Thrivent office and local Thrivent agents to express concern for this policy, and to increase their support for life-affirming ministries that have been affected by this policy.

The Real Cost of Thrivent’s Decision: $878,569 per year

Thrivent has declared themselves to be “neutral” when it comes to abortion. Thrivent doesn’t want the distraction of an issue such as women who find themselves pregnant needing help. They don’t want the loving, kind, merciful people who seek to help them and their children to be a distraction, either.

In order to satisfy this misguided ideology of neutrality, Thrivent has made sweeping across the board changes to every one of their giving programs. They have ruled any organization that is in some way connected to abortion (both pro-abortion and pro-life) ineligible to receive any Thrivent money. To see the effect of this, let’s consider the year 2011, which is the most recent year where all of Thrivent’s financial records are public:

  • Thrivent has defunded pro-abortion organizations (who are doing decidedly non-Christian work) to the tune of $1,373. This is good.
  • Thrivent has defunded pro-life organizations, who have been doing the mercy work that is indisputably good and expected of every Christian, to the tune of $878,569.

Yes, $878,569. Almost 900 grand. Well on the way to one million dollars. Per year.

That is for one year. Thrivent has robbed pro-life organizations – and the mothers, fathers, and children they support – of $878,569 per year. This amount does not include any Thrivent Choice dollars. (Pro-life organizations were not eligible to receive Thrivent Choice dollars until 2012.) This $878,569 was likely quite a bit higher in 2012 and 2013 due to the addition of Thrivent Choice as a giving option to pro-life organizations.

$878,569. Don’t forget that number.

The idea that Christians, or the organization that they run, can be neutral on abortion is utterly wrong.

The thought that organizations seeking to show Christ’s mercy to parents and their children are in some way a distraction is horrifying.

The ideological divide between the decision makers at Thrivent and their faithful, Christian, merciful Members (and I’d venture to say many of their employees)? As far as the east is from the west.

The value that Thrivent places on their idol of neutrality over against the mercy sought amongst His Christians by our Lord Jesus Christ? $878,569 per year.


 

For more:
Thrivent Controversy Overview
Sign the petition.


 

Thrivent announced on Thursday changes to all of their charitable giving programs. In response to pro-abortion organizations being accepted into one program, and multiple pro-abortion organizations being funded via another, Thrivent made public a neutrality policy that applies to every one of their programs:

“Thrivent Financial is a membership organization of Christians and works with many different members who hold a variety of – and at times divergent – views and beliefs. It respects the differences of its members and does not independently or on behalf of its members, advisors or employees provide outreach funding or support to organizations and issues that distract, or have the potential to distract, from its common purpose, which is to guide its members and society to be wise with money and live generously.

“Under this policy, certain organizations are not eligible to receive outreach support or funding. This includes, but is not limited to, organizations with a primary purpose of providing services for or advocating positions either supporting or opposing certain social, politically partisan, or health and human services causes and issues, such as abortion, sexual orientation, or guns. Decisions regarding the application of this policy and the eligibility of specific organizations to receive outreach funding or support are made at the sole discretion of Thrivent’s management team and are subject to change.”

Sources:
Thrivent Financial 2011 990PF (this contains Thrivent Choice gifts that amount to more than $5000 per organization; under $5000 per year is not required to be reported)

Thrivent Financial Group 2011 990PF (this contains gifts given by local Thrivent Chapters)

Thrivent Financial Foundation 2011 990PF (this contains gifts given through the Thrivent Foundation, including employee gift matches via Gift Multiplier)