Sunday, March 31, 2013

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy....
God the Holy Ghost,
Holy Trinity, one God,
Jesus, Redeemer of mankind,
Jesus, Conqueror of sin and Satan,
Jesus, triumphant over Death.,
Jesus, the Holy and the Just,
Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life,
Jesus, the Giver of grace,
Jesus, the Judge of the world,

Who didst lay down Thy life for Thy sheep, have mercy on us.
Who didst rise again the third day,
Who didst manifest Thyself to Thy chosen,
Visiting Thy blessed Mother,
Appearing to Magdalen while she wept,
Sending Thy angels to the holy women,
Comforting the Eleven,
Saying to them, Peace,
Breathing on them the Holy Ghost,
Confirming the faith of Thomas,
Committing Thy flock to Peter,
Speaking of the Kingdom of God,

We sinners, beseech Thee, hear us.
That we may walk in newness of life, we beseech Thee hear us.
That we may advance in the knowledge of Thee,
That we may grow in grace,
That we may ever have the bread of life,
That we may persevere unto the end,
That we may have confidence before Thee at Thy coming,
That we may behold Thy face with joy,
That we may be placed at Thy right hand in the judgment.
That we may have our lot with the saints,

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord..
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ is risen, Alleluia.
He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

Christ is Risen!

 המשיח קם! באמת קם!
Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ανέστη! 
Christus resurrexit! Resurrexit vere!
Christus ist auferstanden! Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden!
Kristus är uppstånden! Han är sannerligen uppstånden!
Cristo è risorto! È veramente risorto!
Christ est ressuscité! Il est vraiment ressuscité!
¡Cristo ha resucitado! ¡En verdad ha resucitado!
Kristus er opstanden! Sandelig Han er Opstanden!
Христос воскрес! Воистину воскрес!
Christos voskrese! Voistinu voskrese!
Kristus on üles tõusnud! Tõesti, Ta on üles tõusnud!
Kristus nousi kuolleista! Totisesti nousi!
Krisztus feltámadt! Valóban feltámadt!
Christus is opgestaan! Hij is waarlijk opgestaan! 
ⲠⲓⲬⲣⲓⲥⲧⲟⲥ ⲁϥⲧⲱⲛϥ! Ϧⲉⲛ ⲟⲩⲙⲉⲑⲙⲏⲓ ⲁϥⲧⲱⲛϥ!
المسيح قام! حقا قام!  المسيح قام! بالحقيقة قام!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Unmarked sheep. . .

We all affirm that baptism is the mark of the Lord upon those whom He has declared to be His own.  The sheep can wander from Him and thereby renounce the mark and the safety of the flock and the Good Shepherd, but the Lord cannot disown His own.

I grew up in an era when cattle were still branded, when ranchers still burned their mark into what belonged to them.  Now identification is done through ear tags.  Perhaps more humane but hardly as permanent as the mark burned into the flesh.

So often we think that mark is not all that necessary.  We think we know who we are and whose we are.  We do not need reminding.  Or do we?  Perhaps the issue here is that we forget -- either by choice or by accident.  We forget who we are and whose we are all the time.  When we melt into the crowd of the world instead of standing up and out as those called and set apart by the Lord to be His own, to declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light...  When we choose to sin because we think we can do it anonymously and without recrimination... When we filter the faith through our reason and our personal taste, picking and choosing from God the things we will believe, accept, and do...  In all of these we have forgotten who we are and whose we are.  The mark does serve to remind us when we run from that awareness or have drifted from the fold.

The mark stands for the world to see.  Baptism's mark is not burned into the flesh or tattooed upon us.  It is indelible by the Lord and revealed by the life of the baptized gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord, by the piety of prayer, and by the good works that accompany such worship and devotion.  "As often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes..."  Therein, in the Holy Communion of the called out who have been called in to this assembly, the mark of the baptized is revealed for the whole world to see.  Public worship is witness.  Kneeling before the Sacrament, like hearing the Word among the brethren, are acts of public piety that show forth the baptismal mark so that what appears to be hidden may appear before the world.

The mark is also for God to see.  Like the rainbow set in the clouds to remind Him of His promise, the baptismal mark is worn so that those who belong to Him are known by Him.  This may seem strange to us but it is surely no stranger than the rainbow.  This is the mark God appointed to remind Him of His mercy that the world may no more be subject to a drowning death.  Once drowned, the death is done.  And in this way we see baptism.  He sees us in the drowning death of our baptism and the new life He has imparted to us in those living waters.  No more are we subject to a drowning death but have died the fearful death with Christ to be raised to new life where death has no more power over us.  God wants to be reminded of this and so we tell Him what He has told us and this is the nature of worship.  No more different, then, than the baptismal mark which is not visible like an external brand but still seen by God to name as His own by the Name He has placed on us.

Without a mark, we are not yet His.  Apart from His mark of grace, we are subject to the claim of any and all who would claim us, until His claim stands on us.  Baptism is clearly the all important lens... through which we see ourselves... through which the world around us sees us... and through which God sees us. . . 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Music for a Death. . .

In monte Oliveti ad patrem oravit:
Pater si fieri potest transeat a me calix iste.
Spiritus quidem promptus est caro autem infirma.
Fiat voluntas tua.
Verumtamen non sicut ego volo, sed sicut tu vis.
Fiat voluntas tua.

On the Mount of Olives he prayed to his Father:
“Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Let your will be done.
Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,
Let your will be done.”

By Orlando di Lasso

Lenten Midweek Sermons V

Some have asked what we did for Lent.  This year we learned the text of an ancient prayer, called the Anima Christi, and talked about what we pray in the petitions of this prayer.  You are welcome to join us in these Lenten devotions.
      In the hour of my death, call to me and bid me come to Thee. That I may praise Thee with Thy saints and with Thy angels, forever and ever.

    One of the first pastoral calls I ever made, a friend and mentor took me along.  The aged woman was confined to her bed.  The Pastor asked her about death -- was she ready, was she afraid.  I feared it was the ultimate insult to talk of death with a woman who looked so near it.  But she wept that her Pastor came to talk with her of death.  No one in her family would speak to her about it.  It was the forbidden subject and yet she longed to empty her soul of this burden, to hear the sweet Gospel of Christ, and to be encouraged in what she and we all knew were her last days.  It taught me a great deal.
    There was a time when we were more conscious of death and more willing to talk about it.  Now we try to put it out of our minds.  We fear teaching our children, “If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  We don’t want them preoccupying on death.  We do not take them to funeral homes and, by and large, people do not turn out for visitation like they once did.  Is it because we are busier or is it that death is not something we want to think about?
    You probably know my own personal battle against the culture of death in which the funeral has become the celebration of the life of the deceased.  We console ourselves with laughter and memories instead of real hope.  We tell ourselves mom or dad or sis or brother or son or daughter or friend would not have wanted us to grieve.  They would have wanted us to be happy.  Death is no longer an enemy, it is what happens at the end of a long and well lived life, hopefully before age or disease have robbed us of our “quality of life.”
    I am not sure that this perspective on life or death has much to do with what we see and hear in Scripture.  In Scripture, death is something that shadows our lives from beginning to end.  It is the thief who steals away our lives, whether bit by bit or all at once.  It is the shadow that hangs over our every day and every joy.  It is the lens through which we see and understand both our predicament as sinners and the redemption won for us in Christ.
    For many of us, our attempt to heal the grief over the death of loved ones and the struggle to deal with our own mortality is real.  It cannot be wished away or hidden.  I look out over this congregation every Sunday and I look into the faces of people whose hearts are still broken over the death of a mother or a father, a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter, a friend or a neighbor.  I want to tell them that their pain will go away but I know it will not.  They may learn to cope with their hurt and loss but it will surely not go away.  It is a hole in life and a wound in the heart that never heals.
    In this prayer we take death seriously.  It is not that we are morbid.  We are NOT.  But we live in a real world where death is still among us, the enemy who takes the life God has given to us and leaves us empty, sorrowful, and vulnerable.
In the hour of my death, call to me and bid me come to Thee. That I may praise Thee with Thy saints and with Thy angels, forever and ever.  This is our prayer for ourselves and for those whom we love who have died.  In the hour of our death, O Lord, call to us, bid us come to Thee, that we may rise to live with Thy saints and angels, forevermore.
    Christ’s own death has sanctified our death.  His time in the tomb has sanctified the graves of the saints.  His resurrection is the hope of our own joyful resurrection and the blest reunion with those whom we love who have departed this life in faith.  The only way we can take our hope seriously is to take death seriously.  Jesus did not become incarnate to show us how to grab all the gusto we can out of life.  He was born to die for us our death to sin and to rise to give us new and everlasting life.  Any other benefit or blessing is secondary to this purpose, that He died our death to sin and rose to give us new and eternal life.
    Talk of death is not some great burden on us.  It is the reality of being sinful by nature.  As sin has passed upon us so death has come upon us, too.  We cannot shake it, we cannot hide from it, we cannot avoid it.  But we are not alone.  Christ is with us.  He can shake the sting of death and has hidden in death the gateway to new life.  In Christ we do not hide from it or avoid it.  In Christ we face it square on with the power of His death and resurrection.
    Death is not imaginary.  It is real.  The life in which death is not real is only an imaginary life.  We need something real.  We do not need a placebo and we do not need a dream.  We need a God who is strong enough to face down our enemy death, a God who can bleed real blood and die a real death.  We need a life that is strong enough to face this death with the power of Christ and His resurrection.  We need a life in which the fear and sting of death have an answer.  That is the Gospel.  These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that by believing in Him you might have eternal life.  This is how John ends His Gospel story of Jesus.
    You cannot live until first you know how to die.  Otherwise the life you live will consist of running away from something.  Only in Christ can we run to that which is our hope.  Only Christ can we run to life by passing through death.  In Christ we learn to die.
    That is baptism’s gift to us.  It gives us the death that takes away the sting of death by uniting us to Christ and His cross.  It bestows on us the power of His life and resurrection so that we know the destiny God has prepared for us.  In the face of such destiny of life and resurrection, we have the tools, the answers, the power to face up to death here and now.
    In the hour of my death, call to me and bid me come to Thee.  That I may praise Thee with Thy saints and with Thy angels, forever and ever.  This is the prayer of those who believe that Christ and His life are even more real than death.  This is the prayer of those who believe that even in death, Christ reigns and rules.  This is the prayer of a people who have been set free to live the holy and righteous life of faith because they no longer fear death for what it can steal – instead they have confidence in what God gives.
    Our consolation in life is not that people will miss us when we are gone or that we have done something that will live on after us.  We do not need to be remembered by anyone but the Lord who says “Today you shall be with Me in paradise.”  Our comfort in grief is not that we still have a memory but that we have the promise of resurrection and reunion and life, world without end.  Amen.  Our peace in this mortal life is not that death is natural or that if we can squeeze enough life into our days we won’t lose much when death comes.  Our peace is the even in the midst of death we live in Christ the life that death cannot overcome.  Our lives do not have to long or happy or successful to be worthwhile.  In suffering and in sorrow as well as in happiness and accomplishment, we are the Lord’s and He is ours.  Today.... Tomorrow... and Forever...  Amen.

Death on a Friday afternoon

O darkest woe!
Ye tears, forth flow!
Has earth so sad a wonder?
God the Father's only Son
Now is buried yonder.

O sorrow dread!
God's Son is dead!
But by His expiation
Of our guilt upon the cross
Gained for us salvation.

O sinful man!
It was the ban
Of death on thee that brought Him
Down to suffer for thy sins
And such woe hath wrought Him.

Lo, stained with blood,
The Lamb of God,
The Bridegroom, lies before thee,
Pouring out His life that He
May life restore thee.

O Ground of faith,
Laid low in death.
Sweet lips. now silent sleeping!
Surely all that live must mourn
Here with bitter weeping.

Oh. blest shall be
Who oft in faith will ponder
Why the glorious Prince of Life
Should be buried yonder.

O Jesus blest,
My Help and Rest
With tears I now entreat Thee:
Make me love Thee to the last,
Till in heaven I greet Thee!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lenten Midweek Services IV

Some have asked what we did for Lent.  This year we learned the text of an ancient prayer, called the Anima Christi, and talked about what we pray in the petitions of this prayer.  You are welcome to join us in these Lenten devotions.

Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.  From the assault of my enemy, defend me.
    The chronic complaint of our age is boredom.  Close behind is loneliness.  We feel isolated in our jobs, in our homes, and in our lives.  Though we have ample technological resources to connect, these have replaced the community we crave most of all, personal touch.  This is true also of the Church. 
    Remember the tag line of the old TV program, “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name.  More than anything else we long for such a church in which everything is personal, in the best sense of that term.  At the same time we also fear such intimacy.  There is safety in anonymity, security in keeping commitments at bay and remaining on the fringes.  Within this tension we find the burden of our age.  How to be personal and connected without becoming dependent?  For more than anything else we value our independence.
    When it comes to God, these tensions continue.  How do we relate to God?  On the one hand we want Him near – near when we need Him or desire to call on Him.  On the other hand, we want Him distant – not the God who interferes but the God who knows His place.  It always seems that God is near when we want Him distant, and distant when we seek Him near. 
    In the midst of this we pray, “Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.”  Such a prayer comes only from the Holy Spirit.  For none of us on our own wants God so close.  Only the Spirit can break down our fears, rescue us from our quest for independence, and teach us the joy of dependence upon the God who is near, who is always with us.  Tonight we come to be instructed by that Spirit so that the words spoken by our lips may reflect the desire of our hearts, prompted and shaped by the working of God in us.
    God refuses every box except the ones He has chosen for Himself.  God refuses to be distant even when we desire Him so and He is always near.  That is the God whom we know in Christ.  He comes among us not with judgment or condemnation but with mercy and grace.  He comes to bear the burden of our sin, to die the death that has claimed us all, and to pay the debt that has enslaved us and stolen our freedom.  His nearness is His mercy at work.  From Isaiah to this moment, we speak Emmanuel, God with us.
    The means of His presence have become as nebulous as a feeling that comes and goes or an idea here and there.  This is the God who comes when bidden and who remains but a thought or a feeling captive to a mind or a heart.  But this is not the God we know in Christ.  Bidden or not, this God comes to us.  Not as dream or warm feeling but as flesh and blood.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary we confess in the creed.  This is how we confess God’s nearness.  He has come through His Son.
    God is where Christ is and Christ is where His name is and His name is where His Word and Sacraments are.  Let me say that again. God is where Christ is and Christ is where His name is and His name is where His Word and Sacraments are.  Here in the means of grace we meet the Lord face to face.  Here He comes in concrete and real form to dwell among us and to live in us and to work through us.
    Our piety flow from the means of grace and not from feelings or ideas.  In the words of the hymn, “God Himself is present, let us now adore Him.”  Those words point us to the water that gives new life, to the voice of the Gospel that speaks forgiveness, life and salvation, and to the bread of heaven that is Christ’s body and blood.  God is not an idea, not even a holy idea or feeling.  God is real as the splash of water, the sound of a voice, the taste of bread and wine.
    God is also present among us in the faces of our brothers and sisters in Christ, the “little Christs,” as Luther put it, who are the faces and hands of Christ in the world.  Good works are not optional because they are payment to God for love or forgiveness.  They are not optional because they are the mark of Christ living in us and working through us.
    We live in a dangerous world.  This is not because of terrorism or a fragile economy.  It is because the world is filled with our enemies and the evil one who has become our greatest enemy simply because we belong to Christ by baptism and faith.  We do not seek God near for aesthetic purpose but because we live in danger.  Every day we face the assaults of the evil one who seeks to steal our hope, rob our joy, destabilize our lives, and hold us captive to desire, guilt, and despair.  He is neither obvious nor easy to resist.  Without God’s presence we would be but victims suffering even more.
    Because of Christ’s presence, we endure, we have the rescue of forgiveness to restore us when we fall and the hope of eternal life when this life becomes burden and pain.  God defends us by holding us close to Him and this happens through the means of grace, through the Word and Sacraments.  That is why He beckons us to His house, because He is here, safety and refuge are here, forgiveness and peace are here.  We come because we know that on our own we cannot stand.
    In this little prayer we pray the Lord to keep us in His hand.  It is the prayer that flows from Jesus own promise, “I am the Good Shepherd’ I know My sheep and My sheep know Me, and no one is able to snatch us from My hand...”  This is not magic but the power of the Word, written, spoken, and visible in the Sacraments.  Here is Christ come to us, dwelling in us, sustaining us, delivering us against our enemies, and keeping us to eternal life.
    We are not alone.  Christ is here and God in Christ.  To hold us in the grasp of grace, to defend us from our enemy, and to restore us when our hearts and lives wander from the fold.  How do we know this?  Because Christ has promised.  “Lo, I am with you always.”  His visible person ascended so that His sacramental presence might remain.  He cannot be stretched thin or distracted by the burdens of so many who need and depend on Him.  We are His and He is ours.  Here we pray that we may abide in Him and He in us, defended from the assaults of the enemy so that we might be free to bear the good fruit that lasts, the good works that show forth the Christ who lives in us.
    Only the Spirit can lead us to want God this close and only the means of grace keep the promise of His nearness.  Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.  From the assault of my enemy, defend me.  Amen

Whoever easts my flesh and drinks my blood. . .

From Johann Gerhard, Sacred Meditations:

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives eternally,” says Christ (John 6:54). Great in every way are the benefits of our Savior who not only assumed our flesh and carried it with him to his throne of heavenly glory, but also still feeds us with his body and blood for eternal life. O salutary food of our soul! O long awaited feast! O heavenly and angelic meal! Although angels desired to look into that great mystery (1 Peter 1:12), nevertheless he did not assume the seed of angels, but of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16). The Savior is closer kin to us than to the angels, for we have learned of that love that he gave to us by his Spirit, not only by his Spirit, but also by his body and blood. He thus indeed speaks the truth about the eucharistic bread and wine, “This is my body. This is my blood” (Matthew 26:26). How can the Lord forget those whom he has redeemed115 with his own body and blood, whom he has nourished with his own body and blood? “Whoever eats the flesh and drinks the blood of Christ remains in Christ, and Christ remains in him” (John 6:56).

I therefore do not wonder exceedingly that the hairs of our head have been numbered (Matthew 10:30), that our names have been written in heaven (Luke 10:20), that we have been inscribed upon the palms of the hands of the Lord (Isaiah 49:16), or that we have been carried in his womb as by a mother (Isaiah 46:3) since we are nourished by the body and blood of Christ. The dignity of our souls is also great because they are nourished with the precious ransom of their redemption. Moreover, the dignity of our bodies is great because they are the habitation of our souls, redeemed and filled by the body of Christ, the temples of the Holy Spirit, and the domiciles116 of the entire Most Holy Trinity. It is impossible that the same ones who have been nourished with the body and blood of our  Lord—with that greatest117 of meals—would remain in the grave. We eat him but we do not change him in our body. Rather we are changed in him. We are members of Christ and are filled with breath by his Spirit. We are nourished by his body and his blood.

“This is the bread which descended from heaven and gives life to the world. If anyone will eat of it, they will not hunger for all eternity” (John 6:33).118 This is the bread of grace and mercy. All who eat of it will “taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:9), and “will receive grace upon grace from his fullness” (John 1:16). This is the bread of life that is not only living but makes alive. If anyone eats of this he will live forever (John 6:58).  This bread has descended from heaven and is not only itself heavenly but also makes those partaking of it partakers of the heavenly feast. Whoever eats of this feast with faith and in the Spirit will become heavenly because they will not die but will be resuscitated in the Last Day. They will not be revived for judgment in the Last Day because whoever eats from this bread will not come to judgment or to damnation since there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Rather, they will be revived for life and salvation (Romans 8:1). “Whoever indeed eats the flesh of the Son of Man and drinks his blood will have life in him and will live because of Christ” (John 6:54,57). His flesh is real food and his blood is real drink (John 6:55). Therefore, let us not satisfy ourselves on our own works but with the Lord’s food. Let us not become inebriated with the abundance of our own house but with that of the house of the Lord (Psalm 36:9).119

Christ is the true fountain of life.120 Whoever drinks of that water will have a fountain of water springing up within them into eternal life (John 4:14). All who thirst come to these waters; and those who have no money come, buy, and eat (Isaiah 55:1). Let all who thirst come. Come also you, my soul, thirsting and harassed by the heat of my sins. But if you are destitute, lacking the currency of merits, hasten all the more to him. Destitute,121 without your own merits, hasten all the more ardently to the merits of Christ. Hasten, therefore, and buy without money. This is the bedroom of Christ and of the soul, from which sins do not deter us and into which merits do not enter. What are our merits even able to do for us? “Why do you spend money on what is not bread and labor for what does not satisfy?” says the prophet (Isaiah 55:2). Our labors do not satisfy, nor does the currency of our merits buy divine grace. Hear then, my soul, “and eat what is good and delight in fatness” (Isaiah 55:2). These words that I speak are Spirit and life and the words of eternal life (John 6:63). “The cup we bless is a participation122 in the blood of Christ. The bread which we break is a participation in the body of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 10:16). We cling to the Lord. Therefore, we are one spirit with him. We are united123 with him not only by a communion in nature124 but also by a participation in his body and blood. For this reason, I do not say with the Jews, “How can this one give us his flesh for eating?” (John 6:52). Rather I exclaim, “How does the Lord distribute his flesh to us for eating and his blood for drinking!” I do not probe125 into his power but rather marvel at his benevolence. I do not scrutinize his majesty but rather venerate his kindness. I believe in the presence. I am not concerned with the mode of his presence.126 Although, I know it is most certainly in the closest and most intimate manner. We are members of his body, flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone (Ephesians 5:30). He lives in us and we in him.

115 Quos suo corpoer et sanguine redemit om. G.
116 Sunt add. G.
117 cibus mirabilis G.
118 This quote borrows loosely from the general passage and not from this verse alone.

119 Psalm 36:8 in English.
120 Psalm 36:9 in the English would apply here.
121 Destitute G.
122 Or, as we say, a communion in the body and blood.
123 Utimur ABCD.
124 A shared human nature.
125 Mirror CDG.
126 Or, “I do not know…”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lenten Midweek Sermons III

Some have asked what we did for Lent.  This year we learned the text of an ancient prayer, called the Anima Christi, and talked about what we pray in the petitions of this prayer.  You are welcome to join us in these Lenten devotions.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me.  O Good Jesus, hear me.  Within Thy Wounds hide me.
    Rites of passage are common among us.  Even confirmation was kept in Lutheranism in part because it was a significant rite of passage that nothing else could quite replace – despite Luther’s theological skepticism about the nature of the quasi-sacrament.  In fact, a good case could be made that here on earth we have no abiding city, no destination, except perhaps the dust of the earth.  Every moment is a passage toward another, like people constantly moving from one address to another.  So we have rites of passage that accompany those significant moves from one stage to another.  For example, I have graduated five times from kindergarten through seminary.  Each of them represented a rite to accompany the passage to another stage.
    It is not entirely surprising then that we would assign the same thing to Jesus.  He is conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, grew into adulthood with its accompanying rites and stages, walked the earth revealing Himself as the Messiah whom the Father has sent, suffered for our sins, died our death on the cross, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven to await the day of His glorious return.  It is hard in my mind to connect my kindergarten graduation to who I am now – just a stage.  So it is hard for us to connect the events of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.  They are just stages on His way to a final destination.
    So in the preaching of the Church, the preaching of the cross, the proclamation of Christ’s suffering and death, are for the Lenten stage.  When Good Friday is over, we move on to the next stage, to Easter, in which the scandal of the cross is replaced by the glorious victory over death and the grave.  But if that is what we think, we have it all wrong.  To preach Christ and Him crucified is not a Lenten message but the Gospel. 
    The Gospel is not about the end, about the destination, but about the means to that destination.  We have been saved but saved by the blood of Christ shed, by the agony of His suffering, by the pain of His death...  This is not a stage our Lord passed through to a goal but the very Gospel itself.  Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  St. Paul insists that this is God, the only God, the true God... the Gospel, the only Gospel, and the true Gospel.  To give up Christ crucified is to give up the Gospel.  We cannot move on from the cross.
    What is our comfort as Christians is the passion of our Lord.  What is our hope as Christians, is the saving death of Christ.  What is our refuge in which we are forgiven, and given new life, and set apart for the Lords – this is Christ’s wounds.  So there cannot be a sermon preached in which Christ and Him crucified is not the center and core of the proclamation.  There cannot be a worship service in which Christ and Him crucified is not the central mystery before us.  There cannot be a devotional life in which Christ and Him crucified is not the focus and message.
    We are a little uncertain about the crucifix.  Some think it is too Catholic.  Some insist that Christ is no longer on the cross so we need an empty cross to remind us of His resurrection.  Some think it is a downer to see the wounded body of Christ as the principal art of the sanctuary.  Some think it is a matter of taste, of personal preference.  We have compromised.  To salve the fears of those who want an empty cross, the figure of Christ is the Risen Lord but if you look you still see the marks of His death in His hands and feet.  But the point here is much bigger than the claim of one tradition or the like or dislike of the appearance.  We keep the crucifix because it is Christ and Him crucified that is the one and only true Gospel.  Whether we abandon this in art or in preaching, we lose the Gospel when the focus moves on to something else and when the cross is seen as merely a rite of passage Jesus endures to get someplace better.
    When we pray “Lord, have mercy” that mercy is the mercy of the cross where our Lord suffered and died for us and our salvation.  When we approach God, we do so in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the name placed on us in our baptism when, as St. Paul reminds, we were united with Christ on that cross, buried with Christ into His death, to rise with Him to new life.  When we pray we pray as those who know and who claim the merits of that saving death – for surely to pray “in the name of Jesus” is not merely to speak the name but to lay claim to what Jesus did for us when mounted the altar of the cross, there to sacrifice Himself on our behalf.
    So here in this little prayer we affirm that the Passion of Christ was not merely a stage, that the wounds of Christ continue to provide a refuge and healing for us sinners, and that we know Jesus as good primarily through the goodness of His sacrificial death.
In Lent it is highlighted but in all of Christian life, what we plead before the Lord, what gives us comfort and peace, wherein we find healing and grace are all the wounds of Christ, the fruits of His Passion and death, and that which marks Him the GOOD Shepherd.  As Jesus Himself reminds us, the Good Shepherd is the one who lays down His life for His sheep.  That is what makes Him good, that is why we call the Friday of His death good, and that is why, as grotesque as suffering and death are, the suffering and death of Christ for us are beautiful.
    No words speak of love as does that action of His sacrifice.  No demonstration of love is as deep as the love that dies for the unlovable.  No hope is as sure as the one sealed in suffering, in blood, and in the final groan of a life willingly offered for those unworthy of it.  St. Paul says you can hardly find someone who will give their lives for a good cause much less for worthless, ornery, rebellious people who have become enemies of God their Creator.  But that is what speaks from arms outstretched in suffering, from blood poured out from the cross, and from the hush of death and the cold of the grave that our Lord endured for you and for me.
    Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O Good Jesus, hear me. Within Thy Wounds hide me.
This is our prayer each Sunday whether Lent or Easter or Pentecost or Christmas.  This is the gift that is free to us but cost our Lord His all.  This is the Gospel that must be proclaimed to the very end of the earth.  This is the message through which any and all who will be saved shall be saved.  We come in Lent to put on this blanket of Christ’s suffering for us... to wear it as the comfortable clothing of God’s love for us... to make sure that the passion, wounds, and death of Christ remain the core and center of the Church’s proclamation, of our faith, and the devotional center of our lives.  Amen.
    Passion of Christ, strengthen me.  O Good Jesus, hear me.  Within Thy Wounds hide me.

Steps to the cross...

Again, from O. P. Kretzmann:

A great number of tragedies have come over the church during the past two thousand years, but none more terrible than the fact that our own generation has come to consider the Christian re­ligion something soft. It has no place in the mod­ern world. It can offer nothing to the most ruthless civilization of money and power which the world has ever known. The reason for this is undoubt­edly the caricature of the person of Christ to which so many pulpits have devoted their ener­gies during the last thirty years. Instead of the world-conquering, world-dominating Christ who two thousand years ago walked from the Cross to the throne, they have given us a dream-haunted wanderer far from the ways of men who walked about Judea two thousand years ago, pathetically trying to do good to a few people, and who then finally died on the Cross, a failure - beaten' by His enemies, beaten by life, beaten and crushed by a Cross.

This picture of the conquering Christ is a lie.

It ignores the majesty of the Cross. Look at Him for a few moments as He went down into death. The three hours of darkness have ended. The scene has become more quiet. The crowd has been awed into silence by the darkness and by the words of the dying Man on the cross. The Roman soldiers look on with indifference, glad that the whole mean business will soon be over. Suddenly He raises His head once more, looks far out over the crowd and cries in supreme, absolute triumph, «It is finished." To the Pharisees at the foot of the cross, the scribes and elders and the Roman soldiers these words must have sounded like the crack of doom. They did not understand them, but there was something wrong. Had they after all failed? They were killing Him. But He seemed to feel that He had won a victory. Had they lost? They had lost. Their last defeat was written in the face of the thorn-crowned Sufferer into whose eyes there had now come the glow of another world and the light of eternal victory.

If those men and women standing at the foot of the cross had but eyes to see, they would have seen every thorn in His crown become a shining gem in His diadem of glory. If they had but ears to hear, they would have heard the voices of wit­nesses, ten thousand times ten thousand"trium­phant with God-given power, hurling into the world the message of the conquering and domi­nating Christ who has the keys of hell and of death. God the Father reaches down from heaven and touches the cross. The arms of the glorified cross reach out and cover humanity. Under them stands the royal apostle St. Paul crying: "Because He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, therefore God has also highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that He is the Lord to the glory of God the Father." Under the arms of the cross stands St. John saying: "He is the first­-begotten of the Father and the Prince of the kings of the earth."

The cross grows until it becomes the vision of the Lamb enthroned in the midst of heaven, brighter than the sun and more glorious than an army with banners. The hands that were pierced with nails wield the sceptre of the uni­verse. On the brow that was thorn-crowned and bleeding are the many crowns of universal king­hood. Here is the world-conquering Christ who even today carries a heart-demanding and heart­-searching power to which only the best and no­blest in Christian manhood and womanhood can respond.

It is time for the world to become afraid of Him. He has a strange and terrible way of coming back into a hostile, sin-loving world and a cold, indifferent church and throwing down the candle­sticks as He did two thousand years ago. On the evening of that first Good Friday thousands went down the hill and promptly forgot all about Him. It was so easy to forget. Thirty-four years later, almost to the day, our Lord Christ came back again in the noise and confusion of war, and be­fore His crowned head and uplifted arm Jerusalem crumbled into dust and ashes. Where one cross had stood there now were thousands. They had shouted, "We have no king but Caesar," and they had no king but Caesar...

There is still no room for defeatism and weariness in the Kingdom.  But we shall never know it until we hear His voice saying quietly and assuringly: "Fear now, I have overcome the world..."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Nothing or Everything. . .

Sermon for the Sunday of the Passion, Palm Sunday, preached on Sunday, March 24, 2013.

    I grew up with confirmation on Palm Sunday.  Some lament loss of the old calendar and its focus on Palm Sunday.  Some lament the rows of chairs and the scrubbed faces of confirmands wearing new suits or dresses.  Some are wary of the long reading of the Passion that is now the hallmark of this day.  They would rather dally at the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.  But the entry into Jerusalem was not for glory, it was for suffering and the focus is not on confirmands but upon the Lord.  None of us comes to the cross willingly.  We come reluctantly to the cross – it is almost too much for us.  We cannot get enough of the things we like and desire but we get our fill of sin's ugly death pretty quickly.  We want to bypass the cross to get directly to Easter.
    The worst thing about standing before the Cross of Jesus is that in the face of His holy life and love we find what nothings we truly are.   Before the cross we are nothing  – with nothing to offer Jesus to soothe His wounds, nothing to relieve His pain, and nothing to offer Him to compensate for all that He has borne for us.  Before the cross we surrender our pride before Him and not even our humility is worth much in the face of love that suffers so for us.
    Before the cross, we are unable to deny the terror of our sins, unable to claim any excuse or justification, and unable to assist the Lord in what He must do alone, for us.  Our sins are naked before the cross.  Christ is all.  That is what the cross cries out.  Christ is all, He does all, He gives all, He loves all.  Christ is all and we are nothing.  We have no pride of place, only the shame of sin.
    Before the cross we are nothing... but in the cross we are everything. Let me say that again.  Before the cross we are nothing.  But in the cross we are everything.  Outside the pale of its grace to which we are connected by baptism and which we apprehend by faith, we are nothing. But in the cross by baptism and faith, the sufferings of Christ make the undeserving valuable, the lost are found, the sinner forgiven, and the dead given eternal life.
    That is what is so amazing.  Before the cross we stand exposed for the sinners we are, dead in trespasses and sin with nothing to say for ourselves.  But in the cross – by baptism and faith – we are made rich.  The cost of our redemption was not paid in silver or gold but in the holy and precious blood of Christ.  In the cross, God declared us of priceless worth; that is what it cost Him to love us and save us.
    We all have treasures, family heirlooms or special things we value.  The truth is that they have no value except what others assign to them, what others are willing to pay for them.  We have often seen how personal treasures count for very little in the marketplace.  Your worth and value are assigned to you not by you or what you do or what you think.  God has assigned a value to you.  That value is the cost which our Lord paid to redeem you.  It is the highest cost of all, the priceless life willingly offered and the priceless blood willingly shed to purchase you for Him.
    Every sinner, no matter how great, finds redemption here.  Every sin, no matter how great, finds forgiveness here.  Everyone who comes confessing their sin, leaves the cross rejoicing in what the blood of Christ has won and the mercy of Christ has accomplished.  Every unclean soul finds the cleansing flood flowing from His pierced side.  Every unrighteous man and woman finds righteousness here to perfectly cover up all our sin, the declaration of holiness we could not achieve on our own.  It is all here in the cross.  Before the cross we are nothing but in the cross we are declared of great value by Christ’s suffering and death for us.
    Everyone living in the shadow of death fears the light of life.  Every one accustomed to hiding their faults and failures in the shadows, fears exposing them in the light.  But God exposes them so that He might forgive them, pay their debt, and set us free.  Before the cross we are nothing but in the cross we are God's everything.  Here we see how He has loved us more than life, how His sufferings have born the fruit of redemption, and hot by His death, we have been made alive.
    No pious platitudes today.  No ego trips.  No boisterous protests.  No empty denials.  No bravado.  Before the cross we are nothing.  Stand outside the cross as mere spectator and you remain nothing... come into the cross by baptism and faith, and you are God's everything.  We may want to rush to Easter and skip the cross, but it is here, in the cross, we must pause.  Here we discover our value to God, the measure of His love, and how suffering gives birth to life.  Don’t rush too quickly to Easter or you will miss the mystery of grace that is here.  Don’t stand too distant from the cross or it will only be story.  Come near by faith, rejoice in what your baptism promises, and rejoice in the high price paid for you.  And then live out in fullness the new life this death has made possible.  Amen.

Lenten Midweek Sermons II

Some have asked what we did for Lent.  This year we learned the text of an ancient prayer, called the Anima Christi, and talked about what we pray in the petitions of this prayer.  You are welcome to join us in these Lenten devotions.

Body of Christ, save me.  Blood of Christ, fill me.  Water from Christ's side, wash me.
    It is a sad state of affairs that we have reduced faith to a mental or intellectual exercise.  Many of our fellow Christians reject infant baptism largely because they do not believe that infants and small children have the capacity for faith.  Since they cannot understand, cannot express their understanding in words of profession and conviction, and cannot give their consent what they have professed, they cannot believe.  The tragedy is that for us Lutherans, we find it hard to disagree with this.
    Because we conceive of faith as a work of the mind, what causes that faith and what sustains it (piety), also have become thoughtful processes.  It is as if we are truly convinced that faith is the result of having objections argued away so that we can see the truth of it, understand it, and then believe it.  Faith becomes a light bulb experience, an aha! moment, if you will.  We come to church to have this base of knowledge expanded, to understand God more fully, and to have the world explained to us so that we can use this knowledge to improve ourselves and our world.
    So our piety appreciates teaching sermons where we go home with a new idea.  Our mind likes explaining sermons where we crack the mysteries one by one until we know God the way we know how to get Him to do what we need or want.  In recent times this has become epidemic.  Joel Osteen has perfected this technique of teaching a better life now and faith becomes a resource or tool in this pursuit of knowledge that works for our benefit.  If we come to church without taking home a new idea, without learning something useful to fixing our daily lives, or solving a riddle of life, we find church not so useful, even a failure, and often say “we are not being fed.”
    Faith in Scripture seldom has much to do with intellect.  The apostles were hardly the smartest dozen that Jesus could find in Galilee.  Jesus insists that even the little ones who believe in Him have it over those who possess all knowledge and have all understanding.  He holds up the small child as the example of faith that adults should strive for – turning our whole world upside down in the process.
    Growing in faith is not as simple as expanding our knowledge base or understanding what we before we did not get.  Growing in faith is increasing trust.
It is not cracking the mystery but believing it.  Trusting in what we cannot see and believing in what we do not understand.  This faith grows not from reasoned appeals to our intellect but from the mystery itself.  By participating in the mystery, we trust what that mystery is and receive what that mystery conveys.
    Body of Christ, save me.  Blood of Christ, fill me.  Water from Christ's side, wash me.  In this section of the Anima Christi, we pray the mystery of the body of Christ that was miraculously conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb, lived obediently the holy life we could not, suffering in our place sin’s pain, dying in our place to pay sin’s debt, and rising from death never to die again.  We pray this mystery by eating the bread that Jesus says is His body, given and shed for you and for me for the forgiveness of sins and by drinking the wine which Jesus says is His blood, shed for us to redeem us from our lost condition.  We pray this mystery by meeting Christ in the water where we died the real and fearful death with Him and rose in the new life that is Christ in us.
    This mystery defies explanation.  No mind can crack it.  All our feeble attempts to explain the mystery are shots in the dark.  Our theories of the atonement only detract from the reality of Christ, the Son of God, in human flesh, who lived and died for us, and by this life and death unshackled us from the chains of our sin and from our captivity to the grave.  This mystery does not cotton to explanation but asks for appreciation, for trust to believe it and for hearts that worship Christ and Him crucified.
    Whether it is Rome and its transubstantiation or Luther’s in, with, and under.  Faith does not explain it for it is inexplicable.  Faith worships it, receives it with joy, and believes it in with all the heart, mind, body, and strength.  The how is not our focus but the what.  This is Christ’s flesh and not merely sign or symbol.  This is Christ’s blood and not some imagery.  This water has the power of the Word in it so that it kills and makes alive and not some allegory or picture.  The bread does not point to Christ’s body nor does the wine point to His blood.  The water does not point to the cross.  These convey what they promise and give us that which they speak.  This is a great mystery.
    Worship is not about lessons for the mind or the soul but our encounter with Christ in the means of grace.  Faith grows from knowing Christ where Christ will be known.
We do not choose a good sermon that makes things clear over the touch of water or the taste of bread or the sip of wine.  The sermon and the sacrament impart the same Christ and that Christ works through these because He has attached Himself there.  We come to Church not to learn or to have God explained or to find solutions to life’s troubles.  We come here to meet Christ where Christ has promised to be.
    In this prayer we pray not to see so that we might believe but to believe so that we might see.  God is come to us not so that we can explain Him or tame Him from the wildness of His mercy.  God is come to us that we might know Him and, in knowing Him, receive the heavenly treasures of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Here we pray for faith to receive this body of Christ and His blood, this water of Christ in baptism... to receive it by believing in it.
    When the scales fell from the eyes of Paul, he did not understand God.  He met God in Christ and trusted that this was the one and only God and that salvation was His alone to give.  We think that the scales will one day fall from our eyes and we will get it, get God, get faith, get life...  I am sad to say that will never happen.  We do not crack God, God cracks us, opens us up by the Spirit, that frail and feeble minds, hearts, and wills may believe in Jesus Christ whom He has sent by receiving the body, blood, and water of Christ that convey Him...  Not a memory...  Not an idea... Not a feeling... Not a proposition... but the real Jesus whose mortal and glorious flesh are somehow hidden in the appearance of the sacramental means of grace, to be apprehended by faith, to be trusted for salvation, and to result in lives of joy, praise, holiness, righteousness, and good works.  There is no short cut here.  Only mystery made accessible by the Word of Christ and the Sacraments of Christ.  Amen.

Steps to the cross. . .

O. P. Kretzmann was the face of Valparaiso University -- at least for folks of my generation and older.  His was a personality and stature to be reckoned with and he used his gifts well in service to the Lord and to His Church.  But like all heroic figures, memory fades.  Sometimes during Holy Week I like to pull out old volumes of Lenten and Holy Week devotions and this one from OP is called The Road of Memory...

[Jesus] carried this tenderness with Him even to the cross.  Here He was engaged in the last conflict in behalf of the souls of men.  Here He was bringing into final harmony the three greatest facts of life -- the love of God, the power of the Law, and the deadliness of sin...

We hear on the cross His last conversation with one of those who passed Him as a shadow in the night.  The dying thief on the cross to the right speaks: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."  The answer comes, transforming darkness into light, hell into heaven, and sweeping into eternity a human soul for whom hope had failed and for whom death meant only darkness:  "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise."  The Road Back to God had become for him the road of blessed and eternal memory.

Lord, remember me... it was a chance that faith always takes.  He was asking Jesus to remember not his sins or his past, or the fever-stricken years, but him, his own immortal and Christ-redeemed soul... Four hundred years earlier Nehemiah had closed a book in the Old Testament with the moving words: "Remember me, O my God, for good..."

There is a very old legend... that this was not the first time that our Lord and the robber had met.  Thirty-two years earlier when the Holy Family had fled from the wrath of Herod they had gone from Jerusalem to Jericho by the famous Bloody Way.  This was the road which has become so familiar to us from the Parable of the Good Samaritan... Here as night fell Joseph and Mary and the Baby Jesus found refuge among the robbers' caves.  A robber's wife saw the infant Christ in His mother's arms, rushed forward crying and pointing to her own child wasting away on a pile of sheepskins in a corner of the cave.  While the two mothers were talking the infant Christ stretched out His hand toward the dying baby in the corner.  Instantly health came back to that little twisted body.  The cheeks grew rosy once more and the happy mother clasped her child to her heart in gratitude and wonder.  Thirty-two years later the two children met again.  Now they were two young men hanging on two cross beyond the gates of Jerusalem...

[Though not true in fact, is it not true in life?]  The Road Back to God is a strange blend of forgetting and remembering... The first word, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" shows us the eternal Son of God pleading with His Father to forget.  [Another word speaks of the blessed and beautiful memory of God who] never forgets.  His memory is eternal.  A long time ago His voice came to the dying thief:  "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise."  Today it comes to our sin-burdened and sin-laden souls with the same strength and the same power [the God who can never forget His love for us.]

Oh, yes.  Lord... what He chooses to forget and what He insists upon remembering are what the Gospel is, why this week is holy, and why we walk the steps to the cross every year...  Thank you, OP, for reminding me...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Lenten Sermons for 2013

Some have asked what we did for Lent.  This year we learned the text of an ancient prayer, called the Anima Christi, and talked about what we pray in the petitions of this prayer.  You are welcome to join us in these Lenten devotions.

     When Jesus disciples began to realize that our Lord was the bearer of the Kingdom of God, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray.  They may have expected to get a few spiritual pointers or perhaps some rules to follow.  Instead Jesus gave them a text, an actual prayer to pray.  Even with those words, we find ourselves at a loss to know how to pray.  After exhausting the prayer Jesus taught us, we often find ourselves sputtering to come up with words on our own.  If you want to know an interminable and unbearable time, make yourself pray for 10 minutes nonstop or let 2-3 minutes of silence pass during the prayers of the Sunday liturgy.  Within seconds we run out of things to say and do.
    When Luther was getting his hair cut, his barber confessed to him that he had trouble praying.  Like most of us, he knew he should be praying more but was not sure what to do or how to do it.  Instead of walking you through Luther’s advice – which you can purchase in the bookstore for a couple of bucks, I thought it might be good for us to learn a prayer together this Lent.  It is called the Anima Christi.
    We don’t know exactly who, or where, or when this ancient prayer was crafted.  It dates from about the 1300s and that is about the full extent of what we know.  Its words have been unchanged from that time.  It is a wonderful prayer.  When people tell me I pray like a book, I take that as a compliment.  I read sermons to learn how to preach and I read prayers to learn how to pray.  That is no more radical than reading a cookbook to learn how to cook.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, fill me.
Water from Christ’s side, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.
From the assault of my enemy, defend me.
In the hour of my death, call to me
And bid me come to Thee.
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
And with Thy angels, forever and ever.

    Brief but profound, simple but elegant, plain but eloquent, its words invite us to pray.  What the words actually say is both profound and profoundly relevant to our modern day life.  We Christians feel acutely the tension between living in the world while maintaining our citizenship in the world to come.  Tonight we begin a slow, sauntering walk through a life of prayer, learning this one, but not merely memorizing its words.  Rather we learn from those words what it means to pray and how to do it.
    Soul of Christ, sanctify me.  The Athanasian Creed reminds us that Jesus is thoroughly man.  Perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh.  For all the symmetry of a three-fold human shape of body, soul, and spirit, Scripture is clear.  Man has a material body and a spiritual identity of the soul. 
    Now we are not Manicheans.  We do not esteem the body as bad and the soul as good.  Both are God’s creation.  As we confess our sins we confess both are stained with sin and corrupted from God’s intention.  The Old Testament word for soul is nephesh and in the New Testament psyche.  It is this soul that distinguishes man from the rest of all creation.  The soul is the seat of intellect, reason, desire, will, and morality.  Jesus is not God wearing flesh and blood as if it were some ill fitting clothing.  Jesus has a flesh and blood body and a rational human soul.  What sin has corrupted and claimed in us remains pure and true in Jesus.
    We pray, “Soul of Christ, sanctify me.”  Our souls are not holy but stained by sin.  We pray here that our Lord, whose soul is pure and untainted, to make us holy in Him. Indeed, this prayer begins with a plea to God to bring us to repentance.  We pray that God will not only cover our sins or take them away but that He may cleanse and renew our sinful hearts and minds so that our sinful desire may be overcome.  We pray that we may have the will and desire to will and desire what Christ wills and desires.
    We too often characterize repentance and being taken to the woodshed, so to speak.  We knew we did wrong and we are here to ‘fess up and to receive our punishment.  But under it all we are winking at one another.  It was bad and it sure hurt to get caught... but it was sure fun, wasn’t it.  This is the repentance of fear and not the repentance of a changed heart.  I suppose this works in part to shape us up but it does nothing at all to redeem us and, in fact, stands in the way of Christ at work in us and through us.
    Such an idea of repentance contaminates our prayer life and turns it into drudgery.  We take this idea with us as we bow our heads and fold our hands and the result is that we resent prayer and resent the things we think we should pray for.  It becomes for us about as pleasant as asking Santa for underwear and socks.  Yeah, we know we need them but that is not where our hearts are.  We want toys of all kinds and types.
    Christ has not come to take us to the woodshed and make us feel bad about wanting the things that we think make us feel good.  He has come to release us from sin’s captivity that we can learn to know, to desire, and to seek after the good that is Christ and His gifts of grace.  He has come to sanctify us from the inward heart to the external life.
    Soul of Christ, sanctify me.  Christ is not like us except with more will power.  He is pure of heart.  He gives to us forgiveness for our sins, cleanses us from the stain of those sins, redeems us from death and the grave, and creates in us new and contrite hearts.  The Spirit works faith in us to receive what He has given, to claim as our own, and to live in its new life and power.  Christians are not the same old sinners but with more will power.  We are declared holy and made new in Christ.  The life we live is not the same old lives but with a nuance of spiritual life.  We live new lives now, having been justified by God’s action in Christ, He now works in us to become the people He has declared us to be.
    Justification is by faith alone.  Scripture is clear.  We are purely passive and cannot save ourselves or even cooperate in our salvation.  But in sanctification we are active participants, cooperating with the Spirit even in our great weakness.  This is God’s work working in our will that we might do good works.  The regeneration of our lost lives is by grace through faith.  Faith alone grasps hold of what God has done and the Spirit works this faith in us.  But renewal includes many more things, such as, the new spiritual impulses kindled in the heart of a person reborn through the Holy Spirit.
    In these few short words we pray that God will work in us to renew our hearts by His grace and Spirit that we may be pure as He is pure, holy as He is holy, blameless as He is blameless, and loving as He is loving.  Soul of Christ, sanctify me.  The problem is that we are not so sure we want to be holy.  The old Adam in us still thinks of sin as the fun indulgences our stern God refuses to allow and attempts to sneak away from God for some forbidden fun every now and then.  But repentance and sanctification are not like a diet we can go off and grab some chocolate or chips every now and then.  When we give into the flesh, the old Adam, we exchange Christ’s gift for the moth ridden and rusty treasure of the world.  We give up the holy will of the Spirit’s work for the fleshly desires of me, myself, and I.
    So we pray.  We pray constantly.  We pray earnestly... even as we work out our sanctification with fear and trembling.  The apostle is speaking about the reborn who can cooperate after their regeneration through the new powers given by God.  In the world, but not of the world.  Our citizenship is from heaven.  We Lutherans like the word moderate and our piety glories in moderation.  But did you know that the Latin has as the primary meaning of this word to regulate.  And that is our prayer.  Regulate us, O Lord, and make Your holiness and purity to live in the thoughts of our minds, the desires of our hearts, the words of our lips, and the works of our bodies.  Soul of Christ, sanctify me.  Amen.

Hail! Full of grace. . .

On this day of the Church Calendar we recall how the angel came to Mary.  “Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you.”  Behind that greeting was the Word of the Lord.  As that Word spoke to the shocked Mary, her womb became home to the Son of God in human flesh and blood.  Quite a lot for a young virgin to take in...  Quite a lot for us, as well!

The Church has called the Blessed Virgin “Theotokos.”  It means birth giver of God or Mother of God.  While we might be tempted to wait until Christmas to think of Mary in this way, that title is true of this day, nine months before she delivered her first born Son and laid Him in swaddling cloths in a manger.

Later, visiting Elizabeth, this was further testified by the baby John in Elizabeth’s womb.  In Greek he “eskiptasin” – yeah, you got it.  He skipped in his mother’s womb, recognizing Jesus in Mary’s own womb.

Let me take this another direction.  The world thinks that the child in the womb is a choice for a mother, a potential who can easily be cast aside.  The world thinks of abortion as a right and the unborn have less rights than animals or the same right as tonsils.  As we think about Jesus taking flesh from the womb of the Virgin Mary, we ought to think of how special and precious is the gift of life, what a privilege it is to protect and defend this life, and what responsibility we bear to God for this life.  At conception it is all there – all we are remains the same from conception to birth.  Can we do less than  protect and defend the unborn as children from God?  What does that say about us when we treat them as less than human?

2013 is an anniversary year.  Abortion is legal and mostly safe but it is far from rare.  Now some 55 million lives have been cast aside as worthless, without protection or rights.  Imagine that – one and one half times the whole population of Canada!

The Blessed Virgin consented to the Lord's Word.  "Let it be to me as you have said."  The gift was given to be received.  On this day we rejoice in the God who became incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, who was made man, in the womb of the Virgin.  On this day we rejoice in the Virgin who saw this gift and consented to the Lord as an act of faith and trust.  On this day our attention draws nine months forward to Christmas and to the birth forever blessed, when the Virgin full of grace, delivered up the Savior of all mankind.  In Lent.  In Holy Week.  A hint of Christmas.  As it should be. . .

As we take a moment to offer to God thanks and praise for Him who did not disdain the Virgin's womb, but, for us and for our salvation, took flesh from her, can we do anything less than commit ourselves to the cause of those whom the Lord gives flesh and blood in wombs still and guard the treasure of this gift for the Lord, as a trust from Him?  I hope not. . .   

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Holy Week Greetings from President Harrison

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord . .

"O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?"
Usually choked up by the time we get to:
"Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine."

Roman Catholics Interested in Luther

For all the attention give to the now Emeritas Pope who is the first who has more than a slight interest in or knowledge of Luther and things Lutheran, I somehow missed this fascinating article on a Jesuit (yes, I know, that does not always mean something positive) with an interest in and a knowledge of Luther and things Lutheran.

HT to Pr Eric Brown

You can read the interview here...

In my read­ing of Luther I was quickly impressed by his con­cep­tion of the pen­i­ten­tial life as fun­da­men­tal in Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al­ity. Also, I had the good for­tune to dis­cover a text by Luther which sets forth an inge­nious the­ol­ogy of indul­gences, but which had been mis­tak­enly dated in the Weimar Edi­tion (in fact, it was from 1517 and sent in the packet to the Arch­bishop with the 95 The­ses). That text became a key to my dis­ser­ta­tion and I pub­lished it in Eng­lish with com­men­tary in The­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies at the time of the 1967 obser­vance of the 450th anniver­sary of the Reformation’s outbreak.


I agree with Ernst Bizer and Oswald Bayer that Luther, in early 1518, came to fea­ture a new aspect of the pen­i­ten­tial life, namely, the pow­er­ful, clear, and certain-making word of sacra­men­tal abso­lu­tion spo­ken to the pen­i­tent. I worked this out for a sem­i­nar at the Luther Research Con­gress in Erfurt in 1983 and brought it out the next year in Gre­go­ri­anum, the jour­nal of my uni­ver­sity in Rome, under the title, Fides sacramenti—fides spe­cialis (also in Luther’s Reform, an essay col­lec­tion, pub­lished in Mainz in 1992).

From this shift of 1518, the pen­i­ten­tial life con­tin­ues to unfold in daily self-denial, but Luther has it firmly anchored in God’s gra­cious word which applies Christ’s sav­ing grace in moments of clear, unam­bigu­ous com­mu­ni­ca­tion. From 1519 on, it is no acci­dent that Luther turned out engag­ing short pam­phlets on the sacra­ments, in which the certain-making word resounds in its vari­ant expres­sions. This had not been present in his works on pen­i­ten­tial liv­ing and prayer down through 1517.

When I worked out in 1983–84 this momen­tous shift in Luther’s teach­ing, I added a series of con­sid­er­a­tions in favor of a nuanced or even pos­i­tive Catholic assess­ment of Luther’s point. Luther did not fea­ture aspects ascribed to him by crit­ics like Car­di­nal Caje­tan (1518) and Paul Hacker (The Ego in Faith, 1970). He appealed to Bernard of Clair­vaux as hold­ing some­thing very similar—which gives us pause. We Catholics also take the sacra­ments very seri­ously and should rec­og­nize in Luther an ally against reli­giosi­ties of sub­jec­tive experience.

While surely not all or perhaps even many Lutherans agree with Jared Wicks (then, again, they often don't agree among themselves, either), the fact the Roman Catholics remain interested in Luther and contribute to the ongoing conversation about Luther is a good thing.  To be sure, Lutherans and those not Lutheran need to be reminded that Luther is neither cult leader for us or deceased pope who rules from the grave.  What bounds and binds us is nothing less and nothing more than the Book of Concord.  That said, Luther is always an interesting character and provocative subject for conversation.  I forget who once said that Luther is, after Jesus Christ, the single man with the greatest impact upon history.  He did not always mean in a positive light but that hardly matters.  To understand the world today requires an awareness if not appreciation for the monk who stepped reluctantly out of the shadows and into the world's spotlight.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

It is not just what it is but why it is. . .

Having lived through the battle for the Bible in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in the 1970s, it might seem that since the "Bible" side won, the battle is over.  While it is true that the Synod came down squarely on the side of Biblical authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency, some have questioned whether we might have won the battle but lost the war.  That is, we retained the terminology but in practice we have surrendered Biblical interpretation over the individual and the message of the Scriptures is less about Christ than it is about me.  To put it the way I usually do, we have an inerrant Bible that is merely a book of facts that are true and less the living voice of God speaking and acting through His Word (efficacy).

The Bible isn't there simply to be an encyclopedia of truth or facts, an accurate reference to God's work in history, or a source of knowledge for those interestedWe can have the history right and believe it to be true but still do not have Scripture as God intends it to be -- the living voice that speaks and does what it says.

In this respect, the evangelicals who affirm inerrancy are not hardly the friends we might think them to be and the catholics in various traditions who are not on board with the term but who speak of Scripture as the voice of God are not the enemies we might think them to be.  In case that confuses you,  let me try to explain from the context of the liturgy.

When we read Scripture we are not reading from a book but hearing the voice of God.  These are not life lessons or little truisms to help our day.  This is the voice of God.  So at the end of the reading, this point is made liturgically by the lector:  This is the Word of the Lord or The Word of the Lord.  When the Gospel is read, this is even more pointedThe congregation rises as they would for Christ Himself -- which is the point.  This is the Word of Christ.  We address Christ in His Word at the beginning by "Glory be to You, O Lord."  This is not some generic acclamation to the God out there somewhere but the God who is present and who is now speaking to us in His Word.  The Orthodox liturgy makes this even more pointed.  "Wisdom!  Attend!"   After the Gospel, the congregation again affirms that this voice of the Lord has been heard and is recognized as the living voice of God.  "Praise to You, O Christ."

Of course, the liturgy does not guarantee that this understanding is there (there are plenty of liturgical churches who keep the form but have long since abandoned any understanding of the truthfulness of God's Word, the sufficiency of that Word, or even that Scripture IS the Word rather than merely contains it somewhere).  Where we affirm not only the infallibility of that Word but its efficacy, these liturgical affirmations make even greater sense.

The sad truth is that even those churches which might use a term like inerrancy do not see the Word in a sacramental context, as a means of grace, the chief means of grace from which the "visible" Word of the sacraments derive.  And that is the problem.  Our own neighbors in town are Baptists who happily affirm the historicity and inerrancy of Scripture but they do not intend nor do they in practice speak of Scripture as efficacious, as the Word that does what God intends just by its speaking.

Perhaps even more significant is that fact that Lutherans have either forgotten or were never taught this pivotal point and so they do not realize that the kinship they might feel toward others who use the term "inerrancy" may not be as deep or as wide as what they first believed.  Again... the value of catechesis, ongoing catechesis through sermon and teaching, is essential!

Finally, we must not lose sight of the purpose of Scripture -- these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  Scripture is not a how-to book on various subjects but the Word that speaks Jesus and through which faith is born and His life imparted.  We may use Scripture for other purposes but we dare not forget that this is the one and only purpose sanctioned by the Scriptures themselves and the purpose for which God says He has spoken this Word to us.