Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Meditation on Marriage

The marriage rite, as handed down by the church ought to be the guiding canon in which the specifics of individual struggles and questions are answered. For marriage is God’s holy union and gift and not man’s invention or evolutionary arrangement. Earthly wisdom is no match for meeting the joys and sorrows of marriage and addressing it as a one flesh union, with all its adoring mystery and promise. God wishes us to honor marriage, “He has established it before all others as the first of all institutions, and created men and women differently (as is evident) not for indecency but to be true to each other, to be fruitful, to beget children, and to nurture them and bring them up to the glory of God.”[1]

I would teach the following. When man and woman declare their desire to be wed before the congregation of the church the pastor does say, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6). Jesus is not referring to long –winded aspects of Mosaic law thus addressing a post-fall world. Jesus speaks the words of creation. Even in paradise it was not good that man be alone without a helper. As Eve was created so every man in marriage and by faith must declare, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” A wife comes by way of a gift to men, a delightful wonder from God himself, for Adam was sleeping when God formed Eve. Unbeknownst to him a wife was formed from his very body, to be a love and help to him, a joyful companion in the garden. Furthermore, Adam did not choose her but she was graciously brought to him. Likewise, in the ceremony of the church, a wife is brought through the chancel of the church by a father or a family member dear to her. Through the greater corporate life of the church all blessings are announced and brought – not taken.

A couple who is awaiting marriage or considering it, ought to prayerfully consider with their pastor how God gives two into marriage, sustains and preserves the union. Man cleaves to his wife as God cleaves to his church. As man is bound to take care of his own flesh so he must love and honor a wife as he honors his own body. He does so joyfully because creation was not made to operate autonomously but rather dependently upon a greater economy of grace. As a wife is brought to man to become one flesh so a Christian is brought to Christ’s altar to join him.

God’s word should guide the catechization of couples who wished to be married. Paul writes to the Ephesians:

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord that church” (Eph. 5:25-29).

That a husband is called to love his wife as Christ loves his church is a mystery without parallel. Culture has us believe that “spouses” are to be chosen – selected for various attributes that we might reap maximum pleasure, minimum pain, for smooth ride into the setting sun with our loved one. Yet God’s holy gift of marriage is wrought with defection because we do not love indiscriminately and selflessly. Sin makes us think of a relationship as 50/50, an equal system of rewards, punishments, with a litany of grievances, and rectifications. Husbands however, are not called into a relationship to calculate that which they might reap but rather give. As Christ came not to be served so does a husband come to serve. And he serves not 50%, expecting a like-return but pours out all, emptying all.

The terrors of this world have not shaken marriage from its foundation but rather continually strengthens it. Husbands provide safety, security, comfort, and love without end – as does our Lord. In times of great trouble and distress husbands and fathers ought know that Christ went to a cross, to death for his bride. Likewise, the faithful husband finds that he also at times is stripped, sore-vexed, and twisted about in his own calling. More than once he will be tempted to doubt and despair, feeling himself forsaken. And in this careless flight he will be enticed to cast off his cross and the holy suffering in which God has so graciously wrapped him. The faithful husband nurtured in the true faith finds in his wife a temple in which to bring his sacrifices of toil and thanksgiving. He sees a place of worship in which faith finds its expression and a certain home until the final resting place in Christ.

The great trouble with marriage counseling of our day is that it has been uprooted and snatched from the sacraments in which God creates and gives marriage. God gave himself sacramentally with Adam and Eve through pleasing food, the tree of life, and living waters from the very beginning. Today, God daily and richly provides married Christians through his holy sacraments – that of baptism, the pleasing food of his eternal supper, and the Words in which he speaks. To define and explain marriage apart from whence it finds its very life is an impossible task. For this reason Saint Paul speaks of marriage as a “mystery,” later translated in Latin as sacramentum (Eph 5:32).

The mysterious center of the married life is that it revolves around an unceasing font of forgiveness. Married couples encounter one another in such a way that exposes secrets, sins, personal failures, and all the missed marks that are more easily concealed from the rest of the world. In the blessed union of marriage God puts himself into the one flesh of man and wife seeking that each ask “dearest love do you forgive me.” The answer is always the same and each never tires of hearing it and receiving it. Forgiveness is freely given and usually wholly undeserved.

The marriage counseling which seeks to be “practical,” seeks to set forth a philosophy on marriage which breaks it down into an economically compromising, graceless, give and take sort of movement in the union. In light of what Christ reveals about marriage in both a pre-sin and post-sin world, it is made clear that there is little about the union that can be interpreted with mere human or practical wisdom – for it is a mysterious gift. The church can be the only interpretive mechanism in which to deal with marriage – for it is birthed, consecrated, sustained, and prayed for in the church.

For those couples living together prior to marriage, a Pastor must not condemn the couple and raze them from the earth but rather pray for them and catechize them in God’s holy gift of marriage. He must shepherd them being wise as a serpent and harmless as doves. That men and women are naturally attracted to one another and wish to serve each other is itself a testament to God’s creation and unceasing love. In marriage, there is a wealth of treasure regarding God’s word which provides an inexhaustible study and meditation which reveals much about God’s economy of grace and Christ’s work. Pastors have an opportunity with eager couples not only to join two in holy marriage before God and the world, but to bring them back to holy baptism, back to the table, and under the cross. With gentle guidance, confessional teaching, and prayers, Pastors have the opportunity to return the couples to chastity and patience prior to their marriage day. For all are made virgins in Christ, being able to caste away all prior shameless acts and works of darkness.
[1] LC part I, paragraph 207, p. 414.

Meditation on Psalm 90

"Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place: in all generations
Before the mountains were brought forth or ever
Thou hadst formed the earth and the world:
even from everlasting to everlasting, Though art God
Thou turnest man to destruction:
and sayest, Return, ye children of men.
For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday
when it is past: and as a watch in the night."

This Prayer of Moses gives us release from the sting of thorns and thistles of this daily life. The psalmist bitterly loathes the thought of death but holds God to His promises – ‘for the Lord has been our dwelling place in all generations.’ Jesus is the dwelling place who comes with an outstretched arm to redeem His people. The mighty deed is that of outstretched arms hung on a tree with eternal glory. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? That every thorn and thistle should be taken by the Christ and cut off.

So teach us to number our days: that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. As the wisest of men came to meet the blessed virgin and her child so does the wisdom proceeding from the mouth of God make children of us waiting the advent of our Lord. O, Come Jesus and let your beauty be upon us, raised high for the forgiveness of sins. O, Lord how long? With the Psalmist we sing of our helplessness, for our strength, bone, and marrow are fleeting and fly away. As this life fades and withers the Lamb, so long expected comes to rip the heavens wide. For the Lord establishes us with his own hands outstretched eternally before the Father praying that all children come to him.

In the mighty and impregnable fortress of Christ’s Holy church, a bride waits for the child king who rules the heavens and seas. Let us rejoice for the blessed birth promised of old and the heavenly feast that he himself foretold.

"See the Lamb, so long expected comes with pardon down from heav’n. Let us haste, with tear of sorrow, One and all, to be forgiv’n"
LSB 345:3

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Every possible "human self-understanding" of God does indeed deal only with the hidden God. This inward looking attempt to imagine the "nakedness" of God is always speculation, leading to delusions and profound spiritual blindness. As Luther writes, "The theology which is speculative, which, forgetting itself, soars upward into matters divine, is looking for the fall of Satan - and finds it too." The universal and natural knowledge of God always leads men to His wrath (Law) and therefore despair along with the penalty of death. Despite our personal philosophical proclivities we will always find ourselves in direction opposition to God. It is true that our very lives are a contradiction to God. The Gospel however, reestablishes the relationship between God and man. We do not know God in and of himself. The relationship is only reconciled in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. This Gospel graciously invites us and by the gift of faith it is received.
It is not our place to define God or analyze his motives. We should never speculate saying "Is this God’s will?" How can I please God?" We are confronted by the hiddenness of God in senseless catastrophes, unspeakable suffering, cruelty to the innocent, and the intolerable horrors of war and genocide. God both preserves life and destroys it. It is not our job to comprehend the hiddenness of God. The Lord does everything for His pleasure – though he does not delight in suffering, but working all things "for you" – and our eternal benefit. We stand under the Word of the Lord and by His work gladly receive it.

Porcupine Mountain Wilderness Area
U.P. Michigan
There is no such thing as "balancing" Law and Gospel (as if they are opposite) - a misunderstanding which this writer has been forced recently to drain from his blood. The relationship is more complex and dynamic whereby Christ both fulfills the Law and receives its wrath as the sacrificial Lamb of God. Therefore, the relationship is reconciled in Christ. The Law, unlike the Gospel however, is not a gracious address but a crushing imposition for sinners. The Law comes with coercion – and comes universally to all men, exposing their sin as well as the consequence of death and damnation. There is no bifurcation in God's nature that he wishes some to heaven and others not. He welcomes all - Let the children come to me

Sedes Doctrinae

To espouse our confessions by proof-texting might suggest that some passages support doctrine, while others do not. The selectiveness of proof-texting encourages us to imagine that God reveals himself in hidden tidbits of Scripture. The Scriptures are overflowing with Christ and his doctrine. We fail to see this truly awesome reality because of the blindness caused by our sin. A better approach is to read and hear the words of Jesus in order that we might see the totality of what he does for us now throughout the entirety of the Scriptures.

Lutheran doctrinal writings bear the name "confessions" because we confess Christ’s doctrine – not ours. Doctrine is not made up of abstracted and distinct "theories" or "disciplines." Rather, Christ is our high priest, chief liturgist, and sacrificial Lamb of God. We confess that He is Lord and what He has done. We do not speculate beyond what the Lord has given us through His Word. All that he has done and is doing is "for us." For these reasons our confessions are considered ‘corpus doctrinae’ - given that it is a single statement that is anchored in Christ’s teachings, death, and resurrection.

oratio meditatio tentatio

Luther’s thinking on oratio, meditation, tentatio has nothing to do with "knowing" or "doing," but rather being continually acted upon by God. This single movement of prayer, singing, hearing, meditation, teaching, and suffering is a passive reception whereby God has his way with us. This is difficult for Romanists and neo-protestants to deal with because it necessitates the evisceration of any source of pride or sense of control, as well as further demands to shatter works-righteousness, which lies at the heart of all heresy. American Evangelicals see themselves as both subject and actor in their relationships with God. They invite Jesus into their hearts and reduce theology to a dynamic of action (morality) to "make the world a better place." Luther’s oratio, meditatio, tentatio is wholly anti-speculative - grounded firmly in the external word, which God works in us.

Gift of Foolishness

Luther’s breakthrough is that God encounters us. In the passive life of a Christian, the subject of theology is defined by the God who speaks and not the other way around. The linguistic dynamic is central to our communicative relationship with Christ. Mary who sits at the Lord’s feet to hear His Word serves as a profound model for Christians emulate (Lk. 10:38). We should preach, meditate, and suffer this relationship with the Lord in light of inheriting the contemporary theologies of theory (Hegel), existentialism (Schleiermacher), and moralism (Kant). Luther writes, "Those who wish to philosophize by using Aristotle without danger must first become thoroughly foolish in Christ." In this way philosophy is to aid our dialogue of theology, yet remain subservient to the Word that the Lord graciously gives us.

Priesthood of All Believers

The royal priesthood (basileiov iepateuma) is often referenced in light of the so called "priesthood of all believers" which is often taken to diminish that role of the individual priestly office. However, iepateuma serves as an adjective to describe the unity of communion that all have in Christ, who in turn have all that which is kings, riches, righteousness, and so forth. Iepateuma is not to be applied with a rigid individualism to each believer but rather describes the corporate nature of the church, as the bride of Christ. This priesthood might also be seen in light of the Eucharist, wherby in the past only the priests could participate most intimately in the sacrificial system. Now all Christians had direct access to the sacrifice, the body of Christ, in which all its benefits were freely given. The adjectival use of Iepateuma might therefore be seen as a common fellowship around the Lamb of God. Besides, fellowship, the idea of the elect, those called by God, might also be a focus of this word. That this royal priesthood has been called out of darkness into wonderful light (Thaumastov phos) deserves some attention. In the Hellenic world the word has been used to describe various enlightened philosophies, though in the New Testament this would serve as an adjective to support a much greater mystery or revelation. In Luke, this word is linked to the various miracle accounts, which produced wonder, awe, and an other-worldly element which would have been clear. Therefore, this Greek word for wonder or astonishment should be seen not simply as having an impact on the audience but of revealing the significance of the whole history of salvation, which is to come into Christ’s light.

Book Review

Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Miss Manners Rescues Civilization From Sexual Harassment, Frivolous Lawsuits, Dissing, and Other Lapses in Civility, and Star-Spangled Manners by Judith Martin aka Miss Manners

What distinguishes Judith Martin is her ability to dive into the "nitty-gritty" of daily etiquette with courage and grace. "Miss Manners," Martin’s etiquette sage pseudonym, engages the "gentle reader" on questions ranging from eating soup to flag burning. She thereby provides practical and definitive advice on etiquette, examining its value for the individual and society. Martin also provides immensely interesting historical knowledge to support her perspectives. She is a fantastic writer who connects the reader thoroughly on matters of civility, all the while refusing to shy away from the related philosophical and moral implications. What is remarkable in the text is her ability to take on all these questions while maintaining eloquence, agreeableness with the reader, mixed with striking humor and wit.

What’s especially admirable in Martin is her guts to insist upon a utilitarian system of etiquette. She acknowledges the need for self expression reconciled with a "standardized national etiquette," which might be seen as a mild rebuttal to the current academic obsession with multiculturalism with blind sightedness towards its consequences. The texts include commentary on the mutability of etiquette over time but also highlight a dire importance for achieving communally agreed-upon manners. Therefore, "consensus" and "understanding" are more important than "self expression," "A society in which everyone improvises an individual set of etiquette rules wouldn’t work any better than a society in which people followed only those laws they personally invented or endorsed" (Martin, A Brief Definition of Etiquette, 31). Even the artist and free spirit in every society needs to eventually come to grips with this reality. Subjugation of inner impulses, whether they be anger or even at times honesty is a basic precept of what it means to be civilized. Martin explains this well, "Etiquette cannot be unilaterally abandoned in the name of individual freedom, honesty or creativity, much less comfort, without social consequences." Here, it is acknowledged that etiquette is not legislated in the courts but is enforced through social consequences, be they public scolding or social banishment.

What distinguishes Martin from Carter is her refusal to become enraptured irrationally with a romantic past era, as if they held the mystical key to a civilized society. In many ways she writes of civility as being a more evolutionary process:

Advocates will cite a period such as the 1950’s or the Victorian Age or a favorite Heroic Age, all the which come enticingly packaged in historic and personal fantasy kits. The horrors of such a time that we have overcome, such as slavery and plagues, are omitted, as are the evil affects such things had on manners. People who believe life was bitter in the old days also have a way of casting themselves in the top positions, dreaming of being knights or their ladies, rather than the statistically more likely possibility of being these people’s serfs (297).

Martin "civility realism" works to engage the reader in meditations on the contradictions between claims of civility and in military terms "boots on the ground." Racism and intolerance in many ways were alarmingly active during Carter’s "golden era." Martin points out that we often unknowingly pick out the seemingly more appealing imagery of bygone era mores, thereby ignoring the totality of the entire system with its hidden less desirable characteristics.
Selections from Martin’s Star-Spangled Manners: In Which Miss Manners Defends American Etiquette (For a Change) contain enough importance and relevance to a discussion on civility they might easily stand alone, constituting a course of study and source of university-wide application. In these selections Martin displays a unique patriotism and confidence in the framework and evolution of American civility.

Although she not praise American manners per se (she does not view them especially well), she does celebrate their basis, history, and hopeful future, "For America’s founders to have examined the hierarchical systems that seemed inevitable to lord and peasant alike, and to ditch that idea to introduce a measure of simplicity into ceremony and fairness into daily life was extraordinary" (298). Martin is not praising the merely aesthetic ceremonial improvements but the "etiquette of equality" that increasingly began to dominate American life in fantastic ways. She praises an American system which had new challenges and rewards, best put forth by poet Rudyard Kipling who admonishes one to "not look too good, nor talk to wise" but simultaneously exhibit the fortitude to "walk with kings – nor lose the common touch." Martin points out that the Founders "jump started the implementation of the new etiquette by putting down pretensions to which they as its leaders might have been tempted, and by lifting the dignity of the masses. Then they left it to the future generations to develop" (304).

Martin’s optimism in the potentiality of American manners is strong. Her position in this selection implies a direct call to stewardship over cultivating manners for their beneficence to all involved in the American ideals. Given as a text for the university community, it will provide as both source and stimulus for vigorous debate on the immense value, contradictions, and flaws of this specific system. Founding documents on this country’s independence and constitution have had a remarkable influence on how American’s view civility and our various relations. Martin’s commentary on the specificity of American etiquette is done admirably with celebration and honest critique. There are a lot of original contributions in the text to aid in applicable debate and growth of knowledge.

Understanding the history of manners in America might be seen simply as an effort to make sense of their countless contradictions. For example, we are extremely open and social with an unrivaled desire for privacy. We value tradition but have a habit of trying to free ourselves from it. Furthermore, we appreciate the need for hierarchical systems in some areas of society but not in others. Martin’s contributions to civility might be seen as a sociological commentary on these confusing contradictions. In regards to Americans, she observes, "For a people who profess to despise phoniness, we have locked ourselves into the charade of being forever young and on terms of friendship with everyone" (305). It is on this silly business of being an American that Martin shines most bright. She deals intelligently with these funny contradictions in a meaningful way, providing first-rate contradictions of her own to elucidate them, by both seriousness and humor, sarcasm and pragmatism.

Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni

Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni offers common sense lessons contained in short chapters with titles ranging from "Speak Kindly" to "Be Gentle to Animals." There is little to disagree with in Forni’s text which centers on the commonalities of civility cross-culturally, citing multiple religious and literary minds along the way. For academic discussion it passes the gauntlet of political correctness, moral relativism, inclusiveness, and the like. Consequently, there is little to argue about and where is the fun in that!

Given the wide use of references from various moral minds throughout the ages, Forni sets the text up for possible criticism regarding these certain individuals. For example, Forni includes multiple quotes on civility from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom abandoned each one of his five children as infants at impoverished orphanages, leading to childhood deaths. Shirking the responsibilities of parenthood and abandoning infants is certainly not a defining of a "civilized man." His political writing encompass a lifetime of attacking the institution of private property, making him the godfather of the most inhumane political system in history. Benjamin Franklin, also continually quoted, is well known for his infamous orgies in France while maintaining his post as U.S. diplomat. Also quoted is Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Roman statesman and right hand man of the emperor Nero, during the most terrifying of executions and tortures of thousands of Christians in the early church. Lucius Annaeus Seneca is quoted as saying "Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness" (Forni 3). The Christians who were burned alive on posts to light the festive Roman parties were not afforded this opportunity for kindness.

It is not my argument to say that those involved in morally questionable acts cannot utter a phrase on civility. Forni in his Forward to the text admits he himself is a "flawed messenger bearing a good message." I am suggesting however, that a "cohesiveness" of thought is sacrificed in the attempt to feverishly incorporate the cross-cultural, multi-religious, anti-religious (Freud civility lesson in Chapter 8), and imaginative concoction into a coherent philosophical synthesis of what truly defines civility.

Given that no concrete philosophy is provided, this leaves Forni without any footing to fully articulate a conception of why we should be civil and loving toward out neighbor. He is repeatedly unsuccessful as breeching the why beyond a latent self-interest that plagues the chapters, though he pretends to inspire its suppression. For example, the conclusion of his chapter, "The Science of Love" insists that showing love is of "great importance to those of us in the second part of our lives. When we retire we are at risk of finding ourselves isolated…If we are kind and considerate, people will want to be around us, and we benefit from enduring circles of attention and care" (30). The quantity if the pronouns "us" and "we" in the text as they relate to personal benefit highlight a failure to reflect on the mysterious phenomena of love and true self sacrifice. Forni cannot explain love beyond strategic interpersonal objectives. The neglect of writing in support of the inherrant and objective moral value of service to neighbor, apart from its consequences is boring and uninspiring. Furthermore, it will not rouse meaningful discussion on the more admirable aspects of the human spirit which is fully capable of acting outside the realm of reward based behavior.

Book Review: Civility by Stephen L. Carter

The universities or 'progressively minded' as a whole will natural be somewhat hostile to Carter’s text. The religious underpinnings by which he develops his philosophy of civility will be seen as a negative influence instead of an enlightened one. He will be laughed at, scoffed at, and largely discounted by certain segments in the university community who claim he’s a "right winger." If the text is sufficiently implemented and thoroughly discussed, it will be the hostile audience which will best benefit. Carter’s arguments bring out the very best of what classical liberalism has brought the modern age: unrivaled religious liberty, tolerance, and the immense value of human life. Although any author on civility may claim to be representative of these ideals, Carter can articulate their necessity with a more powerful confidence. Liberty, kindness, and civility are moral imperatives for Carter which are essentially demanded from up on high to the whole of humanity. He continually quotes segments from the Gospels, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Carter. 162). He explains that this commandment "requires us to act with love toward others" and that it "demands of us a hard discipline." This is what sets apart the Carter text. In few other modern etiquette commentaries will we find etiquette as being a "command" which "demands" and "requires" specific action. Any single paragraph holding the words "God" and "demand" is sure to create some controversy among academicians, namely the secular progressive crowd. However, upon further reflection the text should prove enlightening for the entire university community.

Carter believes that we can best treat each other with love only if we "conceive doing so as a moral obligation that is absolute, something we owe others because of their personhood, bearing no relation to whether we like them or not" (101). Therefore civility, kindness, and ultimately love should be accorded to every soul for no more complex a reason than because another’s distinct "personhood," therefore "humanity," implicating wholeness with "God’s creation."
For the benefit of the university community the Carter text will prove valuable to shed light on how the millions of religious in the world view the unity of civility and divinity. These two realities are interconnected for many in the current age among the major religions of the world (not just Christianity). Having a single voice (Carter) to thoroughly and expressively explicate this relationship from one religious discipline brings to life this phenomenon, helping to understand it historically, cross-culturally, and hopefully more sympathetically.

Blessings of the Psalter

The Psalter as a gift for worship cannot be overemphasized. It has been a resource for God’s faithful people since ancient times. We know that Jesus prayed the Psalms in synagogue which in fact testify to Himself. It is likely Luther as well had the complete Psalter memorized, as was the custom in the monastery. The Psalms are a great teaching tool in the Old Testament. The idea of Lex orande Lex credende would make the psalms essential to harmonize prayer with proper belief and theology. For the Lutheran theologian there is no speculation. God has defined himself, his work, and has defined us. God has given us also the language to communicate with Him through His very Word of which the Psalter is of such benefit. My personal experience with the psaltery and speaking about the psalms with one another has made this clear. Our spiritual, emotional, and theological vocabulary is set before us in what Luther calls the "mini Bible." In worship these songs are either sung directly, antiphonally, or in a responsorial order. We study and sing the Psalms that we might teach, pray, and suffer in faith with David in the mighty ark of the Church.

Among the Minor Prophets, the theology of Hosea stands out as a particularly revealing testimony to how God lovingly interacts with His people. The prophecy contained here reveals a dark time where apostasy and the worship of Baal is common for Israel (4:6). The use of marriage between Hosea and Gomer is used to represent the relationship between God and His people. Hosea deals with an unfaithful wife whom does not return His love. Hosea is continually gracious and takes her back after all kinds of infidelities. Here we see how we in the church are continually being reconciled back to God through repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. Restoration in Isaiah is also a central theme. Isaiah warns against idolatry and testifies that salvation is near. There is a message to be vigilant and ready for salvation (62:6). The "suffering servant" clearly points to Christ in Chapter 53. Isaiah also makes it clear that God is one who extends his mission to gentiles and foreigners. God is one "who gathers the outcasts of Israel" (56:8). This theme carries throughout, that God is not just a tribal God of the Israelite nation but the true god of all humankind.
The exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament establishes a pattern for how God interacts and delivers His people. The Passover that precludes the exodus is especially telling of God’s saving grace. Moses orders the killing of a lamb without blemish for every Israelite household (Ex. 12:5). The blood of the lamb was painted over the door posts so that the final plague might Passover and thus appease the wrath of God. The communal eating of this animal as an atoning sacrifice shows how God reconciles the world to Himself. This event however is a mere shadow of what is to come through Christ the paschal lamb who will cleanse people from all sin. And through His holy blood death does passover. God continues to deliver His people by parting the Red Sea and drowning their oppressive enemies (14:26), providing manna "bread from heaven" in the wilderness (16:4), and provides instructions for worship so that His people might remain in His covenant. With the exodus of the Israelites it is clear that God is patient when his people are terrified and face trials of their faith. The Israelites are confronted with many troubles but the Lord works through promises and always keeps His Word. The final exodus is through Christ himself - for the covenant is between God and himself. God's promise only he can carry out.
Great of heart, they know no turning,
Honor, gold, they laugh to scorn,
Quench desires within them burning, By no earthly passion torn
Mid the lions' roaring Songs of praise outpouring,
Joyously they take their stand On th' arena's bloody sand.
would to God that I might even As the martyred saint of old
With the helping hand of Heaven, Steadfast stand in battle bold!
O my God, I pray Thee, In the combat stay me.
Grant that I may ever be Loyal, staunch, and true to Thee.
'Rise Again, Ye Lion-Hearted'
author unknown
Tr., Martin Franzmann 1940

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!" Paul can rightly declare his addressees as sons because of their baptisms into the church. He is speaking the liturgy and returns them to God’s act in them. In this way the liberation from the enslaving cosmos is a returning to baptism which is the beginning and ending of God’s act on the cross. Only through Holy Baptism which truly liberates, crucifies, recreates, and strengthens can the son truly be a son and cry out the Lord’s Prayer before the community of the faithful. The filioque is set forth as Jesus shares in the full deity the Father, sending His spirit into human hearts claiming them as his own. The full communicative union is now complete as the Father sees all humanity incorporated into his Son, whom he loves and finds pleasing. By the crucifixion in baptism, the new creation can come out from her hiding place, awaking from a long nightmare whose peaceful end had been promised since the beginning.

So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, than an heir through God. This is Paul’s magnum opus in which he tears apart the erroneous and limited promise likely espoused by the Judaizers for claming Abraham and following in the law. The false teachers have made a mockery of God’s work, stripped Christ of his glory, and pointed back to the enslaving principles of the supernatural and demonic power of the law. Paul is preaching the communion the Galatians already have in God through Jesus Christ. Though God has always been present among his people he has now performed the act which is the only act that matters.

The crucifixion and resurrection given to the church is itself the incarnation in which God heals every wound and calms every terror. ‘God with us’ takes on a meaning that only Luther can rightly express that Christ is “with us in the muck and work of our lives so much that his skin smokes” (WA 4:608.32 and 609:1). This singular cosmic act rectifies everything that has gone awry and violently wages war against every enslaving power – law, flesh, and idolatry. Finding sonship in God and His inheritance for Paul is composed in the person of Jesus whose greatest invitation is love toward creation. Being an heir to God is receiving Him in such a way that orients humanity toward and organically into one another, as Jesus immerses himself into his church.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Catechesis in Song

Vater unser im Himmelreich is one of several catechetical hymns on the Lord's Prayer which we receive from the Reformation era (particularly the flurry of hymn writing between 1523-24). The catechetical emphasis regarding Lutheran hymnody has not always been the central criteria in determining the composition of hymnals - pietism and rationalism continue to be deadly foes. The LSB notes which hymns are dedicated for the six chief parts of the small catechism. The 1543 edition of the Wittenberg hymnal provided this preface:

Now follow spiritual songs in which the Catechism is covered, since we certainly must commend Christian doctrine in every way, by preaching, reading, singing, etc., so that young and unlearned people may be formed by it, and thus in this way it will always remain pure and passes on to our descendants. So may God grant us his grace and his blessings through Jesus Christ.

Catehism hymns (and most church music) has been considerably shortened for hymnal projects based upon the attention span and desires of church goers. It is my understanding that this trend will in the future possibly spiral out of control. The average 3-4 minutes popular song on the radio rarely plays out to its conclusion and is prematurely spliced for a new song to start. The popular song as a unit of 3-4 minutes is a new phenomenon. Popular music has a nasty consequence of influencing how Christians ought to consider the sacred music of the church - its hymns and liturgy. Robin Leaver in his book, Luther's Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications has an important observation particularly about catechism hymns which all Lutherans should take careful consideration. Leaver writes:

"These shortened forms of hymnic versions of the Lord's Prayer are symptomatic of our modern age, which is impatient with hymns longer than three of four stanzas and with services of worship that last longer than fifty-nine minutes. But worship and prayer require time if we are to become attuned to what we are doing and why. Luther and his generation have much to teach us about hymns that have more to do with faith, rather than simply evoking feeling, hymns that are sometimes expressions of prayer, instead of always being thought of as expressions of praise, hymns that make us take time in worship and prayer to consider who God is, what God has done for us, what God continues to do for us, and what our real needs - as opposed to what are wants - are." Leaver, Robin A (2007). Luther's Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications. Grand Rapid, MI: Eerdmans (p. 133-34)

This is more interesting given that Leaver is not even a Lutheran but an Anglican - he certainly has plenty to say about celebrating the rich heritage of Lutheran catechesis and hymnody.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You are Invited to Pray to your Father in Heaven

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others...Pray then like this.

Our Father in Heaven,
hallowed by your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Dearly beloved. The whole world does pray. The heathen pray – the hypocrites pray – the ungodly pray. They pray in idolatrous temples and street corners. They babble on television and radio to false gods. They babble to the gods of the imaginations whom offer that which men want. They pray for a Better Life Now with a Purpose Driven Life. Though often times done with pious motivations, it is the blindness of sin that prayers and promises are offered for the attention of men – for fame and wealth. Public prayer has always been a booming business. Late night television will offer so called preachers who are staging miraculous healings for monetary donations. In this way evil men use prayer to molest and exploit the spiritually weak and wounded for fame and wealth. The Pharisees understood this perfectly well for they sought to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. And this was their livelihood - prayer and fasting, in which they saw themselves as meritorious of both God’s mercy and the praise and money of the common folks.

Likewise, our own sinful flesh desires to contort prayer and devotion to God into a public spectacle. Oh how we like the praise of men! In evangelical circles today prayer in liturgical settings has become mere autobiographical ramblings of those who have dedicated their lives to Jesus. While testimonials can often be a wonderful way to share our lives in Christ, so often they become ego-centric stories, more concerned about the will and decision of the believer, than the divine will of our Father in heaven. Prayer can often become a babbling commentary of one’s personal life story rather than a perfect life story in the body of the Lord Christ. It is natural to place ourselves at the center of prayer. To use its magical power to receive the things we want. To receive the praise of men, to be perceived as pious and truly Christian. Yet to those who use prayer to satisfy their desire for attention, reputation, and riches, our Lord says, "They have their reward." The reward has been given! The television preacher who whipped hundreds of people into a frenzy with astonishing miracles received his thousand dollars. The shouting and screaming of the people testified to his apparent greatness, his prestige, and charisma. The million dollar book writer received his when he promised a Better Life Now, praying in the name of a false god who offers worldly riches, success, and happiness.

And we, you and I, redeemed children of God, often would like to sound a great heavenly trumpet when we pray so that we ourselves may be praised. It would be grand that others see our reverence and our generosity with the offering plate. So often we come to God, with our vain repetitions and endless litanies of wants and desires. We want health, worldly security, happiness, and good reputation. We want our will to be done. We want our kingdom to come. We want our power and glory to come to fulfillment. And our personal kingdoms often seem to be just around the corner. If another wish is fulfilled I will surely be where I want to be! If the Lord grants me this favor, surely I will have arrived. This car, this boat, a new bike, a promotion at my job, an A on my thesis paper. Here lies our prayerful kingdom, the greener grass on the other side, where all has been made well – all perfect – where each and every wish is fulfilled.

But dearly beloved, what poverty in which our vain litanies have been heaped up! Our selfish kingdoms that we have dreamt up for ourselves will only be reflections of our hardened hearts - hearts which willfully riot against God’s will! And in our kingdoms will be the utmost of famine, where the grass is withered and dreadful – and where all is certainly not well. This is the consequence of the human will, the fallout of a fallen world, the death of a sinner. May the queen of angels rejoice that our will is not done! Our rebellious prayers, our kingdoms are not brought to fulfillment. Our needs, wants, and desires before uttering them have been eternally known by a Heavenly Father. We do not have to appeal to the powers of this world with our prayers to receive that which we so dearly need.

Christ calls you rather into a most intimate relationship with the Father. The Lord desires that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. Our spiritual sacrifices are not for the praise of men but for our own spiritual benefit for the sake of Jesus Christ. You are called to pray in secret that you might find comfort with God who already knows your needs. And comfort with God is comfort in a Father. For Jesus, through his work on the cross, has restored the relationship intended for us in paradise. For this reason we can say Our Father who art in heaven! Yet he is not distant. He is not away in heaven at the outskirts of the universe. For heaven has come near. Heaven has come down to earth, on earth as it is in heaven, through the birth of a virgin. And today we pray with Mary, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. And what great things the Mighty One has done for us. For the mighty one became meek and lowly. He washed the feet of his disciples. He became a servant to all. He fulfilled the law, was crucified with the weight of the world’s sins, burying every grievous crime in the deepest caverns of the earth. He rose spotless, free, and in glory and so shall you. Today you are raised to your heavenly Father who has come to you in the Lord Jesus. And this father knows you and hears you. He nourishes you with the pure spiritual milk, like all loving fathers feed their children – wishing that no harm come to them. For he promises forgiveness and blessings to His sinful children. For us the Lord gives His prayer in with riches can never be exhausted in heaven or on earth.

We pray Thy will be done. Here you pray against yourself. You pray against your personal uprising and insurrection. You pray against adverse ambitions and the personal kingdom that you have imagined for yourself. Your pray against Your Better Life Now and Your Purpose Driven Life. You pray against your desires that contradict the perfect desire a heavenly Father has for you. Your will, which is opposed to God’s divine will is crucified and buried. We should rejoice over this – our kingdoms have come crumbling down which were wicked since our conception. Our countless palaces were old, decrepit, and empty. After all there was only room for our selves. Thy will be done has broken the power of Satan and His will hinder every evil plan and purpose. Thy will has been done in Jesus who was crucified, died, and was buried for the remission of your sins. His kingdom has come and it is glorious. Thy divine will is all for you, his sinful children, in which he gives life and all blessing. Thy will is to strengthen and keep you steadfast in the faith unto death.

We pray Give us this day our daily bread. The Lord sustains all creation and His sinful children – providing all that we need – food, drink, house, goods, peace, good friends, good neighbors and the like. Yet our Father does not stop here. For the Kingdom that has come offers riches beyond the practicality of daily living. Jesus is the bread of life which has "come near." Though the Lord sustains our bodies with every physical need, His mission is not merely about the needs of this life but the needs of the next, which is redemption in Christ and eternal life. A more accurate translation from the Greek text is Give us today our bread that is coming. And the Lord is coming, He came in your baptism, He comes today in the Divine Service where he offers His Body and Blood, and He comes on the final day to resuscitate the lungs of all believers. Here He breathes the breath of life into our nostrils as was done in paradise. He gives eternal life to all who eat and drink him – His Body and Blood for the remission of sins.

In our eating and drinking we ask our heavenly Father to deliver us from the evil one. This world is broken with sin and you are broken with sin. The trumpets of glory of this world – fame – fortune – and the esteem of all men will not save you. But you have been delivered. It was the Lord’s will to pluck his sinful children out of the depths of Sheol and the powers of this world. Through Christ the Father rescues us from sin and the bondage of a shattered world. He forgives you and gives you faith that you may forgive others. For we have a God who loves to forgive! Through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Through the psalms – through the prophets – through the evangelists. They all point to a heavenly Father whose business it is to forgive you your trespasses. Whose business it is be buried and resurrected so that you may receive new life. Our heavenly father does not grumble against you – he has not one complaint against you. For Christ did not grumble or accuse from the cross but rather prayed the psalms for you, declared your innocence, and died for you. The Lord prays that you feel no guilt or sorrow but remain steadfast in His Word which has declared you holy and free – blameless of sin – and resurrected with all saints in heaven.

The praise and glory of this world cannot save you. It is only through the atoning sacrifice of a crucified and risen Christ. For our benefit, the Lord invites us to appeal directly to our Father, to whom we have been reconciled. The Lord’s Prayer pours forth with His doctrine: the deliverance from the evil one, life and salvation, and the communion of God in His very Body. Christ does all this for you, inviting you to pray His prayer which He has made our prayer. Here we find inexhaustible riches with brilliance and majesty beyond measure. The kingdom of heaven has come near for today it is surely given to you from the risen Christ who gives himself in Word and Sacrament. For all this we are bold to pray - Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

To Be Born Again

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.

Heavens Coming in Water

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near! This is the preaching from John the Baptizer. When Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John, he may not have been crystal clear concerning his knowledge of what great things were transpiring at that very moment. Though he does utter a call in the southern reaches of the Jordan valley, which echoes throughout all eternity, ‘the kingdom of heaven is near!’ Heaven is indeed God himself who is embodied in the man Jesus from Nazareth. The Kingdom of Heaven for St. Mathew would be a widely used reverential substitute for the divine name. Heaven as the divine name is also King of creation, Lord of all history, who spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and the prophets. Yet, most importantly the prophets had foretold that this king of all creation, this hidden reign of God, would one day become manifest and universal, to take human form, open his arms and reconcile all people eternally back to him.

He is not attractive or handsome physically that we should highly esteem Him but a man of flesh and blood, who hungers, thirsts, cries, laughs, and suffers as we do. This man comes to the Jordan under the hot Judean sun to be baptized by John. There are many others also being baptized by John, indeed large masses, people were coming to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan, confessing their sins and being baptized. Yet Jesus comes as heaven itself, the kingdom of heaven is near. He comes at the spotless Lamb of God, without sin. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."

Jesus’ baptism must be seen in light of the journey which this beloved Son has now begun. His descent into the Jordan was a baptism in which He begins to take on the sins of the world. His baptism is a muddy one where the one without blemish or mark takes on the ugliest sores, diseases, infirmities, and sins of the world. This beautiful Christ, out of love and mercy does this willingly for you, and carries this immeasurable ugliness, this curse of sin all the way to the cross. It is murder, fornication, adultery, lust, greed, envy, sloth, and every egregious sin imaginable. It is disease and sickness, and every physical ailment which results from the curse of sin and the death that comes with it. Every sin that you have committed and ever will commit was taken into the body of this Jesus. Even that wretched and ungodly sin that plagues your conscience day and night was not too wretched and ungodly for this most perfect and godly one who came to be baptized.

When Jesus comes up out of the water, in this wilderness surrounded by sinners, the heavens are opened up to him. His ascension is foreshadowed here on that third day, which brings to mind images of glory and a miracle of life breaking through the bonds of death. Yet, we must not fail to see our own participation in these glorious scenes. You are a REAL sinner and Christ is a real Messiah. You, you have been grafted into the vine of Christ who was baptized, the one without out sin who became sin, this one who was crucified, died, and rose is your own victory. See, His baptism is your own where a great substitution has taken place. All that was broken in you was taken by Him in baptism and all that was His, His robe of righteousness, His perfect adherence to the law, His purity and loveliness is given to you.

Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Oh yes, Heaven is very near – He, Jesus Christ, is very near. Our Lord was present at your baptism. He whetted your forehead with water from the font, giving you his very name, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This water both destroys and cleanses, this Spirit which is given to you both burns with fire and purifies. This simple water coupled with the unbreakable promise of God does all that He says: rescuing you from the curse of sin, death, and the devil. The Lord has long cared for and delivered his people through his mighty saving works and promises through water which both puts to death that which harms us and renews the new man who daily arises to stand blameless before God. Dr. Luther in his "flood prayer" in our baptismal liturgy writes:

Almighty eternal God, who…in thy great mercy didst preserve believing Noah and is 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, and who through the baptism of thy dear Child, our Lord Jesus Christ, has consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all baptismal water as a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins: We pray that thou wilt graciously behold this child and bless him with true faith in the spirit so that by means of this saving flood all that has been born in him from Adam and which he himself has added thereto may be drowned in him and engulfed, and that he may be sundered from the number of unbelieving, preserved dry and secure in the holy ark of Christendom.

By a gracious invitation the heavens have been opened to you and the Father says to you, "You are mine, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." As the heavens are gloriously opened the temple curtain has been torn that you might without blame enter the Holy of Holies. By this mighty flood, you may approach the altar, heaven is near, and is for you. The curse of sin has been broken and the bonds of death have been forever defeated.

The very body and blood of Jesus is given for you for the remission of sins, the strengthening of your faith, for the Lord wishes you to depart in peace – being confident in all that he promises. In this baptism Jesus calms our fears. Sin and hell in conflict have fallen. When their bitter storms assail us, Jesus will not fail us. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in and of ourselves. For all this it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true. Amen.

Monday, October 20, 2008

but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father.
Galatians 4:2

Paul believes the Christian is the Lord over all not in a purely eschatological way only in the future, but truly in the here and now. The liberation by means of God’s act on the cross does not elevate the baptized into an omniscient body that is not subject to authority and guardians. The liberated son finds life in the absolute trust received only by faith given in Christ’s movement into the human ears and heart. This divine slavery finds life not only in trust in the heavenly father but as a consequence also in all authority, pastors, parents, and neighbors. That the baptized awaits the time appointed by the Father’s mirrors Jesus’ passion in which he also awaited His father’s appointed time, casting himself solely on the Divine will of the Father. Paul knowing the scriptures and the evangelist’s gospel sees the church’s life only in Christ’s passion. That Jesus preached that no one knew the appointed time except the Father has been an unresolved problem in theology (Mt. 24:36). Jesus’ apparent absence of divine omniscience is commonly understood as an act of humility – not using Divine powers etc.. Though in God’s redemptive act, His own Son reestablishes, fulfills, models, and presents the majestic glory of the purest love and communion in, with, and of God. Therefore it is not a withholding of 'powers' but is itself the final act. And this right communion is Jesus who lays himself on the bosom of the Father – fully trusting. The appointed time is crucifixion of the old cosmos in Christ’s cross. This appointed time (prothesmia tou patros) is itself the crucifixion, particular to a precise moment in history under Roman powers, yet also reverberating across the expanse of the heavens and earth. The community of the church, as Jesus himself embodies, is Lord over all not because she is manipulating and controlling future events but because God is love and so dearly desires our own love. And he claims it in Christ.

Young Benny diligently studying Hebrew. He's wearing a very stylish home-jober polo-dress cutoff shirt. He thought so at least. He's taken ladies. Sorry.

I encountered Benjamin Franklin recently at the Fort in downtown Fort Wayne. He was speaking about the fire department in Philadelphia, the estranged relationship with his son, and his promiscuous affairs in Paris.

I spend a lot of time listening to J.S. Bach, the great Lutheran composer of cantatas, and liturgical music. I have read many biographers on Bach, and listen to his music day and night, and will never be able to exhaust the riches in Bach’s music. It is a sweeping exposition of the scriptures in which theology is expressed in the very notation and melodies of the music! – not just the words. He was surely just a man, a German Lutheran, but one with divine genius that must not be neglected. I recommend Saint John’s Passion if you ever have a spare evening or afternoon. It is truly good and right that Bach pour out of the roof and windows so that no one in the neighborhood will be free of him.

Blessings of Concordia Theological Seminary

I am confident to brag that Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne is the flagship of confessional Lutheranism in the world. It produces the boldest teachers, preachers, and scholars of the doctrine of our Lord. What distinguishes this institution from every other seminary is that it is radically Lutheran, radically catholic, and radically uncompromising in matters of doctrine. We reject the broader assertions of the Enlightenment and Age of Reason, which the modern world generally accepts as truths (evolution, the perfectibility of man, works righteousness, and the insistence that men are naturally inclined toward good and so forth). We operate instead from the starting point of what God has revealed to His people – that we live in a fallen world where misery, death, and pain are the consequence of sin. It has been revealed that God is the maker of all things, and that man was made in his image, to be the very crown of his creation. We were made that we might walk with God without shame, in the cool mist of the setting sun in perfect love. Man’s rebellion and quest to be God has cast the world into war, famine, death, and decay. Scripture certainly attests to this but even the drudgery of day to day experience calls to our mind that something has gone awry. Some remnant of a purely created yet sinful heart intuitively knows that somehow “this is not the way it is supposed to be.”

The way things are supposed to be has been fulfilled in Christ. This most intimate communion and fellowship with God has been gloriously restored. Men and women are converted into saints and walk again eternally with their Lord and maker in the calm mist of paradise. My daily studies are dedicated for the preparation to confess, teach, and preach a doctrine which the world finds utterly offensive and intolerable. This scandalous doctrine is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary, bore the sins of the world, was crucified, died, and buried. The third day he rose from the dead promised to be with his people ascended bodily to rule the heavens and earth. Christians participate in this death and resurrection in which God gives all blessings, purity, righteousness, and his very body and blood for the remission of sins. Sinners are reconciled back to God by sheer grace, without any merit or doing on our own part. Sinners are indiscriminately saved in their baptisms and enlivened and strengthened in faith by the preaching of the Holy Gospel and the reception of the Holy Supper. Sunday after Sunday, Christ promises to be present in His Body to announce the forgiveness of sins and all the benefits of the heavenly kingdom. For from the Scriptures we know that faith comes through hearing. God is heard and received orally in the Divine Service, in the liturgy, by Pastors who stand in the stead of Christ.

This is how God has chosen to renew and preserve his people, in the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament. He does not choose to deal with us elsewhere. Not in our private meditations, not in our serene moments with nature, nowhere of our choosing. Church is not where nice people get together for a civic social institution. It is where dying sinners, blind beggars, find food, solace, and eternal comfort – where real sinners find real forgiveness and eternal peace. These are some basic points of the theology in which we find ourselves.

Due to sin and general laziness, a disciplined prayer schedule is necessary. If it were left to me to pray when I felt like it, or when it is convenient I would rarely or never get around to it. Submitting to a prayer schedule is the only way to pray, for extemporaneous prayers are few and far between. It is a delight to chant the psalms and daily sing historic hymns with the brothers. The best way to become a theologian is to chant the psalms for in this way we become entrenched in the Lord’s very vocabulary. For the Lord gave us the psalms that we might pray them with him. We know that Jesus himself prayed them in the synagogue and most likely knew them by heart. We know from the scriptures that Jesus prayed the psalms as he was dying on the cross. In this way God prays the psalms with us, it is the songbook of our faith. They are the words that will echo in the halls of heaven with armies of angels.

Singing is a natural consequence of receiving the pure doctrine of our Lord. Why would one pray without singing or go about the day without singing psalms, hymns, and versicles of the divine liturgy? It is impossible to be without continuous song and singing if one is given the faith of our Lord. Many church goers unfortunately are deprived of the pure doctrine, the sacraments, and historic catholic Christianity, and therefore are without voice and without song. Instead they have an intellectual or scholarly discourse about the bible and lord over the scriptures instead of receiving Christ (for truely receiving is the only way to worship).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Being a Lutheran

Lutheran catechesis is fundamentally different from most theologies for it does not water down or dilute the words of Christ but receives them passively as unfettered truth. We do not sift through the Apostolic Scriptures picking and choosing which things we find convenient to believe and not believe. The God who says "Drink of it all of you..shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” is the same God who raises the dead and who in the beginning says, “Let there be light.” The essence of being Lutheran is not to interpret the Scriptures but to let the Scriptures interpret and define us. In other words, being Lutheran does not permit us to let God be a liar. We believe God is who he says is and that he indeed does what he says he does. And His business is not to condemn or damn but to forgive. God loves to forgive, that is how he chooses to know and define us, by forgiveness and newness of life. He comes by way of invitation, becoming man, becoming a servant to us, to teach us, to wash the feet of sinful disciples. The invitation is not primarily to become a better person, not to become more virtuous and moral. That is for Dr. Phil and tv evangelists. The invitation is to forgive and reconcile sinners back to God for eternity in paradise.

Lutherans are not ashamed of the Gospel. It is not a hobby or a special academic interest. It is not marked by a nice social network where well dressed people get together with pleated khakis and a full Windsor knot for potlucks. It is a doctrine which brings dying sinners in a dying world to eternal life, salvation, and heavenly riches. Most people are comfortable with Christianity so long as it is a peripheral interest or activity. Talking about the aesthetics of the divine service and cosmic reconciliation with God usually makes Protestants a little nervous – so I find it a dutiful response to make my beloved family and friends feel as uncomfortable as possible insofar as it opens one up to the greater realities of historic catholic Christianity I have nothing to brag of, nothing to delight in, no assurance or comfort in anything apart from it. In it is life and salvation. In the Gospel is all the company of heaven, angels, archangels, infinite majesty and riches. None of this is a “private matter,” and Lutherans are not content keeping the mysteries of our Lord to themselves. Christianity is not private nor is it about a “personal relationship with God.” It is “corporate,” it is “communal,” and it is profoundly “public.” Day to day life, daily relationships, and toil of the day is transformed and arises out of the prism of new life in Christ. The risen Christ promises to be where the Word and Sacraments are properly administered. This is done at church. At shabby baptismal fonts and dusty communion alters across the world. The Lord declares life through simple means, through simple men serving as pastors. Through the oral proclamation of forgiveness from the pulpit, by the waters of Holy Baptism combined with the invocation of the Divine Name. The Lord encounters us through simple wine and bread with the Word of God becomes Body and Blood - a tangible manifestation of the Gospel. The saving work of God comes from outside of ourselves, not by an internal disciplinary movement. This is the offensiveness of the Gospel which the modern mind recoils at with deep fear. The ego says, “how can salvation and forgiveness be a free gift without my own work or acceptance?!” We say, “I must pay, I must barter, I must be the deal maker!” God however, is the “deal maker,” and he has done it through the sacrifice of a son who buried the sins of the world in a bloody sacrifice. It is true because God reveals it. And it is revealed at church where the Lord has his way with us, making us new vessels in our Holy Baptisms, preserving us until our dying day by the means that he has instituted.

The Lord does not choose to deal with us outside of word and sacrament. He does not deal with us through means outside of the church, and by the gracious means which he has ordained and given. For this we ought to be at the place where he promises to be, where he is present in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.It took me years to stumble upon this offensive and unreasonable doctrine. It is antithetical to the modern mind, it destroys our pride and sense of self worth, it can alienate us from family and friends. It can lead to unspeakable suffering or death (Christians are daily slaughtered across the African continent). It does not promise a happier and more successful earthly life. Christ is not appealing or attractive to our flesh which is dying. Christianity is utter foolishness to those who are perishing but is life and salvation to those whom are baptized and whom turn to God for mercy. Life in the church, however, holds holy mysteries and treasures too innumerable to count through the span eternity. The mysteries and treasures are concretely given and received in the church which is the holy bride of Christ whom He loves unto death. This doctrine and faith plucks souls from hell and delivers from death. Its blessings are freely given and received by grace through faith alone.

So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, than an heir through God. (Gal. 4:7)

This is Paul’s magnum opus in which he tears apart the erroneous and limited promise likely espoused by the Judaizers for claming Abraham and following in the law. The false teachers have made a mockery of God’s work, stripped Christ of his glory, and pointed back to the enslaving principles of the supernatural and demonic power of the law. Paul is preaching the communion the Galatians already have in God through Jesus Christ. Though God has always been present among his people he has now performed the act which is the only act that matters. The crucifixion and resurrection given to the church is itself the incarnation in which God heals every wound and calms every terror. ‘God with us’ takes on a meaning that only Luther can rightly express that God is “with us in mud and in work, so that his skin smokes.” This singular cosmic act rectifies everything that has gone awry and violently wages war against every enslaving power – law, flesh, and idolatry. Finding sonship in God and His inheritance for Paul is composed in the person of Jesus whose greatest invitation is love toward creation. Being an heir to God is receiving Him in such a way that orients humanity toward and organically into one another, as Jesus immerses himself into his church.

Faith does Sing

"Wherever the word "song" is used in psalm titles, it must always be understood that such as psalm is one of joy and dancing and is to be sung with a feeling of rejoicing. For a song and singing spring from the fullness of a rejoicing heart. But a spiritual song, or spiritual melody, is a very jubilation of the heart." (Luther on Psalm 45)

We know that Jesus and his disciples often prayed the psalms and sang spiritual songs. Christians sing because they must. As there is no free will in matters of faith there is likewise no free will in song. Music is a gift from God in which he graciously sparks our hearts to sing out to God and to one another. Through hymnody we praise his work and comfort his saints.

Jesus was no stoic. He prayed, cried, laughed, and sang. As we have been brought through his living waters of baptism we arise and sing a new song that never ends. This song of the blessed Gospel is not only sung in the heavenly expanse but in the grime and misery of this world. In this way singing is of our prayers, tears, and joy - as our dear Lord himself. Because the Father sent the Son to be born of a woman in this world to ease our pain, he so sends us to be of good cheer to one another. To build one another up in love by song and prayer. Christ was not called out of this world, with his death, ressurection, and ascension but wholly into it. Flesh, blood, and living sacrifice to cover the ends of the earth. In this way his children who live by his spiritual milk are called wholly into this world as well as the heavens. Lutherans have sung during the plague, on the gallows, during wars and turmoil, bombing raids, concentration camps, and unspeakable horrors. As the billows rage and the world quakes the Lord has always led his flock to green meadows to drink at his still waters.

As there is no free will for the Christian to sing there is likewise no free will of the Father to withhold mercy. So long as the creation was helpless and needy he must hear their plea and song. So long is there the poor, the widow, and the fatherless God has ordained from the beginning that His Word will fight for them and always defend his flock - from the bitter pangs of death and defeat. For this reason he fights with a flaming sword and raises up the tree of life that all blessing may be freely given. For the promise is not conditional upon the will of man but only upon the unconditional will of God. The promise was to Abraham and to His Seed, which is Christ (Gal. 3:16). God's convenant - his redeeming act only he can promise. And only he can carry out. God's salvation is only a matter within himself, within a Son, whom he sent.

The Christian best sings when he sees that he can no longer wrestle for God's promise, and that it is freely given. When the Reformation began two young friars, Heinrich Voe and Johann Esch died for singing priase to this Gospel truth. They were burned at the market place in Brussels on July 1, 1523. Luther wrote a song in honor of their confession and bold witness to Christ - the Ballad of the two Brussels Martyrs

Oh! they sang sweet, and they sang sour;
Oh! they tried every double;
The boys they stood firm as a tower,
And mocked the sophists' trouble.
The ancient foe it will with hate
That he was thus defeated
By two such youngsters - he, so great!
His wrath grew sevenfold heated,
He laid his plans to burn them.
(A New Song Here Shall Be Begun 1523)
We also must make a home for ourselves in the hymns of the church. For hymns both preach and teach, enliven, and express our emotion in the gospel. Lutherans sing everywhere, at work, at home - even in the car. Furthermore, we must come continually back to the psaltery - the prayerbook of the Bible.