Friday, September 19, 2008

Theologies of Glory Versus the Cross

The theology of the cross looks outwards to that which is external and outside of ourselves: ultimately the cross, Holy Baptism, and the preaching of forgiveness of sins, which is indeed given. These are reliable unto death, they do not falter, are not not dependent upon our own ravenous will. They means of grace promise eternal salvation and the strengthening of faith. Therefore it must be the Christians be centered in a church which is dedicated to the spiritual milk Christ gives which is (extra nos) – or outside oneself, and surely dependable. The wisdom of the world attempts to offer temporary self-help, feel good, inward looking solutions that are visibly attractive, that feed our egos and confidence in our own capabilities and standing before God. Yet before genuine faith it must be that one completely despair of owns own abilities, his confident thinking, his “better life now,” his abilities to “put the pieces together.” Because he cannot merit one iota of desirable work to God, and he will fail at “putting together the puzzle.”

The “theology of glory” which is espoused by reformed churches pays lip service to the cross but is only sentimental and a meditation on a past event. In this way, Jesus, unfortunately becomes an attractive “model” for living a “better life.” However, before Jesus becomes sentimental and an exemplary model he must first and foremost be a sacrament, a meal, bodily present, drank, chewed, eaten in which the sinner is incorporated into God’s very body, receiving tangibly all that is his. If he is first and foremost a model for better living he is only a god of our imaginations, for God became incarnate not to be a motivational speaker and to give us little tidbits of earthly wisdom. He rather came to die a bloody and sacrificial death which is the key to all the scriptures.

A “theology of Glory” is uncomfortable with this and exegetes and teaches it away and a peripheral aspect of the biblical narrative when it is the rather the sum and substance and fulfillment of the scriptures. In a theology of glory sermon they will teach, teach, teach about the bible – random facts, meditations, tricks for better living, etc but will not actually “give” Christ. Church, and specifically the sermon is not for detailed, practical, reasonable lessons, but first and foremost for Christ to be given: this is the proclamation of forgivenss of sins, and the administration of the sacraments Sunday after Sunday. Protestant and non-denominational pastors do not hold a correct theology and lack the confidence to proclaim what Christ would have them freely give: his body and blood and forgiveness (for in this way Christ remakes His world). A Pastor’s job is too concretely announce the forgiveness of sins in the al-availing propitiary sacrifice of the son of God and to “give” him to dying sinners in a dying world. Christ is not to be talked about but he must be given in his body to communicants and the words of forgiveness of dominate any sermon, in which faith is created through the ears. These are the Holy Mysteries which are clung to in the theology of the cross which looks only to the cross versus a theology of glory which suggests that the sinner look deeper in themselves to find some abstract remnant of divinity (which isn’t there and is a transgression of the first commandment), and their own disciplinary mechanisms, or countless feel-good/quick fix sentimental attractions.

Meditation on the Death of a Saint

I have been thinking about the funeral that our seminary had on Monday of Vivian Anastasia. It is difficult to numb oneself to the innocence of a child of six months. Prematurely born – and had to undergo multiple operations. She was so small in this miniature casket. To us who are dying this seems a horrible injustice yet the Lord has promised to work all things for the good of his church and to save and preserve his people. Vivian was baptized into Christ’s church and was daily nurtured in faith. The promises of eternal life, salvation, and communion with God in the company of Saints was given her through water, Word, and the invocation of the Divine Name. In baptism we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection in which we receive all that is his. If we do not believe in baptism the Christian life is in vain. If we do not believe that God became flesh, dwelt among us, bore the sins of the world, saving us from sin, death, and the devil we ourselves are dead and live in vain.

Vivian sleeps with our Lord, not because her accomplishments, but through the promise of God in baptism. Likewise, we sinners are made saints through Holy Baptism, in which the old is washed clean and the new arises bodily in the risen Lord. We live in the baptismal life, through daily contrition and repentance, continually asking for mercy and continually receiving it. The church lives through baptism and the sacraments because Jesus gives himself to us with an imperative to baptize. God is gracious and good because he so dearly wants us comforted – and this is given through simple means, simple water, simple promise – simple bread, simple wine, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The holy Christian church does not exist outside of baptism, outside of the alter, outside of the hearing of the Gospel preached.

If God is good and gracious enough to baptize us (which he has for us!) giving us all the riches of heaven – what are we confessing if we are not continually receiving the gifts in which he promises to sustain us? Luther called the communion rail the “pulpit of the laity.” We confess the faith and are made holy not based upon “moral values” and “being conservative, biblically based christians,” nor are we sanctified by our charitable deeds or virtuous life. Vivian did not have a litany of good deeds or moral values in which God might be pleased with her. She was tiny, innocent, helpless, utterly dependent upon others for her daily survival and needs. She had baptism, had Christ, had faith, and had life eternal based upon God’s promise. Confessing the faith and living as Christians is simply to be like Vivian, a helpless infant, helpless on our own merit before God, completely and utterly dependent on God’s promise of heaven, of Christ, and eternal riches. God does not want to know us through our personal life story, our accomplishments, our charity, our love for family or friends. It is severely flawed and not pleasing. He has made us personable to him through His person (God incarnate, born of Mary, crucified on a cross).

Becoming a Vivian, like a child, to God is not what we do. We reject the sacraments, are thankless for our baptism, and do not speak to him through prayer (though we have been invited!) because we are rebellious creatures and have made ourselves enemies to God. It is a real stumbling block if we continue at failing to recognize the depravity inherited in the human condition. It was not easy for me either. I was raised and educated by a boomer generation with an unprecedented religious creed of “self esteem” and “self worth.” I was not raised to consider sin, Satan, and solace of comfort in Holy Baptism because our church did not consider those things. We do not believe in free gifts, charity in abundance, and free grace. We believe in “independence,” “self sufficiency,” “self help,” and “positive thinking.” We have made imaginary universes for ourselves. We live in a post-modern age where we are encouraged to develop our own unique worldview according to our preferences. Pastors cater to this asking parishioners “what does this bible verse mean to you?” The word of God can be transmuted in such a way to apply to whatever fleeting considerations are on the persons mind. This age considers “reality” as a mere social construct which is alterable based upon own mental mechanizations. The post-modern thinking protestant churches are openly complicit in this by talking of vague notions of “hope” and “peace” which we can readily apply to our internal aspirations and desires. This is all a rebellion of the first commandment to make ourselves Gods. We would much like God to be a like a house pet, to name him as we like, to have him do tricks, entertain us, and to go on joyous and serene “faith walks.”

Yet before we consider Jesus as an exemplary model for holy living, he must first be an exemplary sacrifice. Before we erroneously consider what we should do for God we ought to receive him. Before we serve him we ought to be served, as this is the highest form of worship (the only form of worship). If this tiny child Vivian was not saved in Holy Baptism resurrected in Christ we ought to forsake the faith. If Jesus did not bear the sins of the world we should stay home on Sundays. If Christ did not defeat death, rising on the third day we ought to stick with Joel Olsteen. If he is not bodily present among us teaching, feeding, preaching, and preserving we ought to stay put in our protestant churches which deny Christ’s miracles which have so gloriously redeemed us.

Thinking of Vivian’s tiny body has heightened joy and prayerful consideration of the promises given in baptism – that it gives forgiveness of sins and entrance into Christ’s Holy Church. Furthermore this holy child, a holy body, a precious saint, redeemed in Christ’s body and blood is God’s very creation, in fact the crown of his creation. We ought to pray for the deluded souls who do not believe in baptism. This is an intolerable contradiction with the Christian faith. We ought to reflect Christ’s love for sinners, who are also helpless and utterly dependent upon him for grace and favor. We ought to mirror this love for the unborn who are likewise helpless and dependent upon our mercy – for life, care, food, and nourishment. We ought to be aware that we live in a cultural vortex of sin – indeed a culture of death. We are obsessed with death and celebrate it. We neglect the most helpless around us the elderly and unborn, while congratulating ourselves for the outpouring of charity to criminals of the worst stripe. We reward evil and punish the innocent. We call evil good and gooevil. We are so helpless, and dependent upon God’s mercy.

My systematic theology and admonitions cannot alter or change the way anyone thinks about the church, that is only the work of the Holy Spirit and the hearing of the Word. This is done in Christ’s Holy Church. We are not God’s Holy people apart from our baptisms, and we are not precious apart from his Gospel. If we have been graciously invited into Christ’s church we ought not to refuse the invitation. The invitation is not for private meditations, and devotionals but for receiving his gifts in which we find His meditation and devotion for us.

God who comes to us, continually – without ceasing. He comes to his church and gives to us. We merely receive and depart in peace to find joy in service to neighbor on account of Him only (for he first loved us in Creation). Given that we have been baptized into Christ’s body and His Holy church, I confidently urge you to remain steadfast in His mighty fortress.

Ceaseless talk of “moral values" and "virtues" is not especially helpful. This is a term rooted in Victorian language which has its roots in “pietism” (work righteousness, etc). Pietism arose from protestant churches who also denied the sacraments and believe in the “transformative power of Jesus Christ.” Please note Jesus never talks about “moral values.” The whole idea is unbiblical and is born out of a flawed optimism in the human condition. It is unhelpful for a proper understanding of the catholic faith, in which we ought to despair of our work, and “values.” The outward works of the Christian contain no worth or “value” in and of themselves. The service of the Chrisitan is only marked by the reception of Christ through the means promised in which he creates faith and looks toward his neighbor in love. Our Saint Paul says even our ‘righteous acts are as filthy rags’ because they are performed with a sinful heart, never in perfect love. If ‘moral values’ exist it is only through the sacraments in which we receive them. Righteousness is merely imputed. I must say I do not believe I have moral values. God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures and through Jesus Christ does not support this. Jean Jacque Rossoue would agree with moral values. Yet, it presupposes that there is a meritorious creature from birth. We cannot approach the alter as “mature minded Christians,” who are “knowers,” “doers,” “movers,” and “shakers.” I cannot stop thinking of the tiny baptized body of Vivian. Tiny hands, tiny fingernails, utterly helpless. As God approached her in Holy Baptism we should assume a similar posture of passivity, complete dependence, childlike innocence and longing. Christ asks that we make children of ourselves that we might inherit the kingdom of God. This simply means that we cast off any remnant of self confidence and self-autonomy to become wholly dependent, wholly faithful to al that he promises. If baptism does not means all that Christ says it does I might as well pack my bags, come home, and choose another life path.

Thankfully God is not a liar. Baptism ushers saints into heaven and saves sinners from sin, death, and the devil. The rite and mystery of the performative word in baptism supercedes the ravenous human will and does what it promises. We ought to daily consider baptism and the daily newness of life it promises. In it is our very identity, life, and salvation. Those not receiving God’s gifts Sunday after Sunday ought to be reminded that they are baptized members of Christ and will greatly benefit from continually receiving the gifts. The Christian life is merely receiving.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Magnificat - Song of Mary

The Magnificat if often sung in the liturgy, most fittingly for the Divine Office of Vespers. This is the Blessed Virgin's Mary's song as a hymn to God. Luther writes that with Mary, "the saints will do nothing in heaven but praise God, because He looked upon them when they were in the depths and there made Himself known to them and loved and praised by them." Calvin and reformed theologians have often struggled with the Blessed Virgin because they cannot conceive of the fullness of the deity finding glory in the womb of a woman. They speak often about the "awesome" and "sovereign" power of God but little about His lowliness, and suffering as the truth expression of His glory. But in this most lovely song of the church Mary in faith believes all that the angel Gabriel announces, for she sings, "For Behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed...

My soul magnifies the Lord,

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,

For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.

And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with His arm

He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,and exalted those of low degree.

He has filled the hungry with good things;and the rich He has sent empty away.

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;

As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His Seed forever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

And Mary is called "blessed" she is the mother of God, Jesus Christ. For the Mighty One who does "great things" is God's final act of salvation on the Cross. He comes as a suffering servant, being both priest and sacrifice, fully God and fully man.

Many reformed theologians deny the incarnation, and find more fitting myths for Jesus' birth and Resurrection. A new popular theory denies the atonement all together and accuses the bible, the church, and pastors for supporting what they consider "cosmic child abuse" with the whole business of suffering for sins on the cross. They find it unpalatable that God who's very essence is "goodness" would do such a thing.

Yet God becomes man and willingly, and lovingly bears the sins and burdens of humankind without complaint and only joy. Indeed when Christ is suffering on the cross he prays the psalms and makes intercessions to the very soldiers crucifying him and the scoffers with mock him.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt thou bring me into dust again? Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese? Though has clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews. Thou hast granted me life and favour, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit. (Job 10:9-12).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Crawfish Etouffee

2 bunches scallions, chopped

1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

4 stalks celery, sliced

1/2 bell pepper, chopped

1/4 pound butter

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Garlic cloves, slice razor thin to liquify in pan (if lazy use powder)

Black pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste

Red pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons flour

2 pounds peeled crawfish tails

1 pound shrimp (optional)

Saute chopped vegetables in butter until onion is transparent. Add tomato paste and seasonings to taste. Stir in flour and, continuing to stir, add water gradually. Add crawfish and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings and remove from heat. It tastes better the second day ;)

Serve over rice.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

E.B. White - Novelist, Poet, and Critic

I have wonderful book of quotations by E.B. White which I can randomly page through and find a great deal to think about. In a quote under the entertainment heading he writes:

"I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television — of that I am quite sure."

Most people know E.B. White as the author of Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little which I remember well as a kid. Nevertheless he is a brilliant writer, poet, and cultural critic. This quote comes from a letter written to a friend and I ponder what he meant by it. He seems to have an entirely apocolyptic understanding about the tv, which is the centerpiece in nearly all American homes (multiple rooms for most).

It is my understanding that the television and the video games that come with it provides the opportunity for a complete and utter retreat from the real world. When the modern world was ripped apart the tenants of the post-modern age crept in by moral cultural relativism and existentialism. This is marked by the rejection of reason, the abdication of meaning and objection truth, and replacing the great void with a completely subjective universe.

When I look back at my education, it seems a miracle I got out of high school with my soul intact (and a much greater miracle getting through the university). I received very little of the classic canon of western literature (I had to get through Shakespeare on my own). We spent lots of time with existentialist literature. One author of which I had to read considerably was Albert Camus, who termed his writing "absurdist fiction." I remember my classmates were transfixed by a horrid novel called the, "Stranger." The idea pushes by the book is that a) there is no god b) everyone will one day die c) therefore all endeavors are meaningless.

I don't think this is an obscure creed but a very popular one. A large segment of the world operates under this belief system. I think an obsessiveness with television is a large consequence of it. If all those things are true, and if truth is subjective, it would be natural to create our own worlds. This is the great thing about television. Don't get me wrong, I like to briefly escape my world with entertainment from time to time. But I think the television serves a greater purpose for subjective universe surfers. The "image" takes precedence over the written and objective word. There is precedent with style over substance and with emotional gratification over reason. Television provides disconnected images, a visual frenzy of meaningless shapes, sound bits, and snippets.

I think E.B. White with great perceptiveness saw this threat with the television and what it meant for the modern age. The very medium celebrates existentialism, meaningless entertainment, that suggests no rhyme or reason to the meaning of life - only subjective feelings, flashing images, mind numbing stimulation. Has it been a general "disturbance to the peace" or has it been the "saving radiance in the sky?" - the two possible outcomes proposed by E.B. White? Has the advent and popularism of television strengthened the family or deracinated it. Has it strengthened or threatened the competency of its devotees? Does it strenthen us in our vocations or hinder our perspective in them? Does existentialist dramatic performance have a healthy or unhealthful impact on how one views reality?

Bach's Mass in B Minor

I never grow tired of Bach's Mass in B Minor. The great Bach scholar Christoph Wolff writes, " he grew older, the Mass in B minor must have seemed to him to be a bequest to his successors and to the future; the concern to complete and perfect it preoccupied him virtually till his dying breath." Bach's music in inspired because it is simply God's word set to heavenly music. It confesses, preaches, and praises Christ and parades through a liturgy where God redeems his people for all eternity. It is music in which we sing with angels in the halls of the heavenly banquet.

Should Clergy Dabble in Politics?

Lutheran pastors and laypeople should never feel ashamed or guilt stricken for being vocal about politics in regards to the confession of life and its origin. We live in a society that increasingly evaluates life from a Marxist world view, confessing human life as being actualized through means of production or economic value. Rigid individualism, post-modern liberalism, and the adverse secularism of public and private institutions renders the human consciousness at a disadvantage to discern even basic natural knowledge of God the creator and our “creatureliness.”

The imputed knowledge coming from nearly all educational institutions is that human life is indeed a freak accident of millions of years of evolutionary development. This necessarily makes one hateful of human life and profoundly embarrassed about its very existence. Environmentalists, “animal rights,” and your average dim-witted university student all lament the very existence of the human race. They are embarrassed of “out of control birthrates” (though America’s is quite static), and exploitation of the world’s resources. Despite any real proof, it is held that humans are warming the planet, melting ice caps and killing polar bears. That God makes man in His very image, blesses them, commanding them to be fruitful, multiply – to fill the earth and subdue it is the most heinous heresy to the modern progressive. It is this kind of psychosis that lends itself to blaspheming God’s holy creation and destroying the unborn.

It just so happens that one political party’s platform is to protect life in the womb while the other party remains dedicated to a “right to privacy” which finds expression in snuffing out children in the womb. At 3,287 abortions every day, Pastors ought to come to terms with the fact that this is not a peripheral political issue but a central theological issue of our time. The abortions in this country keep pace with the rate that Nazi Germany exterminated Jews, gypsies, dissenting Christians, and the handicapped.

Yet, “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” (Ps. 127:3). Most important is that our Lord comes to us by a woman, fed and nurtured in a mother’s womb. It would be an irreconcilable conflict to confess any of the three ecumenical Creeds while simultaneously holding to abortion or supporting a political platform that celebrates it. The relationship between God and man is in the flesh, of a womb - the living Christ born of the Virgin Mother. Rejection of the fruit of the womb is a rejection of Christ and His incarnation, and the Father who sent him. Furthermore, it’s a rejection of Creation itself – a rejection of heaven and earth.

Two kingdom theology provides many with the erroneous excuse to avoid debate altogether and thus avoid controversy in the parish. Yet Christ’s kingdom certainly seeks to preserve the unborn and curb evil. Christ calls us to respond to the contemporary situation, faithfully in our vocations. Our callings are as citizens of a country with a supposedly participatory democracy, where the masses structurally find complicity in the operation of temporal authority. Pastors are not interrupting the Spirit’s work by speaking honestly about abortion and where a given candidate stands on it.

What remains constant is that the pulpit is given for the preaching of Christ and the forgiveness of sins. Needless to say, it is certainly not for campaign ads. Yet, preaching Christ, the incarnation, and the Blessed Virgin Mary (Theotokos) will naturally arouse in parishioners an acute awareness of communion with God in His very body which defines how we look at and see ourselves and others, from womb to grave.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Joys of the Daily Office of Prayer

The cycle of day and night is consecrated and made holy by the Daily Office. These services have been handed down over centuries from the ancient Christian tradition where Jesus’ teaching was carefully considered “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Lk. 18:1). The Daily Office is composed of psalmody, hymnody, readings, and prayers which synchronize our lives with the life of Christ through recurrent prayer. The Divine Service on Sunday is the core, whereby the Divine Offices find their meaning in the Eucharist. It has been my great joy and comfort as a seminarian to pray the Daily Offices and sing the Psalter distributed over seven days. Its affects ingratiate the worshiper into the Lord’s vocabulary, in which thousands of priests have died. Hardened hearts are softened and released by David’s seraphic bands and dying sinners are ushered into heaven through the singing of angels. The Psalms spill over with the Blood of Christ and the eschatological community is eternally present in them.

The Matins service anticipates the morning. The theme is of preparation and watchfulness with the life that comes out of darkness. We do well to remember the Ten Virgins, five of whom remain vigilant, waiting dearly for their bridegroom with lamps. The Venite is a wonderful way to greet the morning and sanctify the day. The Te Deum Laudamus is profoundly moving canticle which prepares us for the prayers.

The Laudate Psalms can accompany the Matins service or can otherwise be observed at 3 A.M. The theme of Lauds is of the magnificent victory of the Lord’s resurrection. Christians can share their own awakening from sleep with the glorious resurrection of the Lord who is their joy and hope. The alleluia antiphons, celebratory psalms, and the Benedictus (Luke 1:68) move us out confidently into the day as we serve the Lord without fear. Christ has redeemed his people and the terrors of the dark no longer threaten us. We might sing “Ye clouds and darkness, hosts of night, That breed confusion and affright, Begone! O’erhead the dawn shines clear, The light breaks in and Christ is here.”

At Prime the day is consecrated with a second morning prayer. Lutherans have a great treasure with the Worship Supplement which provides the Prime office with an appropriate Versicle, Responsory, Gloria Patri, and Alleluia. Psalm 119 is the suggested psalm which should be a constant source of comfort and reference for the worshiper. I believe this is a desirable time to recite the Athanasian Creed, notably on Sundays. With prime there is a great deal of attention to the sinful man in his earthly vocation. Dedicating the day’s work to the glory of God with the oath of 1 Timothy 1:17 is an essential part of Prime. The dynamic in this office is accountability to God and pleas for his merciful protection. A suggested hymn is Jam lucis orto sidere in which the worshiper beseeches the Lord to “keep our inmost conscience pure; Our souls from folly would secure; Would bid us check the pride of sense With due and holy abstinence.”

The Office of Terce is a meditation in which worshipers briefly break from their morning activities (9 A.M.) and look to the work of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ Baptism which is indeed our own. As the Lord graciously brings us into his Kingdom through Baptism we invite the Holy Spirit to remain with us, singing, “Come Holy Ghost, with the God the Son And God the Father, ever one; Shed forth thy grace within our breast, And dwell with us a ready guest.” The psalms center on the work of the spirit which encourages us in our own work which is often lonely and tiresome.

At noon-time the worshiper is in the midst of the day and therefore within the midst of trouble and temptation. A common recommended hymn for Sext, Rector potens, verax Deus has us sing to the Lord of might, “Extinguish thou each sinful fire, And banish ev’ry ill desire; And while thou keep’st the body whole, Shed forth thy peace upon the soul.” We might see the theme of Sext in light of the Seventh Petition that we be delivered from the evil one. Psalm 119:113-20 brings us to fear and love the Lord whom indeed is our hiding place and shield.

I find the ninth hour to be a more delicate and emotional time of prayer and song. The drudgery of the day has had its way with us amidst sin and failure yet we still find ourselves in the Lord’s beautiful hands. The end of the day is now in view and therefore the eschatological things are brought into sight. The recommended psalms deal with the things to come. In our hymn we sing, “Grant us, when this short life is past, The glorious evening that shall last; That, by a holy death attained, Eternal glory may be gained.” At this time the exhaustion of our sinful and broken bodies reminds us of our certain death. Our bones and soul are sore vexed. Yet in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection we will indeed die a most holy death which is lovely in the sight of the Lord (ps. 116:15). We depart feeling restored with a renewed confidence to remain faithful until the end.

Lutherans have an immense appreciation for Vespers. It is a blessed way to close out the labor of the day by giving thanks, lifting up hands as the evening sacrifice. If sensible, it is a wonderful practice to use incense and luminaries during this time. Light is a central theme during Vespers, where the Lord is surely both our lamp, our light, and our path. In Lucis Creator optime we inherit a most lovely verse, “O Blest Creator of the light, Who mak’st the day with radiance bright, And ov’er the forming world didst call The light from chaos first of all.” Likewise we are called out of chaos through Baptism. With the singing of the Magnificat, we praise Christ our Lord and Savior, eternal God and Mary’s Son. The singing of Mary’s Song is overflowing with eschatological imagery and points us to the heavenly banquet where Christ’s Blood is spilling over. Here we anticipate the Eucharist where his hungry people are filled with good things (Lk. 1:53).

Compline finally closes out the day. The Lutheran Service Book provides an excellent order of prayer, dearly comforting to Christians who wish to hide in the shadow of the Lord’s wings. This order does not shy away from the perils of the devil embodied in the dark. Some Versicles from alternate orders are more pronounced regarding the dangers of night, “Bretheren, Be Sober, be vigilant: because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” In this way, Compline mirrors the mood of “watchfulness” prayerfully communicated at Matins. Sleep is not an escape from the world and its perils but a continuation of the devil’s assault, “From all ill dreams defend our eyes, From nightly fears and fantasies: Tread under foot our ghostly foe, That no pollution we may know.” In the suffrages we ask to be kept without sin and preserved in peace through Jesus Christ.

We should be mindful, even amidst the clutter of our chaotic lives, that Jesus Christ has destroyed death. In Christ we rest the eternal rest of the eighth day. In this way the rest of prayer should hold a divine governance over our lives. Let the Lord be continually on our lips as we devote ourselves to the consecrated day of prayer – remaining faithful to our vocations. The Lord has invited us into the most intimate of all relationships. Therefore we should come to meet our bridegroom with plenty of oil in our lamps.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Global Warming,25197,24036736-7583,00.html

Interesting article - will not find it in your newspaper

What do Lutherans mean by the Book of Concord?

The Augustana or Book of Concord is the correct exposition of the Scriptures. It must not be seen as a collection of doctrines but rather a singular confession of what the Lord has graciously given His church. The Book of Concord is not an exercise of systematic theology with far ranging hermeneutical directives. The Augustana does not seek to reinterpret the Scriptures, that we might have lordship over them. We stand under the Scriptures which interpret and define us. Confess – means to “say the same.” We confess that the symbolic writings are in perfect harmony with the Scriptures. His performative Word is the doctrine that saves men, in which He gives eternal life.
A distinction must be made between holding to a confession quia (because) it agrees with Scripture versus only quatenus (in so far as) it agrees with Scripture. The quatenus subscription is a conditional subscription with reservations – making it no real confession at all. The rise of Pietism and Rationalism in the Lutheran Church brought about an increasing acceptance of conditional subscriptions to its Symbols. What is ever so important is the understanding that the Confessions are not the doctrine of any group of individual but of the Church. Confessionalism is not about "liberalism" versus "conservative" but rather simply a love of Christ, a love toward lost sinners so dearly in need of forgiveness.

Lord's Supper in light of Calvin and Roman Treatises

[X: The Holy Supper] Concerning the Lord’s Supper it is taught that the true body and blood of Christ are truly present under the form of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper and are distributed and received there. Rejected, there is also the contrary teaching.

The Holy Supper is no doubt one of the primary causes for the reformation. The laity was withheld from the Body and Blood of the Lord. The people became mere spectators just trying to catch up peek at the elevation of the host. The Romanist thought of the sacrifice as offering “holy sacrifices,” “presents,” and “offerings.” The Confessions points to the Scriptures which affirm that Christ comes into the midst of His gathered people to teach, feed, forgive, and ultimately offer His Body and Blood (the very sum and substance of the Gospel). In this way, the Confessions hold a profound recognition of Gottesdienst. With the Lord’s Supper and the Mass as a whole, it is God who is giving gifts and healing His people. Worship and the celebration of the Mass is not a human reaction but rather God’s service to us – in which He has His with us. It is God’s Divine Service for us – with Christ in the flesh for us.

The words of the institution of the Eucharist leave do doubt concerning the body and blood of the Lord, “touto estiv to swma mou…touto yap estiv to aima mou.” The voice of Jesus gently invites throughout all eternity, in the very halls of the heavenly banquet, that His natural body and blood are eaten and drunk by the mouths of all communicants. It has been argued that the Word of Institution function as tropes to point backwards, to non literal metaphors. Yet the Words of the Lord do not try to squeeze themselves into metaphors but rather bring about a greater reality - a fulfillment of salvific history. Likewise, old words are given new and greater meaning by Christ, not diminishing their inherit value but expressing the greater reality attached to them. This is true regarding the Lord’s Supper.” Luther writes concerning this controversy:

Now if Christ has intended to institute a Supper in which not his body and blood, but a likeness of his body and blood were present, he would properly have left us the old Mosaic supper with the paschal lamb… this represents and prefigures and typifies his body which was given for us and his blood which was shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, as all the world well knows. Why then should he be so foolish as to abolish this fine supper of the Old Testament and substitute a supper which in meaning and in essence is altogether insignificant in comparison with it.[1]

With this eating and drinking, the Apology emphasizes the sacramental unity in the body of Christ, aptly quoting, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 17). The communion of the oral act of eating and drinking a blest cup and the very Body of Christ is the koivwvia. The to swma mou to uper umwv is a promise in which the Risen Lord forgives and makes holy his people. This is not a figurative participation – it is not metaphoric of an alternative event – rather it is the true cataclysmic, cosmic reality of the blessed exchange with the Lamb of God.

The Romanist doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice would appear to celebrate Jesus’ atoning work to the utmost, while in reality it dismisses it. The catholic catechism describes the Lord’s Supper as instituted “that it might be the heavenly food of our souls, enabling us to support and preserve spiritual life” (para. 1389). The synergism finds it expression elsewhere in the Roman catechism:

The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She united herself to his intercession with the Father for all men (para 1360). It would seem that “she” is doing the work for salvation rather than a Christ who works all things for sinners. With Rome justification is a divine gift capable of increase through human effort. Likewise the Lord’s Supper requires a mystical participation in the sacrifice to reap its full benefits. This is why the Apology of the Augsburg Confession quotes Saint Cyril, who writes “We do not deny that we are joined spiritually to Christ by true faith and sincere love…For who has ever doubted that Christ is a vine in this way and we are truly the branches, deriving life from him for ourselves?” In this way the vine is organism in which the branches find any life at all.

Besides Rome, we might see the Confessions as they relate to a response against other reformation figures. Ulrich Zwingli sought the interpretation of scripture though human reason and therefore ran the Lord’s Supper through a filter in which the mysteries of the flesh of Christ for sinners was purged away. The “is” in “This is my Body” signified a figurative relationship. Spiritual blessing therefore come from a divine reflection on the Lord’s death through the eating and drinking of the sacraments.

For Calvin it would initially appear that he held a very high Christology and confession of article X: We all confess, the, with one mouth that, in receiving the sacrament in faith, according to the ordinance of the Lord, we are truly made partakers of the real substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”[2] Yet, Calvin was more concerned about the dependency of the reception upon the individual faith of the communicant as opposed to the mouth and ears of those passively receiving what the Lord promises. The bread and wine therefore act as a mirror in which a greater introspective relationship is taking place with a missing body of the Lord. In this way the Supper is given as a mirror, “in which we contemplate our Lord Jesus Christ crucified to abolish are faults and offenses…in which we contemplate Jesus Christ crucified to deliver us from damnation, and risen again to procure righteousness and eternal life for us.”[3]

The beauty of the Confessions and Luther’s theology is its’ steadfastness in the performative Word of God. Luther saw in the very Words of the Institution, the very rite of the Lord’s Supper, the fullness of the promise of the Lord. For Luther this is the same Lord who raises Lazarus from the dead, calms a violent sea, and says “let there be light.” When trying to unravel the Romanist view of the Lord’s Supper, one eventually realizes a lack of doctrine instead of one specific heretical doctrine – though the heresies do abound. More revealing with the Roman catechism is the discovery that there is no coherent exposition on the Lord’s Supper and the very nature of worship. If the Gottesdienst notion of worship is not held to, the teaching of the Eucharist would likewise not hold any water. The ambiguous teachings about one’s participation in His own salvation and the nature of worship are likely directly related to the foggy confession of the nature of the Lord’s Supper, in which man remains hanging on his cross wondering what he must do next.

[1] AE 37:264
[2] John Calvin, “Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper,” Calvin: Theological Treatises (Philadelphia:Westminster, 1954), 143.
[3] Ibid., 145

What is Gemutlichkeit?

Gemutlichkeit is a german noun which connotes a public festivity involving a sense of belonging or communal solidarity, among the "foks." Drinking, food, and dancing are 'gemutlich' activities. At seminary, Gemutlichkeit is simply an excuse to drink beer with fellow students and faculty members.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Meditation on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) 'Christ Washing Peter's Feet'

"For our whole life should be baptism, and the fulfilling of the sign or sacrament of baptism, since we have been set free from all else and given over to baptism alone, that is, to death and ressurrection."

Luther ("The Babylonian Captivity of the Church" AE 36:70)

Meditation of Matthew 3

Nicodemus with his blindness of sin cannot see clearly what Jesus is saying regarding the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Such is our own spiritual blindness to that which God grants through Holy Baptism and His cleansing waters. In our Post-modern world to be “born again” is a triumphant cry in our fallen world where each individual chooses his own personal entrance rite into a somehow “better” or more “spiritual life.” By nature it is our own most natural intuitive impulse to seek justification, before God, neighbor, and ourselves. In our personal quest for holiness we look to a new diet, plans for a more attractive body perhaps, a better job, a more expensive car. Through these things we can for a time being, feel remade, having a better image, more successful, better standing in the community, so on and so forth. A worse tragedy which ensues among well meaning Christians is to be deceived into thinking that being “born again” is to make a decision to “follow Christ.” In this way, many of our dear Christians see their birth into the community of the faithful as something they must feverishly work for and maintain lest they fail and be cast away for all eternity. Entering the kingdom of God becomes for many therefore dependent upon a vigorous tenacity of the will, a striving for sanctification, and an inward looking philosophy which continually seeks rebirth based upon ones own new or fresh “commitment” to God. These are natural endeavors for Christians and non-Christians alike. Our old man is continuously seeking ways to be “born again,” “reconfigured,” transformed, and repackaged into something new, better, more honorable or spiritual. In the recent political campaigns we are bombarded with slogans revolving around the word “change.” “Change for tomorrow,” “change we can believe in” a “new America.” With these promises there seems to be an almost mystical restoration of peace and tranquility.

However, when the elections fade away, and our own personal hopes and endeavors subside, we find that the change did not happen. We are not the new creatures we hoped to be. We may not be fitter, healthier, with a better reputation. The utopian fantasies promised by campaign slogans did not come to descend on our households. We are left as melancholic as before suffering the same anxieties and worries as before. Even if we did have improvement in physical wealth and security we still find the deadliest plague ever haunting us – and this is the curse of sin. It plagues us when we wake each morning and go about our work without continual thanks and praise. Our dreams and hopes continually crash in on us as we find that our self-derived baptisms are only delusions and that we indeed cannot be born again. As with the question of Nicodemus we find that we indeed cannot enter again into the womb and be the author and maker of our new selves.

What the Lord promises in rebirth has to do with his plans and not ours. And what he has planned for us is infinitely greater than anything which we might be able to dream up for ourselves. Our Christian lives find their sum and substance in the rebirth that the Lord promises in baptism when he answers Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” The kingdom is indeed that of Christ, where we are wrapped in his glorious robe of righteousness for all eternity. Paul Gerhardt, who has given us countless treasures in our Lutheran Service Book writes, “In Baptism we now put on Christ – Our shame is fully covered. With all that he once sacrificed and freely suffered. For here the flood of his own blood now makes us holy, right, and good before our heavenly father.” Gerhardt, himself, suffered innumerable hardships with the Plague, the Thirty Year War in Germany, the death of multiple children and his dear wife Anna Maria. After all this misery, Paul Gerhardt, our dear writer of early Lutheran hymns can boldly say in the 5th verse of his baptismal hymn, “O Christian, firmly hold this gift. And give God thanks forever! It gives the power to uplift in all that you endeavor. When nothing else revives your soul, your baptism stands and makes you whole. And then in death completes you.”

Dear Christians, the baptism which has been given to you is not your work to fulfill but has already been fulfilled in Christ. This does not simply mean that we think about Jesus and wait for heaven but rather that in baptism a very real remaking of the cosmos has begun which has transpired in us. To be born of water and spirit is to be baptized into Jesus’s death and resurrection. This is not a promise from a distant heaven but one from our Lord Jesus, both God and man, who stands in the waters of your baptism, inviting you into his death. All your sins and mine were crucified in the body of Jesus who bore them to the grave and rose triumphantly on the third day. His victory is your own, his resurrection yours and all that is his, his righteousness and glory, yours also!

Though your heavenly Father loves you with eternal perfection he does not want to know you apart from Christ. He does not want your new lifestyle, your “new and better you,” the happier, healthier, richer, and more attractive you. He does not need fanatical religious devotions marked by a “born again” commitment to God that lies apart from your real, true, and only baptism which Christ performed on you when he gave you his very name, that of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Entering the Kingdom of God is to be baptized into the bloody death of Christ and to emerge on the other side of the baptismal waters with our victorious bridegroom, free from any spot or blemish.

Like Nicodemus, we sit hear today also wondering and asking our Lord, “How can this be?” Yes! How can this be! How can it be that God sends His own Son to suffer and die for my infirmities, infidelity, and offenses? God might have as well just wiped the slate clean, destroyed his ungrateful creatures, and started something new. Yet God has never abandoned his people. When Nicodemus asks Jesus how these things can be, Jesus replies, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” These things can be because the Lord desires it. He wills it. The Lord desires that you be free from sin. He desires to be with you, to love you, to walk once again with you in the garden, in the relationship that he has always intended for you. He is the eternal shepherd who seeks after the lost sheep.

We are most surely found, nurtured, perfected and saved in our Baptisms. A miraculous and continuous event takes place in baptism. It is not a mere rite of initiation into the promised covenant but it is the covenant itself. This is to say that the act of the Baptismal rite does all that it promises. It indeed brings us into communion with Christ, and drowning and destroying the power of Satan. This drowning by means of water and the performative Word of God both destroys and preserves, gives life to the new creature in Christ and violently destroys the sinful creature in which the devil had held his dominion. In reference to the story of Noah, Peter refers to the water of the Flood not primarily as a destructive force (though indeed it is), but as the saving agent that lifted the ark up and saved it from destruction. The Flood is the divine judgment against unbelief, and becomes the means for saving eight souls, that is, Noah and his family, from whom as the last remnant on earth God will construct a new humanity. As the living family of Noah, all whom are baptized, we have a great and glorious inheritance. Martin Luther rightfully draws the conclusion that the ark was and is the church which is lifted up by the waters of Baptism. Furthermore he sees the parting of the Red Sea as an essential reference to be included in the Baptismal liturgy. He writes:

"Almighty eternal God, who according to thy righteous judgment didst condemn the unbelieving world through the flood and in thy great mercy didst preserve believing Noah and his family, and who didst drown hardhearted Pharaoh with all his host in the Red Sea and didst lead thy people Israel through the same on dry ground, thereby prefiguring this bath of thy Baptism…"

The ark in the early Church held a significant and central focus as a true symbol of the Holy Catholic (universal) Church. Today, it is less stressed as a metaphor for the Church because we are enlightened, reformed, rational, and thinking individuals. In Reformed theology Baptism is an expression of faith: it is not only a covenant God makes with us, but a personal response of the faith of the one who is being baptized by which he makes a covenant with God. Hence in this view Baptism is a work of obedience, which faith does, and so in a real sense is human work. In this way, for Reformed institutions - Calvinists, Methodists, and Anabaptists view Baptism as a mere initiation into a civic body of the church, at best where the congregational members nurture and raise the baptized to be virtuous and moral associates. In this view Baptism is a mere reception into the outward, visible fellowship of the church rather than the actual bestowal of spiritual blessings: certainly not a rescue from Satan and entrance into the Kingdom. Yet when this gift is perverted and seen as an act of the congregation rather than solely Christ work, a horrible transgression has been made by the Pastor. He has denied the Lord’s work, His promises, and the Holy Scriptures. The consequence would be that congregants would soon see baptism as no longer important or valid. With its mystery and beauty wholly eviscerated baptism would erroneously be declared as no longer needed for the life of a Christian.

Lutheran theology and that of the evangelical true and Catholic Church holds that Baptism is rather completely God’s work. For the reformed, enlightened, and rational theologians we are to save ourselves, build our own ark, take charge over our lives, gain merit before God and our neighbor, “make a decision for Christ and follow him.” The mighty ark steadily oscillating through the mighty and cosmic baptismal waters offends our reason, our personal sense of control, reminds us of the awesome power of the Lord, and renders us mere passive vessels called by faith into the saving grace of the covenant. The New Testament writers saw that in Baptism God was not doing something entirely new, but was only perfecting and completing what He had already done. God forgives the sins of His people, through these acts. This what God’s grace means! Grace is not found in abstract meditations about a “sovereign and almighty God in the sky” but rather as one who comes concretely in concrete elements and means saving his people and reconciling a fallen creation. He comes by water, wine, and bread – by promises which are always fulfilled and never broken!

For this reason we can always return to our Baptism, which endures forever, and to which we can always take refuge. This most treasured gift can never be snatched away from you – even in the midst of all the world’s temptations, threats, doubts, and personal failures. In these Holy Mysteries we find our life which is fulfilled and purified in the body of Christ, who makes all things new. And as mysteries they remain until the Lord calls us home to his most holy Kingdom where your tears will be forever wiped clear from your face by the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. It is for this reason that we come to Church today, to remain steadfast in this saving ark and to receive all the gifts which the Lord presents us with here. This Holy Baptism works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all those who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. So how can these things be? This is what Nicodemus asks in the Scripture reading today – and it is also a question which permeates each and every day of our own earthly lives. It has been done because the Lord desires you dearly and encounters you in this Holy Baptism. All this he does out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. For all this is our duty to thanks and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true. Amen.

Critical Analysis of Kennedy's Catholic Problem and Clinton's American Legion Speech

John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton face a very similar rhetorical problem in their respective speeches. Faced with rather hostile audiences they are forced to defend their character as relates to their bid for the presidency of the United States. Kennedy must circumvent the irrational fears of a catholic president to the protestant-dominated Houston Ministerial Association. Clinton must defend his character in response to criticism that he is a draft dodger and protested the Vietnam War. Like Kennedy, Clinton addresses an audience which may be less receptive, given his plans to scale back defense spending, not to mention his counter-culture past.

Kennedy and Clinton confront their character obstacles through the rhetorical strategies of refutation and personification. Refutation is an active response to an opponent and a bold way of openly dealing with the given criticism. Kennedy and Clinton do not shy away from the criticism which permeates the minds of their audiences. Kennedy in a frank way bring up the catholic question. Similarly Clinton actively engages his audiences in a lengthy refutation of his anti-war past. A longer explication on this rhetorical strategy will follow. Besides refutation, the rhetorical strategy of personification is exploited by both speakers to further deal with their character obstacles. Personification represents an idea through human examples. This is an especially useful strategy given its ability to introduce a human element to ideas or argumentative stances which might otherwise seem irrelevant or abstract to the listener. People are social and emotional being who make sense of the world based upon human experience. Hearing individual stories, whether they be fictional or real are often best to explain social or political principles. We see Kennedy reference his dead brother as part of his argument as to why he should be the next president of the United States. Without the surrounding historical and social context a dead brother might seem to hold little significance to Kennedy’s presidential bid. As we shall see it is likely the personification of his brother’s personal sacrifice resonated in a very meaningful way with the audience. Furthermore, his brother’s sacrifice is inextricably linked to the very character obstacle that Kennedy is facing at that particular time. The rhetorical strategies of refutation and personification serve the speakers with varying degrees of eloquence and success.
Kennedy begins his speech by directly acknowledging the fears of the audience, and the general criticisms against him. These irrational fears are based on the uncertainty of a catholic president. The office has been filled previously by religious people, though usually of the Christian protestant persuasion. This protestant religious identity was important to many people who equated it closely with their national identity. A catholic president therefore in some quarters was “un-American” and a threat to the nation’s perceived sovereignty and religious and cultural ethos. There also existed charges against Kennedy that his loyalties were more closely aligned with that of the Vatican and Papacy than with the American people. Kennedy’s entire speech acknowledges these fears, refutes them, and replaces those fears with assurances of his loyalty, patriotism, and unbending desire to serve the national interest.

No time is wasted regarding his Catholicism, which he addresses immediately. He opens his speech saying “While the so-called religious issue is necessarily the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1060 election” (Kennedy, 1960, 2). This opening sets the tone for the entire speech which follows by in a sense dismissing his religion as holding political significance and suggesting the centrality and commonality of “critical issues” to the American people. Here he also makes clear he has no intention of justifying his faith or engaging in any theologically charged exegetical debate. He openly acknowledges the catholic question before throwing out to his audience the politically charged issues that he deems “critical.” They are communism, hunger, the elderly who cannot pay their doctor’s bills, lacks of schools, and the failure of the space program. Early in the speech Kennedy effectively refutes the charge of his critics by shifting the grounds of the debate from his personal religious faith to common problems the nation faces. In light of hungry children and communism which “festers ninety miles off the coast of Florida” even the most fanatically religious would admit the critical nature of the former problems. After refuting his opponents by shifting the surrounding debate he returns to the suspicions regarding his Catholicism. First, he must refute charges of a Vatican-based loyalty. He says “I believe in an America where separation of church and state is absolute – where no catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be catholic) how to act…where no public official either requests of accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source” (5-6). Kennedy is honest and rational about where his loyalties lie. He is neither ambiguous nor undecided about his philosophy of governing over a religious yet secular people. The separation of church and state is fundamental to the American system of self-governance. Although the founding of the nation was tied close with various religious groups, our secular distinctiveness and religious freedoms are what truly defines the United States constitution. Kennedy is intelligently taping into this source of pride which right rests with the vast majority of Americans. In this specific refutation we see both a high rational and emotional appeal. The abuses of ecclesiastical authorities in Europe throughout the centuries had spawned the American colonies and many immigrants who followed, escaping various forms of religious persecution. Americans for the most part are highly adamant about maintaining this “absolute” separation of church and state so as to facilitate the pursuance of liberty in all religious beliefs and practices. Kennedy’s appeal to this fundamental tenant of the American system likely created a natural affinity with his audience thus settling fears of a Vatican loyalty.

In order to further defend his character and legitimacy as a future president, Kennedy uses the rhetorical strategy of personification. The speech is highly rational in addressing the question of a catholic president. To bring those arguments to light Kennedy finds ways to introduce human elements which in turn builds a highly emotionally sympathetic and psycho-social response. First, Kennedy exemplifies his insistence on a free and secular government by announcing his own participation in fighting for it in the South Pacific (12). Secondly, he firmly states that his brother died for it. These frank statements are personal, emotionally charged, yet corporate in meaning among himself, his audience, and the American people as a whole. With World War II still fresh in the minds of the audience Kennedy does not need to unpack the implicit meaning of his family’s sacrifice as relates to his character obstacle. His brother was fighting the most illiberal, racist, bigoted form of political ideology which was threatening large segments of the globe. Kennedy’s catholic family shared in the nation’s sacrifice to combat and eventually triumph over a monstrous force which stifled religious freedoms and embodied the worse of oppression and intolerance. Kennedy’s underlying point is that similar strains of intolerance, although to a lesser degree, exist among his opponents who might insist that religious persuasion is an unwavering determinant of what one can or cannot be in American society. For the Kennedy family to fight and die for human freedom and religious liberty in a foreign land then have it be denied to them back home is a bitter injustice. Kennedy does not come remotely close to making comparisons between the Nazi regime and his opponents but instead positions his brother’s enemy and American exceptionalism as completely antithetical, urging listeners to mediate on how the war defined and clarified America’s most important freedoms. His dead brother therefore is a living testament to why a catholic should not be denied an office based on a personal religious affair. Those in attendance from the Houston Ministerial Association likely found Kennedy’s argument related to family sacrifice unshakeable. The most anti-catholic in the audience might still maintain that the Pope is the anti-Christ but they would surely be unable to deny the heroism of the Kennedy’s and their wholly American character.

In the 1992 presidential election Bill Clinton was not especially revered among military personnel and hawkish Americans. He was a left-leaning democrat, without military experience, and was widely known for protesting the Vietnam War. Although these characteristics should not be immediately disadvantageous the record was enough to give his opposition enough ammo for smear campaigns. In his address to the American Legion Convention Clinton takes on these character obstacles in an effort to reconcile his politics with veterans and fellow legionnaires. He must prove his patriotism, ability to lead during times of war, and dedication to military personnel. As with Kennedy he uses the rhetorical strategies of refutation and personification.

A Case for Communing Young Disciples

I believe there is a serious problem with withholding the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar from children who have a desire to receive it. In Luther’s Small Catechism he writes on the worthiness of those receiving the Sacrament: for that person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” It is the process of catechization which leads to this holy desire, to receive the forgiveness of sins. Luther’s Small Catechism is the greatest and simplest exposition of the catholic faith: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Confession, and the Lord’s Supper. The Confessions demand that catechumens be familiar with the primary texts of the catechism. My understanding of early communion however, would not be guided solely be the mechanical memorization of every explanation of the parts of the catechism.

It is the position of many churches that one ought to go through a multiple year instruction of the catechism, with rather sophisticated explanations to gear up for an eventual confirmation. Confirmation in turn would be a precursor to admittance to the Lord’s Table. In this way students must be ready and serious with intellectual qualifications to receive the Lord’s Supper. This would come after a confirmation in which they pledge their youthful and adolescent bodies in the service of the church. It is not hard to imagine how a young catechumen might begin to see the Supper as a prize, a goal, and award for hard work and devotion. This would be problematic to a sacrament which offers the forgiveness of sins through body and blood. It comes as gift and invitation to those sorry for sins, and desiring the gifts of the crucified Lord. It is not my intention to undermine the catechetical process but rather to discourage the litmus test of mechanical memorizations or for a certain age group to be prepared for the Lord’s Table.

In this way, admittance should be the job of the Pastor to catechize young disciples that they might confess the Lord’s work on the cross and its benefits. A solid understanding of the basic parts of the catechism would be necessary for a proper confession to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. It is worth noting the pastoral duty to minister to the disabled who cannot confess the catechism as others might be able to. The work of Christ is not dependent upon the physical or mental capacity of those receiving his gifts. He declares righteousness to all people who receive Him with the eyes and ears of faith. If age, memorization, and mental capacity do not guide the readiness of a catechumen, what would? It must be guided on an individual level. Every child is different, with a different household, different needs, different talents, and different struggles. It is the Office of Ministry – the pastor who must catechize and make the decision. Pre-requisites of age and memorization skills should not be guiding principles but the individual readiness one to confess a desire for the Lord’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The ability of a pastor to have this sort of care would be effected by the size of his parish and the contact with the families of the catechumens. If there are, say 70 students, a pastor would have a greater degree of difficulty gauging one’s individual confession. The greater the number of students, it seems the pastor would have to rely increasingly upon more formal methods. This would means a reliance on standardized recitation of the catechism usually for a certain age group. For this reason, I hold a bias for smaller churches, where a pastor has the ability to individually shepherd each student. It is easy for students to get confused or lost in the fold. Furthermore, the pastor should also take into account the family of the catechumen. Are they being raise in a catechetical household – where the teaching and prayers of the faith are central to daily life? This is of great advantage to those who will likely live out a life of continual catechesis – an earlier admittance to the Lord’s Supper might also be suggested for these students based upon their individual confession. Students who receive a mere hourly catechetical instruction once a week with no assistance from home may unfortunately be at a disadvantage. For the catechumen it is necessary that one see their life, both early and heavenly, through the chief parts. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not isolated events but the means in which one finds their life and very identity.

I am in favor of communing children earlier if the pastor sees that they have a confession of sins and a desire to receive the Sacrament, coupled with familiarity with the chief parts of the catechism. Going to the extreme and communing children indiscriminately as infants is certainly an abuse of the Sacrament, the Scriptures, with a blatant disregard for the Lutheran confessions. The others extreme, marked by a rigid recitation of the catechism void of any personal pastoral care and oversight is also irresponsible. What is important however, is emphasizing the Living Christ with His active Word. Catechism is not a dull class that one might become “eligible” for communion. The catechism should be taught as a daily instruction – a lifetime exercise. It is a joyful discipline, in which one finds his or her identity in baptism. In this one finds life as sinner and saint, death and life in word, water, and blood.

The mysteries of the Lord are not for adults or the matured-minded only. In fact, an argument might go that those already ingratiated and catechized by the world are less apt to cling to the mysteries in faith. One must ultimately become like a child to confess that contained in the catechism and to accept the Sacraments with the eyes of faith. Intellect and reason are more often than not hindrances to faith rather than helpful. The innocency of a young child is a great starting place to catechize one into the mysteries of Christ – namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Children will hear their eternal Shepherd through their pastor. They will follow him because the Lord creates faith. Preparation for the Sacraments is not about sophisticated explications of doctrine but rather simple confessions of the profoundly simple promises of Christ, “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On Creation

"But once the male and the female are so created, man is then procreated out of their blood through the divine blessing. Although this procreation is something has in common with the brutes, it detracts nothing from that glory of our origin, namely, that we are vessels of God, formed by God Himself, and that He himself is our Potter, but we are His clay, as Is. 64:8 says. And this holds good not only for our origin but throughout our whole life; until our death and in the grave we remain the clay of this Potter."

Luther (Genesis Lectures AE 1:84)

Transcendentalists often ask 'what is the self.' The value of “self” is that which the Trinity makes clear by announcing the creation of man in his Own image. Formed of the dust of the ground and from the midst of nothingness men took form and breathed the breath of life from God.

The biblical account of creation is most valuable regarding the philosophical wanderings of this notion of 'self.' Other cosmological accounts (non-biblical) of the universe and humanity make men into play things of the gods with no free will, only to be thrashed about with no divine plan. I believe this is what truly distinguishes and sets apart the biblical account from the Greek and roman traditions. In Genesis we see this very intimate relationship in the garden where the Lord God walks in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve. Strolling casually in the garden with God sounds perfect until the great fall caused by the first sin against God.

There is little within my “self” which I might hallow and say “this is good!” In my own case, introspection and meditation on the self only reveals my own degradation. I see selfishness, violence, idolatry, deceit, and hatred. Even the thoughts or acts which society might deem as “good” are tainted with various degrees of depravity. My act of charity toward my neighbor is tainted with selfish desire for better standing in my neighborhood with regards to image or expectation of repayment. My love toward family and friends is imperfect in true concern and sacrifice.

It is inherently visible for many that something in the universe has gone horribly awry. War, genocide, famine, and discord reveal the alienation between God and man. There is a faint cry in the heart which insists that somehow ‘things are not the way they are supposed to be.’ The reconciliation between the self and God is not found through abstract intellectual discourse with wine, and flirtatious servants found in The Symposium. I don’t believe it is found through a long and feverish litany of virtues and a disciplined will such as that by Marcus Aurelius. His belief that human philosophy is the key to freeing the man from inner demons is faulted in that this very philosophy and inward movement is subject to these very demons which he speaks of.
As a Christian to speak of the “self” as an autonomous unit or abstract principle apart from what God reveals in scripture is enough to make me uneasy and often frightful of the human imagination and its conception of itself. There are two general conceptions which seem to dominate the human understanding of the self and its relationship with God. One is to elevate God and his role, clinging to scripture with its various covenants, mysteries, and salvation. This role goes very much against human reason or basic common sense. For example, what “sense” does it make to consume the flesh and blood of a man for an eternal presence with God? This sounds barbaric, primitive, absurd, anti-rational, and antithetical to the modern age. The other trend is to elevate man and his own personal ability to discern the reality of his existence. Here we find a rather optimistic faith that scientific method with empirical analysis is the key to the ultimate mystery of the “self” in regards to its birth, origin, and relationship to the universe and God.

The dialogue between Abraham and God establishes a covenant which has been inherited throughout the ages with its final summation of the sacrificial system on the cross at Golgotha. The self is therefore born of sin with inclinations away from that of God. The reconciliation between man and God is the central reality for the self. The soul with dying flesh in a dying world clings to this in faith not leaning on his own understanding.