Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Only with sin is there a divide between the sacred and secular, between the divine and the everyday. With sin, man separated the church year from the natural year and worshipped the things themselves instead of their giver and maker. And man also pushed God far away with his rebellion so that the sacred and the normal everyday life of man were divorced. But the urge the innate urge to mark time, to celebrate holy days never left man or his understanding. Whether in deepest Africa, the atheistic communist Soviet Union or the Memorial Day-Labor Day-Mothers Day-Fathers Day-Hallmark American culture, man has this need as normal as the rising of the sun or the of the falling of the leaves to commemorate time in special way. It is a part of what makes us human.
The church has always kept this primal pattern in her worship. Just as the church of the Old Testament so the church of the New developed a church year which moved in tandem with the natural cycle of the earth. Sin is still active so the church year and the earth's seasons were not one. However, by joining the journey of the Word made flesh (the Logos who called the suns and star and moon into being) with the journey that the earth takes each year, the church pointed to that time when what was once whole would once more be reunited.
What is so very strange are the churches ("worship centers" and "mega-churches" and some Lutheran churches, too) and pastors that have scuttled the church year and replaced it with the whim and decisions of the pastor or the worship committee. No longer is there a "natural" rhythm to the topics and hymns and sermons tied to the life of Christ and to the seasons of the earth but a sterile, artificial, didactic Law-based emphasis on practical sets of "teachings," or sets of principles to live by. What is lost is not only the Gospel itself often enough but also the moorings to the congregations life are no longer anchored in Christ or the shape of his life in the Gospels but in what ever happens to occur to the mind of a few. What is also lost is a sense of this instinctive flow of living that is imprinted on us in our creation in time and space, on this earth with time and seasons and regualr changes in the creation around us and in us.
People often complain how unnatural vestments are or how the church year is artificial or they maintain it feels less alien to have a less liturgical focus or to not follow a strange and ancient church year. But actually such practice is less "natural" than a church year. For it is of our very essence as created people to mark time, to set off some days as special, to mark the passage of time with rituals and holy days. To embrace informality in worship, entertainment worship and "practical life-based messages" instead of liturgical church year observance is to buy into a most unnatural way of life: a crazy American consumer mentality that is foreign to our created selves and further than ever from the pattern God established when ... there was evening and there was morning : the first day.
Friday, May 27, 2005
Anyway, there was one in the Episcopalian church. The presiding minsters in full red button nose regalia. Yes, the church of the 1928 Prayer Book.
I cannot think of anything to say about this. Items like this have really become old news. When one is trying intentionally to be novel and to shock, the outlandish becomes the norm.
Read for yourself.
The most striking words in the article to me were these :
Organisms aren’t trying to match any "independently given pattern": evolution has no goal, and the history of life isn’t trying to get anywhere.
This has always been my main objection to evolution : not as science, not as a theory, not even as an assault on the biblical text; it is simply an untenable way to live. If this claim above is true then life is, at its root, completely and totally meaningless. In this view, a robbery or suicide is morally the same as feeding your children or helping the poor; life isn't trying to get anywhere so one random act is equivalent to another.
If I believed this to be true, I would have to make up Christianity (or something) just to be able to live. I would have to tell myself a story, make up a myth so I could live through a day or a month or a life. Of course, many are doing just that : telling themselves stories, making up "spirituality" in order to put the meaning back into their life that scientific modernism has stolen. I think this is a part of what "post-modernism" is supposed to be about.
So, if you wish, you can read the entire article here :
(I think neither of these articles is current but, on the web, nothing dies and everything you ever did or said or wrote is current, at least on Google.)
First, Frederica Matthews Green, an Orthodox writer takes on the notion of Christian women's spirituality, arguing that much of what is called "women's spirituality" or "women's ministries" is foolishness. It is a wonderful article in many ways. She does seem to waffle a bit on women's ordination but see what you think.
Here is the opening of her piece:
There are lots of things to like about being Eastern Orthodox—incense, liturgies, all the baklava you can eat—but you know what I like best? None of that stupid "women’s ministry" stuff. No simpering "gals only" events advertised in voluptuous purple italics and threatening to do something to your heart (open, touch, heal, re-calibrate and change the filter). No color-saturated photos of beaming, hefty middle-aged gals (gals who look like me, that is, but with a dye job and a whole lot more makeup). No unique opportunities to Explore God’s Precious Promises in an environment that offers all the sober tranquility of a manic-depressives’ convention.
The rest is here:
A radically different view of women and religion comes from this "witch." I mean the title seriously for that is what she is : a practitioner of the Wicca religion. When you read the article you will see that witchcraft and Wicca are not the kind of "Bewitched" or even "Salem witch trials" thing we may associate with the word "witches". Rather, it is a coherent nature and fertility religion, with roots in the ancient fertility religions such as Baal and Asherah mentioned in the Old Testament with some Gnosticism thrown in for good measure. This kind of "spirituality" and glorification of the feminine principle of the "deity" or "dieties" is gaining popularity even in mainline denominations. We do not have to mention that it has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with Christianity as the Scriptures present it and as the church has known it.
Here is the opening of the article:
As many indigenous religions prophesied, millions are finding answers in the remarkable rebirth of an ancient spirituality: that of the Goddess. Though long obscured by Western patriarchal monotheism, Goddesses have been revered by every culture of the world, throughout every period of history. Today, one particularly remarkable and potent aspect of the Divine Feminine--Hecate, the Greek Goddess who presides over the sacred convergence of time and space, destiny and choice, spirit and nature--stands watch.
Hecate, one of humanity’s oldest deities, is often described as the Threefold Goddess--the Maiden, Mother, and Crone--who represents three phases of women’s spiritual power: independence, creativity, and wisdom. Frequently depicted as a woman with the totemic animal faces--a serpent, horse, and dog--Hecate was worshipped where three roads crossed, for it was Her Divine guidance that was invoked when life-altering decisions were to be made. Hecate is the archetypal Divine Feminine wisdom of the past brought into the present to direct and manifest the future.
Here is the remainder:
Wednesday, May 25, 2005
But this service was not, we might say, overly concerned with being Lutheran. The "liturgy" was completely made up (by the host pastor presumably). In this made up "thing", the made up prayers and scary statistic based sermon (millions are dying and going to hell), the emphasis was solely on personal witnessing and individual sharing of the gospel by lay people.
But what the planner (what does one call the creator of their own liturgies?) of the service also did was mix a few traditional mission hymns among the detritus of novelty that made up the bulk of the service. And there in those hymns, I heard a note quite out of tune with the rest of the mission symphony being sung that day. In those hymns, all the references to missions were to … the office of the ministry! Workers being sent out into the harvest field … pastors!
"Send now, O, Lord, to every place / swift messengers before your face / the heralds of your wondrous grace / where you yourself will come. "
"Send men whose eyes have seen the King / men in whose ears his sweet words ring / Send such your lost ones home to bring / send them where you will come." (LW 316)
Mission ("being sent" in Latin ) in the understanding of the church is a function of the apostolic office (apostle means "sent one" in Greek) office. Pastors are missionaries in that they are the ones designated to carry the gifts that actually make Christians out of pagans : the Word, Baptism, absolution. Every ordination is a mission festival of the church.
The jarring thing about the mission festival I attended was to hear two very different visions of what mission is : the more recent one is quite devoid of any churchly frame of reference: all is simple sharing of God's love by all in any situation. The other is centered in Christ's promises of where he works : the Word and sacraments and is thus centered on the office of the ministry and finally in the church.
This latter scheme does not leave out a place for lay activity n the mission of the church action but centers it in the church and in the Lord's words of certainty and promise. Christians are, first, themselves objects of Christ's mission in the church and bring others into that same church so they too may receive the redeeming love of Christ where he has said it is to be found.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
That very familiar prayer draws a connection between death and sleep. Of course, the New Testament does the same when it speaks of death as a “falling asleep.” I have always noticed how prayers we pray before bedtime are also prayers for the moment of death. When we “commend our bodies and souls and all things” into the hands of the our Heavenly Father, we are echoing the words of our Savior who, at his death on the cross, commends his spirit into the hands of his Father. When we pray for forgiveness of sins and for peaceful rest we could be asking for passage through the night to morning or to the bright dawn of heaven.
Sleep and death have many things in common: the sense of loss of control, the mysterious nature of where are we when we sleep. Our bodies are there on the bed, inert, but where am “I” exactly when I sleep? A person who is observed in sleep looks much like a person who has peacefully died.
Sleep is a time when we instinctively feel our own powerlessness before the greater forces in our life. When we sleep we do not have control, so we pray for God to keep us, we commend ourselves into His care as if we are going somewhere. Death too forces us to admit our weakness. We must trust and rely on a Savior who himself faced three days sleep in the tomb but whose voice recalled Lazarus and whose own brilliant divinity roused his flesh from the hold of the grave to live eternally.
Death is a time when all life is reduced to faith. There are no works, there is no human strength when one fades into death or into sleep. If we live beyond the grave or if we wake up, it will be on account of someone else, someone stronger, someone who raises up the sun every morning from the darkness of night and who will wake up his children at resurrection at the last day and send them on their way rejoicing: Christ our Lord.
Friday, May 20, 2005
But this need not be so. In fact Dr. William Weinrich, professor of Early Church History at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, has written an excellent, easy to read article which explains the core ideas of the doctrine. This article was written for a book for teens in the 1980's which explained the chief articles of the Lutheran church. Thankfully the article is online here (http://www.mtio.com/articles/bissar107.htm) and is entitled "One God in three Persons."
I encourage you to read the entire article. It is not overly long and is the best resource I have found to introduce and summarize the Trinitarian ideas of the Christian faith in a simple way to people of all ages.
Here are just a few paragraphs to whet your appetite:
All of these things would be impossible were there not someone with whom God was relating. For example, one cannot be merciful unless there is someone else towards whom one is merciful. Or, one cannot be patient unless there is someone with whom one is patient. The Bible always presents God as one who is actively engaged with another, whether that be with His chosen people or whether that be with His enemies …
Now, since the Bible begins with the story of the creation of the world and with the story of mankind's fall into sin, the Bible usually presents God speaking and relating to the world, to men and women.
But now let us ask this question. What about before the world was created? Was God also personal then? Or did God only become personal when He created the world? If God only became personal and only began to relate to another when He created the world, that would mean that God was not personal before the world was created. God Himself apart from the world would not be a personal being.
However, that is not the picture of God which the Bible gives. It is a part of God's nature to always relate to another. A relationship with another is part of God's nature. But that implies that even before the creation of the world God was personal. Even before the creation of the world God was in relationship. But if there is but one only God, as we have seen, with whom was God relating before the world existed? With whom was God speaking before the creation of the world?
The answer to these questions is given already at the beginning of the Bible in the creation story. "And God said, 'Let us make man in our image."' (Gen. 1:26). God is Himself not singular and unitary. He is himself a community of persons who stand in relationship with one another.
The Bible designates this community of persons with the names "Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit." Now, to be sure, the trinitarian nature of God is a mystery and it is impossible to truly understand with our finite minds. Yet, that God is a community of persons is extremely important for our faith, for we are assured that when God speaks to us and when He relates to us it is not on 'unnatural' thing for Him to do. When God addressed mankind and comes into communion with mankind, God is acting in such a way that reveals God and makes Him known.
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Another characteristic of Lutheran worship in the Lutheran confessions is continuity, the idea that all worship practices from the past are to be retained unless they offend against the Gospel. The Confessions forthrightly declare that "we do not abolish the Mass" but reverently keep and defend that which has been handed down. The Lutheran church has always insisted that it is one with the church of all ages, that it is not sect or a group which scorns the traditions of the past. Rather what is good and expresses the Gospel clearly is received with thanksgiving and used for the sake of the Gospel.
Adiaphora is one of the most disputed topics in worship and is often presented as though it were permission for all liturgical innovation or change. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. What this principle maintains is that no ceremonies are absolutely necessary except in times of confession or persecution. Ceremonies are those things which have not been commanded or forbidden by Scripture and are not necessary since they do not give salvation. This may include processions, candles, the details of what kind of vestments the pastor wears, and perhaps how much of the service is spoken or sung. However, ceremonies are not empty of meaning and thus subject to change at the whim of a pastor or congregation. No, such ceremonies exist to express and point to the Gospel. Ceremonies are important because they express the faith and if they are changed in such a way as to indicate agreement to that which harms the Gospel, then the Gospel is compromised.
If we take all four of these Confessional characteristics together, what sort of worship emerges? What emerges is worship which looks very much like the Lutheran Liturgy we know in our own Lutheran Worship, The Lutheran Hymnal and Hymnal Supplement 98!
The full article is here:
Here is part one of what it says :
Worship wars...what a sad phrase. How sad that liturgy and worship should become a source of division. How can we solve this destructive battle?
This conflict is often portrayed as a battle of styles. Those advocating a certain style are said to be opposed to those of another style. But we must get past the divisive opposites like "traditional" versus "contemporary" or "variety" versus "monotony" and the like. That which is often termed contemporary is frequently monotonous just as so called traditional worship is very often contemporary and dynamic. The conflict is not about styles but faith and its expression. What is needed in this discussion is a truly Lutheran perspective, to step back from rhetoric and passions and see worship with eyes not clouded over by our likes or dislikes but in a framework that is Scriptural and Lutheran.
We can gain that perspective from our Lutheran confessions. Some say the Confessions have nothing to say about worship other than to grant complete freedom but that is far from the truth. It is easy to identify four characteristics in the Lutheran Confessions that distinguish Lutheran worship. Let's take a look at these characteristics and see what kind of worship they describe.
"In worship, God works"
Too often we see worship mostly as what we do and are tempted to change it to suit our whims or desires. But worship according to the Scriptures and Confessions is first and foremost what God does. Our Lutheran liturgy springs from God's actions of grace and mercy to us in Christ, the preaching of the Gospel and the sacraments. Our true worship is to receive God's gifts. We receive them with thanksgiving and praise but the center and source are God's actions. Worship can easily be distorted into "us" centered activity where the focus and emphasis is on our praise or our preferences.
A second important characteristic of Lutheran worship is the principle of unity of belief and worship, that what we believe and how we worship are closely related. One could say it this way: how you worship expresses what you what you believe and what you believe shapes how you worship. If you believe that the fact that God the Son has become man and is present in the Supper for forgiveness is the core of worship, your service will take a certain shape. If you believe that our feelings and self made expressions of praise are the center, then a different worship will appear. One of the most destructive notions concerning worship is that the style of worship is independent of the substance of belief. This idea is absent from and repugnant to the Lutherans confessions which recognize that what you believe is necessarily expressed in how you worship.
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Opinion is generally ho hum towards the cinematic quality of the movie but its historical accuracy is in much doubt. Commentators such as the New Yorker film critic, Anthony Lane, hardly a right winger, have noted what Lane calls the historical inaccurate and "politically nervous" tone of the movie. He writes that Ridley Scott, director, "plainly wants to provoke comparisons with the religious loggerheads of today" and that he "takes desperate care not to offend." According to Lane, portions of the script sound not like twelfth century nobles but the "rhetoric of a mixed-up Tony Robbins."
In the midst of this cinematic attack on historical precision, there is, it seems, a boom in actual good historical research and writing on the Crusades. The June/July issue of First Things (an excellent magazine published by former LCMS pastor now Romanist, John Neuhas) features a review essay by Thomas Madden of three recent books on the Crusades and aspects of them. (The essay is not available online but you can subscribe at www.firstthings.com).
The First Crusade: A New History, by Thomas Asbridge, 408 pages, Oxford University Press (August 28, 2004) .
The Fourth Crusade And The Sack Of Constantinople, by Jonathan Phillips, 374 pages, Viking Books (October 21, 2004).
Fighting For Christendom: Holy War And The Crusades, by Christopher Tyerman, 247 pages, Oxford University Press (November 30, 2004).
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
(Bio of Gregory : http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07010b.htm)
Note the emphasis on incarnation and salvation in his exposition of the Trinity. Similiar to the same sort of emphasis in the Athanasian cCreed which the church recites this coming Sunday.
Here is a picture of Gregory : (I have not figured out yet how to post pictures to this blog!)
To speak of the Godhead is, I know, like crossing the ocean on a raft, or like flying to the stars with wings of narrow span. Even heavenly beings are unable to speak of God's decrees or of his government of the world. But enlighten my mind and loosen my tongue, Spirit of God, and I will sound aloud the trumpet of truth, so that all who are united to God may rejoice with their whole heart.
There is one eternal God, uncaused and uncircumscribed by any being existing before him or yet to be. He is infinite, and all time is in his hands. He is the mighty Father of one mighty and noble Son. In no way does the birth of this Son resemble human birth, for God is spirit. The Word of God is another divine Person, but not another Godhead. He is the living seal of the Father, the only son of the only God. He is equal to the Father, so that although the Father always remains wholly the Father, the Son is the creator and ruler of the world and is the Father's power and wisdom.
Let us praise the Son first of all, venerating the blood that expiated our sins. He lost nothing of his divinity when he saved me, when like a good physician he stooped to my festering wounds. He was a mortal man, but he was also God. He was of the race of David, but Adam's creator. He who has no body clothed himself with flesh. He had a mother, but she was a virgin. He who is without bounds bound himself with the cords of our humanity. He was victim and high priest-yet he was God. He offered up his blood and cleansed the whole world. He was lifted up on the cross, but it was sin that was nailed to it. He became as one among the dead, but he rose from the dead, raising to life also many who had died before him. On the one hand, there was the poverty of his humanity; on the other, the riches of his divinity. Do not let what is human in the Son permit you wrongfully to detract from what is divine. For the sake of the divine, hold in the greatest honor the humanity which the immortal Son took upon himself for
love of you.
My soul, why do you hold back? Sing praise to the Holy Spirit as well, lest your words tear asunder what is not separated by nature. Let us tremble before the great Spirit who also is God, through whom we have come to know God, who transforms us into God. He is the omnipotent bestower of diverse gifts and the giver of life both in heaven and on earth. He is the divine strength, proceeding from the Father and subject to no power. He is not the Son, for there is only one Son, but he shares equally in the glory of the Godhead.
In the one God are three pulsations that move the world. Through them I became a new and different person when I came out of the font, where my death was buried, into the light-a man restored to life from the dead. If God cleansed me so completely, then I must worship him with my whole being.
(Poem 1-3: PG 37; 397-411)
Journey with the Fathers, edited by Edith Barnecut (New City Press, 1992) 74-75.
Monday, May 16, 2005
Part of the reason for this is political. Missions talk is safe and effective in speaking to the lay people. Everyone is “for” missions. No one is against sharing the gospel and so it is an easy platform on which to advance one’s ecclesiastical career. Lest I sound too cynical, we must be clear that missions is indeed, at the heart of the church and the church’s faith. Being sent, proclaiming the truth of Christ’s work is all embedded in the New Testament and in the apostolic doctrine to which we are subscribed .
The problem is the sense of an mission emergency that many use when discussing outreach. With scary statistics ( billions going to hell) and evidence of the numeric decline of the church, many seek to create a sense of anxiety. This feeling of gloom is then used to introduce all manner of innovations in the church’s teaching and practice such as lay ministers ( accepted in the LCMS since 1985 and here to stay it seems, contrary to Augsburg Confession XIV), discarding of the church’s liturgy and acceptance of increasingly ridiculous outreach mission efforts (see the Star Wars LCMS church at www.epicwired.com).
It is this sense of mission panic and emergency that I do not accept. The church has survived for two thousand years and, in fact, has flourished without ever having panicked. There is a faith in God the Holy Spirit and the Word whcih has sustained the faithful through much worse than we face today. The church spread through out pagan Rome, endured persecutions and incredible hostility WITH NO FORMAL MISSION OR OUTREACH PROGRAM IN PLACE! Somehow the Holy Spirit still worked. What did that church do? Preached the gospel, did the liturgy, offered the sacraments to the faithful, insisted on the strictest doctrinal integrity and truthfulness in teaching and practice and the church grew and filled the empire. One could go one with such tales through out history. The test of the church's health is faithfulness not numbers. When the church has been faithful, whether popular or not, the church has been strong and survived and eventually, in God’s time, flourished.
We must be clear, I think, about mission and the church. The church does not really have a mission to fulfill; the church is the mission. When the church gathers, prays, hears the preaching of the Gospel, receives the sacraments : that is the mission of Christ. There is no other mission to be done.
N.B. Here are two good history books which detail the mission efforts of the church in Northern Europe just after the period of the early church. These simply happen to come to mind. I will try to post some books on the mission life of the church in the first centuries as well.
Christianity and Paganism, 350-750 : The Conversion of Western Europe. Edited by J.N. Hillgarth
The Barbarian Conversion : From Paganism to Christianity. Written by Richard Fletcher.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Consider the effect of the Holy Spirit has on the apostles in Acts 2. Do they retreat into themselves for an ecstatic spiritual experience? No, what the Spirit effects is on the whole quite mundane: the preaching of the Gospel. Now, granted it is attended by a miracle : all who are there from many nations and languages understand the Gospel preaching. But the stress in on the Gospel. The point of the Spirit's coming on the apostles is that Christ crucified might be preached.
Notice also that the effect of the Spirit is to bring the church into existence. So often today the Spirit is individualized. The Holy Spirit's work is said to be interior of the individual Christian, working on his heart, known in subjective feelings. Nothing could be further from what happens in Acts 2. The Spirit gathers the those who have heard the Gospel into a communal, corporate existence: the church. There is not an internal, emotional encounter but rather this: they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42). Acts 2 teaches the same as the Creed that the Holy Spirit is the one who builds the church, who works through and brings about the holy Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
This links up with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. There, the Spirit is the bond between Father and Son, a community of persons in the unity of essence. The Spirit does the same in the church bringing the many into unity in Christ through faith in Him.
Note that the Spirit is given by the apostles through Baptism : "Brothers, what shall we do? Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) The Holy Spirit 's descent upon the Apostles at Pentecost was their ordination into the preaching office; it was not the paradigm for the reception of the Holy Spirit. Peter followed the paradigm when he instructed the people in the Gospel and then baptized them, thus obeying his Lord's mandate to teach and baptize and this make disciples.
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Human thought says it is impossible for God and man to be united in one person. Think of all the ways we can contrast God and humanity. God is holy, pure, transcendent, powerful and on and on. Human beings are impure, sinful, mortal, limited, dependent and on and on.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the supreme example of this contradictory character of Christianity. What appears to be disgrace, defeat, pain, suffering and pitiful human degradation is, in fact, the glory and power of God. John's Gospel calls this Jesus' glorification. Paul calls it the power and wisdom and strength of God.
What is very important to note about the contrast and contradictions of Christianity is they are Gospel focused. That is, these opposites are all pointed toward our salvation. The incarnation, the cross, the doctrine of the Trinity (again an incomprehensibility : three persons and one God) are all streams which flow into the great river of soteriology. They are all a part of God's will and act of saving us.
The Ascension of our Lord participates in this contradictory character of our faith. (By the way, all of this is nothing other than Luther's theology of the cross.) Ascension seems to be all about "goodbye" and Christ going away and the distance between Jesus in heaven and the church on earth. But what appears to be true turns out not to be so. His ascension actually means he is now present to all his people on earth through word and sacrament.
The Emmaus road account (Luke 24) makes this graphically clear when Christ breaks bread, is then present to his disciples and then disappears. Christ is present in the bread and wine! His ascension means that he is not stuck in a six foot container of his earthly body ( "noli tangere" of John 20) but is available in that same body now glorified and fully exercising his divine power in and through that body in the sacraments of the church, especially the Lord's Supper.
Monday, May 09, 2005
Also just a note to say that the words incarnatus est are also the Latin version of the Nicene Creed's phrase: "and was incarnate" ("… by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary"). This supreme and saving truth of the faith once delivered to the saints is, of course, the chief mystery. It lies at the heart of all Christian theology and life.
Here is Luther (LW is Luther's Works in the American Edition):
God present in creation even now :
What then is the reason for this remarkable procreation The hen lays an egg; this she keeps warm while a living body comes into being in the egg which the mother later on hatches. The theologians say … that these events take place through the working of the Word. This Word is present in the very body of the hen and in all the living creatures; the heat with which the hen keeps her eggs warm is a result of the Divine Word, because if it were without the Word the heat would be useless and without effect. LW Vol. 1 , 53.
God is, in himself, incomprehensible but he shows himself in created "wrappers":
God lowers himself to the level of our weak comprehension and presents himself to us in images, in coverings, as it were, in simplicity adapted to a child that in some measure it may be possible for him to be known by us. LW Vol 2 45-46.
Some try to to discover God on their own, through rational inquiry or ecstatic experience :
But those who want to reach God apart form these coverings exert themselves to ascend to heaven without a ladder, that is, without the Word. Overwhelmed by his majesty which they seek to comprehend without a covering they fall to her destruction. LW 1, 144.
God reveals himself as gracious through His Word contained in the visible things of creation :
Whoever desires to be saved and safe when he deals with such great matters let him simply hold to the form of the signs and the coverings of the God head such as his word and his works. For is his word and work he shows himself to us Those who are in touch with these are made sound as was the woman with the issue of blood when she touched Christ's garment. LW 1, 11.
God presents himself to us in visible forms deals with us and put these forms before us to keep us from degenerating into erratic vagabond spirits. LW, 2, 46.
I believe however that at that time some visible solemn act was added to the worship of God. Such is always God's way: that he joins some visible sign to the Word. LW 1, 329.
For all the sacred accounts give proof that by his superabundant grace our merciful God always placed some outward and visible sign of His grace alongside the Word so that men reminded by the outward sign and work or sacrament would believe that greater assurance that God is kind and merciful. Thus, after the flood the rainbow appeared in order to serve as a convincing proof that in the future God would not give vent to his wrath against the world by a similar punishment. To Abraham we hear circumsion was given so that he might firmly believe that God would be his God and that he would give him the seed in whom all the nations would be blessed. To us in the New Testament, baptism and the eucharist have been given as the visible signs of grace so that we might firmly believe that our sin shave been forgiven through Christ's sufferings and that we have been redeemed by his death. Thus the church has never been deprived to such an extent of outward signs that it became possible to know where God could be found. LW 1, 248.
The Sacraments are a bulwark against the despair of daily life:
If God himself should appear to me in his majesty and said: You are not worthy of my grace I will change my plan and not keep my promise to you I would not have to yield to him but it would be necessary to fight most vehemently against God himself … If he should cast me into the depths of hell and place me in the midst of devils I would still believe that I would be saved because I have been baptized I have been absolved I have received the pledge of my salvation : the body and blood of the Lord in the supper. There, I want to hear and see nothing else but I shall live and die in this faith whether God or an angel says the contrary. LW 6, 131.
God present in the daily life of vocation:
It is a general rule that whether something good is done through human beings or through angels you must conclude that it has been done by the Lord and give him the credit for it. LW3, 14.
Just as the Word is committed to us in the church so in the household there should be no doubt that when you hear your parents give some answer you are hearing God and are sure about his will. LW 4, 72.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
But the phrase as the theme for this blog stems from a related Latin phrase in the writings of Martin Luther, promissio incarnata est, which occurs in his Genesis commentary (WA , XLVIII, 138 for all the bibliographic hounds. The American edition has it on Page 4 of Volume 4 and renders it this way : The promise has now been made flesh.), The phrase is Luther's description of the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 21.
The phrase is in this context is startling and wonderful. It uncovers at once many central themes to Luther and to Lutheran theology and to this writer: God present in created things, the promise of God in the "incarnational" sacraments of the church and the created "fleshly" life of God's people in the world. The Genesis lectures are an often surprising view into Luther's mature theology. One of the main themes in these lectures is that God comes near to his creatures through and in created things. Isaac is the promise incarnated for Abraham and Sarah. God attaches his Word to lowly material things and thus is present to his people. In this view the incarnation of the Son of God is not a singular, unique occurrence but rather the supreme example of how God always works in the world. Incarnation describes the manner of God's presence in the in the life of the church and His people.
God made flesh in Christ is the same God who attaches his word to circumcision and the rainbow and the Eucharist and Baptism . God does nothing without his creation, whether feeding Germany, destroying Sodom or absolving penitents through the mouth of the preacher : all of it is incarnatus est. Even vocation and the daily life of Christians is viewed through the same lens. Incarnation is the shape that marriage, government, and occupation take. God attaches his Word (a command or promise) to an occupation or office so that the world might be served by God and the individual know and have assurance that he pleases God in his daily life. In vocation God is present incarnationally. It is God who is the police officer, God the baker God the family father, God the preacher.
So that is why this blog is called incarnatus est. Some of that same spirit that breathed through Luther (the same Spirit, by the way, of the ancient church and church fathers) is hoped to be present in these electronic pages.
They do not seem to go together in anyway do they, these three disparate topics? An obscure religious practice, the termination of human life in the womb and the increasingly strident push for recognition of same sex unions. But actually there is a common though contradictory thread : attitude to the physical.
The mention of relics of the saints often brings to mind the abuses of and the wild value medieval pilgrims placed on visiting and touching the often bogus remains of often bogus saints. But in its roots the practice of honoring the remains of martyrs was more about reverence for God's creation and mighty acts than about securing a free pass through purgatory or a miracle cure. The first Christians who gathered about the burial place of a martyr were there to honor the physical remains of one through whose body God had brought a witness of Christ to the world. In the flesh of the martyr, God spoke an eloquent sermon to the world. The bodies of the martyrs spoke, their suffering had meaning, it proclaimed a message. These Christians instinctively knew that the bodies of the saints were not mere facades or useless vessels for the real "spiritual" actions of the martyr or holy man. Rather, the flesh was precisely the place in and through which God had done a great thing. To honor the remains of a saint was to honor the work of God for those bones were God's creation and had been his dwelling place. The early church saw that in a special way the remains of the saints testified to the Incarnation. As God had worked salvation of all flesh and the world through the flesh of Christ so through the saints and martyrs God had also worked.
This attitude to the physical, to the body, could not be more different when it comes to today's world and many church bodies, specifically, when it comes to abortion or gay "marriage". Here the body is deemed of very little or no value at all. For those who seek to preserve the right to abortion the tiny speck of flesh (often termed a fetus) is mere detritus whose value is in no way to be compared to the towering rights and awesome feelings and even "spirituality" clustering around the free choice of a woman. The assumed value, the moral weight, the spiritual imperative does not attach to the life in and with the tiny palpable human being in the womb but rather to the invisible intangible will of an autonomous individual.
The same attitude to the physical is clearly seen in the push for gay "marriage". Here the rather obvious facts of physicality, of male and female genitalia, are deemed irrelevant to the more substantial matters of love and feeling and inborn attraction. The body is muted and given no voice. It is mere happenstance, the accidental container of the more important ingredients of desire and emotion and inner spirituality. The startling aspect of the debate on the sanctioning of gay unions is how love and marriage and union and monogamy are discussed completely in the abstract with no reference to the observable physical facts of gender. What was once as literally obvious as the nose on your face is now obscured as the body's message is no longer heard. Our culture today turns a deaf ear to the loud and eloquent language written in our nature. The physical aspects of our life are assumed to be mute; the body is a blank fact, a mere container or an accidental or even regrettable fact to be used or manipulated in what ever way we wish.
For many, the body has become irrelevant. What early Christians once honored with solemn festivals and holy liturgies as the honored temple of God's awesome presence is now seen as no more important than the plastic jug which delivers a product. The weight of the human person has come to be divorced from the body and the Incarnation is dishonored by the dishonor shown to human flesh. The way out of this for our culture is very difficult, if not impossible. But the church must be sure not to grow deaf to the eloquence and significance with which God has endued the human body. The church must not slip into a gnostic pseudo-spirituality where the things of creation, the things of the flesh are seen to be insignificant. Rather the church must listen with open ears to and proclaim with open mouths the great and weighty messages God has written into our very bodies. These lines from the burial rite of a Christian speak well the attitude to things physical, to the body, that the church must hold onto and declare : "May God the Father who created this body, may God the Son who by his blood redeemed this body, may God the Holy Spirit who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be his temple "