Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The most profound things that mark our lives. . .

So often our lives end up in the pursuit of things less than eternal, almost trivial, and beneath the dignity of our creation.  Pleasure, goods, fame, happiness, and the like all seem to be so desperately important in the moment but looking at the larger picture, they seem very small.  Even Christians find it hard to avoid getting caught in the world's priorities, goals, and pursuits.  It is always a swim upstream for us to resist the impetus of our sinful hearts, the tempting whispers of the devil, and the world's illusions.  But that is our life -- a life lived within this tension and for the goal and pursuit of that which is eternal.  We do this not simply in view of what happens after we die but in the character of our life now.

The most profound things that mark our lives belong to the gifts and works of God in us, among us, and through us.  Think here of baptism.  We come with nothing and we leave with everything.  We have nothing to give and everything to receive.  It is pure grace.  But in this grace our old lives end and a new life begins.  With it comes a new identity -- still in competition with the old Adam that is, as Luther put it, still a good swimmer.  The tension between old and new, while troublesome and difficult, is a good tension and one that marks us as citizens of heaven and a people made new for eternal life.  Do we recall this baptism not as memory but as that profound new birth?  Do we esteem this new life as the true and most real life of all?  Do we rejoice to wear the name of Jesus, indeed the name of the Trinity?  Do we acknowledge that baptism does not save us?

With baptism, comes the voice of absolution.  It is not without significance that Jesus act in His first official meeting with the apostles after the Resurrection was to ordain them as pastors, set them apart for His work, and endow them with the authority of the Word precisely to forgive and retain sins.  How is it then that we so easily reduce forgiveness to a good feeling that comes mostly from us and not from the objective Word of God applied to us by name and individually?  The most profound things that mark our lives have to do with the forgiveness of sins and absolution is the sacramental grace and power and authority to act in the name of our Lord to dispense the grace and gift He won by His own one, all sufficient sacrifice upon the cross.  Do we esteem this sacramental grace with the prominent place our Lord gives it?  Do we rejoice to confess because we know the Lord will be merciful?  Do we rejoice to hear personally the voice of Christ in the mouth of the pastor forgiving our sins, moving them as far from us as the East is from the West, and turning the scarlet into purest white?

To the baptized comes the gift of Holy Communion.  Here again we are confronted with grace that forgives the sinner as well as feeding him body and soul.  It is the most profound moment of our common life together, around the Table of the Lord, given privileged place we do not deserve, and being fed the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.  Holy Communion is not a casual activity but worth of the most profound reverence and awe to those who hear and trust the promise of Christ -- this is My body and this is My blood.  Do we see this Holy Supper as source and summit of our daily lives as Christians?  Do we come to the rail with sincere and humble awe that God is here -- the symbols that convey what they symbolize and the signs that deliver that which they sign?  Do we prepare to receive this Eucharist because we know and tremble with holy awe and joy at what happens here?  The most profound things of God are when God gives Himself to us and this He does in this bread He makes to be His body and this wine He makes to be His blood -- all without destroying the bread or the wine but adding to its reality His flesh and blood?

And under it all is the Word.  Yes, it is infallible and without error.  God does not lie to us or deceive us or tempt us with His Word but just the opposite -- He speaks that which is most true to us in order to enlighten us by the Spirit and secure us into the arms of His grace.  Do we esteem that Word as highly as we ought or do we treat it as simply a word or perhaps even a true word but not one that actually can or will do something?  I fear that in our age we have re-established the conviction that the Word of the Lord is infallible and without error in theory but in fact we treat it as something less than the efficacious voice of God still doing among us, in us, and through us that which He speaks.  Do we see this Word as the most important Word of the day as well as the Word that endures forever?  Do we pass it down as the holy and sacred deposit of the fathers to their spiritual children that we might be called by it to faith, gathered by it as His Church, enlightened from darkness to His light, and sanctified to be His holy bride?

The most profound things that mark our lives are not the usual suspects but the things of God that are ordinary in the Divine Service and in our piety and practice but not ordinary at all!  Until we get this, it will remain too easy to surrender the eternal to the moment and then come back to be assured it does not matter -- all so that we can return to our first love -- ourselves, our things, and this moment of our lives.  Until we acknowledge these as the most profound things that mark our identities and lives, it will always be easy to surrender them to other churches who do not teach as Scripture teaches or to give them up in favor of something else that satisfies our spiritual but not religious longings.


Anonymous said...

“To the baptized comes the gift of Holy Communion.” True, if you are a member of one of the Eastern Orthodox churches that practice paedocommunion. Otherwise, you need to wait 12 or so years.
The argument most commonly forwarded to prohibit communion of children, is 1 Corinthians 11:28, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
Could it be that the writers of the Book of Concord, who were mostly unfamiliar with Jewish tradition, failed to consider that when St. Paul writes about “a man,” he means someone who is a grown-up in Jewish understanding; that is, someone who has been bar mitzvahd? In other words, an adult has adult responsibilities. Could it be that this self-examination does not apply to those, who are not grown-ups?
The sacrament of Baptism, which is far more important than Holy Communion, in that it conveys eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, does not require such self-examination, and is administered to children.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Steve said...

“It is not without significance that Jesus act in His first official meeting with the apostles after the Resurrection was to ordain them as pastors, set them apart for His work, and endow them with the authority of the Word precisely to forgive and retain sins.”

This is a curious reading of the great commission that I have encountered in the writings of Rev. Rolf Preus as well. It is at odds with both Luther and the LCMS’s traditional understanding that the keys are given to the entire church. Yes, the public exercise of the keys is entrusted to the congregation’s pastor, but the authority and command to preach, forgive, baptize, etc. is given by Christ to all believers.

In Preus’s case, the emphasis on the disciples as the first pastors seems to function as an attempt to solve the debate between the WELS and LCMS on the topic of the ministry in the LCMS’s favor. Ministry is not simply a broad function given to the church that is instantiated in many forms (of pastors, organists, laymen etc.) but a specific office alone that is carried out by the pastor. In the case of this blog, the rationale seems to align the office of ministry more with that of the historical church catholic. Recent LCMS dogmatics have included a locus from a SELK bishop who holds this view as well as defending the maleness of the ministry from Christ’s selection of all male disciples as ordained instantiations of His person on earth. So there is some traction here in influential Lutheran theological circles for this particular view.

And yet for all of its seeming attractiveness in solving several theological dilemmas of the day, it is an unbiblical view, in that it stretches the plain meaning of the words of Christ, and un-Lutheran, in that it undermines the careful balance between the ministry as given to all believers and the public ministry of the one divine office of pastor. How then to avoid the trap of “everyone’s a minister” and the devolution of the office of pastor? Can’t any believer baptize and forgive sins? Doesn’t Acts teach a variety of “ministries,” from pastor to apostle, prophet and teacher? True, but this confusion is solved when we realize that the one office of public ministry encompasses all of these gifts, which are none other than preaching the gospel, forgiving sins, and administering baptism and holy communion.

Pastor Peters said...

John 20. You can read it as it is or read into it church instead apostles.

Steve said...

Respectfully, John 20 says that Jesus breathed on the disciples gathered in a locked house, but Thomas was not with them. Was Thomas not ordained then? Were the other eleven all present? Were other disciples beyond the eleven or even their wives present? Do only pastors receive the Holy Spirit or do all believers? Do we not confess in the Lord’s Prayer that we have the command and authority to forgive others? What after all are we confessing when we sing, “Here am I, send me, send me!”

Carl Vehse said...

"John 20. You can read it as it is or read into it church instead apostles."

Confessional Lutherans should read it as the Confessions read it. Specifically in the Treatise, 23, 24 and Treatise 67.

This Lutheran understanding is further confirmed for Missouri Synod and other Lutherans by Paragraph 30 from the Brief Statement of 1932:

30. The Original and True Possessors of All Christian Rights and Privileges -- Since the Christians are the Church, it is self- evident that they alone originally possess the spiritual gifts and rights which Christ has gained for, and given to, His Church. Thus St. Paul reminds all believers: "All things are yours," 1 Cor. 3:21, 22, and Christ Himself commits to all believers the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 16:13- 19, 18:17-20, John 20:22, 23, and commissions all believers to preach the Gospel and to administer the Sacraments, Matt. 28:19, 20,; 1 Cor. 11:23-25. Accordingly, we reject all doctrines by which this spiritual power or any part thereof is adjudged as originally vested in certain individuals or bodies, such as the Pope, or the bishops, or the order of the ministry, or the secular lords, or councils, or synods, etc. The officers of the Church publicly administer their offices only by virtue of delegated powers, and such administration remains under the supervision of the latter, Col. 4:17. Naturally all Christians have also the right and the duty to judge and decide matters of doctrine, not according to their own notions, of course, but according to the Word of God, 1 John 4:1; 1 Pet. 4:11.

Quatenus mileage may vary.

Steve said...

I vaguely knew this already in the back of my mind, but I looked it up and CFW Walther agrees with you in Thesis 2 on the Ministry by using John 20 as a proof text for Christ calling the disciples into the office of ministry.

“The divine institution of the ministry of the New Testament appears from the call of the holy apostles to the ministry of teaching by the Son of God, as recorded Matt. 10; 28:18-20; Luke 9:1-10; Mark 16:15; John 20:21-23; 21:15-17 (“Feed My sheep”), and of the seventy disciples, as recorded Luke 10:1-22.”

So you are correct.

Anonymous said...

Steve: Possibly the answer to your question about Thomas lies in an Old Testament precedent. In Numbers 11 we read the story about Moses appointing Elders to help him. Apparently, two of the candidates were missing from the consecration ceremony. Nevertheless, they received the same “spirit” as the others.
As to the Holy Spirit, the teaching of Scripture is clear: Whoever is baptized receives the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39). Often overlooked, is the fact that under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit dwells in each individual. This, is according to the words of our Lord, when He promised the Holy Spirit to His Disciples on the night He was betrayed, (John 14:17) “…even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Timothy Carter said...

"The most profound things that mark our lives are... the things of God that are ordinary in the Divine Service and in our piety and practice but not ordinary at all!"
Beautifully focused, Pastor. In the Liturgy every Sunday, I get to Confess and be Forgiven of my sin, I get Holy Communion, The Word of God preached and sung through the Church Year, I remember my (God's) Baptism. All while gathered with the follow saints and saints who went before...profound things...simple things...Confessional Lutheran things.
I give thanks for faithful Pastors like you and Pastor Becker here in Kingsport who keep focused on the profound...the basic...the simple truths of the Bible as summarized in Luther's Small Catechism and in the Book of Concord...for us simple followers of Christ to be amazed and to be comforted.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon. Kingsport, TN,

Pastor Peters said...

It is a fool's mission to separate the office from the Church so no one should attempt it. The Church does not make the office but fills it and the office does not rule the Church but serves her. The office serves by exercising the keys, not as personal prerogative, but on behalf of Christ for the benefit of His Church. Really, this is not so hard.