A Laughing Matter that isn’t Funny

I have a thirty-year-old cartoon in my files from Christianity Today. It depicts an absolutely frazzled man on the edge of a bed, phone plastered to his ear, with a freaked-out expression. The caption is: “My wife just left me, I lost my job, I need surgery, and my spirits have hit bottom! Pastor, you’ve gotta help me. What’s the difference between pre-, post, and amillennialism?” That is a laughing matter that isn’t.

Here were the Lenten themes promoted by the Synod-run propaganda machine for Lent 2016. From Concordia Publishing House “Places of the Passion.” From Lutheran Hour Ministries “Love’s Greatest Sacrifice.” From LCMS Worship “’the innocent sufferer” (Reporter, February 2016, 12).

A couple of brief comments on these. One, St. Luke is in. All of them are based on the Passion recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Two, they are rooted in the Passion account not some “practical” – read – “emerging” hook’em gimmick. Three, Lenten and Easter worship services are provided “with both traditional and a contemporary setting” (Ibid.). What? No blended? No praise? No bleeding edge as some emergent churches advertise? Four, wish they would include a reading of a harmony of the Passion accounts.

I was at a Sine Nomine conference in 1996 where Dr. Art Just pooh-poohed (i.e. he didn’t ridicule, lampoon, or denounce but spurned) the public reading of harmonized Passion accounts. Although such accounts date to the earliest centuries, they don’t harmonize with his particular (peculiar?) view of how the Gospels are to be read. He was silenced when a then un-doctored Rev. Scott Murray said in his laconic way, “But they are still the Word of God.” Dr. Just was like the wide-mouth frog in the joke who asks the Blue Heron what she feeds her babies, and when she says “wide-mouthed frogs,” he tight- lippedly says, “O really.”

I have done over the years the “Hands of Lent,” “The People of Lent,” “The Questions of Lent,” and more. But for the last 25 years, I have done a 9-part series on the Catechism. The first three Chief Parts get 9 sermons each. The last three get 9 sermons in total. I am not saying they are anything to write home about. I am saying they keep with the Reformation era practice of devoting midweek services in Advent and Lent to catechetical preaching. And I am saying they freed me from the hamster wheel of always running after a new theme for Advent or Lent.

My practice addresses the cartoon that makes you laugh but isn’t a laughing matter. People in real-life crises need real-life answers they can easily latch on to. That is what our Small Catechism is for; that’s why it was called the Layman’s Bible. I often say the worst thing the LCMS ever did to the World War II generation was drill, dun, and drive-home memorizing the Small Catechism, and then never refer to the Catechism again in preaching or teaching.

Let’s not do that to another generation. When their spouses leave them, may we have taught them to turn to the Explanation to the 6th Petition and be comforted by the fact that we confess that “we are attacked” and “we pray that we finally overcome” such temptations “and win the victory.”  When their spirits hit bottom, may we have trained them to turn to the 3rd Article Explanation and be comforted by the fact that we believe that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him but the Holy Spirit has called, enlightened, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith.

In a time of crisis, we don’t want them hung up on a point of doctrine – let alone false doctrine – but on the Faith once and for all delivered to the saints. We have a handy compendium of that. So do they. Let us teach them to use it.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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