Friday, September 2, 2016

Faith of our Fathers Living Still. . .

My father-in-law slowly lost much of his memory.  First words escaped him and then names and then whole sections of his memory were lost to him until he was most comfortable with the earliest memories of life as a child in the home of his parents.  He went the same path of his brothers who all suffered some kind of memory loss -- some earlier and some later in life.  It was as if each of them were robbed of their identities by the memories stolen by Alzheimer's.  Death was merciful and his suffering ended and in death was surrounded by his family who insisted upon remembering him as he was before the disease had taken the vigor from his muscles and made his mind so fragile.  My wife misses him terribly and I with her.  We refuse to forget and insist upon remembering especially in the face of an affliction that clouded memory and made him forget what was nearest and dearest to him.  He had no choice.  We do.

It is as if the Church is suffering its own disease of fragile memory.  We are in the midst of an identity crisis.  We have forgotten who we are and what does not change and so we reinvent ourselves and change ourselves to match, as much as possible, the rapid changes we experience around us in technology and culture.  The Church is, after all, is a living body, filled with the distinct life and identity of Christ. We are in but not of the world, not our own but bought with a price, and we belong to Him who made us first and recreated us in the living waters of baptism.  We are His baptismal people, endowed with the new hearts and lives of His own creation.

Without tradition, without the corporate and individual memory of who we are, we are left to reinvent and redefine ourselves as often and according to the whims of our desires.  Thus the Church has suffered her own memory crisis so that what we once believed is now under suspicion, what we once confessed regarded as outdated or irrelevant, and what we once did in worship no longer meaningful or relevant to this moment.  The Church, the Body of Christ, has been left without a context, without a beginning, without an ending, and without certainty of what to be and what to do in the meantime.  So the tradition of our fathers and the apostolic foundation has been cast aside willingly or swept away by passing fads, prevailing moods, and personal preference.  In many ways, the Church has become like an Alzheimer's patient with no memory and is being led helplessly along a pathway created not by God but by ourselves (or perhaps even our enemies).

Faith does not come naturally but is a gift handed down by those who went before and enlivened by the Spirit. We do not create faith or define it to suit our preferences. We are incorporated into the faith which existed before us and, if we are faithful and God keeps His promise, will exist after us.  When we are baptized into this faith, we are born anew, from above, into a kingdom and creed that was before us and is not of our own making. The Spirit works through the means of grace to incorporate us into a reality that was before us -- what we call the Church.  We receive this faith by the Holy Spirit, as Luther taught in the explanation to the 3rd Article of the Creed.  This faith was watered by the blood of the martyrs, preserved and passed on by the faithful who went before us, and we are not given to make it ours but to add our "Amen" to it all.

Faith is under all things surrender.  It is the surrender of the intellect to the mind of Christ and surrender of the will to the will of Christ.  The Spirit works this and it is not simply a choice we make.  Faith cannot co-exist with the refusal to surrender thus.  We are captive to the Word of God and the will of Christ.  Faith always involves this element of surrender—surrender of personal preferences, of whims and desires, and of reason and idea to the higher wisdom of Christ. We believe, teach, and confess an unchanging truth in an age of relativism and do-it-yourself religion -- the most radical and countercultural truth.

We confess a catholic faith and a catholic and apostolic church.  God does not speak one thing to one people or one thing to one age and then speak to others or other ages different truth.  The Word of the Lord endures forever.  We cannot afford to forget our fathers in the faith and we cannot allow the Church and the Gospel to become captive to the moment.  “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter,” says St. Paul.  (2 Thess. 2:15).  "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." (Col. 2:6-7)

The loss of his memory left my father-in-law a shell of his former self and utterly dependent upon others.  The loss of the Church's memory, her tradition, the living faith of the dead, leave us a shell of what God intends us to be, utterly captive to and dependent upon the moment.  If we have anything to offer a world in pain, sinners in shame, those who live in the shadow of death, then we cannot afford to forget but must work always to remember and remembering renew within us the faith yesterday, today, and forever the same.

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