Friday, February 24, 2017

A New Heart

a guest editorial by Pfarrer Dr Gottfried Martens
translated by Dr. John Stephenson

God says, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26 RSV): comments on the ecumenical text (Losung) chosen for the year 2017, which happens to be the Five Hundredth Jubilee of the Reformation.

When we engage in electronic communication with other people these days, we often employ so-called emojis, symbols that aim to give non-verbal form to feelings. By this point there are so many emojis that we can even find an Emojiwiki on the Internet where we can look up the meaning of all the many emojis. We there find explanations of what a yellow heart stands for in an electronic message; it stands for optimism, encouragement, and joy in life.

We see nearby a yellow heart on the image with which the artist Ulrike Wilke-Müller interprets the Text for the Year (Jahreslosung). And yet we would completely misunderstand this picture if we saw in it only an emoji offering a brief and instantly comprehensible message that could be put in words as “Hold your heads up high and think positively!” No, it would be worthwhile to subject this image to a much more precise inspection.

Whatever may be the case with emojis, a yellow heart is and remains unusual; we are much more familiar with a red heart as a sign of love. And yet Holy Scripture makes it abundantly plain that our human heart, that which stands for our inmost essence, that which pushes us on and defines us, has a radically different colour. From our first heartbeat on it is black, closed to God’s love, hard, and turned in on itself. And this black heart has no future, it cannot endure before the eyes of God when He examines and judges our hearts, our inmost essence, that which defines and stamps our lives.

And yet in the Losung for this New Year 2017 we hear a grandiose promise of God: He Himself removes this black heart and replaces it with a new heart; with us as the patients, He undertakes a lifesaving heart transplant. Let us pay close attention to what God promises here. He doesn’t say, “You must make an effort to purify your hearts”! He doesn’t say, “I’ll give you tips how to change your hearts”! He doesn’t say, “You have to take a decision for Me, and then I’ll give you a new heart”! On the contrary, God Himself sees quite clearly that we ourselves can do nothing to get a new heart and a new spirit; we can do zilch to cooperate in our own salvation.  He Himself really must do the whole thing for us, He must turn us into people who are open to Him and His Word, to Him and His love.

Yellow indeed, as a sign of God’s presence, as a sign of something completely new that God creates. A yellow new heart bestowed by God and suffused with His presence—what  a marvellous promise! And now it behoves us to look more closely at Frau Wilke-Müller’s artwork.

We see as it were rays that shine fom above into this heart and suffuse it: God places His new spirit in us and suffuses it with His own Spirit. Shades of blue surround the heart on the left side, a reminder of Holy Baptism in which God carried out this heart transplant upon us, in which God gave us a new heart and bestowed His Spirit upon us.

We see here how a Cross shines above the heart and reaches into it. The new heart is determined by the love that God Himself has proved to us by surrendering His own Son to the Cross.  Our heart only becomes luminously bright through the Cross, only through the forgiveness we receive by the Cross do our black guilt and failure retreat from the centre of our lives.

In the centre of the heart we see an opened door. The One who has bestowed the new heart does not remain outside, but lives within us and makes our hearts His dwelling. No, we must not “let God into our hearts”. God already invites Himself inside and comes in. Shades of red dominate the right side of the picture, a reminder of the blood of Christ that washes us clean from our sin, the blood that we receive in the holy sacrament of the altar, the blood in which Christ takes up residenc e in us and continually nurtures and strengthens our new heart.

If we look closely, we see that the heart is formed by the two Tables of the Law, by the Tables of the Ten Commandments. What a marvellous image—as Christians we don’t need to adhere to thousands of discrete legal prescriptions. On the contrary, God’s will itself is written in our heart, when we have received this new heart. The way we follow God’s will is for God’s Spirit to move us, the Spirit who makes us God’s children, people whose hearts cling wholly to their Father and His Word.

And when we take a final look at the image, in the very centre of the heart, where the two sides intersect, we notice a grain of wheat. Yes, we already have the new heart, we can already live as new people. And yet there is oftentimes so little outward evidence of this in our lives. The grain of wheat is already planted in us, but everything that is still to develop from this will only be fully perceived at the goal of our lives, in God’s new world. And that we arrive at that point, despite all our failure, this is something that God Himself takes care of, He who bestows the new heart upon us and places the new spirit within us. This is the whole point of the Lutheran Reformation past and present!

I wish you a blessed Reformation Jubilee Year 2017,

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Memento, homo...

... that you are dust, and you look fabulous!"

Here is a new rubric for Ash Wednesday.

It seems that they are missing the entire point of the ashes.  

Lex Pulchritudinis, Lex Credendi

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Restoring the Sacred

This is a remarkable true story of a church on the verge of ruin that managed to come back to life by restoring the focus of the church on the sacred, on the Mass, on the transcendent. We have much to learn by the experience of St. John Cantius,

Note: We are confessing Lutherans. We are well-aware of the theological differences between Rome and Augsburg. Snark and trolling comments will not be published.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review: My Little ABC Liturgy Book

By Larry Beane

The Rev. Gaven Mize, pastor of Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hickory, NC is the father of a newborn.

And he is already thinking about catechesis.

Father Mize and his wife Ashlee have actually been teaching their son Oliver already - as have parents of all the little ones in the parish - by means of the liturgy: the perfect vehicle to teach the very young. Especially for infants and children, learning is experiential and multi-sensory, embedding sights, sounds, and smells into the minds of the faithful from the start.  In the church, we have songs and gestures and brightly colored things to see.  Movement, music, and repetition grab and hold the attention of the little ones - even when we may not think they are really learning at all.  When they are brought to the communion rail, their eyes grow large as they see grownups kneel and reverently receive Jesus, and the pastor traces a cross upon their foreheads and blesses them as they look around and see majestic crosses and crucifixes and exotic Greek letters and captivating art depicting our Lord and flickering candles. They drink it all in, Sunday after Sunday, and grow into the liturgy as they hear the Scriptures and sermons and are taught to pray by their parents.  The church's liturgy is the children's teacher.

We confess that "ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ" (AC 24:3).

Along with illustrator Ryan Porter, Father Mize has authored an elegant and welcoming book for the littlest catechumens in our midst: My Little ABC Liturgy Book.

Using the alphabet as a foil (which itself reminds us that our Lord is the Word), Mize gives the children a tour of the Divine Service, beginning with "A is for Altar" - not only teaching liturgical vocabulary to the children, but showing them what these words mean in their context within the church's culture and worship.

The illustrations are bright and colorful without being garish or cartoonish.  Here we see vestments proclaiming Christ instead of veggies telling a tale.  The children are shown ecclesiastical architecture and furnishings, books and candles and fonts and censors and symbols of our Lord that their young eyes will be trained to joyfully recognize in person on Sunday morning.  The pages show a pastor and his assistants carrying out their work to bring Jesus to the people, as well as families reverently worshiping together in the pews.

There are a few explanatory notes for the parents who themselves may not know why chasubles are worn or what the significance of frankincense is.  There are also a few "Easter eggs" in the illustrations - such as the halo of Jesus that has the word "Logos" written in Greek.  The words chosen and depicted are from the very best of our liturgical tradition and the book makes no apologies for doing so.

Pastor Mize and Mr. Porter have given the Lord's dear children a gift - which is in turn a vehicle to the gift of the liturgy, in which we receive Word and Sacrament, communion with the Most Holy Trinity, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My Little ABC Liturgy Book is set to be released some time before Easter and is being published and sold by Grail Quest Books.  It will also be available on Amazon.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Catholics and/or Protestants

By Larry Beane

There is a discussion on a Lutheran Facebook group about whether we Lutherans are Protestant or Catholic.

Maybe we should let our confessions have the final say:

"This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known by its writers."


"...our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons."

The Book of Concord is filled with this kind of language.

Not counting the creeds, the word "Catholic" occurs 13 times in our Book of Concord, including the description of our confession explicitly as "the belief of the true and genuine catholic Church."

The word "Protestant" is not found even once in our confessional writings, although it was in common usage for decades by the time the Smalcald Articles and the Formula of Concord were written.

To call ourselves "Protestant" lumps us in with the Reformed, the Anabaptists, and their heirs of today - which are all quite different from each other. When we confess as Protestant, we unite with those who ordain women, refuse to baptize babies, speak in "tongues," and deny the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This does not describe our confession.

The word Protestant is a useless catch-all word that cannot be defined positively for anyone.
However, when we confess as Catholic, we confess exactly as our confessional documents do, as orthodox Christians in continuity with Scripture, with the apostles, and with the fathers; not innovators, not heretics.

We should return to the font of our Book of Concord and not yield to others who wish to define us as something we aren't.