Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I saw Valkyrie

This film is about an elaborate plot to assasinate Adolf Hitler in the summer of 1944. A disgruntled Colonel Stuaffenberg, played by Tom Cruise attempts the assasination at the Wolf's Lair Nazi bunker. The plan is to reinstate the Chancellor after the coup and deploy the Reserve Army to crush the SS and secure Berlin.

The movie is exciting and there are some excellent scenes of Hitler's inner circle. There is a great scene with Hitler, Joseph Goebbles, Heinrich Himmler, and Hermann Goring laughing and joking at the Eagles Nest.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Filled with the Holy Ghost Elisabeth exclaimed to Mary "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" And so it is with us that on Christmas that we are reminded that the Lord comes to us - comes into the flesh to to heal, teach, and breathe life into lifeless lungs.

Christmas is all about the incarnation of God into flesh to invite creation into the forgiveness of sins, peace, and communion. As Christ immerses himself into the church, Christians turn to one another finding joy in their neighbor - serving them and offering sacrifice. Christmas is not a spiritualizing feeling or sentiment but a bodily communion of God into man and therefore humankind toward and for one another. Christmas is an eternal celebration of the Mass in which Christ is infant, creator, healer, priest, meal, and sacrifice - stretched out high for the forgiveness of sins.

God's great commandment to love one another finds its substance in God's incarnation in Jesus. For in him is creation itself - life and light. God becomes flesh, dwells among us - and lo I am with you til the end of the age. We behold his glory, full of grace, and truth through the precious gifts given in the church. God's advent into man is not only about restoring communion with him but rather communion with one another.

God comes not to be served but to serve His people and and rejoin them into living fellowship and love with each other. This organic reintegration of humanity is given in the present - in Christ's holy meal and word in which an apocolyptic rebirth of creation opens with new eyes of faith and purity. The Christian no longer sees the world with suspicion, fear, anxiety, and shame but rather sees the incarnation of God in family, friend, and neighbor. God becomes man to give himself to all - desiring to to suffer, die and rise for all. Likewise, in God's birth and holy passion we find ourselves in the same dusty path of calvary - that we give ourselves, die in baptism, and daily arise as ressurected vessels.

This new life finds its substance in God's incarnation into man and humanities reawakening with the eyes of faith. The incarnation has everything to do with what it means to now life as a holy saint in Christ church. Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together...

"The believer need not feel any shame when yearning for the physical presence of other Christians, as if one were still living to much in the flesh. A human being is created as a body; the Son of God appeared on earth in the body for our sake and was raised in the body. In the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ inthe body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected community of God's spiritual-physical creatures. Therefore, the believer praises the Creator, the Reconciler and the Redeemer, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of other Christians."

The Christian only through this gift can now sees God's incarnation in creation itself. For God found it disirable to suffer, die, and rise for even the most vile of men. So we are called to find the beauty and richness of God's creation even for the most undeserving of mercy and in the very darkest places. In Christmas, we find a reminder that Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection becomes our very own. As God physically encountered his creation in Christ so we must physically meet each other in concrete acts of love. We are given the blessings of proximity and life with one another - which is itself a gift - that God might support us with a community of human love and prayer.

Christmas reminds us that the church catholic - the holy fellowship of all believers in Christ - is an incarnate body - creatio ex nihilo - an encounter of God in flesh and humanity into and for each other - wrapped up in Christ's holy word and sacrament.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"For solitude and melancholy are poisonous and fatal to all people, and especially to a young man. Accordingly God has commanded us to be joyful in his presence; he does not desire a gloomy sacrifice...participation in proper and honorable pleasures with good and God-fearing people is pleasing to God, even if one may at times carry playfulness too far."
Martin Luther - May 23, 1534
taken from a letter to Prince Joachim of Anhalt

The covenant with Abraham contains provisions of which all the families of the earth benefit (Gen 12:3). We find that God defines the chosen line by which the Messianic blessing would eventually come: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (later named "Israel"). Worship and sacrifice are central to these promises of land and blessing as God instructs Abraham to make an altar, calling upon his name (12:8). Involved in this covenant was the promise of a great nation, that Abraham would be blessed, and that all the earth will be blessed. Furthermore we find that the one who curses will be cursed (12:3) which becomes a central principle whereby God intervenes to pronounce judgment on nations surrounding Israel for their mistreatment. The narrative as a whole shows that the covenant promises of God will be fulfilled despite the shortcomings of men. Abraham doubts God’s promise to give Him a son yet Sarah indeed gives birth (21:2). The promises from God’s covenant make Abraham and his family passive recipients whom depend solely on the faithfulness of God. Therefore Abraham is not righteous by his deeds but by his reliance on God’s Word.

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. 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.

God makes a very special covenant with David after Saul’s failure to serve as king. We find that God finds favor with David, seeking "a man after His own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14). In Second Samuel chapter seven God sets forth specific plans for David saying, "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever" (vs. 13). This offspring of David is Jesus whereby the covenant with God finds fulfillment. Isaiah clearly prophecies of this Son of David (9:6-7). What is sure is that God Himself will come as king to deliver his people, bringing righteousness. The plans set forth also involve a place of worship for the divine presence. Furthermore, God promises to establish a dynastic house of kings which will rule "forever" (vs. 13). This rule of kings however is shown to be disastrous with sin and failings. David himself, one whom God has found great favor, is an adulterer. His sons become guilty of incest, fratricide, and incest (13:13). Zion theology erroneously looks for an earthly reign of an earthly leader – this "liberator" of their own imagining will not come.

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 (Major Prophet) 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 foreigner. 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 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 in the context of worship and the daily office make 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.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Luther's Chief Article in Smalcald

The chief article in the Smalcald Articles is the office and work of Jesus Christ (SA II, 1). This office of Christ is given for our justification through faith, apart from all works of the law. Jesus lifted high for the forgiveness of sins, for Dr. Luther is the heart and focus of all the Scriptures. This is reflected in all articles which hang off the first and chief article of Jesus Christ, which “stands all that we teach and practice against the pope, the devil, and the world.” The Christological controversy does not blend or pit the divine and human natures against each other but distinguishes Christ’s true gospel from papal crimes against the church. Luther concedes that there is no specific dispute over the confessed creeds regarding the trinity and economy of relations. The dispute involves the Reformation breakthrough which confesses Christ’s full atonement for sinners, apart from papal lies and malfeasance.

The address of the chief article is spoken only after the revelation of sin from the Holy Scriptures (SA III, 1). The law comes by way of crushing imposition, accusing at every turn, revealing inherited sin and its utter depths. The sweet words of the Lord forgives sinners, speaks peace, and builds His church. The Smalcald articles are not fragmented confessions but one exposition of Christ’s blessed and simple institution – the forgiveness of sins. Beginning with the second article, the Mass under the papacy is identified as the “greatest and most terrible abomination, as it directly and violently opposes the chief article.” For Luther the “chief error” is enthusiasm which seeks to deal with God apart from Jesus’ Holy Word and sacrament. Human inventions (enthusiasm) have set themselves against the pure doctrine of our Lord – who is the sacrificial Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. The Mass under the papacy contains the other abuses such as indulgences, pilgrimages, monasteries, masses for the dead, and invocation of the Saints. All these inventions negate the chief article of Christ’s work by propping up false avenues of merit. The 14th article of Smalcald, concerning monastic vows, which might otherwise be seen as a secondary point of dispute, likewise, stands “in direct conflict with the first and chief article.” According to Luther, monastic vows deny Christ and are “blasphemy against God.”Other contemporary theologies do not start with the office and work of Jesus but rather set him up in an office which is not his own. He may become a demanding judge, an exemplary moral leader, an ambassador for social justice, or an object of romantic sentiments. For Doctor Luther, Jesus is the subject of creation, eternal, begotten Son of God, who becomes incarnate in the Virgin and justifies the ungodly. The Smalcald Articles and the Augustana rightfully confess Jesus as the Alpha and Omega. Besides being simply an exemplary model, he is exemplary sacrifice and meal, who creates faith ex nihilo in baptism, word, and His Supper. The Smalcald Articles must not be seen as separate or isolated doctrines but rather form one doctrine (SA II, 1) proceeding from the words of Jesus. We hear the address of the Gospel with our ears and eat with our mouth the promise of God in Jesus Christ.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Basilica of Saint Josephat
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Trinity (1515)
Lucas Cranach the Elder
Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

Ps. 50:14-15

Psalm 50 is an exhortation against false worship and empty sacrifice. Our God is not pleased by our offerings which are so often presented with conceit and veiled in vanity – “For every beast of the forest is Mine” (Ps. 50:10) By our nature we are inclined to imagine that we can somehow appease the wrath of God on our own terms. Yet our Lord rebukes us saying, “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats?” Where God lacks nothing we are in need of everything. We, the elect, are the beneficiaries of the continual blessings bestowed upon us by the one and only sacrifice which grants us to stand blameless before God – by the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is we that eat His flesh and drink His Blood. This Psalm reminds us of our hopelessness apart from the Christ, and implores us to remain vigilant in the discipline of our first two Commandments – that we might fear, love, and trust in God above all things and continually call upon His name in every trouble – forever giving praise.

Bell at Kramer Chapel

Saint Cyril declares that baptism "was at once your grave and your mother." The baptismal font is your tomb and womb. For Saint Cyril of Jerusalem his catechumens have become sons and daughters of one Mother, which is the church. Regarding this baptism he writes in his protocatechesis, "It is the ransom for captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; holy indissoluble seal; the chariot to heave; the luxury of Paradise; the gift of adoption." In the font – In the waters of Holy Baptism is the participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. 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 Christ – Jesus. Jesus overcame the enemy, by becoming a servant unto death – washing, healing, teaching, and dying. And what a blessed death, which became the very slaying of death itself. Death was swallowed whole – death was consumed buried in the body of Christ. Death buried, and banished by a God-man. And what a blessed death it is for it is your own. Saint Paul writes:

Know ye not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in His death? Therefore we are buried together with Him by baptism into death: that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." (Rom. 6:3-5).

Where is this death? Where is this newness of life? Is it in the meditations of nature? Lofty thoughts about a God of power and might? Is it in our strivings to be better, more virtuous people, more productive and well known members in our communities? Does it come from the barrage of self-help books that promise you a more successful career, improved happiness, and higher esteem? Dear Christians, there is no life here – only crafty deceptions. There are no restored souls from lofty thoughts, increased happiness, or self help books. Death, salvation, and life come through the baptismal font. A cold block of cement or thousands of shabby wooden rotting fonts in rural parishes across the world deliver thousands of saints every year. They approach the altar or are carried there as infants for a blessed burial, a blessed death, and a most glorious resurrection to walk forever in the newness of life – the very body of Christ.

You descend into water as broken vessels, and are made dead. This font becomes your tomb, your shroud of death. You are dipped three times, for a three day burial in the bosom of the earth - which you share with Jesus your Christ. Your former man was laid in a coffin, descended through the waters, and flooded to a certain death in the Red Sea – by blood of the Lord. Pastors pronounce death with water and the invocation of the Divine Name. This is a necessary and blessed death for the curse of sin is death. Yet like Christ we are not left for dead but are resuscitated when the breath of life is breathed into our nostrils by the Holy Spirit. Here, we sinners, with our diseased and broken bodies and souls are put to death and are resurrected.

Pastors, simple men of all types, vested with the authority of Christ perform these Holy Mysteries not with any power of their own but with the power of God who declares you holy sons and daughters. In this font you are buried and dead. Yet you are never left for dead but just as surely resurrected as Christ. From the tomb of the font a perfect shroud of righteousness is wrapped around you. God does not see your sin. He does not see an ungrateful heart. He does not see your failures as a father, a mother, a son, or daughter. He does not see that bitter and dark secret that you have tried oh so hard to forget. He does not see a desecrated body that has been defiled by the monstrous devils and tempters of this world. He sees you as a holy saint. He sees not a blemish on your body or an impure thought in your heart. He sees not your life story with all your troubles and tears but sees your life story in His Son only. He sees a righteous one. He sees you – who sings his praises, and hallows His Holy Name. He sees you wonderfully and perfectly made because He sees Christ in you and for you.

The Roman Missal for the consecration of the font refers to the Holy Spirit "who is to make fruitful with the mingling of His mystical power this water prepared for the rebirth of men, that a heavenly race conceived in holiness may come forth from the immaculate womb of the divine font." Understanding our spiritual life in light of our human birth is essential to any understanding of the Gospel. In this font the Romanists and Saint Cyril suggest a very helpful symbol that we might better understand the totality of all that takes place in baptism. As Saint John writes in his Gospel, "But as many as received Him, He gave them power, to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:12-13). Christ Jesus was both true God and true man. Not just spirit but blood and flesh. It is flesh that was tempted – flesh of a man – who like us was tempted by Satan – who hungered, thirsted, cried, and laughed. Our human birth came from the waters of a mother who bored us in pain. And in sin we are conceived - and in sin we enter into a fallen and shattered world. As Nicodemus did learn, we cannot enter a second time into our Mother’s womb to be born again. Our births from our dear Mother’s was a one time event. And yet the birth from our mother’s womb was not the final declaration of all matters on life. For God ultimately had plans for us – that we might be born again of water and the Holy Ghost. God willed that we be born of the womb of Holy Mother Church. A virginal and holy birth, born of God, born from above, born as redeemed saints. Here you are adopted by a jealous and loving Father who wants you so dearly that His own son is sent to shed blood. Rivers of water and blood flow forth from a pierced side, giving a new birth to us blind beggars. In a most treasured hymn, God’s Own Child, I Glady Say it we sing: Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled, All your might has come unraveled, And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!

The simple baptismal font does not look like it contains the complete mysteries of the Gospel of our Lord. Yet our Lord comes through means that give us great comfort. In the font, with the eyes of faith, there is a tomb and a blessed womb. There is death and burial. There is resurrection and life. There is water and blood. There is the body of Christ who stands with you in the Holy waters of your baptism. He gives all things to you. And God the Father sees you as His most prized possession. He delights in you at this simple font. He sustains you and provides for you until the final day when you will inherit heaven to dine and sing with your Lord. And in your baptism angels rejoice with all the company of heaven. Amen.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Praying the psalms is none other than joining in the eternal prayer of Jesus Christ and his Church. The prayer encompasses the enter life of the church - through bitter despairs in the pit of hell to the heavenly riches in the great sanctuary.

The community of the church does not live its life in static bliss but rather finds herself in the continual rhythem of receiving God's spoken Word of comfort - and being gathered by outstretched arms.

The experience of suffering is not an appendage to the Christian life but the portal – drawing out the very rhythm of life in Christ. Praying the psalms is to Pray in, with, and under Christ. This eternal prayer captures the totality of the life of the church who finds herself only in Christ’s Holy Passion – crucifixion, and resurrection.

When affliction strikes the human heart, the Psalms are God’s great gift. They provide a model for prayer and song for Christ prayed them with his disciples and prayed them from the cross. In the baptismal life of a Christian, all must turn to the lament in the divine liturgy, "Lord, have mercy." Calling upon the name of the Lord is God pleasing and he promises to deliver.

"For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave. I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength" (ps. 88:3-4). The daily crucifixion and ressurection in the baptismal life of a Christian must naturally encounter weakness and suffering. Christ promises to come in suffering, for only faith can take hold when we completely despair of our own personal plan of deliverance.

"As silver tried by fire is pure

From all adulteration,

So thro' God's Word shall men endure

Each trial and tribulation.

Its light beams brighter thro' the cross,

And, purified from human dross,

It shines through every nation."

"O Lord, Look Down from Heaven Behold"

Martin Luther, 1523

The Lutheran Hymnal

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Henry Hamann writes...

"If a pastor aims at a congregation whose members live by faith active in love - which is the only thing that finally counts in Christ Jesus (Gal. 5:6), and if he were sure that all his flock were doing just that, there would be no need at all for any further organization in his congregation beyond the barest minimum for the sake of order. There would be no stewardship and evangelization committees, no frantic searching and scratching of heads, so that every member in the congregation would have something to do, no elaborate programs to show that everybody keeps busy in some spiritual activity. But there would be a mighty spiritual, churchly movement, as all members of the congregation would live their free lives of faith, loving their fellowmen and serving them in freedom, heedless of self, as the whole body of Christ wouuld grow and build itself up in love, each part doing its work. And that mighty spiritual movement would exert a tremendous attraction on the unbelieving world, as the Holy Spirit would, through it and the preached Word of the Gospel, add to the church daily those who were to be saved."

Concordia Journal/January 1988 The Translation of Ephesians 4:12 - A Necessary Revision. p. 43. Henry P. Hamann