Monday, December 31, 2012

Foretaste of the Feast to Come: Thoughts on New Year's Eve

The text is Luke 12:35-40, the Parable of the Serving Master. And it's had me thinking about the Lord's Supper and about the nature of it as a foretaste of the heavenly feast.
35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
The servants know that He's coming back, but they don't know when. They are to be ready to receive Him when He comes back. The master withdraws from the wedding banquet. The wedding banquet isn't over. It's still going on. But He withdraws from it. He takes a short leave. Why? He withdraws in order to come and serve us.

From what we know, the expectation is that when the master returns, taking leave, he comes with a doggie bag. He comes having sneaked out some of the goodies from the feast for His faithful servants to munch on while they wait for the Wedding Banquet to end and Him to return for good. And so the parable of the master serving His servants brings into focus the nature of our waiting for Him. That He takes leave from the Wedding Banquet to serve us while we wait for Him to return for good. In other words, He returns to give us something from the Feast to tide us over.

And so our Lord comes in the Divine Service. He takes leave, he withdraws from the Wedding Banquet, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that will have not end, to return with some of the goodies of that feast to tide us over until He shall come at last to take us to Himself in heaven. And so He comes to in His Body and Blood to serve us with His Body and Blood. And while we do not know the day or the hour of His final return. We do know the day and the hour of His coming to serve us. Be ready to receive Him when He comes in this way so that you may be served. That by it your hunger will be sated, that you'll be nourished while you wait. But like all good appetizers and hors d'oeuvres, that which staves off our hunger also creates an appetite for more. It stimulates and whets your appetite while at the same time arresting the growls of your bellies and light-headedness so that your wait is not burdensome but enjoyed.

This is, I think, is what the church means by foretaste. He brings us the hors d'oeuvres of the heavenly banquet, and He serves us while we wait. Perhaps, too, this is the manna in the wilderness. That which was flakey white, corse like coriander seed, and tasted sweet like honey was for the Israelite wandering in the wilderness a foretaste of the Promised Land that would flow with milk and honey (Exod 3:8; 16:31). They despised that as worthless food. And thus also did they eventually despise the Promised Land. May it not be so among us also. Lord save and deliver us.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Meet My New "Old Friend"

By Larry Beane

[Note: cross-posted from Father Hollywood - Ed.]

Some books are destined to become dog-eared "old friends" very quickly.

I suspect this is going to be the case between me and my new "old friend" Thy Kingdom Come: Lent and Easter Sermons by David H. Petersen (Emmanuel Press, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 2012, 215 pages, paperback, $20.00).

I just received the book today, and in fairness, I have not yet read the book in its entirety.  However, 67 sermons are included in only 211 pages (not including the Forward by Rev. Todd Wilken, the Introduction by Rev. Michael Frese, the Table of Contents, and the Scripture Index), and it won't take long to read the book in its entirety.  However, as is the case of devotional books, it is best not to rush reading it, but rather take one's time and savor it, ponder it, apply it, and allow God's Word to do its work through unhurried meditation and prayerful study.

So far, I have carefully read the Introduction, the Forward, and the Holy Week and Easter sermons.  I have skimmed through some of the other sermons.  I can honestly say that so far, with very high expectations of the book (based on my own experiences as a hearer of Pr. Petersen's proclamation), I have not only been delighted, but edified as a fellow pastor and preacher, and as a Christian sinner-saint in need of the Good News.  This book is so far exceeding my expectations!

As Pastor Todd Wilken says in his Foreward, "But whether you are a hearer or a preacher, I pray this book does for you what it has done for me.  For there is far more here than mere textual insights and sermon ideas; here is the Gospel for sinners.  This book delivers Christ crucified for sinners.  And we all need that" (page xi).

I heartily agree with Pastor Wilken, and would like to add a few thoughts of my own.

Like many men educated at Concordia Theological Seminary - Fort Wayne in the past few years, I was shaped as a preacher by many men, including Pastor Petersen.  Upon starting seminary, it doesn't take long for liturgically-minded seminarians to learn which congregations in the area are faithful to the liturgical and historical traditions of "Evangelical Catholic" Lutheranism.  Redeemer Lutheran Church is always one of the names at the top of that list - if not the apex.  Bright-eyed seminarians are typically wowed by Redeemer's architecture, reverence, the incense and bells, the magnificent vestments, the genuflecting and bowing and the unabashed sign of the cross, the High Mass (with celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon), the degree of reverence in the Divine Service, the polished acolyte corps, the musical dignity and beauty of Kantor Reuning and the choirs, the many conferences hosted by the congregation, as well as daily prayer offices and even daily Low Masses during the penitential seasons.  On those occasions when Pastor Petersen was the guest celebrant at Kramer Chapel at the seminary, "high church" seminarians would excitedly pack the pews to see and hear Pastor Petersen the celebrant.

But we students quickly learned something else: Pastor Petersen is also a preacher.  And how!

One found out pretty quickly about the law's ability to sting, to bludgeon, and yes to kill.  The entire sanctuary would be filled with silent men and woman staring at their shoes as Pastor Petersen condemned our Old Adams without allowing a loophole or even any wiggle room.  With his intonation of one word: "Repent!" he would have his hearers almost in tears.  And just when you think you could not take any more, you didn't have to, as Pastor Petersen proclaimed the cross, the forgiveness of sins, the sweet and refreshing Good News that Jesus, the Crucified One, is our Savior and our Redeemer.  If I could sum up David Petersen as preacher and as celebrant in one word, I would say: intense.

In his interactions with students, I found him to be truly "apt to teach," possessing a sense of humor and a candor that was formative to the many men who count it a privilege to have been formed - at least in part - by his work and ministry in Fort Wayne.  Obviously, men who served as field workers and/or vicars at Redeemer (I was not) have been the most influenced by him and credit him for making them the preachers they are today.

Thy Kingdom Come is a book that is not only wonderfully deep devotional material for any Christian, it is also a mini-homiletics course for pastors.  Just as I counted Pastor Petersen to be a great teacher to me before I was a pastor, I count him an even greater teacher now that I am considered to be his colleague - both in the ministerium of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, and as a fellow editor at Gottesdienst.  Although I am the sermons editor, I continue to look to my brother-in-arms in the Lord's service as an instructor and mentor.

In no particular order, I would like to point out things that jump out at me from the book and from Pastor Petersen's preaching contained inside:

As I said, Pastor Petersen is a teacher.  Preaching is not primarily teaching, but teaching goes on in the process of proclaiming the Good News.  Pastor Petersen has a way of cutting to the chase quickly in explaining biblical symbolism, such as the meaning of the palm tree in Hebrew poetry as an insight into Palm Sunday (page 127).  He is able to succinctly explain literary devices (e.g. the kiss as relating to Mary of Bethany and to Judas, page 130) without pedantry or pomposity.  He gives historical explanations, again often in a sentence or two (such as his explanation of the Roman whip used on our Lord, page 132).  He preaches with an eye on the text's literary devices, such as tying the forbidden fruit hanging in the Garden to our Lord's body hanging at Golgotha (page 139) - imagery that is not only vivid and striking, but theologically connecting Eden to the cross, and further making the connection between the cross and the Lord's Supper (page 140).  He has the gift to speak with accessible profundity without falling into academic jargon.

Pastor Petersen also brings in etymology and translation issues from the original languages, at times preaching in poetic patterns and lushly picturesque turns of phrase, thereby searing biblical imagery into the mind.  He is never flippant in the pulpit, but there is at times what I would call a "reverent playfulness" in his preaching, sometimes quoting movies, novels, or even pop songs, not in a way that is fishing for entertainment, but in a genuine way that focuses on his point.  As we students were counselled by the late Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart (who served at Redeemer with Pastor Petersen), our preaching must not become formulaic and predictable in its rhetorical style.  Pastor Petersen lives up to this advice, giving his sermons a freshness and certain unpredictability as to how he might treat any given text.

There is an eschatological element to many of these sermons, a constant reminder of the Big Cosmological Picture of Christ the Victor and our march through time toward the end of time, even unto eternity itself.  There is a constant reminder of the warfare between good and evil, of the fallenness and corruption of this world, and of the real meaning of Christ as the world's Redeemer who is setting creation anew and aright.

Pastor Petersen teaches how to properly borrow, modify, and include outside references - be they theological, historical, or homilectical.  The footnotes throughout the book freely attribute those places where Pastor Petersen has adapted ideas of other preachers and authors and applied them to his own hearers.  Pastor Petersen is not shy in using biblical turns of phrase, even though they may not be in the particular text assigned by the lectionary.  There are also times in Pastor Petersen's preaching where a big emotional uppercut is delivered in almost shocking language and metaphor.  Pastor Petersen is a wordsmith, and he applies the language necessary to get the job done - and he understands what that job is: to deliver Christ!

Just a few remarks on the book itself: it is paperback, reasonably priced, sports a simple and yet beautiful cover depicting our Lord's crucifixion.  Pastor Wilken's Forward is delightful and an accurate description of what you will find in this book.  The Introduction by the publisher Rev. Michael Frese (also serving as a pastor at Redeemer) has helpful explanations of not only the title and the relationship between preaching and God's kingdom, but also provides an explanation of how the book came to be and the background of how Pastor Petersen goes about crafting his sermons.

The book is tight and well-edited.  I have not encountered any typos or mistakes in formatting.  As a minor nit-pick, the book does not typically capitalize the divine pronouns as is normally done in modern English.  Given the ESV (the primary translation used in the book) does not capitalize these pronouns, there is bound to be a difficult editorial decision one way or the other - which Pastor Frese addresses in his Introduction (page xvi).  If I could have a wish-list, I would like to see a complete index in addition to the Scripture Index - but this would be a luxury and it would also inevitably add time and expense to the project.  The font and layout are easy on the eye, and there is ample margin space to jot notes.

I think Emmanuel Press has not only done a professional and high quality job as a publishing house, I believe Pastor Frese has given the Church a great gift in making Pastor Petersen's preaching available and accessible to everyone!  Thank you to Pastor Frese and of course to Pastor Petersen.

I am really looking forward to getting to know my new "old friend" even better!

Consolation for those who have loved, lost, and feel empty: Thoughts on Christmas 1

We have all known loss in one form or another. We all know what it’s like to lose someone close to us. For some it’s their mothers and fathers, grandmas and grandpas. For others it’s their spouses. And yet for others it’s their children.

Some of our losses come because of death. Others come because of breakups and fights and irreconcilable differences. Others still come because of distance, change, and growing up and growing apart.

But all these losses bring with them a feeling of emptiness. They leave a void. They create silence. They create a hole, a place that once was filled with them, now empty. Places at our tables now empty. Places in our beds now cold. No one to fill our hugs and our hearts. What will we do now? How will we go on? Who will we talk to now? Who will fill that void, that silence, that emptiness? What would, what even could replace what was lost? What consolation, what relief is there for the emptiness and sorrow that loss brings?

Simeon and Anna knew this well. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was promised by the Holy Spirit, by the Lord’s Word, that he would not see death until He saw the Lord’s Christ. He waited year in and year out, experiencing loss all around him, waiting for the Christ to come, waiting to see fulfilled the Lord’s promise, waiting to see the consolation of Israel from that loss. Anna, too, advanced in years knew loss. She was a widow. They both had holes from those they loved and lost over the years. What would fill their emptiness? What restores their joy, brings consolation, fills their arms and their hearts?

Jesus does. God in human flesh. Anna’s joy returns. She praises the Lord and tells everyone of what, of Whom she has seen. Simeon picks Him up. He holds Him in his arms. He glorifies God in song for the fulfillment of His Word. He may now depart in peace. For he has seen death because He has seen the Lord’s Christ. He has seen death and conquered it because the Christ must suffer and die for sin but be raised again on the third day. He has seen the consolation of Israel. He has held it in his own arms. Everything is fulfilled. All things are now whole, nothing is left broken. The Lord’s Christ is come. And He comes to make all things new. He comes to take away sin and sorrow. He comes to bring joy and relief. He comes to fill those who are empty and to find those that are lost. He comes to bring them back together, under one roof, around one table, in His Father’s house. For in His Father’s house are many rooms. And He has gone to prepare a place for you and those you have lost.

Christ comes in the flesh of man to die man’s death. He suffers loss, He empties Himself on the cross to fill those who are empty, who have suffered loss because of sin and death. It is finished.

So come and hold him in your arms. Embrace Him who comes in His Body and Blood in your mouths. Have a seat at the Lord’s table, in His House where no seat is left empty. Join the angels and the archangels. Join those whom you have lost, who have left a void in your lives, and be filled with the consolation of Israel, the consolation of everyone who has loved and lost. You have just seen the worst that death can do: to you and to those whom you love. For Christ died but is risen. And so shall you. Depart in peace. The Lord's Word is fulfilled.

Monday, December 24, 2012

God With Us

Among the ancient Sunday School materials at one of the parishes I serve, my wife found Northwestern Publishing House's Christmas: A Christmas Eve Service for Children and Congregation (Copyright 1985). The schtick of this particular Christmas program is that the kids are going to spell Christmas letter by letter - C is for "Come to Me," etc. The program has a bit of a surprise ending:

"Narrator: As we put up the last letter "T," our word Christmas is complete. The name Christ stands out, doesn't it? That's how it should be. We can do without the M-A-S part of Christmas and not miss a thing."

The mind boggles.

A very blessed Christmas to you and yours as you receive Him where He has promised to be there for you: the Mas(s).


Sunday, December 23, 2012

On interfaith services...

NB: Yes, the topic came up this past week in two different Bible classes from the laity. It's been in the news again. No, I'm not going to offer public discussion of current events. But the general topic does deserve a comment: because if it's coming up in my Bible Class, it is surely coming up in yours. I think we can strike a balance between ignoring the elephant in the room and flying off the handle.

History: In 2001 District President Benke was part of a big interfaith service on TV. A bunch of conservative/confessional fellow members of Synod got angry about it and filed charges. When the dust settled, President Benke retained his post, the Lutheran Hour put up a Now Hiring sign, and President Kieschnick was reelected twice, the first time largely on a platform of having been President Benke's defender. 

Analysis: Being against praying with Jews and Muslims on TV was not a winner for the conservative/confessional cause. Why? Because the laity, by and large, approved of what President Benke did. The conservative/confessionals thought this was a sure way to get President Kieschnick unseated: surely the folks in pew were against this! But no. I was on vicarage in the midst of the drawn out battle over this at a rock ribbed conservative/confessional parish southwest of Milwaukee. When the PBS special that featured an interview with President Benke came out, I had members of the hardcore Tuesday night Bible Class inform me of how great and brave he was and what was this about meanies not wanting him to be there?

Today: I told my Bible Class that if they knew what the Talmud said about Jesus, they would never want me sharing a stage at an interfaith prayer ceremony with a Rabbi. Period. Likewise, with the Koran and Muhammedans, Book of Mormon and Mormons, et cetera ad infinitum world without end Amen.

Conclusion: We ought to be teaching the people what these Jesus-hating, blasphemous "faith traditions" teach.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

From THOUGHTS to TEXT: What Actually Makes the Cut

After posting my thoughts on upcoming texts for about a year, I thought I'd give you an idea of what actually makes its way into the draft of the sermon. Here are the thoughts I posted for Christmas Eve and below is the text that I'll likely preach.

Christmas Eve
Luke 2:1–20
24 December 2012


Along with the proclamation of Christ’s birth as the Savior who brings peace, which was declared to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, the angels gave them a sign. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” The Savior is the one who is wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger because there was no room for them in an inn. The Savior is the one who is wrapped in the meager and the mundane.

Signs tell us things. They tell us where we are. They tell us what to do. They tell us where to go. They point to something beyond themselves. They give us significance that otherwise might be missed.

The angels give the shepherds a sign. This sign tells them who the Savior is. It tells them where He shall be and how they shall find Him. It tells them what He is and what He will to do. And this sign reveals all this also for us.

Jesus is born in the city of David, as the prophecies all attest. He will be found not in an inn. For He is not a foreigner stopping for a night only to move on the next morning. No, he is no foreigner. He is Emmanuel. He is God with us. He is a citizen. He is a member of the community. He is one of them. He is one with them. So that He can be for them, to serve them and save them.

Thus he is not found in an inn, but in a manger. He is born in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread, and laid in a trough for holding food to sustain, to nourish, and give true life, eternal life to His creatures. He will be the sustenance of His people. For He is the Bread of Life come down from heaven. The bread that never perishes, but leads to eternal life. Whoever partakes of this bread has exactly what the Words and promises of God declare: the forgiveness of sin.

And He will be wrapped in swaddling cloths. He comes as any other human. The sign of Adam’s first sin, that which covered His guilt and shame, covers also this Baby’s nakedness. He is wrapped in swaddling cloths because He is the one who takes upon Himself our sin, our guilt, and our shame. And so He is wrapped in the cloths that mark Him for death. For just as He came as any other human, so likewise will He leave as any other human. For this child will die. But in His death, death itself is put to death. For He who died is no longer dead. He is risen. He lives, out of the grave alive. And the swaddling cloths that once wrapped him at His birth, the swaddling cloths that covers the shame of sin, and the swaddling cloths that covered him in His death are now and forever left in the grave, neatly folded right where they belong. There is nothing left to accuse you. For He has conquered death by death, he is victorious over sin by becoming sin for us. And He gives us peace on earth and peace with God in heaven.

Seek the Lord, therefore, where He may be found. Seek Him where He has promised to be. Seek the sign that comes with the proclamation of Christ the Lord’s coming in the flesh. Make your way to that place where our Lord lay, wrapped in the meager and the mundane. For this altar is God’s feeding trough. He makes your mouths and your hearts His manger. Here through meager bread and mundane wine, you receive the abiding presence of His Flesh and Blood, whereby we are joined to Him, and He to us. Here you eat the Bread of Life that bestows life, salvation, forgiveness, joy, and peace..

Therefore, fear not. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy. For unto you is given this day in the city of Tuscola a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find wrapped in bread and wine, the very body and blood of Him who was born in Bethlehem, died on Calvary, and raised in Jerusalem. And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host—of angels and archangels of the whole company of heaven—praising God saying: Holy, Holy, Holy . . . Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Let us then mingle our voices with theirs and come to receive this thing that the Lord has made known to us. For Christ was born. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Merry Christmas. For this is indeed something to be merry about. Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Augustine on John 1

This morning I'm searching for my Christmas Day sermon. I always find it harder to preach on John 1 than Luke 2. Augustine's Tractates are more classroom lectures than sermons and one really has to mine them to get homily worthy materials. But they always afford great insights:

"Not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man." The apostle puts flesh for woman; because, when she was made of his rib, Adam said, "This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh."15 And the apostle saith, "He that loveth his wife loveth himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh."16 Flesh, then, is put for woman, in the same manner that spirit is sometimes put for husband. Wherefore? Because the one rules, the other is ruled; the one ought to command, the other to serve. For where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way. What can be worse than a house where the woman has the mastery over the man? But that house is rightly ordered where the man commands and the woman obeys. In like manner that man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves.

More Christmas Sermon-Hacks: Augustine

I found this on a Reformed Baptist's blog. I really like the way he translates Augustine here: it's spot on for a sermon.

“Righteousness has looked down from heaven. in order that people may have a righteousness which is not their own, but God’s…

Unless He had a human birth, we would never attain to the divine rebirth; He was born that we might be reborn. Let nobody hesitate to be reborn; Christ has been born; born with no need of being reborn. The only ones in need of rebirth are those who have been condemned in their first birth.

And so let His mercy come to be in our hearts. His mother bore Him in her womb; let us bear Him in our hearts. The virgin was big with the incarnation of Christ; let our bosoms grow big with the faith of Christ. She gave birth to the Savior; let us give birth to praise. We mustn’t be barren; our souls must be fruitful with God.

The birth of Christ from the Father was without mother; the birth of Christ from his mother was without father; each birth was wonderful. The first was eternal, the second took place in time. When was He born of the Father? What do you mean, when? You’re asking about “when” there where you won’t find any time? Don’t ask about “when” there. Ask about it here; it’s a good question, when was He born of His mother. When was He born of the Father is not a good question. He was born, and He has no time; He was born eternal, from the eternal, co-eternal. Why be astonished? He’s God. Take divinity into consideration, and any reason for astonishment disappears.

And when we say He was born of a virgin, it’s a great thing, you’re astonished. He’s God, don’t be astonished; let astonishment give way to thanksgiving and praise. Let faith be present; believe that it happened. If you don’t believe, it still happened, but you remain unbelieving. He agreed to become man; what more do you want? Hasn’t God humbled Himself enough for you? The one who was God has become man.”

— St. Augustine, sermon # 189

Monday, December 17, 2012

Call no man father...the definitive post

I am honestly surprised at how often Gottesdienst is called upon to defend our editorial practice of referring to clergyman as Father. I'm also not a little surprised at the direction from which the questions come. But one thing almost all of the questions have in common is a quoting of Matthew 23:9-10   "And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ."

Fair enough: let's get a post up that covers all the Biblical ground and be done with it. You can link your questioning friends, neighbors, and Fathers here. So how did this title develop in the Church with this clear statement from Jesus? Doesn't calling a pastor Father violate it? 

Let's examine what Jesus says. It's an absolute statement: call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. The statement is either literal and means "call no human being on earth by the term father" or it is in some sense figurative, with the figure in the word "call," that is, "realize that no man on earth is really your father, even though you have many fathers on earth, for there is only One True Father." 

Well, if it's the former then how is it that we all call our fathers father? How does one justify that in light of Jesus' statement? "Call no man father" does not make room for biological exceptions. That is, if there is a figure here it certainly can't be in the negative particle because the whole force of the statement is most obviously aimed at earthly, biological fathers. There is no way the statement means "Call your dad father but nobody else." 

So the figure is obviously in the word "call:" realize that some words we use towards men are used only in shadowy ways because they belong to God. To "call" something by name in the Bible has great importance. Think of all those name changes in the Bible: God calls a thing what it is. To name something is supposed to directly speak of its essence. But when we call our earthly fathers father we just can't be using words that way. Our fathers are shadows, reflections, images (often poor ones) of the ultimate reality. We could just as well say that no wife should call her husband husband because there is only One Husband who is in heaven, Christ the Lord. Or, no one ought to call the lords in the House of Lords lords because there is only One Lord. In every case we are not thereby calling for some silly undoing of plain speech (let's make up a new word we can call our, I mean maleparent), but for a realization that God is the reality and things down here are the shadow.

And, indeed, it is clear from the rest of the New Testament that "father" was already a term used in this shadowy sense:

1 Corinthians 4:15   For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Philemon 1:10  I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.

Philippians 2:22  But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12  For you know how, like a father with his children,  12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Timothy 5:1-2  Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers,  2 older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.

So there you go: St. Paul, speaking in the Spirit, uses the term father in reference to men on earth, specifically to preachers vis a vis their parishioners. QED


Slovakian Lutherans and Women's Ordination

Editor’s Note: We asked Fr. David Ramirez to comment on the LCMS dialogue with the Slovakian Lutherans. A big sticking point is the ordination of women – and all the roots and causes of that practice in that church body. Father Ramirez spent his early life in the ELCA and that experience has given him a perspective on such issues that many of us died in the wool Missourians lack.


"As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion" -Erasmus, Adagia

A week or so ago, I was passed this link concerning our talks with the Slovakians.

Let me make a few things clear before going on. I think it is good to support and encourage other Christians around the world. I also think that it is helpful and wise to speak with respect when dealing with those with whom you disagree. It is indeed unwise to act like a bull in a china shop…but it is no better to put lipstick on a pig.

I don’t claim to know all the particulars concerning the Lutheran church in Slovakia, but, there are a few things that I do understand very well. You don’t hold to the inerrancy of the Scriptures and ordain women. You don’t hold to a position really, really close to the inerrancy of the Scriptures and ordain women. The only way you ordain women is to have first given up a proper understanding of the Holy Scriptures.

I don’t mind explanations, as long as they don’t turn into excuses. It is helpful to know the circumstances and reasons why a church falls into false doctrine, but we also need to call a thing what it is. The Slovakians didn’t merely ordain women because of atheistic communism and a shortage of men. They failed to hold true to what the Scriptures clearly teach. It is no surprise that a church that ordains women also has a “different conception” of the Hexaemera.

Additionally, how low is the bar to be a “social conservative” these days? Is the material principle of social conservatism a condemnation of homosexual behavior? I assume being pro-life is included as well. I indeed praise God that these church bodies reject this wickedness. It is a point of agreement that can lead to further reflection. But we do a disservice to our neighbors not to point out the clear line of progression from women’s ordination to acceptance of homosexuality. You cannot be a supporter of women’s ordination and be a conservative in any recognizable sense. To ordain women is to capitulate to feminism and toss out the orders of creation. To ordain women is to capitulate to the liberal social agenda that afflicts not only modern Western society but the whole world. [When I read that Rev. Petersen thought we need to repent of our racism, I confess that I mumbled “white liberal guilt” under my breath, but now admit that I seem to have read him wrong and that he might be onto something.]  

To sum up my frustration: Let us please call a thing what it is. A church body that ordains women does not, by definition, hold fast to the Scriptures and the Lutheran Symbols.

Here are my specific recommendations and questions:

1. Let’s call a thing what it is. We don’t need to be nasty. We shouldn’t be nasty. However, trying to make something sound better than it is only confuses our people and gives an unclear witness to those with whom we are speaking.

2. I find it incredible that there is a church which ordains women and holds to a position on Scripture near to ours. I can understand that there may be some within the church body that hold to the Scriptures as we do and also oppose the ordination of women. Historically, and (theo)logically, the ordination of women is a symptom that shows in a church body already deeply afflicted by the cancer of bad hermeneutics. To put it bluntly, I need evidence of this situation that I consider a theoretical impossibility. There has never been a group that has ordained women and remained even remotely orthodox. Some serious gymnastics obviously must be done. So what do they look like?

3. For the sake of argument, if the ordination of women was/is undertaken for merely pragmatic reasons, what are the specific signs that they are wanting to roll this back? Are there any signs? Do they even want to change course?

4. There were those who resisted the ordination of women in Slovakia, and presumably still do. Are we in contact with those who continue to resist the ordination of women?

5. What specific steps are being taken to ensure that our people going over to Slovakia are not confused by their practice of having women “pastors”? How are our people being adequately warned and protected?

6. What do they specifically teach about the nature of the Scriptures, especially in reference to creation?

7. As you can tell, I keep on repeating the word “specific”. That was perhaps the most disappointing part of the blog post/update. Lots of meetings obviously took place, but what was discussed…specifically. I don’t expect detailed minutes, but where are we at? Where are they at and headed?

[In a similar vein, I see that a brief report of the LCMS-NALC meeting is now up on the Witness, Mercy, Life Together blog with a quote from Pres. Harrison concerning their discussion on Holy Scripture, “I am extremely pleased and pleasantly surprised by the high degree of agreement we have on the Word of God.” I am no expert on Lutherans Slovakians, but I am on the NALC. Our confessions on the nature of Holy Scripture are radically different, unless incredibly huge developments have occurred overnight. Regardless, forgive me if I am underwhelmed and will remain skeptical until I see some proof. For starters let’s say, oh I don’t know, a moratorium on the ordination of women? The proof will be in the eating of the pudding…]

Further Thoughts on Temptations in Dialogue

It is always tempting to put our trust in our own skills and abilities. In dialogue this is especially true. We are tempted to think that by our influence, by others proximity to us, we will change them for the better and bring them around. In a certain sense this is true. People rub off on each other. Dialogue can produce new understanding and movement towards the truth. But this must be done appropriately. But the temptation is to jump the gun on what is appropriate. When we jump the gun we actually hamper repentance. A classic example is the woman who pines for a man that won’t commit. She is tempted to sleep with him, thinking that this will get him to commit.  

It is a similar temptation, and similar foolishness, to make it appear that we have more agreement with those we are engaged in dialogue with then we actually have. It is a temptation to gloss over serious differences because we think they are coming our way. It is tempting to blunt or eliminate the call to repentance because we are scared of scaring them off. But this is being more generous than our Lord. To love your neighbor is to tell them the truth. I am not advocating being a jerk, and we ought to be gentle with the weak. But we must call a thing what it is. We mustn’t think that God’s Word is negotiable and trust that if we just get folks close enough to us they will just fall into line. This would be a lack of trust in the Word of God.

It all comes down to parenting. Modern parenting loves exploiting diversionary tactics to get outward compliance. “No, you can’t have that or do that. But here! Look! Here’s a shiny toy that you can play with.” The “no” is barely heard and the attention and desire of the child is redirected to something properly called a bribe.

This procedure seems to be in vogue right now with dealing with women questioning why they should not be ordained or have authority in the church. It runs something like this: “You can’t be a pastor, but you can be a deaconess. You are so right to be angry that the church hasn’t had things for you to do in a leadership capacity. I understand your frustration. But look at all the cool stuff you can do as a deaconess.” This approach minimizes the sin of wanting to do that which God has forbidden. It also concedes the underlying assumptions of the feminist mindset that men and women are in competition for leadership and authority. [As a side note, this redirection turns being a deaconess into a consolation prize, which just betrays our Synod’s confusion over what a deaconess is and should do--but that is a discussion for another time.]

Redirection only solves outward compliance, and only that for a time. The feminist demanding her rights, just like the spoiled child, can only be placated for so long. Perhaps this procedure may work for a generation, we’ll see, but it does not aim for the heart. The heart needs God’s Word, what it says “no” to and what it says “yes” to.

The woman who wishes to serve God needs to hear that God made her to be a woman. She is to be a wife and a mother. That is her calling. [A woman who does not, or cannot bear children still mothers whether or not she bears children. A woman who is not married is still wifely and serves her neighbors in a womanly way.] Everything she does flows out of who she is, and how she has been created by God.

A woman is not just some cheap version of a man, doing everything he does except a few super special things like being a pastor. Unfortunately, how the Missouri Synod has started talking about deaconesses and what women are allowed do creates this impression. A woman is a very different sort of being from a man. And we ought to thank God for that! We ought to teach the women in our care to glory in how God has distinctly made them and what he has given them to be--wives and mothers and all the things that flow from this. Concerning women and authority in the church, the place to start is a very firm “No.” The true and loving word men need to speak is that women are not to have authority over men in the Church because God says so. And then we are to teach about the beautiful and wondrous creatures God has made them to be.
Anything less is merely kicking the can further down the road and a disservice to our neighbors.

Pastor David Ramirez

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Some Kids Do Not Return

Redeemer will hold its Sunday School Christmas pageant tomorrow. I am finding it emotionally difficult to think about those beautiful children in their costumes singing God's praise and confessing His Name in light of the evil that infected us yesterday in Connecticut. It sparked my memory of this terrible line from this sermon: "Some kids do not return. They disappear over the Summer without a word." Thanks be to God, that is the not the end. Some don't return, it is true. But we can go to them. God save us, someday, we will.

Trinity 12
Luke 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

People like Fall because of the leaves. It is pretty. I find it, however, slightly discouraging. I know they are only going dormant for the winter, but it looks like the trees are dying. It is pretty, to be sure, but for such a brief moment. It is pretty like fire. It is the color of destruction. For me, Autumn means the loss of freedom. I´ll have to bundle up before going outside. I´ll have to get up earlier to clean off the driveway and let the car warm up. I´ll have to mop the foyer floor again and again and spend the early mornings ever searching for lost mittens and boots. There is one thing, however, that I like about the Fall. One thing, I find enchanting: the sounds of the playground.

It is a scientific fact that the autumn air carries the laughter of children further than the Summer, Winter, or Spring. It must be something in their backpacks. If I lose freedom in the Fall, how much more the children! And yet the playground is raucous. The dreariness of arithmetic while the skies outside are still blue and the sun is shining enhances the laughter. It is like the last meal of a condemned man. There are few joys on this earth like recess in the first weeks of school.

Our day to day life is a bit like arithmetic in the Fall. There is work to be done. We don´t understand it. Nor do we really understand why we must do it, what its purpose is, or what good it does, though we get glimpses on occasion. But there it is. We´re stuck indoors. The playground is empty. We have to work. Sometimes there are tragedies and heartbreak in the lunch room and hallways. Some kids do not return. They disappear over the Summer without a word. There is danger in the locker room, embarrassment and awkwardness in the classroom. Every child knows there are pitfalls, hazards, and obstacles at school. There is also some good stuff. For every now and then, a pretty girl is appointed to be our partner or we get to write a report on Star Wars or we solve for x all on our own. But mostly it is just work. Often as not, it is boring. It is arithmetic, grammar and rules, no fun at all. We waste a lot of time doodling and daydreaming while we hang on for recess.

I don´t know what recess is for you. Maybe it is a vacation in the Caribbean or a 12 year old bottle of scotch. I´d take either of those without question. But those are more of Winter and Spring recesses. For the pure, unbridled, exuberant joy of a recess in the Fall there is nothing like Divine revelation. It is bit unexpected, a bit like being roped into square dancing or karaoke against your will and then having a blast, like a spontaneous party. It is not the thing that pops into your mind under “fun.’ But there is nothing else like it and all pleasures of this earth fade away in comparison.

God reveals Himself through His Word. He speaks and you hear. Your heart burns within you. It starts like arithmetic. God is counting and it is not good. He says, “I should punish you! I should pulverize you, destroy you, burn you to cinders. I should reject you, ignore you, leave you alone, let the devil have his way with you. For you have betrayed Me and your sins are many.’ Then comes the surprise. God says, “But I don´t. I love you. I´ve reversed the decision. I´ve paid the price. I couldn´t go on without you. I wanted you so badly that I sent My Son to exchange His life for yours. I love you because I love Him. I have written your name in the book of Life. I have spoken you righteous. You are Mine. You are without sin, malice, stain or blemish. I make you perfect in every way. You are as unique as a snowflake, as pure as Jesus Christ. You are washed in His Blood, born in His death, raised by His Life. You are Mine! I seek now only to calm your troubled heart. For soon this workaday world will end. I will bring you to Myself in heaven. In the meantime, I come to you. I give you recess. I make the sun shine. I make the ball land on the line. I give you chocolate, Calvin and Hobbes, pretty girls, and thousands upon thousands of good things. But mostly, and mainly, I give you Myself.’

But what a shame when we´d rather sneak around the corner, smoke cigarettes and use vulgar words for cheap laughs than run and play in the sun. What a shame our self-absorption has made recess boring! What a disaster when the playground becomes a place of vengeance and violence, of cliques and prejudice, a place for exclusion and judgment. What a shame when the girls sell themselves for attention and the boys use them like equipment for barter. What a shame when we spend recess looking for the best deal and the greatest return; when we ruin it or squander it all by ourselves. And what of when the bullies get the best of us; when they drag us into their games; when we desire their approval and will suffer any degradation they imagine simply to “fit in’? There are dangers on every hand, some self-afflicted, some brought on by others, still others utterly beyond our control. Even recess can be scary.

But the worst perversion of all is when recess becomes arithmetic; when the gym teacher watches over the playground and recess is just like school: one more measured, evaluated performance; one more grade for effort; one more place for failure and disappointment.

Thus comes Our Lord. He drives off the bullies and the gym teachers. He grabs us by the collar and brings us into the sun. He stamps out the cigarettes. He sticks His fingers into our ears. It hurts. It is weird. It is embarrassing. We want it to stop. He spits and wipes away the smudge of ash upon our foreheads. He traces a cross. He touches our tongues. It is gross, yet healing. His Body, crucified and risen, enters into us by way of the mouth. Our hearts are clean. Our joy returns. The Spirit does not depart. He makes us His Temple. Past transgressions are forgotten. New life begins. We hear again what He has been saying all along, “It is okay. I love you. I forgive you. You are redeemed. You are free. Have fun."

And we can sing and we can laugh again. No longer tongue-tied, no longer afraid, we are astonished beyond measure. We confess: “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak." 
That is recess in the Fall.

In +Jesus´ Name. Amen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Church's Prophetic Role

There has been much talk lately of the LCMS resurrecting our defunct lobbying office in DC. No one has yet made a case to me that would move me from my conviction that this would be an unwise use of Grandma Schickelgrueber's mission dollars. What more does the Church need than pen and paper in order to fulfill her prophetic role to society? Here is a fine example of how the Church can fulfill that role - indeed, one is hard pressed to think of how having an office could ever be better than just this sort of public letter. If they don't listen to the Word, they will not believe even if the LCMS' Office of Governmental Affairs should rise from the dead. Here is the letter from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth to the PM of Great Britain.

(HT: Dr. Tighe)

15th December 2012

Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP
Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party
10 Downing Street

Dear Mr Cameron

From Rt. Rev. Philip A. Egan, Bishop of Portsmouth

I am writing to you to send you best wishes from the priests and people of the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, and the promise of our prayers for you, as you carry the heavy responsibility of leading our great nation. However, I am also writing to ask you, indeed to urge you, to change course on your intention to introduce same-sex marriage.

You have said you are an enthusiastic supporter of marriage and that you do not want "gay people to be excluded from a great institution." Yet I wish respectfully to point out that behind what you say lurks a basic philosophical misconception about the nature of 'equality.' Equality can never be an absolute value, only a derivative and relative value. After all, a man cannot be a mother nor a woman a father, and so men and women can never be absolutely equal, only relatively equal, since they are biologically different. So too with marriage. Marriage, ever since the dawn of human history, is a union for life and love between a man and a woman. It is a complementary relationship between two people of the opposite sex, the man and the woman not being the same, but different. They are not, in other words, absolutely equal but relatively equal. This is why gay couples, two men or two women, are not being ‘excluded’ from marriage; they simply cannot enter marriage.

By enabling gays to 'marry' and by equating the union of gay people with marriage, however well-intentioned, you are not only redefining what we mean by marriage but actually undermining the very nature, meaning and purpose of marriage. Marriage, and the home, children and family life it generates, is the foundation and basic building block of our society. If you proceed with your plans, you will gravely damage the value of the family, with catastrophic consequences for the well-being and behaviour of future generations. The 2011 Census shows the parlous state of the institution of marriage which you claim to believe in so strongly, and of family life in general, with one in two teenagers no longer living with their birth parents and over 50% of adults living outside of marriage.

Can you imagine the confusion and the challenge for teenagers as they grow up and seek to reach a fully mature and integrated sexuality? This is why I fail to see how your intentions can possibly strengthen the institution of marriage and family life. Rather they will dilute it.

More, you are ignoring the huge opposition of Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, as well as that of a huge number of ordinary people. You are imposing the aspirations of a tiny minority on the vast majority. Make no mistake, the change you are proposing is of immense significance. By it, you will be luring the people of England away from their common Christian values and Christian patrimony, and forcing upon us all a brave new world, artificially engineered. What you are proposing will smother the traditional Christian ethos of our society and in time strangle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church in Britain to conduct its mission. There is no sanction whatsoever in the Bible and the Judaeo-Christian tradition for gay marriage. I cannot see how anyone who claims to be a Christian can possibly justify what you are intending to do.

I know you have spoken of the 'quadruple lock' and other legal safeguards. Yet for me many grave concerns remain about the brave new world you are fashioning in the name of the false gods of equality and diversity. For example, will I as a Christian have to support your ideology when preaching? Will you exempt the Church, its resources and premises, from charges of discrimination if it declines to host same-sex social activities? Will Catholic schools, Catholic societies, Catholic charities and Catholic institutions be free (and legally protected) to teach the full truth of Christ and the real meaning of life and love?

I appreciate how politically difficult it can be to undertake a U-turn and to sustain the attendant criticism such would bring. But when it is a matter of the truth, and the reasons are cast-iron clear, a U-turn would be hailed by history only as brave and courageous. This is why, like a Thomas a Becket appealing to Henry II, I do not hesitate to ask you to consider doing what is the right and just thing to do. Otherwise, will we ever be able to forget that it was the leader of the Conservative Party (sic) who finally destroyed marriage as a lasting, loving and life-giving union between a man and a woman?

I assure you of my respect, best wishes and prayers.

Rt. Rev. Philip A. Egan

Bishop of Portsmouth

CC:  Priests and People of Diocese of Portsmouth

Guest Post: "What Makes Christmas?"

Chapter and Verse   Hutch News   Dec. 15, 2012
by Pastor Michael Brockman - Christ Lutheran Church
What if, by next Christmas, our government forbids all crosses on governmental buildings, stationery and logos? What if, by next Christmas, our government forbids all creches on courthouse lawns or on the desks of those employed by local, state or federal authority? What if, by next Christmas, our government forbids the use of the word “God” on all currency--paper and coin? What if, by next Christmas, our government forbids anyone receiving a salary via taxes (policemen, firemen, school teachers, Senators, County Extension Agents, etc.) to say the words “Merry Christmas?”
Would the faithful of the Holy, Catholic Church still be able to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ if our government did any or all of the above? Of course the faithful would. 
The Holy, Catholic Church does not celebrate Christmas because the in-power government is favorable to her any more than the Church celebrates Christmas because Jesus was born on December 25. Neither the day nor the government make Christmas, Christmas. History makes Christmas, Christmas,  that is, the Mass to Christ, the birth of Jesus. The fact that there was a birth in Bethlehem because a Roman general named Pompey had conquered Palestine 60 years previous, helped make Christmas, Christmas. The fact that Caesar Augustus, living in Rome, 1500 miles away from Bethlehem, ordered a census of all his subjects, helped make Christmas, Christmas. The fact that a man named Joseph, newly married to a girl named Mary, had to travel the 80 miles to Bethlehem for the census, helped make Christmas, Christmas.
Jesus’ birth is not fantasy like Harry Potter or Hercules or Hamlet. Jesus’ birth is rooted in the history of this world. It will always be celebrated by the faithful, and, it will always be connected to another historical event, of even greater importance--His death by crucifixion on the cross. Jesus was not conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born in Bethlehem in order to be forever “oohed and aahed” as a baby in a manger. He was sent to grow to adulthood. He was sent to set His eyes on Jerusalem. He was sent to die outside the city gates of Jerusalem. He was sent to give His life as a ransom for sinners. He was sent to be the one-time payment to free men from sin and death.
Still, though, that is not the end of the history. The death of Jesus was so pleasing to God, that Jesus was raised, bodily, from the dead! And yet, that is not the end of the history. Jesus will return. Not in a manger. Not as a baby. As a man. Every eye will see Him. Don’t ask how. I will be as amazed as you.
It is when that historical day comes, that there will be no more celebration of Christmas. Until then, Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

You cooperate with God...

...just not in the very act of conversion. But after your conversion and rebirth in Holy Baptism you do cooperate with God. Here is another great quotation from Gerhard's Theological Commonplaces, On Free Choice. This volume will be ready sometime in 2013, I think.

(IV) [Bellarmine again:] “God works in us to will by helping and exciting [us] so that we in truth do the willing. Yet this does not occur without us, otherwise the apostle would not say: ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling’” (Philippians 2).
      We respond. The apostle is speaking about the reborn who can cooperate after their regeneration through the new powers given by God. But the question here involves the act of conversion itself, that is, what can the human will accomplish in that act of itself and of its own natural powers? This certainly does not yet amount to cooperation but only passivity [παθητική].

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Advent

Over the course of Christian history the Church's calendar has evolved in many and various ways. This fact of history is the preferred excuse for the liturgical antinomians among us to do their own thing in all matters of worship. But this is disingenuous: the change in the Church's calendar, worship, and liturgy have never been a matter of one parish or one pastor doing what it or he favors. Rather, it has been a matter of the people of God acting in concert, together with clergy bound to follow a superior's orders.

So in the Lutheran Reformation the great fathers of that Reformation, Luther, Chemnitz, Andrae, etc., wrote the Church Orders which laid down regulations for worship, calendar, and music in various geographical areas. And that is an example of the very fastest sort of change that has ever happened in the Church's worship. What we have today is something else altogether. It is speed, if you will, but not velocity: change without direction.

In the development and evolution of the Church's worship, calendar, and music there are examples of change being driven from below or from above. It was Pope Sergius, for example, who instigated the singing of the Agnus Dei during the fraction around A+D 690. On the other hand, it was the people who pushed for Trinity Sunday against the desires of the clergy. Eventually the people won out and the clergy accepted Trinity Sunday into the calendar. The piety of the people, once upon a time, also pushed for more strenuous fasting. Thus "Meat Sunday" and "Cheese Sunday" in the East arose from the people but were never accepted by the clergy into "official" Lent, which remained at 6 weeks in length.

Which brings us to our poll. Let's face it: the piety of the people in all Western lands has done away with the penitential nature of Advent and the joyous celebration of the 12 days of Christmas. They begin the Christmas celebration right after the end of the Church year and the end of the celebration comes with Christmas Day.

The only folks who actually live the old calendar (that I know of) are clergy families. It still makes sense for us. Advent is quite busy and we don't have time to do all the extra Christmas stuff. After Christmas, meetings are canceled, school is out, and the 12 days of Christmas make for a delightful time of putting up decorations, making cookies, etc. And even most clergy families would be hard pressed to demonstrate what exactly about their Advent observance indicates penitence. Too many treats show up at the door, too many old ladies serve us fruit cake, too many Thrivent, elders, ladies aid, and Sunday school parties intervene.

If this had been happening several centuries ago perhaps some bishop or some chapter of clergy would have recognized this and changed the calendar and come up with appropriate liturgical expressions of the people's piety. But it's hard to imagine how such a sweeping change could be made today. In some small way the three year lectionary tried to meet the people in the middle with its inclusion of the Visitation or St. Matthew's birth narrative on Advent 4. But even that is quite far behind the people's piety which broke out the creche around St. Andrew's.

Or maybe this is but a fad of piety and will soon pass. Perhaps folks will again find a desire to fast and pray before a great 12 day feast in the bleak midwinter. I shouldn't wonder if the current piety is merely a symptom of overwhelming affluence and economic sophistication. After all, why not give up eggs and butter in the winters of the North in the 14th century? Chicken's don't much lay and cattle milk less then. But if whole swaths of society gave up eggs every winter now, what on earth would become of all of Tyson Food's heated barns full of laying hens?

And in the end, that is the great benefit of all conservatism, especially liturgical conservatism: it acts as a filter, sorting out the wheat from the chaff. We'll have to wait and see what the newfangled Thirty-or-so Days of Christmas will end up being. For now, I recommend plowing ahead with Gloria-less, somber, oddly Gospel lessoned Advent in the midst of that huge Christmas tree that your pious parishioners put up on November 29th.


A New Twist on the Sign of Jonah

Peter Leithart on the First Things blog posted this bit of brilliance:
A student, David Henry, points out that the word “fish” is used three times in Jonah 1-2, and notes that twice it is masculine (dag; 1:17; 2:10) but once in a feminine form (dagah; 2:1). 
A gender-bending fish? Uncertainty on the part of the writer? Or a thematically significant variation? I choose door #3. 
Before Jonah enters the fish, it is masculine (1:17); when he is within the fish, it is feminine (2:1); when it expels him onto dry land, it is masculine again (2:10). Jonah’s presence turns the fish (grammatically, literarily) feminine. She turns mother, and he turns fetus; his return to dry land is his new birth. That possibility is supported by the use of me’eh for the “belly” of the fish, a word that frequently means “womb” (Genesis 25:23; Ruth 1:11; Psalm 71:6) and when used of men refers to their generative power (Genesis 15:4; 2 Samuel 7:12; 16:11). 
Then we allegorize: The fish is a ruler of the Gentile sea, Jonah a representative Israelite. Jonah in the feminine fish promises that the Gentile world will turn fruitful when the seed of Abraham is planted in her belly. 
Then we allegorize again: Jesus is Jonah, the grave the belly of the fish. And Jesus the greater Jonah turns the devouring masculine grave into a fruitful womb, a mother of children.
The Sign of Jonah that will be given is more than a reference to our Lord's death and resurrection. It is a sign that the watery grave of baptism is now a fruitful womb to give birth to the children of God.

HT: Rev. Scott Adle

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Eve help from St. Gregory the Great

As this time of year is a busy time for preachers, for we have extra responsibilities both at church and at home, and as it is we can get writers block or even lack enthusiasm to preach all these services, I've found it helpful to take a sermon by a forefather and re-write it in my own voice, with my own language. I've already posted a sermon by Chrysostom. Here is one by St. Gregory the Great. It's theme fits nicely with the Thoughts on Christmas Eve Midnight that I posted last week. So, I may be taking some of St. Gregory's thoughts here and reworking them for my own sermon. 
A Christmas Sermon of St. Gregory the Great
Because by the Divine Bounty we are on this day thrice to celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Liturgy, we cannot therefore speak at length on the Gospel lesson. But the Birth of Our Redeemer Himself demands of us that we say something for the occasion, however briefly.
Why was it that at the time when the Lord was to be born, the whole world was enrolled, unless that it so might openly be declared, that He had appeared in the flesh Who would enroll His elect for all eternity? Against which is the sentence spoken by the prophet concerning the wicked:
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living ; and with the just let them not be written. [Psalm 68:29]
Also was he, fittingly, born in Bethlehem ; since Bethlehem is interpreted as the House of Bread. For this is He Who says :
I am the Living Bread, which came down from Heaven.
The place therefore in which the Lord was born was formerly called the House of Bread, because there it was to be that He would appear in future times, in the substance of our flesh, Who would fill the hearts of the faithful with inward abundance.
And He was born, not in the house of His parents, but upon a journey that He might truly show, that because of the humanity He had taken to Himself, He was born as it were among strangers. Strange, I say, not to His Power, but to His Nature. For of His Power it is written.: He came into His own. In His own Nature He was born before all time ; in ours He came to us in time. To Him therefore Who while remaining Eternal hath appeared in time, strange must the place be where He has descended.
And because the prophet says:
All flesh is grass [Isa. 40:6],
becoming man He has changed this our grass into wheat Who has declared of Himself:
Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone [John 12:24].
Hence when he was born He was laid in a manger so that He might nourish with the Wheat of His flesh the beasts that He sanctifies, that is, all the faithful  so that they may not be left hungry for the food of eternal knowledge.
And what does it mean that an angel appears to the watching shepherds, and that the Brightness of God shone round about them, if not mystically signifying that they, more than others, shall merit the vision of heavenly things, who have learned to rule carefully over their faithful flocks? For while they are devoutly keeping watch over them, the divine favor shines abundantly upon them.
The Angel announces that a King is born, and the choirs of angels unite their voice with his, and rejoicing all together they sing:
Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.
Before the Redeemer was born in the flesh, there was discord between us and the angels, from whose brightness and holy perfection we stood afar, in punishment first of original sin, and then because of our daily offenses. Because through sin we had become strangers to God, the angels as God’s subjects cut us off from their fellowship. But since we have now acknowledged our King, the angels receive us as fellow citizens.
Because the King of heaven has taken unto Himself the flesh of our earth, the angels from their heavenly heights no longer look down upon our infirmity. Now they are at peace with us, putting away the remembrance of the ancient discord ; now they honor us as friends, whom before they beheld weak and despised below them.
Hence was it that both Lot and Joshua adored the angels [Gen. 19:1; Jos. 5:15], and were not forbidden to adore. But when John, in his Apocalypse, wished to adore the angel, this same angel forbade him to adore, saying:
See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren. [Rev. 22:9]
What is the significance of this, that before the coming of the Redeemer angels were adored by men, and the angels were silent ; and after, they turned away from being adored ; unless that our nature which they before despised, they see now is raised above themselves, and fear exceedingly to see it prostrated before them? Nor dared they now look down on that as beneath them, which they venerate as far above them, in the King of Heaven. Nor do they refuse to accept us as equals, who now adore God made man.
Let us then be careful, dearest Brethren, that no uncleanness shall defile us, who, in the divine foreknowledge, are destined to be the subjects of God’s heavenly Kingdom, and the equal of His angels.
Let us prove our worthiness by the manner of our lives. Let no sensuality soil us, no evil purpose come to accuse us ; let malice not devour your hearts, nor pride exalt it, nor the desire of worldly gain blow it about in every direction, nor anger inflame it. For men are called to be as God.
Defend then the honor of God within you, O Man, against these vices, since it was because of you that God became man, who liveth and reigneth for ever. Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2012


False doctrine is evil. It's telling lies about God. That's why we care about it. That's why we get bent out of shape about it, why we can't help but speak of it when we encounter it. We don't like it that people lie about God.

It's even worse that their lies twist the minds and hearts of Christ's little ones.

This is one reason, among many, that I am glad that I do not have to deal with a local "ministerium." When I served up in Chicagoland my senior pastor and I went to one. It was torture. Of course, it was a bunch of nice Midwesterners - everything was polite. But that was half the problem: all smiles and no mention of the numerous pachyderms in the room.

Worst of all, of course, was the presence of the Rev. Ladies. Deciding how to converse with them is not unlike deciding how to converse with someone who insists he is Napoleon Bonaparte. Do you play along and call him Field Marshal? Will he turn over the appetizer tray if you refuse? And he's wearing that hat! For reals?

I call them Ma'am.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Word Became Flesh: Thoughts on Christmas Day

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” “‘Tis the season to be jolly.” And yet it’s also the time when the days grow shorter and the nights longer, when the shadows become outstretched and the clouds seem to linger forever, when the sun almost seems like a stranger. It’s a time when we hear from friends both old and new, and we read where they are, what they’re up to, and how they’re doing. And so it also becomes a time when we re-examine our lives; when we review our losses, our failures, our inadequacies. A time when we’re reminded of what we think our lives ought to have been, what they should have been. A time when we ponder what they could have been or might have been. And even a time when we think of what they used to be, what they once were, and how we long for it to be that way once again.

Christmas is a time when being happy and joyful, when joining in the constant merriment can be not just difficult, it can be down right exhausting—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. For Christmas is a time when all the crud of living in this world—the death of a husband or a wife, the loss of a father or a mother, our rising debts, or our imperfect marriages, children, families and lives, and the roles we’re expected to play in them—it’s a time when all of that resurfaces again and again and again, every time we read how perfect and rosy our friends’ lives are and every time we hear how wonderful and jolly this season is. And it makes even the happiest of people want to stay home, shut off the phone, kick back, and unplug.

The suffering, the death, the darkness we face, that we endure, is the reality of sin come into this world. They come with the sin of our first parents: “You will surely die,” “I will greatly multiply your sorrow,” and “Cursed is the ground for your sake.” They are the great solvents of our relationships not only with God but also with one another. Sin means isolation, alienation, as the Scriptures make clear but also as we know from our own experience. For which of us doesn’t carry the burden of hurtful words spoken in anger, in fear, or in pride—either in speaking or in hearing? Which of us doesn’t know the loss of a loved one or friend either because of death or hatred or apathy? And so whether it be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual—or all of them together—what we suffer in this life are the incursions of death, and death is simply sin becoming incarnate and dwelling among us. “For through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

And that is why the Word became flesh. That is why God became man. That is why the eternal Son of God took on mortal flesh. And that is what makes this day and this season truly wonderful. It is what brings this day’s reason for joy.

For in the incarnation the fallen, corrupted, and broken creation is infused with and invested with everything that rightfully belongs to God. Eternity becomes history, subject to time and space. Immortality becomes subject to mortality. Purity takes on and into itself impurity. Incorruptibility takes on corruption. Holiness assumes desecration, and divinity humanity. In a most blessed exchange, God takes up in himself sin and death, and gives to His creation righteousness and life immortal. God became man so that life would conquer death, light would overcome darkness, and righteousness and holiness would reign in stead of sin.

The Word became flesh, God became man, so that man would no longer live in isolation, in alienation, but be reconciled: to God and to one another. He came to bring us out of isolation into HIs presence, not just someday in the future in heaven, but now, even here, on earth. He came to bring us out of darkness, out of the cold, and into the light and warmth of His love, His grace, and His mercy. He came to bring us out of death into true life. He came to bring us out of sin, out of suffering, out of the fallenness and brokenness of this world. He came to make all things new. For in the incarnation of the Word, you are a not just forgiven. You are more than justified. You are a new creation. Made in the image of God by the Word made flesh. “It is finished.” What was once proclaimed in His death, now rings out for you with life. You are new. You are whole. You are perfect. For you are of God.

This is the point of the incarnation: that the Eternal Son of God took on flesh, he became a son of Adam, so that the children of Adam and Eve would become the Sons of God in Him. You are His Brothers and Sisters. His Father is your Father, and you are His children. Welcome Home. So go ahead, shut off the phone, kick back, and receive the Word become flesh in bread and wine. And in that you will find the rest for your bodies and the refreshment for you souls, the comfort to face today and the courage to face tomorrow that only comes from Him. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Little Christmas Eve Help from Chrysostom

"I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing!

The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise!

The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein... on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He had the powers He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today He Who Is, is born ! And He Who Is becomes what He was not! For when He was God, He became man-while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His...

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. And behold kings have come, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven; Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin...

Infants, that they may adore Him who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; Children, to the Child who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; Men, to Him who became man that He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd who was laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek;

Servants, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom (Philippians 2:7);

Fishermen, to the Fisher of humanity;

Publicans, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist;

Sinful women, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman;And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope!

This is my life!

This is my salvation!

This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing:

"Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will! "

This Shall Be a Sign for You: Thoughts on Christmas Eve (Midnight)

"And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
What is this sign? Is it simply a verification of the truth of the angel's message to the shepherds or is there more? Considering the nature of the angel's revelation--what the shepherds saw and heard, the angelic hosts revealed in the skies giving glory to God in the highest and declaring peace on earth and good will toward men--seems to indicate that this sign is more than just a visual attestation of the truth of what they had heard. For in the the shepherds' experience there would be little to question regarding the truth of their message, but there would be much to understand regarding its meaning. The sign given to them not only verifies the angelic message, but it also reveals the meaning of what was said and enacts it allowing the shepherds to receive the promise that accompanies the sign.

Consider 2 Kings 19:29-31 (Isaiah 37:30-32). 
"And this shall be the sign for you: this year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs of the same. Then in the third year sow and reap and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord will do this."
Here the sign surely verifies the promise given to Hezekiah regarding the deliverance of His people. But there is more than that. What Hezekiah is to do actually enacts the promise, and thus, renders more explicit the meaning of that deliverance. God delivers His people as a remnant for the beginning of new and fruitful growth.

Look at Isaiah 7:11-17.
“Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”
Again, the sign the Lord gives doesn't simply confirm the truth of the promise. The sign enacts the promise, and it invests meaning to what is promised, that God is not far off but with them to deliver them.

So what is the meaning of the sign in Luke 2? What is enacted by it? It all revolves around the words manger and swaddling cloths.

In Luke 2:7 the word manger is in opposition to the word inn. There are two Old Testament texts that help to bring the meaning of this opposition out. First, in Isaiah 1:3 (especially the LXX),
"The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know (me), my people do not understand (me)."
Here the  Lord compares Himself to the owner of Israel and to its source of sustenance. The LXX makes this comparison more clear by adding the word me to the last two lines. But since the people do not know, since they do not understand, they are judged. In conjunction with this, Jeremiah 14:7-16:

“Though our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against you. O you hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? Why should you be like a man confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot save? Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not leave us.” Thus says the Lord concerning this people: “They have loved to wander thus; they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them; now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.”

The Lord said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.”

Then I said: “Ah, Lord God, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ ” And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them."
Here, again, the complaint against the people is followed by judgment and punishment for their sins. The prophets prophesying the Lord's name are lying. They declare peace on earth where there is no peace (vv. 13-14) and the Lord is not well pleased with men, with His people (vv. 10, 13). But look at what Jeremiah asks of the Lord. "Why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night (the word לוּן is the verbal from of the noun מָלוֹן, which is the word for an inn). So a paraphrase my be "Why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who lodges in an inn?" In other words, why are you dwelling with your people as a foreigner and not as one of them, one with them? It is because they have sinned. Because the Lord does not have good will toward them. Because they declare peace on earth when there isn't.

And finally, the Wisdom of Solomon gives us what the swaddling cloths means:
"I myself also am a mortal man, like to all, and the offspring of him that was first made of the earth, And in my mother’s womb was fashioned to be flesh in the time of ten months, being compacted in blood, of the seed of man, and the pleasure that came with sleep. And when I was born, I drew in the common air, and fell upon the earth, which is of like nature, and the first voice which I uttered was crying, as all others do. I was nursed in swaddling clothes, and that with cares. For there is no king that had any other beginning of birth. 6 For all men have one entrance into life, and the like going out." (Wisdom of Solomon 7:1-6)
The king is like any other mortal man. He is flesh. He breathes common air. He nurses and is wrapped in swaddling cloths. "For there is no king that had any other beginning of birth." The swaddling cloths do not belie his royalty. But they also bear witness to what this king shall do. That He shall die. "For all mean have one entrance into life, and the like going out." Only His death will be for His people to save them, to enact peace on earth (Luke 2:14) and peace in heaven (Luke 19:38).

So Jesus is born in the city of David, the place of his prophesied origin. He will not be found in an inn like an alien or foreigner who travels through the land or like an inhabitant who lodges there for lack of family, friends, and acquaintances. He is to be found in an manger because He will be the sustenance of the Lord's people. He will be the Bread of Life come down from heaven, born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, and laid in a manger the trough holding grain and food to sustain His creatures. But He will also be king. For the swaddling cloths do not betray His royal rank. No king has any other beginning. He will be king as a man, who begins as all men and who will end as all men. Only His end will be the new beginning, the salvation of the Lord's remnant, the first fruits of a new and productive crop.

So the one born in the city of David is a royal child, and His condition exemplifies this rather than contradicts it. He is wrapped in swaddling cloths as was Solomon. And this child will be the sustenance of His people, the salvation of His people. For the child that the manger holds is the savior. It will bring peace on earth for in this child the Lord is well-pleased, has good will, toward men. The sign for the shepherds is more than just a corroboration of the angel's message. It explains the message. It upholds the message. It enacts the message. It gives the shepherds' access to receiving fully that message both in what they heard and what they saw.

He is the Savior wrapped in the meager and mundane, which marks Him as the King who sustains His people. May we, too, seek the sign that accompanies the proclamation of our Lord’s coming in the flesh. May we, too, make our way to that place where our Lord lay, wrapped in the meager and the mundane. Let us seek and receive him in our mouths through bread and wine, the abiding presence of his flesh and blood, whereby we are joined to him, and he to us, for the forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation. Let us receive Him who is our Savior, our King, our Sustenance.