Saturday, September 25, 2010

a meditation by Pastor Luther

"I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation" (Psalm 118:21)

This is a joyful verse.  It sings and dances along in sheer delight.  Are you not a wonderful and precious God, who rules over us so wonderfully and so graciously?  You exalt us when you humble us.  You justify us when you show us to be sinners.  You lead us into heaven when you cast us into hell.  You give us victory when you allow us to be defeated.  You bestow life on us when you give us over to death.  You comfort us when you allow us to grieve.  You make us joyful when you allow us to weep and lament.  You make us sing when you allow us to weep.  You make us strong when we suffer.  You make us wise when you make us fools.  You make us rich when you make us poor.  You make us master when you allow us to serve - and innumerable similar wonders are all contained in this one verse and for all of which Christian give thanks in these few words: "I give thanks to you, for you have chastened me and have become my salvation.

(Martin Luther: Day by Day We Magnify You - Daily Readings for the Entire Year, p. 346).

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Meditation from C.F.W. Walther

"Although our children, having been born in sin, are not innocent human being, they have been washed clean from all their sins by Christ's death and their own Holy Baptism.  Christ has made them children of His Father and heirs of eternal life.  Therefore, their heavenly Father loves them infinitely more dearly than their earthly fathers and mothers are able to love them.  He carries them in His heart as a mother does in her womb.  He gives them to drink of His Spirit of grace, as a mother does with the milk of her breast.  He gives them the holy angels to be their guardians and attendants, and He keeps His eye upon them day and night.  He is angry with those who cause them even the smallest sorrow and prompt them to sin.  It would be better for such people if a millstone were hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depth of the sea.  For He says, 'Whoever receives one such child in my name receives Me.'  How, then, could it be wrath if He quickly takes His dear one out of this world" (God Grant It: Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther, p. 743-744).

You may purchase this fine little book HERE.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mary Magdalene as the 'Beloved Disciple?" - an article review

Christ Appearing To Magdalene: Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov

The identity of the “beloved disciple” in John’s Gospel has been a point of fascination and intrigue for centuries in the church.  The beloved disciple is the one who reclines at Jesus’ side during the Last Supper and who witnesses the crucifixion with mother Mary.  He is the disciple “bearing witness about these things,” and “whose testimony is true” (21:24).  Concerning the dialogue between Peter and Jesus at the end of the Gospel it is clear that this “beloved disciple” gives even Peter a run for his money concerning intimacy and proximity with Jesus.      

Church tradition holds that the beloved disciple is the fourth evangelist and none other than John son of Zebedee.  These days most biblical scholars find that tradition troubling and believe John’s Gospel is written in too elegant of Greek with deep theological concepts too lofty for a Galilean fisherman – a mere proletariat.  As to the identity of the beloved disciple, besides the traditional perspective of John, modern exegetes have suggested Thomas, Andrew, Lazarus, or an unknown priest in Jerusalem (given admittance to interrogations of Jesus).  It is also common to bring hearers of John’s Gospel into the narrative itself and to proclaim to them that they indeed are the beloved disciple of Jesus.    

Among the myriad of possible “beloved disciples,” another follower of Jesus has gained increasing attention.  Ester A. De Boer writing in Lectio Difficilior presents an article titled “Mary Magdalene and the Disciple Jesus Loved.”[1]  To be sure, this is not another encore to the Da Vinci code that posits that Mary M married Jesus or that she bore children with him.  For that we can be thankful.  De Boer however, does make a compelling case that there is a special relationship between Jesus and Mary M that cannot be glossed over in the synoptics and especially in the Gospel of John.  As the title of her article suggests it is her aim to throw Mary’s name in the ring as one to be seriously considered as a possible answer to the mystery of the beloved disciples’ identity.

De Boer proceeds to make her case from John 19:25-27 where Jesus sees two persons: his mother and the disciple he loved.  The scene is set with the three Mary’s, the mother of Jesus, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  This unit in the text as well as other passages that mention the beloved disciple, notably 21:24 grammatically set forth a male disciple.  De Boer makes the point that if anonymity was important to the author of John, what better way to secure that anonymity than to make use of a masculine gender. 

Why then, the veil of anonymity over this very important disciple of whom the author writes “This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true” (21:24).  If truthfulness and testimony is emphasized, why stop short of disclosing the name of the disciple that we might be doubly sure? De Boer highlights the point of irony in John’s Gospel that the redactor has more precision regarding the careful and detailed identification of names and geographical places than the synoptics, yet leaves such ambiguity and mystery surrounding the unknown beloved follower of Jesus.  From the Scriptures we are not given a clear answer.  De Boer however, suggests there is a valid reason for letting the anonymity ride out for a couple thousand years: if the disciple were a women her testimony would have been anything but certain in both the Mediterranean world as well as the more cloistered Johannine community.  De Boer cites Paul (1st Cor. 14:34-36), Origen, and Clemens of Alexandria, whom collectively reveal an attitude toward women that makes little allowance for trust, testimony, and authority.  She goes further to present the Gospel of John itself as a unit that grants no authority to the witness of a woman, “The repressive attitude toward women claiming authority, not only from outside, but also from within the Johannine community, shows that especially the testimony of a woman could have been easily doubted or rejected.”

The crucial point for De Boer is that Mary M is the only one to whom Jesus revealed the precise meaning of his resurrection.  Mary M is at the cross to witness the death of Jesus and beats Peter in a foot race to the empty tomb (De Boer conjectures the long shot that Mary M and the beloved disciple even in their exchange in chap. 20:1-10 are the same person!).  Therefore, Mary M outdoes all the other disciples insofar as her eye-witness encounter with Jesus in his death and resurrection along with the historical, theological, and creedal implications that come with it.  In the synoptics it is clear that there is no disciple closer to Jesus than Peter and even in John the transfer of apostolic authority is clear (21:15-19).  De Boer however, holds that in John’s Gospel, the beloved disciple (aka Mary M), is the recipient of the crucial message of the Gospel (20:17, 1:12).           

De Boer’s analysis has too many grammatical and exegetical gaps to count.  The main thesis however, lies in the assumption that the redactor sought to be highly sensitive to the gender social mores of the time and therefore moves to great lengths to conceal the beloved disciples’ identity.  Any investigation into the synoptics however, and especially John over and above all the Gospel writers,  reveals that little effort is given to cover up or gloss over other instances where more conservative factions might be offended by the major roles of women in the text and in the narrative of Jesus Christ Himself.  The redactors of the four Gospels are neither politically correct nor debonair in there winsomeness over conservatives, liberals, Jews, or pagans.  De Boer nevertheless, wants the reader to consider the possibility of Mary M’s primacy in the death and resurrection narrative of Christ under the “repressive environment of the Johannine community.”  It is a compelling mystery to be sure, however, I for one will enjoy the mystery within the tradition of mother church who believes that John, son of Zebedee, was witness to the death and resurrection of Christ and wrote the fourth Gospel.   

[1] Ester A. De Boer, “Mary Magdalene and the Disciple Jesus Loved.”  Lectio Difficilior: European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegesis (2000).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wedding Homily

Here is the wedding homily of our wedding preached by Fr. Bender at Peace Lutheran, Sussex, WI.

June 6, 2010

Final Day as 'The Vicar'

My final day as the Vicar at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, WI.

I had the high honor to be joined by Dr. Senkbeil, my wife Kristina, and Dr. Torgeson from Wittenberg, Germany.


Baptism of Samuel Wildauer

(Kristina, myself, Samuel, Robin, and Micah Wildauer)

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:25-35).

When our Lord tells us to hate our own family he does not mean that we are to be cruel or negligent of them.  Quite the opposite.  He is teaching us that there is no love more important than His deep love for us.  Before love for spouse, or parents, or brothers and sisters we are called to first and foremost love Jesus and His kingdom.

Apart from Jesus Christ we do not have the faintest idea what love is.  We may think we do.  But love is not a mere feeling or emotion.  It is not just cupids and rainbows.  It is not chocolates and hallmark cards that tug on our heart strings.  As Saint John writes, “God is love.”  John does not write that God is like love or occasionally does something that is loving.  But rather, He is love.  He is its source.  And that source is none other than the person and work of Jesus.

That we are to hate others before Him, simply means that we are to love no one or anything as much as we love Him.  It requires the gift of true faith to look your wife or husband in the eye and say “I love you, but first and foremost I love my Christ and my savior.”

Why should we say this?  Because there is no love like the love of Christ.  There is no spouse, no friend, and no parents who went to die for the life of the world.  No one could do this but God himself.  Therefore He is to be loved above all else. 
Your fellow kin, your posse, your gang, your lions club, your community activist groups.  The NRA, ACLU, democratic, republican – No one can deal with your sins accept one.  And they must be dealt with. 

Your spouse, your mother or father, your friends, your activist group, your nationality, none of these will protect you or save you.  We all must give an account when we are called.  Have we followed men or mere organizations, and opinions of this world?  Or have we taken up our cross and followed Jesus?  Shall we drink from the cup of life or from the dregs of death? 

Our meeting together here is different from all other gatherings we may have.  For that which we do here we will also do in the halls of heaven.  Singing, worshiping, praising God, and loving one another.  What is said here – yes, what Christ himself speaks here is more important than the words of any man.  Even the president of the United States – for the Words of Christ grant life and destroy the powers of death.  His Words raise the dead.   

The words and hymns that we speak and sing to one another have eternal significance.  No president or king can say anything more powerful than the simple words Christ says to you and that you say to one another.   

When it comes to being a disciple of Jesus you are either in or out.  We are either living as a baptized child or God or we are not.  We are either basking in his glorious light living under His Holy Cross, or we are forging your own way.  We are either receiving his promises and feeding on His Word of life or you are rejecting his gifts.  We are either receiving forgiveness in faith or despising that forgiveness by refusing to hear it and to hold it dear. 

Being a disciple of Jesus is not like being in another organization.  It is not like being in the lions club or running around with a certain gang in the neighborhood.  Being a disciple of Jesus is to have life.  Not being a disciple is to choose death.                  

There was once a professor who was asked whether he knew a certain young man who sat in his class years before.  The student thinking of him, said “Yes, I remember him, He sat in my class and listened.  But he was not my student.  That is to say he was close by and occasionally heard the professor but the professor did not regard him as his true student  – he was not a true disciple.  The young man in the class did not receive and take hold of teachers words, but rather despised the instruction altogether.

The Lord does not take pleasure in the death of anyone, but desires that all turn toward him, receive from him, and live.  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

The good news for Samuel Wildauer is that God is not waiting in heaven for this little child to make a decision.  The will of God this morning was to baptize this child into the waters of Holy Baptism and unite him in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of the Father.

Through baptism we have entered into a new family, the family of God.  Samuel Wildauer counts the world as loss for the sake of Christ.  He will receive the wisdom of Christ to love his parents and honor them.  Serve and obey them.  But He will serve them by first being served by Christ.  Even this infant child will need a hearty serving of forgiveness.  He will fear, love, and trust God above all things, by the gift of faith received in holy baptism. 

And our Lord is not waiting for you to make a choice either.  He has more sense than to give you a free will in regards to salvation.  By our own strength and merit we are quite incapable of paying up to the cost of discipleship.  It is the Lord’s work that you confess Him.  For He has paid the cost to set you free.  The Father sent to you His dearest treasure to pay the price and to set your free.  And price was not cheap.  It cost Him His own flesh and blood.  But be comforted.  Be still.  The Father’s will is to give you Jesus and all that He is and has.    

He who has ears let Him hear.  For in hearing and receiving our Lord has promised to make disciples of you.  Repent and be baptized.  Eat and be filled, drink and be satisfied.  The words and promises of our Lord will fill you and equip you for all that you need.

This is how you will be faithful husbands and fathers.  Faithful wives and mothers.  Respectful and honorable sons and daughters.  The love of Christ teaches us how to love one another.  To live under God in His kingdom.
The cost of discipleship is to give up this world, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus.  But following Jesus does not mean that we rush off into Christ’s war, thinking that we, ourselves, will win the battle by our own will and discipline.  Our enemy, the evil one, is fierce and scowl as he might He cannot overpower us when Jesus is our rock and our refuge.  That is why we pray against in in the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from evil.” 

Your battle has been waged by the one who has stormed the field for you.  He has carried the cross for you – He has carried your sins – He has made them His – at that bloody hill in Jerusalem.  He has come down from heaven to you, to wash you clean from all impurity.  And in the words of our Lord “It is finished.”  Finished is that dreadful sleep of death.  For in death your baptism is completed and with all the faithful here assembled you await the resurrection of the dead and life of the world to come.
Jesus calls you the salt of the earth!  You, Christians, who attend to your daily duties, and suffer through this valley of sorrows, you, are so sweet and lovely to your Lord.  You season this world with the flavor of life.  And you have the sweetest aroma to your Father in heaven – like the smell of newborn child.  You do not hope in those things that are seen but in those things not seen.  You are baptized children of the crucified, risen, living, and reigning Lord.  You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  This is true for Samuel Wildauer and it is true for you.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.       
Myself with Dr. John Kleinig and wife Claire