Thursday, July 16, 2009

Learning to Listen to Music

It was only through the church that I learned to ‘listen’ to music. By the church I mean her liturgy, Christ’s saints, and the call to freedom in the Gospel. Furthermore, I cannot underestimate the formative instruction of Luther’s Small Catechism which opens up the Christian’s heart to embrace creation in the forgiveness of sins. Together with the psalter, a Christian can most readily “find his voice” – speak and pray with boldness and confidence, knowing that it is pleasing to His Father in Heaven. In morning prayer (Matins) the first thing the church speaks is “O Lord open my lips..And my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.” This is a prayer – a petition – thankful praise that God would do such a lovely and marvelous thing to open Her lips. Christ’s Church has always greeted the daybreak by this creaturely plea. It is here where we speak back to God what he speaks to us in the words of creation - that he would form our inmost parts and pour us out as living men – partners and cooperators in His creative work – granted the breath of life to speak – to sing in the calm of daybreak. Furthermore that he would bless us, saying be “fruitful and multiply” – “fill and subdue” – “eat and rest.” To live by Christ’s invitation in eating and drinking and hear his words is to live a life a doxology. Our living, our being, and our voice is brought to life only because God first pours himself out in Jesus Christ.

It is the breath of life and giving up of His Spirit that God himself fills our lungs and opens our lips. This is what distinguishes us from all other creatures on earth. Though all animals have various forms of communication, some more elaborate than other (eels communicate with electric current, dolphins and whales with extremely high and low range and frequency), humankind has the unique gift of being able to speak responsively in an apprehensible and immediate way with the living God – in Jesus Christ. Music proceeds from this confession, that the heavens and the earth are created and spoken poetic compositions, as is the day and night, the stars and light, morning and evening, and all living creatures. Man’s body itself is a spoken word, the church living by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3, Mt. 26:26).

I love the historic order of Matins and Vespers because right after the creaturely plea that God might open our lips, with our new found voice we immediately ask for deliverance, “Make haste, O God, to deliver me…Make haste to help me, O Lord!” When we are granted our lips and breath there is no mincing of words – no wasting time. It is to say “Lord help us, there is none but you to deliver us! Who but you will fight for us! Save me from myself and save your church! Come now!” The dialogical procession that moves out between Christ’s speaking and man’s plea and thanksgiving is not in cold and dry discourse but defines the drama of man’s rebellion and God’s mercy in Jesus crucified, resurrected, and poured out for all. Stalking lions, dragons and the deeps, fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind all fulfill His Word (ps. 149). The drama of God’s lifting up, taking down, and pouring out takes musical form whenever his Word is heard and experienced in the church. For there can be no drama without music and no music without drama. The great drama – the drama that matters above all else – between Christ and His Church will of course speak, pray, give thanks, and address each other.

Expounding on a few of Luther’s aphorisms on the use of music, Robin Leaver reflects on a Lutheran understanding of music: “Music therefore is more than occasional entertainment for the human spirit; it exercises a moral influence that diminishes the negative effects of evil, promotes the positive aspects of goodness, and creates a sense of therapeutic well-being for individuals as well as for groups as they perform or hear it.”[1] It is probably the common understanding however, that music is no more than an “occasional entertainment.” However what we confess about music is directly linked to matters of faith and theology. The Newtonian search for truth always sought and ascertained both natural and divine principles. Bach’s understanding of music was that it pursued as its “ultimate end or final goal…the honor of God and the recreation of the soul.”[2]

Therefore the act of speaking, every sort of devotion to music, all singing can never be completely severed from worship. Luther notes in his Genesis Lectures that man by his very nature is a worshiping creature. If he is not worshiping the true God he is worshiping another. This is not to say that every musical instrument and human voice must always be playing what we might consider “sacred music.” However, if the Church prays at daybreak that God might grant Her lips to speak, she in faith delights in using them to praise God by speaking the love of the gospel to her neighbor. Or as the psalmist prays, “ The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things: Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” (ps. 12:3-4).

[1] Leaver, Robin. Luther’s Liturgical Music, p. 71.
[2] From Precepts and Principles for Playing the Thorough-Bass (Leipzig, 1738), translated with a commentary by Pamela L. Poulin (Oxford, 1994), p. 11.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Encountering Manhood in Jesus

“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch; If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run - Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!”

Rudyard Kipling “If” (1896)

This selected stanza from Rudyard Kipling poem “If” has always been a favorite of mine. Kipling plots out the course of manhood with a lyrical list of rugged and manly strengths and virtues. Living as a Christian man is not always easy. We are called to live among the crowds, to keep our virtue, and confess the faith. We are called to walk in the light of the Gospel and yet keep the common touch of humility and love amongst God’s fellow creatures.

First off, there are a lot of really bad ideas out there about “manhood.” It may involve being popular with the girls, being exceptionally handsome, or having a nice car. Another common misconception of manhood is that it involves a displaying of power, prestige, and control. Certainly we hope that a Christian man is not at all defined by these things. So, how is he defined? What is an authentic “manhood” for a Christian? Is it to be a perfect disciple of Jesus who never breaks the law or swears, and has a perfect and “pure heart” for God?

Let’s face it, being a teenager or young man is not easy! We do not get away with as much as we used to. We have an increasing amount of responsibility with work, school, and extracurricular activities. More is expected of us from our families, our community, work, church, you name it! Young men soon feel the pressures of preparing for college, trade school, or plotting a life course. In the midst of our making plans for ourselves life will happen! As if we were in Kipling’s poem it will appear as though we have terribly missed the mark of an authentic manhood and sonship. It will seem to us that we have lost ourselves in the crowd, lost our virtue, and lost our way. Yet, before we consider Kipling’s affirmation of rugged and manly virtues, we ought to consider another author on manhood who has plenty to say – God himself.

Only one thing matters: to hear what the risen Lord Christ speaks to you. Resurrected from the grave, in which each and every sin was buried, being paid for by Christ, he speaks a single message: “Peace be with you!” God bursts into our lives as men and speaks to us as a man – in Jesus. His first and final word is a loving summons to freedom and life, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden” (Gen. 2:16, Matt 26:26-28). And he does not call us out of life and the busyness of manhood but rather into it. Christ calls us into the freedom of living in community – in His Holy Church. Men are not created alone in isolation but are breathed into life along with all creatures. As Job says, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love” (Job 10:11-12). In time, if it pleases God, He may grant wives to men that they may love and serve them as Christ serves the church, bringing forth new life in God’s creative work.

More than any other place the place of worship, the Divine Service, is where our manhood is spoken to us. The Divine Service opens in the name of the Triune God as we remember our baptisms into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Confessing sins among the faithful uncovers and exposes our sins that clouds man’s origin as being made in the very image of God. When the pastor says, “I forgive you all your sins,” your authentic manhood is spoken to you. Being baptized and forgiven in Jesus, your heavenly Father is speaking to you, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” (Mt. 3:17). Only in Christ’s speaking to us may we truly know ourselves as men and sons of glory. In this speaking our eyes are opened toward God in faith and we see our neighbor as one to whom we may serve in earnest love and charity.

Entering manhood is not marked and defined by rigorously attaining for ourselves the virtues of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” Being a Christian man and understanding an authentic manhood is rather to be addressed by the living God who forms us from the dust of the ground and breathes the breath of life into our lungs. The virtues of manhood and divine sonship of the living God are granted to us purely as gifts through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

The world and popular culture will be sure to provide you with a different image of “manhood” and what it should be. Though it may be alluring to follow this image, behind its macho and attractive surface may lie the great deceiver – the old serpent. Therefore let us remain fixed on the image of Jesus who speaks His precious Gospel of forgiveness and feeds us heavenly food. And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Vicar Jacob Gaugert and myself at the wedding Sean and Audrey Daenzer

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Catechesis and Daily Office of Prayer

“Luther’s catechism does not want its situation in life to be limited to isolated events in school, much less in catechism class, but to be in daily lives together at home. The primary confessor is the Christian father, since the house (familia, oeconomia) is the point where the secular and spiritual kingdoms coincide…Instruction is framed by daily Matins and Vespers, which the students, as successors to the monks take upon themselves. Here they daily sing three psalms each service (in German or Latin); the antiphons; the hymns, as well as the responsories; the canticles (Magnificat, Te Deum, Benedictus, Quicumque) or the prayers, as well as German hymns. They also take care of the Scripture and catechism lessons and listen to the interpretations on Wednesday and on Friday. All this is done so that ‘the youth remains in Scripture.’ By means of this ‘daily exercise in the church,’ the children are schooled also to take upon themselves the prayer life at home” (Commentary on Luther’s Catechisms: Ten Commandments, Albrecht Peters, p. 28.)

Praying the Daily Office, and familiarization particularly with Matins and Vespers is especially beneficial in catechetical instruction. These prayer offices provide a discipline and structure for prayer and speak the catechism, along with psalms, office hymn, scripture readings, canticles, Lord’s Prayer, kyrie, collects, and other petitions. The Treasury of Daily Prayer Concordia Publishing House is an excellent Lutheran Breviary with all 150 psalms, canticles, prayer offices, small catechism, and rite for confession and absolution, among many other things. Selected writings from church fathers, reformers, theologians of the church, and of course Martin Luther. This resource is an excellent resource to celebrate the Lutheran tradition of biblical study, hymnody, and prayer grounded in Christ's Gospel.

The texts of the catechism, along with the Daily Office points continually to the Divine Service. Luther writes “For Matins with its three lessons, the [minor] hours, Vespers, and Compline de tempore consist – with the exception of the propers for the Saints’ days – of nothing but divine words of Scripture. And it is seemly, nay necessary, that the boys should get accustomed to reading and hearing the Psalms and lessons from the Holy Scripture.”[1]

I have written more about the Daily Office here. Please post any thoughts regarding use of Daily Office with catechetical instruction.

[1] Luther’s Works, vol. 53, Liturgy and Hymns, p. 38.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Review of Sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Your redemption is near! This Advent word is not meant for the well fed and satisfied, but for those who hunger and thirst. There is a knocking at the door, powerful and insistent. And like that miner buried alive in the mine, we hear every blow, every step…” (A selection from a sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Come, O Rescuer,” December 3, 1933)

This is a splendid advent sermon because it sparks a childlike sigh and longing for redemption, in turn looking toward (“raising heads”) for the Christ-child event. If we take this sermon and consider it outside of the church year, outside the context of the mine disaster, and outside of the Londoners in the pews, it may be an easy critique with a poor or overly simplistic law gospel paradigm or other overarching assessment grids. It is my understanding however, that there is a great deal of psychological mastery in Bonhoeffer’s diagnostic gaze into the human heart for the First Sunday of Advent.

The theme of the preaching is rather genius in that Bonhoeffer prepares the hearer for Christmas based upon Jesus’ own words, “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Preaching the resurrection is linked to the locally experienced mine disaster, itself being a sign of the times, which points to a breaking through – a coming in the incarnation. Bonhoeffer has the boldness to preach the mine disaster as a public experience of the groaning creation – an audible tremor and distress of the human heart. Bonhoeffer has a ‘theology of the incarnation’ because he does not split the hearers experience with the mine from what God is presently working out in the midst of the congregation. That God truly breaks through in the incarnation, entering time and space, means that the common human experience and suffering actually means something and has spiritual significance in the present as well as teleologically. Preaching that does not proceed from a worldview recast by the incarnation will not be able to meet the desperate cry of the miner (all Christians) in this sermon, “Here I am, come on through and help me!”

A very fundamental anthropology is worked out in the sermon. The most elementary physiological crisis is that the human heart is bound up in slavery to dark and horrifying powers in the world, and that it cannot find any release. The slightest spasm of pain, the first encounter with bodily defilement, or the first experience with human cruelty or betrayal rents creation wide and envelops the human heart in darkness – to be plagued by guilt, anxiety, and shame. Bonhoeffer is working in these categories because they are universally experienced and understood as fact. They make sense not just for Lutherans but for all humanity. Bonhoeffer uses these categories to seek and illicit a curiosity and renewed expectant hope of release and freedom.

There is a great deal of emphasis on the human creature as being governed by the demonic defiled of shame, “think of the son who can no longer look his father straight in the eye or the husband who can no longer look his wife straight in the eye.” Bonhoeffer as diagnostician of the human condition, does not see this disruption as an inconsequential feature of ‘the fall’ but rather as the very basis of it – its very source. Behind the experience of shame lies God’s dearly beloved bride. She is painfully aware of a discrepancy – a wide chasm between her judgment on herself and the image that she had been formed to be before God. That human creatures are often troubled by merely looking into another’s eyes is symptomatic of the guilt caused by an inwardly focused demonic dialogue, which always presumes that the advent of mercy has been thwarted or exhausted, lying quite beyond reach.

This preaching is dominated by the incarnation – by advent – by the God preached as rescuer – as man whom is incapable of being emotionally disjointed from his creation. Bonhoeffer confesses this text, “your redemption is near” as bodily word – as Christ who is coming and has come. This saving act – this event - is marked by “calling,” “knocking,” “drawing-near,” “captivating,” “possessing,” and “overtaking.” These are Bonhoeffer’s words to describe the great rescue that Christ performs in the church. Christ’s movement is therefore not found in an idea or theoretical discipline but in an action that can only be performed by a human encounter – another warm creature of flesh and blood who can intimately respond as ‘lover,’ ‘friend,’ and ‘rescuer.’

The sermon advances as a creaturely interfacing between man in his desperate need and God becoming man - Christ. There is a dialogical relationship in the life of the church that takes the very form that opens up Bonhoeffer’s meditation, “Here I am…Just come soon!” This sort of preaching deals not just with doctrinal propositions concerning the work of salvation but honestly hands over the voice of salvation. The working out of redemption is not a cold and steely doctrine but is built upon flesh, watered by tears, and sung by the poetry of lament. The act of redemption is highly emotional and Bonhoeffer gives this exchange a creaturely voice and makes room for it. The trapped miner is not the only one who is involved in this emotional tension. The one hammering from outside is also emotionally entrenched in this work, “Where are you, help is on the way!” The eternal God, the maker of the heavens and earth is deeply affected – deeply distressed by the miner’s call.

Bonhoeffer does not end the sermon with a litany of doctrinal schemas: ‘word and sacrament,’ “body and blood’ etc, but ends with a Luther quote “Summer is near, the trees want to burst forth in blossom. It is springtime,” then ends with “They who have ears to hear, listen! Amen.” The hearer is left somewhat suspended in the divine mystery of advent, though in another sense the great action of God in man has been definitively revealed in its fullness.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Tomorrow the church celebrates the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After the Annunciation and Incarnation Mary journeys to the house of Zechariah to be greeted by Elizabeth, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk. 1:41-45).

As Mary meets Elizabeth with the presence of God in her womb, the child John the Baptist “leaps” in the womb. The church likewise encounters movement coming from the voice of her beloved, “Behold he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills” (Song of Songs 2:8). There is always a physical movement in Christ’s coming - His presence and speaking, and the rising – the leaping of the saints - the resurrection of the dead, “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5).

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” She (Mary) as archetype of the church reveals the very essence of the Christian life in this confession – that we may be blessed whom believe in the promise spoken from the Lord – the promise of salvation and Christ’s victory over all evil (Gen. 3:15). This blessedness, this bestowal of all gifts demands nothing in and of myself – only that I may believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, whom grants me the very faith to believe – granting and implanting words to speak, “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”

On the eve of the feast of the Visitation, we ought to consider the place and significance of the Magnificat within the Visitation text (Lk. 1:39-56). After Elizabeth worships the Christ Child, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord,” Mary sings a song of praise.

Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν Κύριον
καὶ ἠγαλλίασεν τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ Θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου,
ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αυτοῦ.
ἰδού γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί,
ὅτι ἐποίησέν μοι μεγάλα ὁ δυνατός,
καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
καὶ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεὰς
τοῖς φοβουμένοῖς αυτόν.
Ἐποίησεν κράτος ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ,
διεσκόρπισεν ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ καρδίας αὐτῶν·
καθεῖλεν δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων
καὶ ὕψωσεν ταπεινούς,
πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν
καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλεν κενούς.
ἀντελάβετο Ἰσραὴλ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ,
μνησθῆναι ἐλέους,
καθὼς ἐλάλησεν πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν
τῷ Αβραὰμ καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

The song parallels the song of Moses “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea” (Ex 15:1). Mary and the Church cannot help but sing in the joy that comes to her. God brings mercy, exalts those who are humble, and feeds the hungry. The Magnificat is sung at the office of Vespers (though I am told in the East it is at morning Matins).

J.S. Bach wrote at least two sacred cantatas for the Visitation that I am aware of, Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (BWV 147), and Meine Seel erhebt den Herren (BWV 10).