Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sent: Unworthy and Unprepared

Note to readers: the candidates prepared for the Office of the Holy Ministry within the LC-MS will be given their calls next Tuesday in St. Louis and Wednesday in Ft. Wayne.

Less than a week from now and you’ll hold papers from heaven. No, I don’t mean LSB. I mean the sending call from God to serve Him in some corner of His Holy Church. You’re not ready and you’re certainly not worthy, but orders are orders, and that is all there is to it. Come next Wednesday, or whenever, it is too late to seek an Aaron to speak in your place. You’re Aaron.  When the General says, “march,” we march, whether both boots are on or not. When He says, “Attack,” we give it all we’ve got, even if that isn’t much. Because we are not generals. We do not pick our battles. We are privates. We are thrust into battles of which we know little, often not even where the enemy is or what his real strength is, but we know that our General is good and the battle is already won. So if we are to be sacrificed or used for a delaying tactic or abused by blundering colleagues and ungrateful sheep, or if we never understand what happened at all, sobeit. He is good. He gives the orders. We sally forth: ready or not, worthy or not. OK: not. Just not, but ordered nonetheless, and that is what matters.

And since He is good, we go and we trust that He will work it altogether for good, and we, unprepared and unworthy though we are, we shall reap the rewards as though we were worthy men of valor and fame, for worthy is the Lamb who has put on sheepskin, taking the wolf’s own tactic, to fill the wolf’s mouth and save us. Does He send us out as lambs among wolves? Are we killed all day long for His sake, like sheep for the slaughter? Then He honors us for there is no greater honor than to follow in the way of the cross and to suffer a fate, even an unjust and painful fate, like unto His own.

Sadly, those honored by God in heaven are mainly dishonored on earth. The red martyrdom of confession is rightly held up among us, but the more common, and more secret, white martyrdom lasts longer, is more destructive, and brings more danger to the soul while being almost completely without honor or glory. The church on earth is full of sinners. They are a confused, selfish, and stick-necked lot with plenty of their own crosses. They judge in the way of the world. They look for success. Those who are honored among us, perhaps without exception, are those who demonstrate things that the world also loves and honors: charisma, intellect, or talent of some sort. Those whom God honors, and who are suffering terribly, often in secret, are generally unnoticed and unappreciated, or, worst of all considered to be paying for their own sins and faults. Kyrie Eleison! We were too weak for that.

Your orders are coming. It could happen to you. OK: it probably will, it almost certainly will. For not many of you are impressive, no matter what your mother thinks. Don’t bother planning speeches about how God has sustained and helped you. Don’t bother explaining how you did the right thing and it worked. No one on earth cares.

"Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us Wisdom from God, Righteousness and Sanctification and Redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord'"(1 Co 1:26–31 ESV).

There is that. Thanks be to God, there is that: Christ Jesus has chosen you to shame the wise. He has chosen you. He sends you. He is good and He knows what He is doing and the battle is already won. Because He lives, and this life, these orders, are temporary. They will not last forever. The battle is already won. It is. It is over. Finished. Complete. Perfect. And He lives. He does: He lives. Your sorrow, your burdens, your secret suffering shall not endure, but He, the Word of the Lord, endures forever. He does not forget and the secret sorrows of His ambassadors make for ballads in heaven that will be sung forever.

God bless you. Welcome to the Ministry.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

UPDATED: The Spirit in John 16: Thoughts on Easter 4, 5, 6

Easter 4 begins a three-week sojourn in John 16 (Easter 4 is Jn 16:16-22; Easter 5 is 16:5-15; Easter 6 is 16:23-30). Easter 6 is on Mother's day this year. And think John 16 is perfect for it.

The Gospel for Easter 4 is the heart of our Lord's farewell discourse, and at it's center is the analogy of the woman in the pangs of child birth. This puts the picture of giving birth at the center of our Lord's teaching on the Holy Spirit. But really is it any surprise?

In John 1:12-13, those who receive the light, those who see and are enlightened, are given the right to become children of God, born "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

In John 1:32-34, the He who has the Holy Spirit remaining with Him is He who is the Son of God. The Holy Spirit is associated with being a son of God. As John the Baptist proclaims: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

In John 3, our Lord says that only those who are born again/from above, born of water and the Spirit, will see the kingdom of God. And this leads into a discussion with the Samaritan woman about the true children of God will worship God in Spirit and Truth. If you take the word and epexegetically, you get something like unto John 14 and 16, where the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit that is Truth, who will be made available and give life through the Word of God, through the Words of Jesus (John 6:53). And that Spirit of Truth will teach the sons of God and cause them to remember all the Jesus has spoken to them, his Words (John 14:26). Thus, the Spirit who remained with Jesus while He was with the Disciples (John 1:32-34), now makes Jesus to remain with the Disciples while He is with the Father (John 19:25-27; John 20).

In John 8, the Jews question Jesus about His Father, his genealogy. Our Lord flips this on the Jews and questions whether they are in fact the offspring of Abraham. For if they were truly the offspring of Abraham, they would do what Abraham did, which is rejoice to see Jesus' day. Abraham rejoiced and saw that day when the Father gave the word of promise to provide THE lamb for the burnt offering. Abraham kept the Word, which is Spirit and life (John 6:53). Thus whoever keeps Jesus' Word will never see death (8:50).

In John 9, the man born blind truly sees the Son of Man when he washes in the pool of Siloam.

In John 19, just before our Lord hands down the Spirit, he makes the beloved disciple the son of Mary the mother of Jesus (John 19:25-27).

All of this is to fulfill the Scriptures. For after the fall into sin, even though the woman's pain in childbearing would increase, God would give the seed born of the woman to crush the head of the serpent (the word for pain in Genesis 3 of the LXX is the same as John 16). Then in Genesis 4, Eve gives birth to Cain and says "I have gotten a man (ἄνθρωπον διὰ τοῦ θεοῦ, LXX) through the Lord." And as the hour of our Lord's glorification comes, the Roman governor proclaims "Behold, the man" (ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος; John 19:5). In other words: Look, see, this is the man promised to Eve.

The Holy Spirit then is pictured, in John at least, as the one who gives birth to Christians. The Holy Spirit is pictured as our mother.

And so, I think this changes the way we should understand John 16:5-15, especially the words παράκλητος and ἐλέγχω. I don't think they carry the judicial overtones of advocate and conviction, but rather more personal, so that what the Paraclete will do for the disciples and all Christians is what a mother does for her children. Mothers do more for her children than anyone else. Whatever the need, she can always be called upon to answer the need. For that is what the paraclete means: answering calls and needs when called upon. In giving birth, mothers feed, console, comfort, exhort, help, plead, and defend whenever called upon to do so. This is the picture John gives us of the Holy Spirit. It is also a picture that Paul gives:

"For our appeal (παράκλησις) does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.   
"For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted (παρακαλοῦντες) 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 Thess 2:3-13)

The word παράκλητος in John doesn't carry a judicial connotation, Neither, therefore, does the word ἐλέγχω. It should be understood in the same what it is used in Matthew 18:15 and Leviticus 19:17, which has the aim of showing fault with a view toward understanding, enlightenment, reconciliation. It is the act of a friend, of a brother, not a judge. It is what a mother does for her children. She studies her children to find out how she may effectively correct their faults and improve their character. She doesn't try to convict her children. She tries to make her children see so that they'll convict themselves, so that she can guide them nurture them into all the truth.

The nurture of the Spirit is not a grievance it has against the world, but a gift it is giving to the world. He enlightens, He shows the world with regard to sin inasmuch as unbelief in Jesus is the root of all sin. That is to say, the Spirit, the Paraclete is called upon to help and comfort and encourage when our conscience cries out "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." With regard to righteousness, inasmuch as we no longer see Jesus because He went to the Father. That is to say, the Spirit, the Paraclete is called upon to help, comfort, and encourage by showing us the righteousness of Christ, which is declared to be ours because of His death, resurrection, and ascension. For where the Spirit is there is the Son of God, where the Spirit is there is the Word of God (John 6:53). With regard to judgment, inasmuch as the prince of this world has been judged. That is to say, the Spirit, the Paraclete is called upon to help, comfort, encourage by giving us freedom from the accuser to love our neighbor because God has first loved us. The Paraclete is called upon to help, encourage, and comfort by taking what belongs to our Lord and declaring it to us, making it ours. As a mother does for her children.

And all of this gives birth in us the life of the Spirit, the life of faith, the life of prayer. For we are no longer born children from this world, but born from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Ask, therefore, call upon the one who helps in times of need. And you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

One Week Until Gottesdienst: Chicago (our family friendly conference)

Not that Octoberfest isn't family friendly, too, but the good folks at St. Paul - Brookfield are going out of their way to provide the moms and kids with activities - even free passes to the Zoo if weather permits and folks are up for that. Even if you have not had a chance to register, please just email  stpaulbrookfield AT comcast DOT net to let them know how many you will have their for lunch. 

The date is next Tuesday, May 1 and full conference information is here


The Auschwitz Syndrome or What is to be a Man

My daughter sent us this link and her outrage over this video this morning. Jacqui, wisely, chose not to watch it. It is not the most vulgar or sad thing I've ever seen, but it is very sad and the faint of heart might want to avoid it.

Emma wrote: "These kinds of things always make me thankful for how high-functioning John (John is our youngest son, 15) is and how wonderful St. Paul's (John attended elementary school at St. Paul's in Ft. Wayne, and yes, they were wonderful to us and to him) has been. But I think this video is going to go viral soon and people will be aware of the kinds of abuse that can happen in the classroom, especially one in which the children can't communicate to their parents.
Regardless of our own connection to autism, you should watch this video."

Here is my response:

Yes, this is very sad. Fortunately for us and for John, this could never happen to
him. He is vulnerable to other things, but not this. Thank God for that.

The school made a serious, but certainly well-intentioned, tactical error in creating a classroom with all autistic children who couldn't communicate.  The teacher and aides discovered they wasn't any accountability for insults and inappropriate remarks.. One virtuous, no, make that one normal, decent," adult would have put a stop to it. But instead, the adults, free of accountability, fell victim to their baser desires - like guards at Auschwitz.

In some ways I am actually sympathetic to the adults. I can imagine that it was a very difficult environment. 20 kids like Aiken would exhaust a teacher and aide. These kids are demanding. They don't respond in appropriate ways. They don't say thanks. They don't seem to make any progress. The parents are probably mostly a mess and also demanding. These two adults probably had high ideals and wanted to help the children. Btu they got thrown into this  classroom and came to resent their students. The constant crying,
hitting, the lack of affection, and so forth overcame them. Then one of them lashed out, verbally, at a kid. The other one was shocked for a second then laughed and they both realized that there would not be any consequences. They could do and say most anything because the kids couldn't tell anyone. They just had to keep up appearances. So they lashed out more and more. The dad had it exactly right: they didn't respect their students. They treated them like furniture. I expect that they felt hurt by the kids - by the crying, the complaining, and the lack of affection - so they try to hurt the kids with words and the fact that it probably didn't always work probably made it worse, or when they could get a rise, our of a kid like Aiken, they might have poured it on all the more.

Don't get me wrong. This is evil. It breaks my heart to think of those kids enduring this. I believe that they did hurt Aiken and others even though Aiken and the others couldn't express it. Words have power. They hurt. They should be fired, absolutely. But I can understand how they fell, how easy it would be. And in the
editted audio there were a few glimpses that indicated they were trying some. We heard some stuff about what day it is and an attempt to be excited and to communicate with difficult children.Similar incidents have been recorded in nursing homes and with coma patients.

The error, it seems to me, was to create a classroom of all autistics. I don't know but I'd be surprised if the teacher and aide didn't have a fair amount of training and experience. Once again, we see that education doesn't overcome evil. But I don't think this would have happened in a class room of Down Syndrome
children. Because Down Syndrome kids are sweet. They hug, they smile,etc. It was particularly foolish to put all autistics into one room.

The question always comes up regarding the concentration camps. Howcould this happen? How could men do this to one another? I think the answer is this: it always happens when we think we can get away with
it. The guards so no consequences to their inhumanity. They were in power and there was no threat to the power anywhere. So they fell to their baser desires, they became what we all are in our fallen hearts.

This is why we need the first use of the Law and why the Law is good for us. We need the threat of punishment and shame to keep us from acting out our baser desires. God spare us from every being students in that classroom, in a nursing home without someone looking out after us, to be prisoners, or, worst of all, to be the guards/teachers/aides who do those things.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thinking about Words

I was considering Our Lord’s use of the Greek word kalos instead of agathos for “I am the Good Shepherd.” Both words mean good. But agathos is more typical of that which is intrinsically, morally good. When Our Lord says, “No one is good by God” He uses agathos. Kalos is more typical of that which is fit for its purpose. A good hammer is a hammer that hammers well. So Jesus is the Fit or Beautiful Shepherd.

That got me to considering the word good in English. I went to As usual, I was delighted to find so many entries. If you don’t read the dictionary for fun, you are missing out. Good is such a common word that we rarely give it much consideration. I don’t think I’ve ever looked it up before and I should have.

That got me thinking about how the word is typically used. A good dog, or a good boy for that matter, is one which is obedient. A good mood is a happy mood. A good hamburger is tasty but that is because it is good at being a hamburger. A hamburger that takes like prime rib is not a good hamburger even if it is delicious.

Then I thought of how often single mothers tell me their children’s father is a “good dad.” I am positive that there are fathers who have been separated from their children’s mothers who work hard to provide for, discipline, and teach their children. But when the mothers tell me, his father is a good dad, it almost never true. “Good dad” ought not to mean “good at impregnating.” Nor should it mean “good at playing with children on rare occasions” or “good at enjoying childish cuteness when it is convenient.” It ought to mean good at providing for, disciplining, and teaching children.

And then I considered the new term I heard for the first time within the last year: “baby daddy.” A “baby daddy” is how a single mom refers to a man who impregnated her but with whom she had no real or lasting relationship. He isn’t her ex-husband. He may not even be an ex-boyfriend. When I first heard this I was shocked. What culture in the history of the world needed a word to describe this unique relationship between a man and a woman ? I think we are the first. Before the advent of “baby daddy” the closest words we had to this were “rapist” or “John” as in, customer of a prostitute.

Not all dads are good dads. Some are dirt bags. Some are drunks. Some aren’t worthy of the name. For the record, not all moms are good moms either. Good men throughout the ages have striven to provide for, discipline, and teach their children whether they were allowed to live in the same house or not.

Whether your dad was a good dad or not. The Lord Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He is good at it. He is a Good Shepherd, the Best Shepherd, a Fit and Beautiful Shepherd. And His Dad is likewise a truly Good Dad in ever sense of the term. And in the Good Shepherd He is your Dad and loves you. Therefore, thanks be to God, there is hope for “baby daddys,” “rapists,” and “prostitutes,” as there is also for those who have been spared those degradations.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thoughts on Easter 3: Sheep in the Lord's House . . . Are We Sure?

"What happens to the sheep who has the Lord as its Shepherd is that once it has been led from green pastures through dark valleys, it is guided, eventually, up to the house of the Lord. And we all know why sheep go to the house of the Lord. Now it might be a sheep's highest ambition to end up as a holocaust on the sacrificial altar rather than lamb chops in the butcher's shop. But nothing like that is in the sheep's mind when it pronounces 'the Lord is my Shepherd'" (D.J.A Clines, "Varieties of Textual Indeterminacy," Semeia, 71:1995, p.19).
When we think of the Lord as our Shepherd, when we imagine Jesus as the Good Shepherd, it's almost a universally good and comforting thought. But should it be? Only if it is the Shepherd who puts on sheep's clothing to catch the wolf seeking to devour the flock.

But he does that willingly. He doesn't have to. He chooses to do it. He wants to do it. He does it so that He can protect and reclaim what is rightfully His. They are His sheep. They are His fold. They belong to Him. But what is His is in jeopardy. Thus, the Good Shepherd takes back what is His so that His good name and reputation aren't tarnished. He does it not because of them, but because of Who He is. They aren't just sheep. They are His sheep. To do otherwise is not to be the Lord. What is at stake is the Lord's holy Name, His reputation. "It is not for your sake, O Israel, that I am about to do this, but for the sake of my holy name" (Ezek 34:36).

The Lord takes back His flock as its rightful owner from the hired hands because the hired hands have misappropriated the Lord's property. The bad shepherds are the kings of Judah, who led the people astray through their incompetence and greed, for polluting the house of the Lord with idols and injustice (Ezek 22:1-12).

Thus, God takes back His property. He intervenes to gather all those scattered back together in His fold under His care. "I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them for all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness" (Ezek 34:12).

The Good Shepherd discourse takes place just after the controversy over who is Abraham's offspring during the Feast of Tabernacles, which celebrates God gathering His people to Himself of the rededication of the Temple after Exile (John 7-8). But it also follows the controversy surrounding the healing of the man born blind and his excommunication from the synagogue, a clear usurpation of authority by the Pharisees (John 9). Taken together, this makes a perfect place to speak of the rescue of His people from the places to which they have been scattered (see also Gen 11) from those who have misappropriated the Lord's property for their own gain. (For the Pharisees, it is the law of Moses. What is it for us?)

So, in order to call them back, He laid down His life. For when He was lifted up from the earth, when the sun had failed and darkness covered the land, He drew all to Himself (John 12:32; Matt 27:45). The scattered are back together. There is one Shepherd. He became the Lamb of God so that there would be one flock gathered together in Him and under Him.

And so the sheep are bought with a price. They are not their own. They belong to the Lord. And He will  shepherd them according to and for the sake of His holy Name. It's who He is.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Paying for the Ambiance

Recent conversations with a younger colleague have included a fair amount of deja vu, as he has been experiencing many of the same things that I did in my first several years as a pastor. He's a good and faithful man, and I'm impressed with the way that he's handling himself and responding to the various situations that he faces. I know that he's going to do well, but I'm also glad for the chance to serve him as a sounding board and a sympathetic ear, because I know how much it meant to me, when I was at that point, to find the same.

As I listen to my friend and colleague, and as I recall my own past experience, I take note again how powerful ceremonies are. Little things clearly mean a lot, in this respect, and all the rhetoric in the world will not render the actual practice of adiaphora insignificant. Something as simple and unobtrusive as the sign of the cross, or as basic and biblical as kneeling before the Lord, can make a lasting impression. The freedom of such things does not rob them of real point and purpose.

At the same time, I also realize with growing clarity that there is something else at work, which, while it does permeate and inform the use of reverent ceremonies, is already yet deeper than ceremony and prior to it. Of course, I'm not here referring to the constitutive ceremonies of the Holy Sacraments, which are foundational and central to the Church and to the Christian faith and life. Rather, I'm talking about an attitude of the heart and mind that precedes the use of godly human ceremonies, such as vestments and chanting, the sign of the cross, elevation and genuflection.

The attitude of which I speak is a matter of repentant faith, but also of theological conviction. It belongs to personal piety, reverence and worship, but also to pastoral commitment, faithfulness and service. It will insist on that which God has commanded, and refuse what He has forbidden. It will also leave free what God has left free; which means that it may live without the use of godly human ceremonies, and it may allow the use of less-than-ideal practices, in love for the neighbor. Lay people may tolerate more or fewer ceremonies than they prefer, for the sake of hearing the Gospel rightly preached and receiving the Sacrament according to the Word of Christ. Pastors, likewise, may practice more or fewer ceremonies than they prefer, in order to care for their congregations with gentle kindness and evangelical patience. I know that many pastors, including my young friend and colleague, willingly compromise their own preferences for the sake of pastoral care. It is good and right that they do.

Yet, the attitude of which I speak still emerges, no matter how few or many ceremonies it may exercise in practice. It makes an impression and leaves a mark, sometimes in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to put a finger on. I have in mind an ambiance that permeates every word, every movement, whether in sparse simplicity or with the most elaborate and extensive ceremony. By the same token, such ambiance cannot be faked by any amount of formality, if the attitude of the heart and mind is absent.

A pastor who understands and loves the Gospel as the open heart of God in Christ — by which sinners are forgiven and the ungodly are justified by grace, by the Atonement of the Lord's own Cross and Passion — such a pastor cannot help but preach and teach in harmony with that Gospel. A pastor who knows the beauty and benefit of Holy Absolution will be engaged in genuine pastoral care, in conversation as in the confessional; because the Office of the Keys defines the entire Office of the Holy Ministry, which is not only what the pastor does, but who he is. A pastor who has realized and perceives that Holy Baptism is fundamental and foundational to the entire Christian faith and life, and that the Holy Communion is the beating heart and center of the Church, cannot help but orientate himself and everything he does in relation to those Holy Sacraments. His whole bearing and demeanor will bend and gravitate toward those means of grace, like a plant finding the sunlight; whether he finds himself able to elevate the Sacrament or bend the knee before it; with or without traditional vestments.

Where there is the attitude of which I speak, there will be the ambiance I have in mind: an ambiance that exudes the most reverent High Church Liturgy and the most ancient catholicity of the Lord's Bride, fully adorned as a Queen by His Gospel, even when she must content herself with the simple attire of a humble peasant in her life on earth.

Where there is that attitude and ambiance, a new pastor is likely to pay for it, even as he bends over backwards to accommodate the people of his congregation with gentleness and patient care. He may give up and do without godly human ceremonies, and move ever so slowly with respect to any changes in practice. And yet, the people will perceive that there is something about this new pastor and his practice, something that still says "catholic." They will feel the ambiance, even though they can't identify the source or cause of it. Many of the people may be uncomfortable at first, but, given time, most of them will grow into it and learn to love it, because, in their faithful pastor's preaching and teaching, they will learn to discover its source in the Gospel. Others will continue to chafe at the catholic ambiance they feel, and they will continue to agitate against it. Sadly, in some cases, those people will succeed in driving their pastor into the ground, or driving him away. In other cases, also sadly, they will give up and go away themselves, refusing to receive the good gifts that God would give them through their pastor.

But the pastor who really knows and loves the Gospel, who knows its heart and center in the Sacrament, cannot do away with the ambiance that undergirds his every move and permeates his every word. He may not even realize what it is that's making people respond in the way they are, especially when he's doing everything he can to put them at ease and to earn their trust and confidence as a tender shepherd of the Lord's sheep, as a loving father of the Lord's children. It may well break his heart at times, to see people get frustrated with him, to get angry at him, and even to leave the Church because of what he's "doing." But, in truth, it isn't anything he's "doing," so much as it is simply who and what he is: a man of the Gospel.

The ambiance of the Gospel is the warp and woof of true catholicity, and it neither can nor should be done away with. It is neither artifice nor affectation, but comprises an attitude of genuine affection for Christ Jesus.

Here is the good news, which neither the pastor nor the people have to pay for, because it has been purchased by the Lord Jesus and it is given freely to His Church by Him: The ambiance of His Gospel really does adorn even the humblest celebration of the Divine Service with the glorious beauty of heaven. Where His forgiveness is preached and heard, where His Body and Blood are given and received, there is the Lord's Temple on earth, outdoing King Solomon and surpassing the Emperor Justinian. There is an ambiance that no five-star restaurant on earth could ever hope to achieve. As such, the faithful pastor who must forego the use of many godly human ceremonies should not suppose that he or his congregation are lacking anything in piety, reverence, or worship. Let him constrain and discipline himself in the conduct of the Service, in the administration of the Sacrament, but let him do so in the confidence that the Church and Liturgy of Christ are adorned with His grace, mercy and peace.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Appreciation for Setting One

For most of the year at Emmaus, we follow the order and form of Setting Three in LSB, which stands squarely in the 19th-century Lutheran "Common Service" tradition. It is a solid ordo with a strong form and sturdy musical setting of the traditional rite. Elegant in its straightforward clarity and simplicity, it has aged well and continues to serve as a worthy vehicle for the administration of the Divine Service. Easily enriched and adorned with the ceremonies and hymnody appropriate to the Sundays, festivals and seasons of the Church Year, there is nothing intrinsically stale, staid, or stodgy about it.

But for all of that, notwithstanding my love and appreciation for the "Common Service," I am also pleased to follow the order and form of Setting One in LSB from Maundy Thursday through Trinity Tide (that is, up until the Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul in late June). This has been my pastoral practice at Emmaus since the LSB was published, and before that I was doing essentially the same thing with the corresponding setting of the Divine Service in LW.

So we've just begun to use Setting One again this year. With daily Divine Service throughout the Octave of the Resurrection, we've sung all or most of that setting half a dozen times already. It offers a refreshing contour in the rhythm of the Church Year, while retaining the integrity of the Mass.

Honestly, the similarities between Setting One and Setting Three are far greater than their differences. Setting One does provide for alternatives to the historic Ordinary in some cases, but those options serve the purpose. Both in my pastoral practice and in my personal piety, I have found the use of those options during Eastertide to be a benefit; not only because those texts also have something worthy to confess, but also because the contrast encourages alertness, increases awareness, and heightens attentiveness to whichever text is being sung at any particular time.

Admittedly, the five orders of the Divine Service in LSB are not different musical "settings" of the same rite, but are actually four different rites following somewhat different orders. Even so, the fundamental ordo of the Mass is preserved in each case, well within the ancient parameters described in some detail by St. Justin Martyr already in the Second Century. I'm not in favor of attempting to use all five orders, especially not in frequent rotation. People need adequate time to settle into an order, form and setting of the Liturgy, so as to be able to rest in peace within it.

With Setting One, I appreciate the fuller and more ancient form of the Kyrie. The eucharistic rite is also a welcome contribution, an important step away from the loggerheads of the LBW and LW controversies of the 1970s. It is still a shame that two different orders and forms of the eucharistic rite had to be included, side-by-side. There were other, more felicitous ways of addressing the concerns, but, oh well. Such is the life of the Church on earth. The post-Sanctus prayer is richer and fuller than either of the corresponding prayers in LW, although it is still somewhat limited in its scope and too quickly focused on the Lord's Supper itself. The epiclesis, such as it is, tucked into the post-Sanctus, is perhaps more subtle and obscure than it might be. But these are minor criticisms. The anamnesis hits the sweet spot, following perfectly upon the Consecration and leading smoothly into the Our Father. It was never awkward or difficult, but it has only become the more comfortable and familiar over the past six years, both to me as a presider and to my congregation.

The strongest contribution of Setting One, in contrast to the "Common Service" form of Setting Three, is in the offertory rites. This is where LSB, along with LBW and LW before it, really gets it right. The Creed has been preferred in its rightful position following the sermon, as belonging to the Liturgy of the Faithful. The confession of the faith is the first and foremost offering of those who believe and are baptized into Christ. From this confession proceeds the Prayer of the Church, as the baptized pray and intercede according to the Word and promise of their great High Priest, Christ Jesus. It is then in this confession and prayer of the faith that the baptized contribute from their own means to the gathering of alms. The way these gifts are presented at the Altar, accompanied by the singing of Psalm 116, "What Shall I Render to the Lord," is truly an ideal approach and entry upon the eucharistic rite.

There is a genius to the movement of the offertory rites in Setting One (and Two) of LSB, which make for a natural transition from the Service of the Word to the Service of the Sacrament. This was neither an innovation, nor a departure from historic practice, but a worthy restoration of a "soft spot" in the Service, which had gotten jumbled a bit in the accidents of history.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What If the Bible Is True?

What if the Bible is true and the Word of God really is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword? What if the Bible is true and the Word of God really does what it says. What if the Bible is true, perhaps instead of giving peaceful releases to get people off our roster because we don't want to deal with them, we should actually ban them from the Altar, perhaps we should use the power of the keys given in John 20? What if we preached to them that their sin of absence, of breaking the third commandment is retained and that they are to refrain from the sacrament until they repent.  What if the Bible were true, and we were to do that, and they went somewhere else? That they went somewhere else and took the sacrament, but all the while the heard ringing in their ears the Word spoken by the pastor as from God himself? The Bible is true. What if we were to take it seriously? What if we believed it? What if?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thoughts on Easter 2: Help From Dry Bones?

Fear is a great motivator. It practically drives us to do everything we do.

We’re afraid of being disappointments, of letting our bosses, our loved ones, ourselves down. And so we either work ourselves to death or we never venture out to do anything for fear of failure.

We’re afraid to be alone, but we’re also afraid to be rejected. We’re afraid  someone to see us for who we really are, who we are at our core, with no shiny veneer to hide behind. And we’re afraid that they wouldn’t stick around if they did.

We worry about our status among others. We’re afraid of what they might think if, what he would say, what she would do if . . . . And so we lie. We lie about who we are. We lie to impress them, to hide from them, to make them think that we’re someone other than who we really are.

Because of fear, we live for the approval, the affection, the attention, the love of others. And this drives us. It drives us to do outrageous things, to go to extreme lengths to get and to keep what we’re afraid of losing or to avoid that which we fear will ruin us.

Fear isolates us. Fear paralyses us. Fear strangles us and suffocates us.  It drives us to despair. It drives us to idolatry. It drives us to death. Fear kills us from the inside out.

Because we fear all these things, we do not fear the Lord. And if we really feared the Lord, we would not fear all these things.

The disciples are locked away for fear of the Jews. They're dead. But Jesus comes to bring them back to life, to make them a vast army, and to enact the already established everlasting covenant of peace upon them and by them for us.

The covenant of peace is mentioned in Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26. Together they bring into focus restoration of the people under judgment, where the wrath of God is being poured out upon His people but are rescued from their exile and restored to their promised, paradisal homeland. Ezekiel 34--37 carry this theme of comprehensive restoration of Israel, and the constant refrain is that all men may know that the LORD is the living God of Israel, who acts for the glory of His name (34:27-30; 35:9, 12, 15; 36:11, 20-24, 32, 36, 38; 37:6, 13-14, 28). What will be restored is

  1. the kingship of Israel as the LORD Himself in terms of shepherding (Ezek 34); 
  2. the land (Ezek 35:1-36:15)
  3. the whole nation will be resurrected (Ezek 37) 
The covenant of peace is the end of God's wrath and the re-establishment, the re-creation of His people as His people in the land He gave them. It is a full and comprehensive restoration.

Jesus comes to the disciples who are locked away for fear of the Jews. He comes to give peace  to His people, to those who are exiled and locked away for fear. He enacts the covenant of peace right then and there. And so that they know what He's talking about, Jesus shows them His hands and His side. He shows them that He has taken into Himself the wrath of God. That on the cross He is the King of Israel. That in the tomb, we have access back into the Garden of Paradise for peace has been planted in the earth (Ezek 34:29; Hos 2:18-25). And now that plant is raised up for in His resurrection, He has overcome sin. And thus He has authority over death and the grave. And because of this there is now peace between God and man, there is now peace between God and them. 

And so the Son of Man breathes on them. He gives them the Holy Spirit. Their dry and lifeless bones begin to rattle. Sinew and flesh cover them, and they have life in His name. They are now a vast army. They go out in ranks to bring this life, to enact this covenant of peace to everyone whose sins they forgive. 

There is nothing to fear. The Lord is the King in His promised land and over His people once again. He has done it. The covenant of peace is everlasting. Your sins are forgiven. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Who contextualized whom?

People have a natural love for pageantry, gallant gestures, parades, singing, and, if you will let an oxymoron stand, generally making fools of themselves in dignified ways. In our overly Protestant culture all of these natural urges are strictly forbidden in the realm of religion and end up in sports (Fr. Beane's analysis about football a while back was spot on). Throughout Christian history is has not been thus. Instead, the Church has tried to harness this natural love in ways conducive to the Faith. Sometimes things get out of control and have to be pared back. The misuse of the Sacrament in the processions of the late middle ages, for example, were rightly repressed in the Lutheran Reformation. And one should not turn the Divine Service into a passion play. But there ought to be passion plays. Church should not be a fun parade, but some fun parades ought to be churchly. Church should not be transformed into a concert of popular music, but there ought to be popular music about Church.

In this vein, Father Petersen recently mentioned that country music is more poetic and imaginative than rock or pop music. Country music also has much more religion in it. That is because country music - especially the forms of it that have not been pushed closer and closer to corporatist pop music - is a variation or outgrowth of the folk music of the Scots-Irish culture of the American South. As a real folk music, it has the religion of the people embedded in it. Remember how shocked pop stations were at the success of [that hideous song] "I can only imagine"? As much as I don't like that particular song, it is precisely the radio on which it should be played, not the chancel. People want a real culture - and every real culture the world has ever known has a good does of religion in it. People want religion on the radio. But in our culture, everything is pieced out: religion here, but not there; religion on this station, but not that. When a secular pop station in Dallas accidentally played that song, they tapped into a market which they had forgotten even existed.

This is one of the hidden problems of bringing the culture into the church - or "contextualization" of the Church as some say: it ironically impedes the bringing of the Church into the culture. Church music should be Church music - but, filled with the dignified, heartfelt, reverent music of the Church, the people's heart will overflow, the thoughts and pieties learned in the idiom of the Church will influence the popular music of a Christian people. But if the popular music influenced by the Church is ghettoized in the Church on Sunday morning (by driving out the Church's own music), what need is there to have it anywhere else? Country music is a shard of the Protestant South's folk music and, as the the music of a Volk, it runs the gamut of that folk's experience: songs of adultery, unrequited love, coal mine disasters, and imaginings of what spending eternity with Jesus will be like. The farther you get from country - Elvis-->Buddy Holly-->Beatles-->Rolling Stones - the less religion you get.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Seven Stanzas at Easter

by John Updike

Make no mistake; if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was nor as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Woman, Behold Your Son

The death of a child is surely one of the most difficult and painful sorrows that anyone can ever suffer. In some respects, it hardly matters whether that child is three, or thirteen, or thirty-three, or in the first or third trimester in the womb. To lose your child is to be confronted with the absolute and utter futility of your mortal life, and of your human flesh under the curse of sin and death. What difference does anything make, when suffering, death and the grave await you and your children, either sooner or later?

In truth, that is the legacy that you have inherited from your father Adam and your mother Eve, and if you have any children of your own, it is the legacy that you have handed over to them in turn. Perhaps you have already had to bury your children. Or perhaps you have had no spouse or child at all, which may spare you some sorrow of loss, but maybe it has also left you feeling lonely and alone to begin with. If you do not bequeath the legacy of sin to anyone after you, neither are you any further ahead than those who do.

There still remains death to contend with: in yourself, and in all your loved ones, whatever their relationship to you may be. In Adam, all men die, because all men sin, and so it is with all the children of men. Each and all return to the dust of the ground, as surely as the serpent must crawl across the ground on his belly and eat dust as he goes.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is not spared this pain and sorrow, but she too is cut to the quick and pierced through the heart by the death of her dear Son, just as St. Simeon had prophesied several decades previous. Do not suppose that it was easier for her, or any less painful, just because she knew (or should have known) that it was coming. For every mother who has ever had to mourn the fruit of her own womb, there is a special kinship here to be found in the Mother of God, who stood at the foot of the Cross and watched her Jesus die.

He had been her little Boy, like any mother’s son, whom she had carried and delivered, nursed and diapered, and taught so many things over the years, as He grew and learned. What little games had they played? What smiles had He given her? What bedtime stories and naptime cuddles had they shared? And shall He now be so cruelly put to death before her very eyes, without touching her heart and soul at their core?

Not for nothing does He die, although this Seed of the Woman is the one Man who did not have to perish, the one Son of Adam who was not conceived and born in sin, and who had no sin of His own. For He is the Son of God from all eternity, and He was conceived of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. Thus, it was not out of necessity, but solely out of divine and holy love, that He was born of the Woman under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the Law.

Not only did He become flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood, but He voluntarily took upon Himself the curse and consequences of sin. He became, not only human, but mortal, and He bore all the sins of the whole world in His own Body to the Cross. He dies, then, not for any sins of His own — for He has none — but for the sins of all His mortal fathers and mothers, and for all their sinful mortal children, for all His brothers and sisters in the flesh.

He dies for you and for your sins. And so St. Mary grieves her Son.

What is one to do with grief like that?

You may be tempted to say or suggest that, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is surely no big deal. After all, her Jesus doesn’t even stay dead for very long, but He rises again on the Third Day. It all turns out okay, and really much better than “okay,” and everything is fine. All of which is true, but of course it is no less true for you than it is for St. Mary. The joy and hope of her Son’s Resurrection is also for you and for your children. Everything hinges on His death and on His Resurrection from the dead, which are fully accomplished, once and for all, without any iffiness.

Therefore, just as St. Mary shares the same grief as so many other parents before her and after, so do you share the same hope and promise in her Son.

Learn, then, to live in that hope and confidence of Christ Jesus. Not as though death were to be taken lightly or laughed off. Neither Jesus nor His dear Mother laugh at death, which is no joke, nor is it funny, but it is a gross intrusion upon the Lord’s good creation. It is the fruit of sin, and it is vile. But for all of that, it does not get to have the last word, because it has been defeated by this death of Christ, the Son of God, in human flesh and blood.

So, where and how do you now live? Are you still trying to make a life for yourself in this mortal world, even though you are constantly confronted with its futility? Are you attempting to invest yourself in earthly empires, even though you should know that all such enterprises will collapse and fail. Are you hoping to establish a dynasty for yourself and all your sons and daughters of death, despite the fact that none of you will survive this present age?

Where is the house in which you can actually be safe and sound? Where are you truly at home, able to rest in peace? To what household and family do you really belong?

You can go looking and searching for all of these things on your own — and to some extent, that is what all of your restless seeking is after — but you’ll not find it apart from Christ and His Word. Your “destiny” apart from Him is death and the grave, the place of the skull, the dust of the ground, and what is worse, to be cast out and cut off from the presence of God forever.

Sadly, the same legacy of sin that is putting you to death, also turns you away from the Lord your God, even now; away from His tender mercy and His gracious promises.

Adam and Eve took hold of the one thing He had not given, the one thing He had forbidden them, in the hopes of finding something better for themselves than the life they already had in Him. And when they had thus fallen into sin, they tried to run away and hide from Him, and to cover their naked shame with leaves. Cast out of the garden, but given the promise of the Gospel — of the Woman’s Seed who would crush and defeat the serpent and reconcile the world to God — the first man and his bride learned to hope in the Lord and to call upon His Name. But see, already, what their sin has wrought: the Woman brings forth her firstborn son, and she is so optimistic at first, but then he kills his little brother in a jealous rage, and the woman is bereft of her son.

Standing over the hole in the ground where the body of your son or daughter has been laid to rest, and standing at the foot of the Cross with Mother Mary, you are tempted to despair, to anger and bitterness, confusion and fear. You are tempted to cast about for some explanation that will make it make sense, or you are driven to run away and hide. And yet you can’t escape. You’re left with empty hands, an aching heart, a lonely house with too many chairs anymore, and the naked shame of your own sin and your own death.

But the Lord who loves you, dear one, does not willingly grieve the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. He takes no pleasure in death, nor is He nonchalant about your pain. He has subjected His own good creation to such futility in the hope of His own redemption, in the eager anticipation of His gracious adoption of many sons and many daughters, the many brethren of His only-begotten Son, Christ Jesus.

Here, then, is another Seth in place of Abel; a new and better Lamb in the place of Isaac, and in the place of all the firstborn sons of Israel; and a greater Son than Solomon, in place of the week-old little boy of David and Uriah’s wife. Here is the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, who, as the Son of Mary also, is given and poured out by His Father for all the children of sin and death.

Behold, His garments are removed to clothe and cover you, and in His nakedness He bears your shame. He does not run away and hide, nor does He turn His eyes away from you, but He willingly bears the curse and consequence of sin and lays down His own life in love.

He does not grasp or seize or take, but He receives and eats the bread of affliction from His Father’s hand, so that He Himself becomes your Bread of Life: His Body the Fruit of a better Tree, His Blood the Fruit of this true Vine. Take, and eat, He says. He does not forbid you. Drink, He says. Taste and see. By this Food, freely given by God, for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, you shall not die, but live.

The Son cares for His Mother, and He entrusts her to a good man who provides for her a house and home. The Lord gives her another son in this man, the beloved disciple, and he shall honor her as a Mother in Christ Jesus. The same Lord Jesus provides for you, as well, in your bereavement and mourning. He does care for the widow and the orphan in distress. He also hears your cries, and He shall not leave you forsaken. He has given Himself for you, and He shall not withhold His goodness from you.

Look around you, even here. These are your mothers and your sons, your sisters and daughters, your fathers and brothers in Christ. Should you not love them, and shall they not love you, in the mercy and compassion of your dear Lord Jesus? You are not helpless or alone. You are not without a home and family. And if you find no need in yourself, then behold the needs of your neighbors, round about you here and elsewhere, and help them.

Who among you has had a miscarriage and now mourns in silent sorrow? Whose parents are ill and dying? Whose job is in danger? Who is overwhelmed and struggling to manage, to get by? Who is drowning in depression and despair?

Who among you stands at the foot of the Cross, waiting upon the Word of the Lord, and wondering (if not worrying) whatever shall become of you now?

Take heart, dear child of God. He has not forgotten you. For you are the disciple whom Jesus loves — He loves you dearly; yes, even you. And not only has He given you to comfort and care for your brothers and sisters in His Name, and for widows and orphans in their distress, but He has also laid you upon the bosom of His Church, to find in her your Mother.

From her font, by the Word and Spirit of God, you have been conceived and born again as a son of God in Christ. And at her festal board, the Son of Mary is still given in the same flesh and blood, like yours, in which He was born for you, and lived and died for you; in which He has risen from the dead for you, and lives and reigns forever at the right hand of His God and Father.

As He has made you a member of His Bride, the Church, the Mother of all the living, and as He has given you a place here in the home of all His beloved disciples, so is your place, your house and home, with Him in heaven.

From “the place of the skull,” you know that He is taken to be laid to rest in the garden. And now, it is right that you should mourn His death, on this day in particular. But not as those who have no hope. For His rest in the tomb is not the end, but a genuine Sabbath Rest, by which He has sanctified the graves of all His saints, including your grave and your children’s.

His departure is not from life into death, but from this vale of tears into Paradise, into the gracious and glorious presence of God. And as He has called you to be His own, and He loves you, so does He bring you with Himself through death into life, and back to an even better garden than your first parents were cast out of.

Even now, you are not found naked, but you are clothed with Christ and His righteousness, so that you have nothing to be ashamed of and no need to be afraid.

Even now, you are fed from the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden, so that, in the midst of mortal life, in the face of death and the grave, though you are dying, yet, behold, you live.

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