Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Doesn't the Teacher of Israel Know These Things: Thoughts on Holy Trinity

Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony."
Christ Instructing Nicodemus, Crijn Hendricksz 1604
This is a curious interchange. It sounds like Nicodemus' standing as the teacher of Israel is at stake here. That as the teacher of Israel, Nicodemus should know, that he should understand these things. And that raises a question: why? Why should Nicodemus know this? What Scripture would have informed him?
Consider the life of Jacob. It begins in struggle. His parents struggle to conceive despite the fact that Abraham's servant met Rebekah beside a well, an image of fertility. Jacob struggles with his brother Esau in the womb. God declares, "The elder shall serve the younger." Jacob is a heel-grabber, a supplanter, a wrestler. He wrestles away Esau's birthright. He wrestles off the lid of the well to water Rachel's flocks. He wrestles with Laban for the right to have Rachel as his wife. He struggles to conceive with Rachel despite the fact that he met her beside a well. And finally, he wrestles with the Angel of the Lord at the River Jabbok. This is the defining event. This is where everything changes. Jacob is born again, born from above, born of God.

There is this consonantal play on Jacob's name throughout this account that highlights the problem. The problem is Jacob's name. He is a supplanter. He's a wrestler. These are the main words: ya'qob (Jacob), yabboq (Jabbok), 'abaq (wrestle), yaqa (be dislocated). Now the word for Jabbok (yabboq) comes from the word baqaq, which means "to empty." Thus the Jabbok is a stream that is not always full. A stream that empties, that dries up unless it is filled with water from above. It is beside this dried-up stream, an image of infertility and a summation of his family history, that Jacob wrestles with the Angel of the Lord.

And so under the cover of darkness, by night, Jacob wrestles with the Angel of the Lord at the river Jabbok. But at daybreak, the Angel of the Lord dislocates Jacob's hip finally ending the match but not without first receiving a blessing. He receives a new name: Israel for he has striven with God and with men, and have prevailed. There was evening and there was morning, a new day has come. Jacob is born again. He is born from above. He no longer is supplanter. He is the one who has prevailed. And so when Jacob meets Esau on the other side of the Jabbok, he no longer wrestles. He no longer supplants.

The events of Jacob's life repeat in the people who take his name for their own. In Hosea 12:2-6,
"The Lord has an indictment against Judah and will punish Jacob according to his ways; he will repay him according to his deeds. In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his manhood he strove with God. He strove with the angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor. He met God at Bethel, and there God spoke with us—the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: 'So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.'”
But will the Jacob of Hosea's day return? Will they be reborn as their father? In Hosea 13:13,
"The pangs of childbirth come for him, but he is an unwise son, for at the right time he does not present himself at the opening of the womb."
Might this have prepared Nicodemus (whose name eerily echoes that of Israel--the people's victory) for his conversation with Jesus about being born again, being born from above? Regardless, he doesn't get it. He doesn't receive the testimony of the Holy Trinity because he hasn't been born of water and the Spirit.

But he will. He will when he beholds the Son of Man lifted up just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. For it is then, when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, when He hands down (παραδίδωμι) His Spirit (John 19:30) and pours out water from His pierced side (John 19:34), it is then that Nicodemus finally receives (λαμβάνω) Him (John 19:39-40). Nicodemus has the victory because he has the One Who conquers. He is born again. He is born from above. He is born of water and the Spirit. And there was evening and there was morning.
The Entombment of Christ, Badalocchio

Are we not all Jacob and Israel and Nicodemus? Are we not all wrestlers? Are we not all dried up, infertile, wandering in the waterless wilderness of this world? And yet have we not been born of God, born from above, born of water and the Spirit? Yes. We have. And so we, too, receive Him. We, too, receive His Body. And there was evening and there was morning, all things are new.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Out of the Barn!

The Trinity issue of Gottesdienst has left the stable, and bolted from the barn!  But behold, it's a brand new barn!  We have employed the services of a new printer, JG Imprinters, which means that for most of our readers, the journal will be appearing soon in your mailbox without an envelope.  We hope this doesn't create any difficulties, and we don't expect it to.  We couldn't pass up the savings it means for us.  We already operate on a shoestring (to donate, please click here!), so this savings is really sort of a necessity, and hopefully without any reduction in quality.  In fact, some of you readers might even be getting your issue before we even get to see it ourselves, since they're mailing the packages with multiple copies to our office on the same day as the bulk mailing goes out  (they say that bulk mail usually takes 2-3 weeks, but sometimes it's much quicker).  Not a subscriber?  Well  then, sign up today.

In this issue:

Song vs. Hymn                   

Trinity 7                           Larry L. Beane II
Trinity 14                         Paul L. Beisel

Liturgical Observer
What Exactly Is Wrong
with Praise Music                Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.

Commentary on the War
Praying for Pity’s Sake David H. Petersen

The Motley Magpie
I Don’t Vote Peter M. Berg

Guest Essays
Why the Celebrant Should Face East
Charles L. McClean
The Problem with Protestantism
Larry L. Beane II

Taking Pains
Turning Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.

You Dassn’t Do That
Happy Birthday, Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Rebranding Göttesdïenst

Musing on the Mysteries
The Creation of Woman
Genesis 2:18-25 Karl F. Fabrizius

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Feasts of Trinitytide

The Western Church's calendar ranks the various days of the year according to the precedence one obervance takes over another. If you care to follow this traditional precedence rather than just the somewhat loosely defined precedence listed in LSB's calendar (which also happens to be rather idiosyncratic), then there is only one feast day that falls on a Sunday this summer: June 24, The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

While July 22, St. Mary Magdalene, also falls on a Sunday, this feast does not traditionally rank as a feast that takes precedence over a Sunday in Trinitytide. If you choose to elevate it to that level in your local custom, the traditional propers as assigned in Daily Divine Service Book will certainly give you a chance to preach about the DaVinci Code. . . 

Especially if you serve in a parish that does not have a midweek service to catch the big observances that fall during the week, you may wish to consider transferring some of the First Class or Major feasts to Sundays, especially in the "long green stretch" of Trinitytide. These are:

June 11, St. Barnabas
June 29, Sts. Peter and Paul
July 2, The Visitation
July 25, St. James the Elder
August 15, St. Mary
August 24, St. Bartholomew
August 29, Beheading of St. John the Baptist
September 14, Holy Cross Day
September 21, St. Matthew
September 29, St. Michael & All Angels

I would not recommend transferring all of these days - that would interrupt the flow of Trinitytide. But especially in summers like the one ahead of us where only one feast falls on a Sunday, transferring in one or two others to Sundays is helpful. 

Full propers for all of these feasts are included in Daily Divine Service Book


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Several or More Different Questions re: Adiaphora

Someone recently observed that I am significantly interested in adiaphora.  It's true.  Thinking about adiaphora has occupied much of my time and attention for the past decade or more, and that continues to be so; not only from a theoretical perspective, but with very practical consideration.  Whatever isn't adiaphora should simply be acknowledged and honored as the will of God: What He has commanded should be done, and what He has forbidden should not be done.  His Word, and His good gifts, especially of the Gospel, are definitive and of central importance.  So, it's not as though I am not chiefly concerned with those things that are divinely given.  But that which the Lord has left free requires thoughtful consideration, discernment and discretion, in order to guard the freedom for which He has set us free, and so also to use that precious freedom wisely and well.

The fact that God has given us the Gospel by His Word and Sacraments, that is, by external means, requires that adiaphora will be involved in the administration of the Gospel.  The same particular adiaphora will not be necessary in every time and place, else they would not be adiaphora.  However, some or other adiaphora will necessarily be employed in every case, because it is impossible to do what the Lord has commanded without doing many other things that He has left free and unspecified.  There will always be choices and decisions to be made in this respect, whether deliberately or haphazardly.

In considering those choices and decisions having to do with adiaphora, I have recently begun to realize that several or more different questions are involved.  That doesn't seem all that striking or significant, except that, where those different questions are not distinguished, the conversation easily becomes muddled.  The answer to one question may seem to be addressing a different question altogether, when it really does not.  If I'm simply discussing the merits or demerits of a particular practice, but someone perceives that I am presuming to impose my own opinion on the Church, that presents a false impression that is helpful to no one.  If someone else is proposing a way for the Church collectively to make decisions and order her life accordingly, but that is heard as though righteousness were thereby to be gained, that would be a grossly unfortunate misunderstanding.

So, I have been thinking about the several or more different questions that need to be asked and answered with respect to adiaphora:

First, there is the question of actually defining and identifying what are and are not adiaphora.  It seems like that ought to be simple enough, and in many cases it surely is.  But not always.  Reverence is required, whereas frivolity and irreverence are forbidden, but defining and identifying "reverence" vs. "irreverence" is a difficult task.  Likewise, the Holy Scriptures frequently commend "beauty," but how is that to be discerned?

Second, there is the question of the criteria by which adiaphora will be measured and evaluated.  All things are lawful, but not all things are edifying or profitable.  With respect to the clarity of catechesis and confession, a spectrum of adiaphora may be considered and compared, in order to identify better and stronger practices, on the one hand, and to rule out those practices that are ambiguous and unhelpful.

Third, there is the question of where and how the practical decisions of adiaphora will actually be made: By the individual Christian, by the local pastor and/or the local congregation, by a fellowship of congregations in a particular territory, or by as large a representation of the Church as possible?  There are variously matters of personal piety, of local custom, of confessional identity, and of ecumenical tradition to be considered.  Not all of the decisions regarding adiaphora will be made at the same level, nor in the same way, nor with the same significance.  The Nicene Creed, for example, is neither commanded nor forbidden by God, but it is not free in the same way or to the same extent that ecclesiastical art and architecture are.

Fourth, there is the question of the benefit, importance, and value of uniformity in adiaphora within the fellowship of the Church.  This question is closely related to the previous one, but it goes beyond asking where and how decisions will be made.  It addresses the implementation of common practices across a community of congregations.  If that is not to be done arbitrarily or legalistically, but in active love for Christ and His Church, it needs to be understood what uniformity in adiaphora is, what it includes, what it does, and what it means.  Then uniformity will not be a denial of freedom, but a godly exercise of freedom.

There are further ways of parsing these different questions, and they could be subdivided considerably.  As particulars are explored, numerous questions of detail emerge, along with questions of polity, structure and governance, pastoral authority and care, and dealing with exceptional circumstances as they emerge.  Yet, it seems to me that identifying these several or more different questions provides some clarity for conversation.

Tammeus' Nicodemus, Nicodemus: In Preparation for Trinity Sunday

Nicodemus, Nicodemus
By William D. Tammeus

Heaven knows being born once
was enough trouble;
maybe even more than it was worth.
And now he says I should
go through it all again, all again; but
not the way it was before,
with borning's labor and pain
and anxious minutes
while they wondered if spanking
my pink moist little rump
would make me breathe.

Not with the heat and climax
of conception
and the swelling and the guessing
about what they had conceived after all.
None of that is called for this time,
but I'll be damned if I know what is.
No, I'm not sure I do believe him or in him
or even want to, for that matter.
But looking into those onyx eyes,
black and shiny as a wet crow,
seeing right through me, they were.

What does a Pharisee know
of being born of spirit or spirits
and water and all that?
Look at me! Look!
What do you see but flesh
and more flesh and nothing more.
How are water and spirit
to be reconciled with the flesh,
is what I want to know.
Dust and water make mud together,
not spirit, not spirit.

And then, then he said
all I need do
is believe him and in him and
I could have eternal life.
Imagine that! Imagine me forever!
To have no death in one's future
would be to have no sleep after
a long, unimportant day.
I enjoy living as I enjoy wine,
but too much of either makes me
wish I'd done without.

It's all so unclear.
But, oh, those eyes.
You should have looked
into those black eyes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hidden Camera at a District Office?

By Bill Lumburgh, D.Min.

Hopefully pastors and congregations are vigilant in getting The Parochial Statistics (TPS) reports in the hands of their district offices.  You did get that memo?  This paperwork is urgent and is a mark of the church, or at least of our "walk together." Every five seconds (snap!) someone goes to hell (snap!) because a form was not filed, filled out incorrectly, folded, spindled, or mutilated (snap!).

Don't be Pastor Peter Gibbons!  And make sure you use those new cover sheets, okay?  Yeahhhh.

I think we should also have a new stanza in LSB hymn 517/518 in honor of church bureaucracy. And I think it should include guitar chords and choreography for liturgical dancers. This sounds like an opportunity for a GöttesCöntest!™.  

We can kick off the hymn with a special collection of paper clips and staples (Swingline, of course) for Bureaucracy Sunday.  This is one area in which we Lutherans have been lacking over the last few centuries. The last really good Lutheran tributes to church bureaucracy were the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise.

Oh, and Friday is Hawaiian shirt and jeans day at the Gottesdienst Office.  We're trying to build morale and team spirit.

Coffee break's over, fellas, back on your heads!  Yeahhhhhh.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

W.H. Auden on the Liturgy

Ah, the poor Anglicans. But, of course, tossing aside the liturgy to make room for home grown stuff has NOTHING AT ALL to do with their other problems. After all, the liturgy is just adiaphora. . .

HT: Fr. Scott Adle


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gottesdienst 20/20

The devil isn’t burning churches; he’s been turning them into dance halls, or concert halls, or coffee houses, and deceiving the people into thinking it still counts as worship. But we think maybe the tide is turning, and people are beginning to realize how empty this kind of ‘church’ really is. And so the time is ripe for you to step into the void, and join Gottesdienst to help turn things around, foster evangelical preaching and worship, and seek to restore the boundary between the sacred and the profane. Reformation can mean many things; we’d like to think it means a return to right worship. And the church needs it now.

In honor of our 20th year of publication, the Editors at Gottesdienst are asking that you consider giving $20 to help us in the fight for true worship. Your support for Gottesdienst makes you our partner in this effort. Please help. The church needs you as never before. Help keep Lutherans everywhere doing the red and saying the black by helping to keep us out of the red and in the black.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Limits of Obedience

By Larry Beane

A controversial American economist and political philosopher, Walter E. Williams, lays out a case for disobeying the law - specifically federal laws related to health care mandates.  He asks a provocative question "Should we obey all laws?"  This is really a moral and ethical question that cuts to the very essence of government and its power.

At first glance, his answer to this question seems to run contrary to the scriptural Christian understanding of law and order.

In Romans 13:1-7, St. Paul lays out the Christian's duty to be obedient to the government.  He is told to "Submit (υπερεχουσαις) to the governing authorities (εξουσιαις)."  He is told that whoever resists (αντιτασσομενος) the authorities is opposing God and setting himself up for judgment.

St Peter says something very similar (1 Peter 2:13-17): "Be subject (υποταγητε) for the Lord's sake to every human institution (ἀνθρωπίνῃ κτίσει), whether it be to the emperor (βασιλει) as supreme, or to governors (υπερεχοντι) sent by him....  Honor (φοβεισθε) the emperor (βασιλεα).

Obviously, we live in a republic, not a kingdom.  We in the United States have a federal-state-local system of government in which political power is shared and comes from the bottom up.  Even at the federal level, authority resides in competing branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.  And unlike ancient tyrannies, the federal and state governments are held accountable by limited authorizations of power by written constitutions.

How do we apply the scriptures in the context of our various "emperors" and "governors" today?

Also complicating matters is the fact that Scripture abounds with examples of sanctified disobedience.  In other words, Peter's and Paul's exhortations to obedience are not absolute.  There seem to be limits of obedience.

In the Torah, Moses led the children of Israel in rank disobedience against the Pharaoh.  In their pre-monarchical history, the Israelites rebelled against their overlords on many occasions (even though it was God Himself who placed them under such authorities as a consequence and punishment for their disobedience).  Ehud committed regicide against King Eglon of the Moabites (Judges 3:21).  Jael assassinated the military commander Sisera (Judges 4:21) who served Jabin the king of Canaan.  There are many instances of Israelite resistance against their Philistine governments.  The history of Israelite rebellion and disobedience continues well into the intertestamental period against the Greek government.

A famous act of Old Testament civil disobedience of a peaceful and passive sort (against Babylonian law and hegemony) came in the form of illegal prayer (Daniel 6:4).

In the New Testament, Sts. Peter and John disobeyed the governing Jewish council by illegally preaching in the name of Jesus.  They replied: "We must obey (πειθαρχειν) God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

The early church is replete with disobedient Christians being executed by the imperial government (interestingly, including both Peter and Paul) for non-compliance with government decrees.

Lutheranism itself is founded on resistance against papal authority.  The confessors of Augsburg blatantly refused to honor the emperor when he commanded them to worship according to Roman rubrics.  They further defied his authority by refusing to reunite under the papacy, and instead formed the militant Smalcaldic League.  Much blood was shed as a result of Lutheran disobedience to the state in the days of the interims.

The United States was born of an act of disobedience against the British crown and parliament as the thirteen colonies seceded from the empire.  The United States suffered horrific bloodshed in the nineteenth century owing to a secession crisis of its own.  Some theologians consider the Confederate South's disobedience to be sinful, while others include the secessionist birth of the United States to be equally sinful and contrary to Romans 13.

In the mid-twentieth century, Americans resorted to civil disobedience to overturn unjust segregation laws.

And so what do we do with Walter Williams' modern call for popular and civil disobedience?  With state resistance against federal mandates?  With nullification?

I think Williams makes a very strong case for the moral right to disobey the government when the government itself (be it federal, state, or local) is acting immorally and/or unlawfully.  His own cited historical examples carry great weight.  Moreover, there were German Lutherans who acted passively, or even actively, against the legitimate and lawful National Socialist government in the mid twentieth century.  Likewise, consider the Russian Christians who defied Communist decrees under the Soviet Union, as well as the heroic disobedience among Christian refuseniks in Communist China and in Islamic countries.

But what about our situation closer to home?  What about when it isn't a cut-and-dried case of state vs. church?  What about when a branch of government steps beyond its boundaries as authorized by the constitution that governs it?  What do we do when the "emperor" himself is breaking the law?  What do we do in our own synod when popular conventions or bureaucratic political structures violate the Scriptures and/or the Lutheran confessions?  What are the limits of obedience?  And if disobedience is called for, what should that look like?  I like the fact that Williams does not call for violence.  I like the fact that Williams appeals to using one branch of government to resist another.  This seems to be in accordance with both the founders intent and the philosophical foundations for republican government with checks and balances.  Nobody wins when reformation becomes revolution.

So, what are the limits of obedience?  I believe this is a question we are going to continue to wrestle with in both church and state.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pastoral geography

A bit of piety amongst us Confessionals for the past several years has been to insist on calling the pastor's office his "study." The idea behind this piety is a good one: we're not office workers toiling away at "paper work," we are shepherd's who are called to study the Word of God in prayer.

So the piety is good, but the Latin is bad. Office comes from officium - duty. Your office is where you do your officia: and prayer and study are part of that. As are counseling folks in the Word of God, holding meetings with the elders, and the host of other things that take place in the office/study. These aren't the only officia of the Office, of course: you've also got an office before the altar, in the pulpit, by the bedside, in the classroom, at the font, and in the Confessional.

This is the geography of your ordination vows. Pull out the agenda and take a look. What are you supposed to be doing? What did you take a vow to do?

Lead a godly life
Diligently study the Scriptures and the Confessions
Be constant in prayer for those under your care
Preach and teach in accordance with the Confessions
Administer the Sacraments in accord with the Scriptures and the Confessions
Instruct young and old in the faith
Forgive the sins of the penitent and not divulge their sins
Minister to the sick and dying
Admonish and encourage the people to confidence in Christ and holy living

Those are the officia. Those tell you not only what to do, but where to be.

I originally looked at this pastoral geography as part of the Freed From the Shopkeeper's Prison set of presentations. There I point out what seems to us today to be a glaring omission in the vows: any mention of what we commonly call "evangelism." The vows don't place you on the front door step of a non-believer's home, or in a bar waiting to strike up a conversation with an atheist, or on a street corner handing out pamphlets. You are too busy for that: you've got other places to be.

The modern Arminian-influenced definition of evangelism has skewed our vision from the Biblical perspective. For Lutherans, "making a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, doing it with gentleness and respect" (I Peter 3:15) is the key Biblical verse. In other words, where Arminians want to make a new category of Proselytizing Evangelism and place that in the uppermost of Christian duties, to which all other duties are subordinate, Lutherans just have Vocation. Do your officia where your officia place you and be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks you. The officia vocationis are the main thing, and the "making a defense to anyone who asks" is a byproduct.

And the pastoral vows bear this out. You are called to shepherd the flock. The Lord adds to the flock "when and where he pleases." Be ready to give a defense as you go about your officia - just like all other Christians do as they go about the officia of their vocations. Be where you are supposed to be, where you are vocatus to be, and do the officia you are supposed to be doing and "evangelism" takes care of itself.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Oh, come on! -or- What part of "Drink ye all of it" don't you understand?

If you wear surgical gloves for absolution and the holy handshake, and a surgical mask while baptizing the youngins then you'll want to look into this

HT: Fr. T. Landskroener


Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Character Unto Eternity

By Larry Beane

[Note: I had the bittersweet privilege to preach this sermon today at the funeral of my beloved parishioner and dear friend, John Ryan.  All of the Lord's sheep are unique, but some are quite outside the bell curve.  John will be sorely missed, and I join many other Christian brothers and sisters who look forward to seeing John again in eternity! + LB]

John Ryan and Rev. Larry Beane after John's baptism, July 23, 2010
Sermon: Funeral of John Timothy Ryan

13 May 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Rev 21:1-7, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Dear Mary, Denny, Tammy, Tracy, relatives and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, honored guests: “Peace be with you!”  These are the first words spoken to the disciples by the risen Lord Jesus, announcing His victory over death, and comforting them in their mourning. 

Again, “Peace be with you!”

When I would tell people that I was John Ryan’s pastor, they would smile and say: “John’s a character.”  I would smile back, and agree with them.  Indeed, John is a character – right out of the parables of Jesus: a true example of the unexpected grace of God.

The first time I met John, he tried to shock me with an off-color joke.  He didn’t shock me then.  I gave it right back at him, and we became good friends.  But John did shock me when after a few months, without nagging or prodding, this 68-year old retired chief petty officer of the Navy Seals asked me to baptize him.

For that’s what is truly and joyfully shocking: God’s sudden grace, mercifully answered prayers, the unexpected call of the Holy Spirit, and John’s faithfulness even in this cynical and faithless world.

In being baptized nearly seven decades into physical life, John became a character out of the Lord’s parable of the workers, in which those who labored in the fields for a single hour, by the master’s mercy and kindness, were paid as much as those who labored all day long.

“The first will be last, and the last will be first,” says our Lord.  John is that character.

“The sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me,” says our Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd Himself.  John is a character in this metaphor, hearing the voice of His Good Shepherd, who promises: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”  For “I nothing lack if I am His, And He is mine forever.”

John is also that character.

St. Paul wrote: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

John is also that character, who knew the glory of world travel and the humility of being wheelchair-bound.  John knew what it was to golf with admirals and to be attended by healthcare nurses.  He knew what it was to be in faraway places and he knew what it was to be unable to get out of bed.

And it was indeed Christ who strengthened him in his own time of struggle and trial.

John is indeed a character!

And we honor Chief John T. Ryan’s courage and service to his country, rightfully so.  For in this world, honor is earned.  The Navy’s motto “non sibi sed patriae” – “not for self but for country” calls to mind our Lord’s words that the greatest love is demonstrated by those who lay down their lives for their friends.  But John Ryan has another country, not a republic but a kingdom, governed not by a president but rather ruled a King, Jesus Christ.  And this King comes not to be served but to serve.  In this country, honor is freely given and cannot be earned.  In this country, the King bleeds and the church militant reaps the reward.

John Ryan is also that character.

For ultimately, dear friends, as much as we love and admire John, this isn’t about John.  Like all of us, John was a sinner in need of a Savior.  And thanks be to God that in response to prayers, in answer to the work of the Holy Spirit, by means of the grace of God and the atoning work of Jesus Christ our Lord at the cross, John Ryan is one of the redeemed in eternity.  “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man….  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Blessed John Ryan is also that character!

And today, we are the ones who mourn – not John.  We are the ones in the church militant, continuing to wage war against the forces of evil: the world, the devil, and our own fallen flesh.  But John is today part of the church triumphant, no more to be a warrior, but rather to be the eternal victor by means of Him who won the victory for us at the bloody cross and the empty tomb. 

It is okay to mourn.  Of course, physical separation from our beloved John is painful.  But again, as St. Paul teaches, we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  For John is now reaping the peace dividend of Christ’s victory, and we can pray with John and with all the saints of every time and place: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

John is that character as well.

It was a military man who confessed at the Lord’s crucifixion: “This man is truly the Son of God.”  It was also a centurion who said: “I am also a man under orders.”  John Ryan understood that he was under the orders and command of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He knew it and confessed it like the biblical soldiers who saw Jesus.

John is that character also.

As is fitting for a man who retired from the Navy after a long life of honorable service in the water, it was good, right, and salutary that John should have gotten this victory over death through water, in the honorable service of Holy Baptism.  It was my honor on July 23, 2010 to bring John the gift of Holy Baptism, walking with him “where streams of living water flow,” John’s “ransomed soul He leadeth.”  It was always my privilege to bring the Holy Supper to John, “where verdant pastures grow, With food celestial feedeth.”

John Ryan is that character, the sheep led by the Shepherd, the lamb redeemed by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Like every Christian of every time, John is the character of the child of God redeemed by the Lord’s water-borne grace, mercy, and love – even unto the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Indeed, dear brothers and sisters, dear fellow baptized and redeemed, we can join John Ryan in all eternity in singing:

Death, you cannot end my gladness:
I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness
To inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes
Faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine
To make life immortal mine.

There is nothing worth comparing
To this life-long comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring:
Even there I’ll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising,
Still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ;
I’m a child of paradise!

John Ryan is that character!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia! 

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Superfluity of Naughtiness - Lay It Aside

We use the DDSB for our weekday Services. It is great and I enjoy reading from the KJV. But I stumble over this every year: “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21, KJV 1900) 

What is your "favorite" KJVism?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Thoughts on Easter 6: True Friends Tell It Like It Is

To be a friend means you tell it like it is. True friends speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). For to speak the truth is to love. To be a friend, then, to truly love, then, is to speak plainly, openly. It's to speak frankly and honestly and truthfully. And when one does this, when one person puts what he really thinks out there he lays down his life for the other's sake. In speaking plainly and frankly to someone, you put them first, you put their needs before yours, you put what is in their best interest before your own. You lay down your own life for the sake of theirs. For in speaking plainly, in speaking frankly, in telling it like it is, you give yourself for their gain rather than taking from them for your own, and thus you subject yourself to rejection, to misuse, and to all kinds of abuse. Nevertheless, this is the mark of true love and true friendship--open and honest speech, laying down your life for theirs.

And this is what, at last, our Lord gives to His disciples when He goes to the Father and sends them the Spirit of Truth. He lays down His life for His friends in being lifted up from the earth on the cross. He goes to the Father and sends the Spirit of Truth. He sends the Paraclete, who comes to lead them into all Truth, to lead them into what is to come, to declare to them what belongs to Jesus. Though they are His enemies according to the flesh, He treats them as friends because he speaks plainly, frankly (John 15:15) and because he lays down His life for them (John 15:13).

And so when the Holy Spirit comes, when the Paraclete, who bears and rears the children of God comes, he will lead them into a life as a friend of the Lord, a friend of the King of Kings. He will lead them into a life of prayer, a life of sacrificial prayer.

παρρησία (John 16:25) is an attribute of friendship because those who spoke plainly were understood to be trustworthy and speaking in the friend's best interest not their own. Whereas someone seeking their own interest would flatter by word and conduct. They would not be honest. They would not be frank and open.

The Lord is free to speak what He wants. He has nothing to hide. He is always open and frank. He has the freedom of speech because He is the Lord, the King. Thus our Lord will speak frankly and openly, plainly, to His disciples. He will use His παρρησίᾳ and thereby give to His disciples the status of friend and the freedom of speech with Him. Our Lord's παρρησία works παρρησία in those who hear Him. For by freely giving His Word He gives them His Spirit, His Voice. He gives them Himself. They are now one, even as the Father and the Son are one.

So now those who hear the Lord's παρρησία have the same. They can speak openly, honestly, frankly, candidly with Him. They are His friends.

But notice that the Lord rebukes His disciples for their response to His gift of παρρησία.
"Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone." (John 15:30-32)
The disciples don't respond in παρρησία. They respond with flattery. They don't treat Him as friend. They are trying to make themselves look good, hold themselves up. To point this out to them, our Lord says that they will all desert Him. They will all leave Him alone. Their response is a rejection of the παρρησίᾳ He gave them. The disciples, therefore, reject Him as their friend, as one who will will give His life for theirs. It is a rejection of Him, of His Word, of His Spirit. They don't want to be friends. They want to be slaves.

Consider your own life. Consider your own prayers. Do you couch your thoughts and your words to make you look good? Do you flatter your people, your confessor, your Lord with vain and idol speech? Are you open with them. Do you lay down you life for them? Are you their friend?

But here's the point: Despite your answer, regardless of your actions, The Lord is nevertheless your friend. He gave His life for you. He gives you His Spirit, His Word. You, therefore, have the right of παρρησία. You have freedom of speech. You can speak openly, plainly, honestly and frankly. You can tell it like it is. You can complain. You can ask the Father of your friend, our Lord Jesus Christ, anything. You have His ear because He gave it to you. Use it. Use this gift. Use your παρρησίᾳ. Open the Psalter to learn how. It is His Word, which carries His Spirit. And this will lead you into all Truth, which will give you life, joy, a freedom. Oh Lord open my lips. And He does.

On Arrogance

When a pastor and congregation, or parts of a congregation, have conflict one of the chief complaints against the pastor will almost certainly be that he is arrogant.

Without judging the justice of that complaint in any given case, I think we can readily admit that pastors are certainly susceptible to arrogance, perhaps more so than other Christians. They are supposed to be smart, at least to know more about the Bible and Church history than the other folks around them, they are college educated, and they possess authority. All that can go to your head. In addition, a confessional, conservative, propositional denomination like the LCMS tends to attract men with a certain set of personality traits: a preference for right/wrong argumentation and deductive logical thinking, a disdain for emotionalism or even emotion, etc. Sometimes this is referred to as "being German." But it's more than that for there are plenty of Pentecostals and Romantics named Meier, Schickelgrueber, and Hohenzollern.

With that combination of education and disposition, arrogance is a temptation we should expect: γνῶθι σαυτόν. So it behooves us all to cultivate true Christian humility in the same way Christians cultivate all the virtues: with the Word and prayer and faithful use of the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Confession and Absolution.

And yet there is still a problem - the appearance of arrogance even when arrogance itself is absent. Some of this will be unavoidable. Folks will charge you with arrogance (and much else) when you have the sad task of calling them to repentance. Calumny comes with the job; get used to it.

But since you know that it is coming on this score, get as much inoculation from that charge as you can. This begins with that genuine Christian humility mentioned above: there is no substitute for virtue. But one should also be worldly wise. In Bible class, in chance conversations in the supermarket, at the ball game, etc., a little self-deprecating humor goes a long way. Bringing a beer to the trustee who mows the lawn goes a long way. Volunteering to help out with some of the manual labor on the spring clean up day goes a long way.

I suspect that a lot of this is a rural/small town phenomenon. In my parishes it's not uncommon for my wife and I to be the only people in a room with college degrees. In their Monday-Friday lives these parishioners often work under managers and bosses with plenty of degrees and very little common sense or kindness. Same goes for the politicians whose rule they live under. So they are set up to expect the same of the other college educated authority in their lives: the pastor.

All of this is even more necessary for pastors concerned with reverence in the Divine Service, for amongst the people of middle America reverence and arrogance are sometimes confused. The signs of the former are taken to be the evidence for the latter. This is what the charge of "chancel prancing" comes down to: You are an arrogant show off. The worst part of this is that you may never hear the charge to your face and have opportunity to explain why you do what you do and to Whose honor you do it.

Furthermore, teaching all that good stuff about why we worship how we worship before, during, and after you make changes for the sake of reverence really won't help you in this regard. I'm sorry, but it's true. Those disposed to listen to your teaching are not the problem. Especially if that teaching is done partly or in whole via the written word. Those who have a predisposition against "elites" will not read what you write and only listen to a fraction of your explanations. You can't tell someone "I'm not arrogant" when every Sunday they can clearly see what they take to be evidence to the contrary.

Some you will never convince. And those you do you will convince not with your words, but with your deeds of pastoral care in tragic circumstances, your small talk about pork bellies, your admissions of ignorance, and your sharing of cold beer after a hot afternoon of painting the rectory porch.


Monday, May 7, 2012

A Few Minutes with Fr. William C. Weedon, LCMS Director of Worship and International Center Chaplain

I recently had the pleasure of spending a few minutes chatting with Fr. William C. Weedon, newly installed LCMS Director of Worship and International Center Chaplain, to ask him a few questions about his new post. Here's his response.

Fr. William C. Weedon, LCMS Director of Worship and International Center Chaplain

GOTTESDIENST: As Director of Worship and IC chaplain, what will some of your duties entail?
WEEDON: Let's start with the easier one: as IC Chaplain I'm responsible for coordinating and planning the services that take place in the International Center Chapel (it needs a name!), and in general finding ways for "the Word of God to dwell richly" among the employees in the building as they seek to seek to serve the needs of the Church. In today's Chapel, President Harrison spoke of the three meanings we find in the NT for "confess" - confession of sins, of the faith, and the confession of praise. As chaplain in this place, it's my calling to assist the workers in embracing all three meanings: learning what it means to live together under the forgiveness of Jesus – and so forgiving one another, building each other up in our wonderful doctrinal heritage, and also growing in the joyous praise of God. They are all tied together as we learn to "say back" to God what He has graciously said and revealed of Himself to us.

As Director of Worship, I'll hope to entice the pastors and parishes of the Synod into a joyous, reverent, and intentional embrace of our heritage as Lutheran Christians – a heritage that virtually drips with the sweetness of the Gospel at every turn. One wonderful thing about that heritage is that it is always open-ended: the Lord of the Church is never done giving His gifts. He always has more: new gifts, new songs, new joys for His Church. But (and this is crucial) these "new" gifts never come by way of replacement of the heritage that has gone before but always as its natural unfolding and growth. "One generation shall declare your works to another." This happens as the song of previous generations lives on on our lips and in our hearts, and as we teach that song to the next generation, and add whatever new the Lord gives in our own day along with it. Also, keep your eye out for workshops for hymn-writers, continued publication of the Let Us Pray series – AND the addition of a set of historic, one-year Let Us Pray cycle, ongoing Lectionary Summaries and perhaps a revival of the Lutheran Musicians Enrichment opportunities.

GOTTESDIENST: You’ve said before that we have a “rich, intentional and beautiful liturgical heritage” and that within that heritage “we possess a wide range of freedom.” What does that mean for LCMS congregations?
WEEDON: The sainted A. C. Piepkorn once famously wrote that the responsible exercise of freedom is itself a catholic virtue. He was right, of course, and yet the chief freedom we are concerned with when we speak of Christian worship is not the freedom from our liturgical heritage, or even the freedom to mold our liturgical heritage, but the freedom that that heritage bears such sublime witness to: the liberation of creation from its bondage to decay, sin and death! Freedom isn't making up a new liturgy each week – in fact, that can end up being bondage to the itch for the novel that Luther decried in the intro to the German Mass. On the contrary, the freedom to which our liturgical and hymnological heritage bears witness is the freedom to live in the Spirit where all is gift from the hand of the Crucified and Risen One (even the sufferings!) who IS the Forgiveness of our sin and the Destruction of all our death, and so where all of life is referred in thanksgiving to His heavenly Father, who has now become our Father. This is the freedom to be the children of God that our Baptism has made us, the freedom to which absolution constantly restores us, and that the most venerable Eucharist strengthens within us every time we receive it in the joys of repentance and faith.

GOTTESDIENST: How can pastors be more purposeful in cultivating a rich liturgical life within their congregation?
WEEDON: First let them be men of prayer. The Daily Office should be no stranger to our pastors. We have rich resource here. I think of Treasury of Daily Prayer or The Brotherhood Prayerbook among others. Let the pastors be men of prayer and among their concerns in prayer, let them pray for the renewal of their parishes (that they might truly become outposts, colonies of the Age to Come)and for a growing and deep reverence and love for the Blessed Eucharist in their congregations. Let's also watch HOW we conduct ourselves in the service of bringing the gifts of God to the people of God. Not stiff and wooden and choreographed, certainly not casual and comfortable, but with fear and trembling, commingled with the unutterable joy of being in the presence of the Lamb of God with all the saints and angels. When pastors orient themselves toward this great present but unseen reality in our worship, it will then invite the congregation along with them into the holy presence. We also need to remember this: the liturgy is at its heart simply prayed confession, prayed doctrine. Discomfort with our historic liturgy may sometimes be a sign and symptom of discomfort with the Lutheran doctrine embedded in it. That needs then to be addressed for what it is: not a quarrel about worship style, but a struggle to confess the truth of God.

GOTTESDIENST: What can the pastors of the LCMS be doing or praying for that will assist you in your new role?
WEEDON: The pastors of the LCMS need above all to attend to this: the preaching of the Word entrusted to them. The preaching of God's law in such a way that the sinner is not merely irritated but slain; the preaching of the Gospel in such clarity that the slain are raised from the dead by the life-giving Spirit. I have said for many years that what we face in the Synod is not so much a crisis of liturgy as a crisis of preaching. Lutheran liturgy tends to take care of itself when the preaching is strong. There is nothing that would so strengthen the worship life of the congregations of our Synod, nothing that would so delight our Lord's heart, as more careful attention to our preaching. If there is one thing we should ask the Lord of the Church to grant us, it is renewal in the pulpit. That will lead, I firmly believe, to renewal at the altar, in the choir loft, and out in the community.

Fr. Weedon's installation as LCMS Director of Worship and International Center Chaplain