Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Life of Zoe

This year's Pentecost was especially joyful. The birthday of the Church was also the birthday of my firstborn daughter, Zoe. That is to say, more properly speaking, her first birthday. Rather felicitous, the more I think about it. For it was through Jesus' sending of the Spirit on that first Pentecost that Zoe's was brought to her second birth: Holy Baptism. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation hovered over the waters of the font this past Sunday morning - as He does for all who are born of water and Spirit in the water by the Word. This is why Baptism is the birth canal of the Church. Baptized we are born anew. For while her first birth made her a daughter of Eve; her second birth made her a child of God. Baptism gives Zoe Christ's zoe, His life. It is the same for all God's children soaked in the waters first sanctified by Christ in the Jordan. Our first birth brings death; the second, life. By our first birth we enter into the old creation, death and decay; by our second birth we enter the new creation, where the former things have passed away.
Zoe's birth was, no doubt a joyous day; and her second birth - by water and Spirit into Christ's death and resurrection - was a joy upon joyous day - each moment greater than the last. It doesn't get much better than baptizing your own daughter. We servants of the Word are but honor guards for our great Lord of Sabaoth, like Reepicheep before Aslan: it is our sacred duty and reverent honor to speak, declare and make known the steadfast love of the Lord. A feeble pastor and father's hands used by our Heavenly Father to mark her as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified; to pour out His lavish, forgiving flood, washing away her sin; to be the mouthpiece that declares: "I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." I'd be lying if I told said I didn't tear up a bit. Who wouldn't? For this I am neither ashamed nor too proud.

Of course, emotion doesn't make a Baptism more or less powerful - that's the work of the Trinity. And He does it quite well - Behold, I make all things new! What with all His life breathing, death and life giving, faith creating power. Similarly, emotion doesn't lead to faith but faith very often leads to emotions. I often find the strongest of which is joy. Hearing the Word, seeing Zoe, speaking the Gospel into her ears, knowing the promises of Christ in the water and the Word, knowing that this father's delight was only a glimpse of our Heavenly Father's delight - I was quite simply, overwhelmed by holiness, surprised by joy.

And the beauty of this joyous occasion was further underscored by this precious, sleeping, little girl. Yes, that's right; Zoe slept through her entire Baptism. Not only when mom carried her up to the font, but the throughout whole thing. Zoe slept while Christ did His work. She was out cold. Like Adam in the garden - YHWH was busy building faith in her while she was sleeping. That's rather emblematic of how we enter the Kingdom of Heaven - not by strength or reason or any merit or worthiness in me, but purely out of Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy - even while she was sleeping. Like Jacob who slept as our Lord came gave him visions of heaven, Zoe slept while our Lord brought her into heaven through the One whom the angels ascended and descended upon as He was lifted up on the cross. He came to Zoe, like a thief in the night. For while Zoe was sleeping peacefully a war was raging around her; but the devil was no match for Christ the Victor of sin, death and hell; his fiery darts are doused by this Water and the Word; he was renounced, cast out and old Adam drowned. While Zoe was busy resting in her mother's arms, Christ was busy wresting her from the kingdom of darkness and bringing her into His marvelous light. While Zoe was breathing deeply and slowly, the Holy Spirit was breathing - deeply and powerfully - His life into her ears, heart and mind. While Zoe was being baptized by her earthly father, her Heavenly Father was doing all the work. And now she is God's own child, I gladly say it! Baptized into Christ. Like Eustace...un-dragoned. Like Moses...drawn out of the water. Like Namaan...cleansed in the river. Like Noah and his family...saved through the flood. Like the children of Israel...led through an aquatic exodus, ferried across death's raging flood, to join the saints in heaven, clothed in garments garments dipped in the blood of the Lamb.

As I was seeing Christ's work unfold on Sunday I beheld the words and Word of Jesus in action: "Truly, Truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God...Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."

That is the life of Zoe and the zoe (life in Greek) of all who are baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Augustana Bonanza


I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame - Psalm 119:46.

A fitting verse for the 481st anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. According to a brief synopsis in The Treasury of Daily Prayer, the Augustana (as it is also called), "the principal doctrinal statement of the theology of Martin Luther and the Lutheran reformers, was written largely by Philip Melanchthon. At its heart, it confesses the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone. Signed by the leaders of many German cities and regions, the confession was formally presented to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, Germany, on June 25, 1530. A few weeks later, Roman Catholic authorities rejected the Confession, which Melanchthon defended in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531). In 1580, the Unaltered Augsburg Confession was included in the Book of Concord."

These form the doctrinal standard for the Evangelical Lutheran Church. And it is a marvelous confession of faith. The best way to study it, however, is not to listen to endless background commentary (although historical and theological context are valuable and necessary) nor read endless blog posts about how fantastic this confession is, but simply to open a copy up, set it next to an open Bible and read the two side-by-side (which you can read here at BookofConcord.org). That is, after all, how it was written - from the Scriptures, faithfully, clearly and boldly. I am not sure the reformers/civil leaders had a choice about what day they were able to present the Augustana before Emperor Charles V (btw, the Holy Roman Empire was neither, holy, roman, nor a real empire), but it seems rather appropriate that the day of the presentation is one day after the commemoration of St. John the Baptizer who also spoke boldly before kings, and lost his head for it. If the newest Luther movie is accurate (and even if it isn't) there is a illustrative scene towards the end where the princes and rulers bow down before Charles V, not in servitude, but in humble proclamation, offering their necks if need be. It was no different for John the Baptizer, a faithful witness to Jesus in life and in death. These princes and rulers were faithful witnesses to Jesus on June 25, 1530. And now the Augustana continues to be a faithful witness to Jesus that we might follow in the same manner, risking all even death rather than fall away from the faith, as we confess at Baptism and again at confirmation. O Lord, let us too speak Your testimonies faithfully, boldly and clearly before kings and neighbors, friends and family alike.

For in these 28 articles (as in the rest of the 1580 Book of Concord) "We have mentioned only those things we thought it was necessary to talk about so that it would be understood that in doctrine and ceremonies we have received nothing contrary to Scripture or the Church universal. It is clear that we have been very careful to make sure no new ungodly doctrine creeps into our churches." God grant it in our day as well.

Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura
Sola Gratia
Sola Fide

SDG

Friday, June 24, 2011

Jesus Is No Teetotaller

In that little Cana town, the word went all around. He turned the water into wine - er, I mean, grape juice. At least that's how Jesus' first miracle went according to the father of the bride on a recent episode of A Very Duggar Wedding. When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding of Cana, and I quote, "That word really means grape juice. He turned that water into grape juice." How's that for a bouquet? How that was said with a straight face still escapes me. But here's the video; check it out for yourself. The quotation that got me all corked off is found at 1:26.



No dancing. No booze. That's pretty much what you would expect at a Baptist wedding; it's par for the course. Of course, it is entirely possible for one to have a smashing good time at a wedding without  dancing or booze present, provided Christians recognize the freedom of another to enjoy the fruit of the vine or the hops or the barley (or whatever your drink of choice is here and at the Lamb's banqueting table) in good conscience. The weaker brother (Romans 14:10) is a different matter altogether. When the freedom of a Christian is compromised, ultimately the Gospel is in jeopardy as well - read Galatians. And didn't David dance on his way into the Holy City? Scripture is pretty clear that there will be wine - and lots of it - in heaven, not to mention here on earth for us to enjoy. After all, Jesus did.

So, if someone demands - yea, threatens to impinge upon or deny my God-given freedom in Christ - I will put down the drink in my hand only to pick up three more. Legalism must be met with the freedom of the Gospel. And there is no better antidote to the tannin of the Pharisees than to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners.


To be fair, I am not calling this man (whom I withhold judgment concerning his faith and presume that he is a dear Christian brother) a Pharisee. I am, however, free (in fact commanded by Scripture) to test his words about the Word to see if they are true or not. It's a classic case of turning wine into watery theology. Consider the following thoughts below:


1. The Greek word used in John 2 for "wine" is oinos (oinou, oinon and so forth). And it is used in 100s of citations between the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and the New Testament. A simple English concordance (but preferably a Greek one) will demonstrate this quite well. Now, there is a Greek word for grapes in the Bible: staphules. It appears in Matthew 7:16 among other places (Rev. 14 just to name another). But this word oinos means wine - not grape juice - just plain old, fermented fruit of the vine. And Jesus probably made some wicked good vintage, the likes of which would make Napa Valley jealous. Wine was one of the drinks of choice in ancient times. Water was not always potable, and when it was it caused diseases. Fermented wine, with the proper alcohol content reduces that risk (which is also why you shouldn't worry about contracting a disease from the chalice at communion; the little cups are far more disease prone).  This leads to the second point.


2. And this is not, strictly speaking, a Biblical argument. Any good FDA employee or nutrition expert will tell you that grape juice is impossible without two things: refrigeration and pasteurization. Both of which did not exist at the time of Jesus. The last time I read the New Testament, I don't recall hearing Jesus yell out: "Hey, Martha grab me a  nice glass of Welch's from the energy efficient refrigerator while you're in there running around preparing supper and then we'll sit down and have a nice devotion." Grape juice is no more a real fruit of the vine than Budweiser is real beer. Historically, theologically and viticulturally speaking, there is no way the house servant and the guests were drinking grape juice at Cana.

And as a sidebar, Thomas Welch loved the idea of pasteurization so much that he took Louis Pasteur's methods and applied them to grapes in order to halt the fermentation, making grape juice. Fermentation, however, is the normal course and process for the juice which flows from the pressed grape. Why would he do this you might  ask? Well, it had more to do with theology than good eating habits. Welch was a teetotaller (and a Methodist). But Jesus is not.

For, "John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (Matthew 11:18-19).

Clearly, some pruning shears are needed to cut back many of these theological assumptions...but let's just play along, for the sake of argument, and say that he is right. We're presented with a series of unfortunate biblical inconsistencies.


3. What about the Old Testament? You don't have to read too far into the prophets or the Psalms to find wine. Sometimes it's a mentioned in reference to sin (Noah had a few too many after the flood) and other times it gladdens men's hearts (Psalm 104), it is a messianic sign (Isaiah 55) and even a glimpse into the new creation that comes through Christ's suffering and death. For thus saith the Lord:


On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
   a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7
   the covering that is cast over all peoples,
    the veil that is spread over all nations.

 8 He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
   and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the LORD has spoken.
9It will be said on that day,
   "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
   This is the LORD; we have waited for him;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."

Amen! Now don't those words have a good finish on them? Let us, therefore, rejoice in the abundance of the earth, its fruit and food as true sustenance, joy and blessing. And let's keep moving on our wine-tasting through the Bible.


4. What about the Lord's Supper? Are we to extend this eisegesis into the rest of the New Testament as well? What evidence do we have to support grape juice as a legitimate translation? This is the biggie: if we can do this about Jesus' words with wine, why not anything else that might not fit in with our presuppositions, or theological assertions? When Jesus walked on water it wasn't really water it was ice or a rock just below the surface. When Jesus healed the lame it wasn't really a lame man, he was just faking it. When Jesus raised the widow's son at Nain, he wasn't quite dead yet. When Jesus was taken off the cross, he just fainted a little and so the heresy two-step goes. If this is our method of biblical interpretation what, if anything, is reliable and trustworthy?

5. This is very similar to Zwingli's method: alloeosis. This was his attempt at shuffling around the real presence. What Jesus really meant was, "this represents my body" for the flesh avails nothing. Also called the Bill Clinton maneuver: does is really mean is? Zwingli and Luther went back and forth on this. I highly suggest reading Luther's Marbourg Calloquy. It's like a well-aged wine. That was a good vintage year for Luther.

If Jesus' words about the Lord's Supper don't have anything to do with a real, bodily presence it's no surprise that wine and grape juice are interchangeable. In that vein, Jesus' words are fungible and malleable according to one's theological presuppositions. Errors in one article of doctrine frequently (almost always, in fact) show up in other teachings. At what point do we acknowledge that Jesus says what He means and means what He says? The Word is clear: "This is my body; this is my blood." Period. After that, changing water into wine is a piece of cake (wedding pun intended). Jesus is the true Vine - and the best vintner around - bringing His full bodied salvation in bread and wine for you. You are His branches. You can trust His Word. He is there for you in Supper just as He promised.

Let's keep the clear Word of God in teaching and keep the wine presses brimming. Sometimes a jar of wine is just a really good jar of wine. Cue the music, Johnny...

Monday, June 20, 2011

C.S. Lewis on the Trinity

Dorothy Sayers once wrote, concerning the Trinity: "The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Spirit incomprehensible, the whole thing incomprehensible." In a way, that is what is most frustrating for some when it comes to confessing the Athanasian Creed (as we did yesterday on Trinity Sunday). However, the more one ponders the mystery of the Trinity, the more this leads me to think that all the "eternals", "incomprehensibles" and "uncreateds" of the Athanasian Creed are actually more of a strength than a weakness, more of a comfort than a frustration. The vexation, I gather, given the constant work of this Trinity upon us, is fleeting (perhaps at times to a greater or lesser degree).

After all, who could ever have imagined a God like the God of the Scriptures, the God of the Athanasian, Apostle's and Nicene Creeds, the God who assumed human flesh and blood in time and history, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh but by the assumption of the humanity into God? As much as I am gratified by answers to questions and intellectual inquiry, who would really want a God you could fully comprehend? How would you know if you hadn't just made him up in the shower or cooked him up sometime between your morning coffee and donuts. That kind of god would be entirely untrustworthy and unreliable, much less an object of faith and eternal worship. What we need, is not a tame god; but a real one, merciful, loving and revealed. Leave the simple gods for the simple religions.

"It is simple religions that are the made up ones...If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course, anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about." - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book Four, chapter 2.

That is why the Athanasian Creed - in all its complex beauty - is my favorite creed. Confessing it is like jumping into the deep end of the pool for the first time as a child: at first you are somewhat timid, but once you jump in you can't wait to do it again and again and again, exploring the depths, swimming in its sonorous life. A new world - indeed a new life - has been opened up to us, revealed for us in this Name. For it is the life and Name of the very Triune God - who is love in Himself - that we come to know and worship whenever this creed is confessed. And it really ought to be more than once a year.

Good theology, as Professor Rod Rosenbladt once taught my class, is always practical. The same can be said for the Athanasian Creed (and the others as well as the heritage of the fathers - Lutheran and early church). With that in mind, Lewis illustrates how it is that we are taken into this divine, three-fold personal life. For he is not an impersonal, absent being. Rather, a "super-personal" one - utterly uniquely revealed in Sacred Scripture and in the fullness of time. Simple and yet complex. Christianity embraces the paradox (Tri-une, God and man, and so forth). Lewis makes no attempt to solve this paradox. He simply gives us an illustration - a pair of goggles - by which we are able to catch a glimpse into the depths of the unfathomable. And though his usage of the word "person" is not exactly the same philosophical definition used in the Athanasian Creed (or by early church fathers), it is a useful analogy. Analogies are meant to communicate in words the things we cannot fully comprehend. And we must communicate this way. Of course they are far from perfect. However, analogies have a place (and they must if we are to understand one another) in theological discourse so long as they do not become cumbersome and erroneous, pushing us further away from God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit -rather than drawing us in. I think Lewis' quotation does just that sort of "drawing in."

You know that in space you can move in three ways - to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions...If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube - a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways - in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings - just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God's dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book Four, chapter 2.

And now for something completely different.

A Creed for All Seasons

T Holy Trinity Sunday – June 19th, 2011 T

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

            The church counts in 3’s.  Divine Service begins the same way your life in Christ began: in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Consider this your homework this week: read through today’s service in the hymnal; count where and when you hear something in 3’s. The service is only half over - and here’s your hint - we’ve already hit at least 5, not counting the Athanasian Creed.
            This shouldn't be a surprise. For it is here in His Word, teaching, Baptism, Absolution, Holy Communion, where God pours out His divine life into us and brings us into His Triune life.  Take the Trinity out of worship and in time, the people of God will cease to glorify, praise, honor and understand that God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Generic worship produces a generic god, but a generic god offers no salvation. Salvation is found only in this Triune Name above all names.  Here the Trinity is in action from start to finish and every word in between.
            The Father sends the Son into the world to save the world by His death on the cross; the Son sends the Holy Spirit to grab a hold of you by the scruff of the neck, and brings you to faith in the Crucified Son. The Son brings you to the Father covered in His shed blood. Out from the Father through the Son, in the Spirit.
            We are gathered today like those disciples in Matthew 28 to worship at the feet of Jesus – to fall prostrate, that’s what the Greek says anyway - not hands waving and exalting ourselves, but knees falling, eyes, ears, lips, bodies - focused on the Crucified one, this is the posture of worship. And just like the disciples we are often plagued with doubt.  It is not a sin to pray: “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.”
           
            Notice the Athanasian Creed says: “the catholic faith is this, that we worship – not fully comprehend – worship, one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity.  This is what Trinity Sunday is all about.
            And before we go on much further we must say a few words about that “c-word.”  Many of you, perhaps, were brought up thinking “catholic” was a 4-letter word, but it’s not. It simply means “according to the whole”; it is the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, believed by all Christians at all times, in all places. Not popes, rosaries or indulgences. Don’t let this word or this creed trip you up and don’t think it’s too catholic, because if it is, then we had better be prepared to get rid everything in this church that makes it the Church.
            All of this underscores the fact that we really should confess the Athanasian Creed more often – not a once a year spring cleaning - but read, mark, learn and inwardly digest its teaching. The less we confess this creed the more confusing it is, the less we confess and teach the Trinity, the more we lack comfort in God’s personal revealed nature. However, the more this creed and doctrine are taught, the more we come to love and worship this Triune God rightly.
            From His first Word revealed in Genesis, this Triune God is creating through His Son, the Word, and breathing out His the life-giving Spirit - pouring out His divine life on His people – just like He did on the cross, at Pentecost, at Baptism. The message is the same through all the Scriptures: The Trinity is your salvation. No Trinity, no salvation.
            In this Triune God we live and move and have our being. We are made to be in communion – in relationship with Him as God Himself is in communion.
           
            And this is what our sinful flesh (Old Adam) finds especially offensive: that we are not our own, we live in relationship, utterly dependent upon someone outside ourselves. Mark Twain was right…in the beginning God created man in his image and ever since, he’s been trying to return the favor.
We are skilled idol makers. We like our pet gods. You know, the tame ones we can put on a leash when we have troubles and let loose when things are good; the abstract god we’re accountable to only when it suits our fancy.
            That’s the real disaster of human sin –that we destroyed our perfect relationship God created and far worse: we seek to usurp the throne and give praise and glory and honor to the unholy trinity: Me, Myself and I. All the 10 commandments flow out of and back to that first one: you shall have no other gods before Me. “Hear O Israel, O Christian Church, the Lord our God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is one.”
            God is one, but He is never alone, even with Himself. Love is His nature. The Trinity is a living relationship, a communion within God and with God. The Father begets His Son, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Together this Holy Trinity – an undivided unity – creates, redeems and makes holy. Each divine person doing his personal thing – yet always as one. So, when the Father deals with you, so do the Son and the Holy Spirit. When the Son deals with you, so the Father and the Spirit. When the Spirit deals with you so do the Son and the Father. You can’t have one without the other.
            God is never alone. Which is probably the best reason you’ll find in the Scripture as to why it is that you come to Church and can’t just stay at home in your PJ’s and have a service by yourself in a chat room or whatever pleases you.  God creates us for, and places us into a community because He is a community.
            This Triune God comes crashing – flooding – upon us in Holy Baptism. Baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  That’s why Luther’s Small Catechism reminds us to make the sign of the cross in the morning and evening. It’s a reminder of who we are – I am the Father's. I am the Son's. I'm the Holy Spirit's. The Father is my God. The Son is my God. The Spirit is my God. I don't have three Gods, I have one God. And if God is your Father, you are His child.

            While your first birth made you children of Adam. Your second birth, Baptism, makes you a child of God. While your first birth delivered you into death; your second birth brings you into Life. You are born by water and Word by the Spirit. In Holy Baptism this Triune God places His Name upon you. Like Andy’s toys in Toy Story you are marked, special, a prized possession, you have an identity. We are no longer obstinate toy soldiers, rather new people, new creations, newborn sons – and newborns cry out: Abba, Father! What a blessed coincidence that Father’s day happens to fall on Trinity Sunday this year. Because in Baptism, in Christ, every day is Father’s day. Baptism takes everything that belongs to God and makes it yours.
           
            Baptism reveals this simple truth: the best way to know the Trinity is by what God has done to save you. In Baptism, the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is imprinted, engraved forever on your forehead and your heart. For God is not found in His unnameable, unknowable majesty but in the humiliation of the Crucified Christ. Without the cross we know nothing of God. On the cross we not only see the Eternally Begotten Son put to death to innocently suffer for our sin and salvation, but in the cross you see the very heart of your Creator and your Redeemer. By the cross you come to know this Triune God, for it is the door to heaven and the window into the heart, soul and mind of God. The cross tells us the Father is “for me” the Son is “for me” the Spirit is “for me”. 
            Through the cross, we behold the Lamb on the throne surrounded by angels and adored by the saints. Through the cross we are brought into this divine life. We are children of the heavenly Father.  Brothers and sisters of God’s only-begotten Son.  We are given the Holy Spirit - our Comforter, Advocate, Guide.  That’s why we have such a thing as Holy Trinity Sunday or creeds.  That’s why we confess the Athanasian Creed with all its eternals, and uncreateds and incomprehensibles. We are forever surrounded by the Triune God who made us, saved us, restores us and makes us holy in Himself. 
            This is most apparent at the Altar where heaven comes to earth.  Heaven is found in no better place than in the Holy Communion, where we meet this Triune God and rejoice with saints and angels, prophets, and apostles, martyrs and confessors.  Here we listen and join with Isaiah’s seraphim praising and singing: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” For the liturgy is never our own, but heaven’s. Therefore, with angels and archangels…we magnify the Holy Trinity.
            Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity; let us give glory to him because He has shown us His mercy. His love. His Name. His promise: I am with you always to the end of the ages.

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

In My Father's Garden

I used to hate yard work. And the worst form of torture was mowing the lawn. It wasn't that our lawn was all that large, although the slope in the front (or so I thought at the time) might as well have been the slopes of the Misty Mountains, covered in lush, thick, grow-by-the-minute-in-the-Oregon-rain blades of grass. No, there was the neighbor's narrow and thinly laid lawn across the street, the neighbor's small, yet twisty-turny lawn next door and of course, the neighbor's ginormous lawn on the other side of that house. There were only a few select days I had to mow all of them at once. The rain was the worst. I'm sure that I complained more than necessary. After all, what was a few minutes spent caring for a neighbor in need? And I know I grumbled, stalled as much as humanly possible, pouted, stomped kicked and screamed. But one way or another the lawn got mowed and life went on. When I was a child I thought like a child. Thankfully, my father knew better. He also knew that one day, looking back on this, that I'd know better too. He was right in both regards. He knew that the neighbors needed their lawn mowed and most, if not all of them, were unable to do so themselves.

A schmaltzy TV "news" segment this morning said, in an unscientific poll, that 75% of dads want nothing more than to have their family help with the yard work. My dad guessed the answer right even before it was given. On this father's day, among other familial memories, I remember my father and yard work. He still loves it, more than I ever will (although I no longer hate it and love the smell of fresh cut grass!), but that is a particular vocation he has been granted. God works - not in mysterious ways - but through the noble humility of calloused hands, oily-stained fingers, greasy, grubby clothes and hard-working fathers (biological, spiritual, adopted or whoever that person is in your life). God hides himself behind the mud, blood, guts and beer.

Thank God for fathers and their vocation. For it was in the garden with dirt under our finger nails and the smell of manure in the air, with the clippers and chainsaws praising God that I learned the most about my father, about his selfless love and service to any (and sometimes every) neighbor in need. I know all he heard was pissing and moaning...but that's not what I heard. Behind the lawn mower - clipping, emptying the bag, refueling the tank, checking the sharpness of the blade - my father was teaching me the same selfless love. There was no manual. We wouldn't have read the directions anyway. It was simply, yet in the most profound manner, a silent sacrificial service, giving yourself for the needs of others. Now that is the doctrine of vocation in action and I didn't even realize it until I went to seminary, until I had household chores to do in my own house, until I looked into my daughter's eyes for the first time. It all makes sense now - even if it is only a week in.

You can learn hard work from just about anyone. But it takes a father formed by our heavenly Father to teach a stubborn, groaning, stomping son what this vocation of fatherhood is all about. It is a sacred honor. As I am sure it was his sacred duty to dispatch. My father taught me many things. But most of all, my father made sure that that same ornery boy was sitting in catechism class, kneeling at the Altar and led to the font - not to wash all that rich, Michigan dirt off - but for a clean conscience, to be adopted as a son by the Father from whom all fatherhood is known. All the while, from the font to the front yard, the Lord and giver of life was doing His own Fatherly work, without any merit or worthiness in us. This is the Father who tirelessly gives Himself entirely and wholly for the needs of others. The Father who sent His Son, His only Son, to suffer and die for all His wayward, grumbling rebellious children. A perfect sacrifice of selfless love. Led by the Spirit, through the Son to the Father. What a blessed coincidence that Father's Day happens to fall on Trinity Sunday this year.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if we are children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. - Romans 8:14-17.


How great is the love that our Father (and fathers) have poured out on us that we should be called sons of God, and that is who we are. A blessed and happy father's day to you all.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

C.S. Lewis on Pentecost

At Christmas the Father pours out his Son. At Easter the Son pours out his blood and rises from the dead. At Pentecost the Father and the Son pour out the Spirit upon the Church. Or said another way: in the fullness of time the Father sent his Son to be born of a woman; the Son - sent by the Father - accomplishes the work he was anointed to do on our behalf; and the Spirit is sent - proceedeth - from the Father and the Son. Both the Church year and the Christian life are Trinitarian, filled with the true, creative life and breath, death and resurrection of God himself. So, whenever and wherever you have one you have all, for we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance...the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal.  And when we sing, Veni Creator Spiritus we are calling upon the Name of the Triune God to do his pouring out, comforting, advocating, defending work through his Paraclete, the Holy Spirit.

This is why Pentecost is such an essential festival in the life of the Church, not because the Spirit needs a day of fame and recognition after years of neglect, but because the Spirit cannot help but fix our faith, mind, hope and love upon Christ Crucified and the Father through whom he is sent to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the whole Christian Church on earth. This was the promise of the Ascension. "I am going to the Father...and I will ask the Father, and he will give to you another Paraclete (not parakeet), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth...he dwells with you and will be in you...he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you...when the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth...he will bear witness about me, and you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning" - John 14-16.

"This third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the 'spirit' of God. Do not be worried or surprised if you find Him rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two. I think there is a reason why that must be so. In the Christian life you are not usually looking at Him. He is always acting through you. If you think of the Father as something 'out there', in front of you, and the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or behind you. Perhaps some people might find it easier to begin with the third Person and work backwards. God is love, and that love works through men - especially through the whole community of Christians. But this spirit of love is, from all eternity, a love going on between the Father and the Son."

Earlier in Mere Christianity, Lewis had written that the third Person, who is in fact a real Person, grows out of the joint life of the Father and the Son.

"And now, what does it all matter? It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-fold Personal life is to be played out in each of us: or (putting it the other way around) each one of us has got the enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we are made. Good things as well as bad, you know are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?

...Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has - by what I call 'good infection'. Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else." - Mere Christianity, Book IV, chapter IV.

All of this is what Pentecost means for us, the Church, Christ's holy people. For what Jesus promised his disciples before Pentecost he now promises - even pours out like a mighty rushing river upon - his entire Church because of Pentecost. Man united with God by the incarnation, by Jesus' death and resurrection and the anointing of the Spirit - all of which churn through the flood gates of Baptism, uniting us with God. What begins with joint divine life in the divine mystery of the Trinity is given to his people through water and Word. Your Baptism is also your Pentecost where you are anointed into paradise and drawn into eternal life as the Triune Name is placed upon you. This is how Lewis' question - How is it possible for us to be taken into the three-Personal life?- is answered. Pentecost, Baptism - in other words, Father, Son and Holy Spirit poured out upon us, filling us with the very life and salvation that comes to us by that same Triune Name. This Pentecost we remember this third Person - this comforter of priceless worth - who makes our hearts his place of rest, pointing us to the Son. What blessed, supernal, infectious joy: the Holy Spirit takes a nose dive into the font and, like a lion, comes bounding into our lives forever.

O Spirit, who didst once restore
Thy Church that it might be again
The bringer of Good News to men,
Breathe on Thy cloven Church once more,
That in these gray and latter days
There may be those whose life is praise,
Each life a high doxology
To Father, Son, and unto Thee.
- LSB 834:4

Saturday, June 11, 2011

St. Barnabas: The Unsung Apostle

The Church needs more Barnabases. I'm not suggesting everyone go out and sell their field (or home or vacation home or whatever) although maybe we could all find our own 'field' to sell and lay the money at the feet of Christ's Church (Acts 4:32-37). No, what I mean is that the Church needs more unsung heroes, more masks of God revealing the hidden ways of God in their often behind the scenes (and more often than not, ordinary) vocations. What do you know about Barnabas? Have you heard Sunday School songs sung about him? Churches named after him? Children named for him? Well, that's exactly my point. Heard and not seen is the way of God's saints. Barnabas was never the center of attention - Christ was (and the same is true for those saints who have more narrative play time in the New Testament: the spotlight is always on Jesus). And that is what we need more of in the Church, more Barnabases.

From Jerusalem to Iconium and from Lystra to Antioch, Barnabas followed Paul, proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins - that was his vocation. Later there was an argument and Barnabas took Mark, but even there the Gospel was served. Where is your Lystra, your Jerusalem, your Iconium? Is it in the classroom, at home, on the playground, in the squad car, in the jump seat between the cock-pit and the passengers, in the operating room, in the elected seat of congress? Wherever, God has called you, placed you - that is your vocation and we have dozens of them, many of which are unsung. St. Barnabas day is a day for the unsung heroes of the Church, to all you blue collar, white collar and clerical collar masks of God. It may not be a field, but chances are you lay something - be it a widow's mite or a hard day's work - at the feet of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church knowing that you have loved God and served the neighbor, even if it is hidden. For your love and service come flow from that which is not hidden:  the love and service of the only begotten Son - from Jerusalem to Iconium, from Huntington Beach to the four corners of the earth, Christ Crucified is proclaimed, given, received, present with His bride the Church.

It is no doubt difficult work. Barnabas and Paul knew a little of this, as do you. It is the making of a saint from a sinner.  Something C.S. Lewis reminds us about in The Problem of Pain: "Why do men need such alteration? The Christian answer - that we have used our free will to become very bad - is so well known [among us that is] that it hardly needs to be stated. But to bring this doctrine into real life in the minds of modern men, and even modern Christians, is very hard. When the Apostles preached, they could assume even in their Pagan hearers a real consciousness of deserving Divine anger. The Pagan mysteries existed to allay this consciousness, and the Epicurean philosophy claimed to deliver men from the fear of eternal punishment. It was against this background that the Gospel appeared as Good News. It brought news of possible healing to men who knew that they were mortally ill."

The Epicurean and the philosopher (no less the pagan) are still with us, and though Lewis says, this has all changed, that we now must begin with the diagnosis - very bad news in itself - the repentance and forgiveness of sins is, and will continue to be, preached to the ends of the earth by all the modern day Barnabases, to the eternal joy of its hearers - and of course the angelic rejoicing and churchly fellowship- just as it was in the early days of the Church. The Lord will continue to raise up faithful, unsung heroes in every age to point to the Light of the Gentiles that He - by His death and resurrection - would bring salvation to all. A blessed St. Barnabas Day!

For Barnabas we praise You,
Who kept Your law of love
And, leaving earthly treasures,
Sought riches from above.
O Christ, our Lord and Savior,
Let gifts of grace descend,
That Your true consolation
May through the world extend.
- LSB 518:17

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pregnancy and Parousia

These days my cell phone is always charged, rarely turned on silent (except for Sunday services and even then it's on vibrate) and never more than an arm's length away and I don't even own a crackberry and as of yet I have not been assimilated into the iPhone collective (however, resistance is futile). No, this is the life of expectant fathers as well as their expectant brides. Great expectations, indeed. The crib is built, the changing table is ready (for all those apocalyptic diapers) and the car seat is locked and loaded; be prepared isn't just for the boy scouts. Tomorrow marks the 39th week. June 15th is the due date (at least the one the doctors gave us) but that is only an educated guess, because no one really knows the day or the hour; in my case, even the father doesn't know! Anticipation and anguish lead to joy (John 16).

So, as we wait with anticipation for the birth of our firstborn, this morning, I couldn't help but think what a marvelous picture all of this paints for us concerning Christians and the Parousia, Christ's second coming. We wait; we watch; we keep awake; we must be in a constant state of readiness - lamps trimmed and burning, wedding garments (and diaper bags) at the ready, for any moment we could hear the sound - not of my cheap Virgin Mobile going off - but the trumpet's blare and the cry of the archangel: "Behold, Zion; your King is coming to you, righteous and having salvation...It's time...Thundercats are go! Christians await the return of the King, not with calculators and mystical algorithms, but with the sure and steady Word, with his promise: "Lo, I am with you even to the end of the age." We are his bride, the church, pregnant with expectation, anticipation, hope, and faith in what is not yet seen but will soon be revealed (and is already the reality - see Revelation) - for he is at the very gates.  Our Lord is coming, like a thief in the night, like a newborn baby - when He is good and ready, and in the fullness of time, just as He did in his first parousia. And what an unending joy that day will be.

Therefore, as St. Paul reminds us: But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Monday, June 6, 2011

Jesus Prays

T Exaudi Sunday – June 5th, 2011 T
Text: 1 Peter 4:12 – 5:11; John 17:1-11

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

            Our god has been so wild lately, he doesn’t seem to listen, he doesn’t obey my commands and I can’t even bribe him with treats; he’s gotten so out of hand he may even have to be put down. 
            Isn’t that just one of the most frustrating things about God? He refuses to follow the plans we make for him.  If he’d only stick to our way of doing things, everything’d be fine. That’s how we prefer things – not right side up – but my side up. My kingdom come. My will be done.
            But that’s not the way Jesus prays.  “Father, if it be your will take this cup from me, nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.”  Even the Son, by whom all things were made, starts his prayers with, “Father.”  For God’s ways are not our ways.
 
            Christianity is often like the Poseidon Adventure – down is up.  And even more often it’s the opposite of what we expect: with God the pains are pleasures, weakness is strength, suffering is cause for rejoicing, insult is blessing, foolishness is wisdom, the humble are exalted; and what we take for as failure is, very often, in the eyes of God, a reason to claim victory.  For there is more joy in heaven over one sinner – one prodigal, one outcast, one tax collector, one harlot, one serial killer, one corrupt politician, one chief of sinners - who repents than 99 righteous who need no repentance.  Yes, you will be surprised at who is glorified in the new creation. Thank God the Church is the place for sinners. 
            And these backwards ways of God are the backwards ways of his Son. Listen to Jesus’ prayer: “Father the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”  Hours before his death, he prays for glory in everything he is about to suffer.  Arrested, bound, tried – glorified in that? Slapped, cursed, spat upon, mocked – glorified? Nailed, pierced, dead and buried – glorified?  Absolutely. That is what Jesus means when he says he has accomplished the work he was sent to do.  Jesus is enthroned in bloody, shameful, crucified glory.  And the Father is glorified in his Suffering Servant and so are you.
            Here the eyes of our sinful flesh glare with utter disgust – that’s opposite of how we expect God to operate. For when people say, “I don’t think God would do this or that;” they really mean, “my god won’t do this or that”…in other words, “I don’t like this or that; I’d rather be in charge.” And if there’s one thing we don’t like, it’s being put out of control. We have myopic beatitudes:
Blessed are the strong for they will conquer the weak.
Blessed are the wise for they will conquer the foolish.
Blessed are the rich, the successful, the powerful for they will be live long and prosper in the land.
           
            We live the way our first parents did.  We live by sight, by what looks good, what is pleasing to the eyes and whatever our hearts desire to make us wise. But that is only what you see with your fallen eyes.  Your eyes deceive you.
            We are very good at rejoicing in suffering, at least when we can call attention to ourselves and ignore the pain and suffering of others just long enough to ease our own suffering.  But how will you see the backwards ways of God with eyes blinded by sin? Repent. Scrub your eyes in Baptismal water and stick them into your ears, for that is where the real seeing takes place.
            You, blessed Saints of God, see all of life through your ears.  The same Word Jesus manifests in John, with the disciples is the same Word that enters your ears and tells you who he is, what he has done for you. And so you remain fixed on the Word like a watchful lookout with their ear to the ground.
            This Word reveals the truth about yourself, that you a rebellious son of Adam and daughter of Eve, that you who despise God’s preaching and teaching, you who love yourself far more than your neighbor, it is you the outcast, the sinner, the prodigal for whom Christ went to the cross to glorify himself in crimson stripes.  You are the one for whom Christ died, Christ rose, Christ ascended. 
            Rejoice, for Christ not only shares in your suffering, but takes them on willingly and bears them in his body, burying it in his tomb forever.  And because he was insulted, mocked and killed you are blessed. For while we were conceived and born in sin, Christ was conceived and born of without sin, of the Virgin. While we were following the easy, broad way that leads to destruction, Christ was walking the narrow way to give eternal life to all. While we were busy doing whatever we desired, Christ was busy fulfilling the desires of the Father, perfectly for your sake. And while we were chasing after vain glory in our own merit, Christ was chasing down your glorification in his passion on the cross – that by his death, by his suffering, by his agony, pain and bloody sweat – we too might be glorified in him and he in us.  And in these backwards ways of God you are led forward to a heavenly glory prepared for you before the world existed.
            This heavenly Aaron has entered the Holy of Holies by his blood. There he takes your weak and feeble prayers and speaks to his Father – and he is heard. In his ascension he at the right hand of power, not absent from his bride the Church, but present with her to fill her with his very life. There your Greater Elijah offers double portion for your sins – and he is heard. Even now, Jesus prays for you.
            So when suffering comes - and it will, as Jesus and Peter remind us – we have a great High Priest who abides with us in our weaknesses.  One who suffered, died, rose, ascended in triumph over that sin, death and hell.  For when you suffer in this life, all theorizing is over, all the books and plans and relaxation methods are tossed aside and you are left with no one but God alone. That is part of what it means to suffer, to wrestle with God, to contend with God and win.  For you, our greater Jacob wrestles with God and wins.  He never loses.  His blood guarantees that you will never lose either. 
            Rejoice in suffering?!  Blessed by insult? Yes, but don’t take my word for it listen to Jesus’ word, after all he’s the one who suffers for you and with you.
            And these backwards ways of the Son are also the backwards ways of his Church.  John 17 gives us back-stage access behind the divine curtain, an ear pressed to the door of heaven’s conversation: Jesus prays for his Church.  He prays that you are kept in the Triune Name washed over you and in you.  He prays that we would be one with him and the Father by the Spirit. He prays that you would be kept holy in his Word.

            This is the key to the Church’s survival.  This is what has kept the Church going for the last two-thousand years. The Church has survived persecution, false teaching, and some of the grossest mismanagement in recorded history.  She has survived popes and councils, annual budgets and voters meetings; hostile governments and friendly governments; dictatorships, demagogues, and democracies.  And she’ll survive much more before our Lord returns. 
            Because the secret for those 120 in the book of Acts wasn’t any found in a program or a publishing house, financial security, schools or endowment funds; they had no synodical buildings, bureaucracy, church buildings or even adequate storage space.  They had what the one holy, catholic, apostolic Church will always have: Jesus - glorified in his Word; Jesus - glorified in your Baptism; Jesus - glorified in bread and wine.  Jesus praying for his Church. And that is really all you need. 

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

C.S. Lewis on the Ascension


Happy Himmelfahrt day! "Oh, excuse you, what barnyard talk." No, seriously, it's a real word (German to be precise). Today the Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord. And whenever Christians celebrate we sing:

Up through endless ranks of angels,
Cries of triumph in His ears,
To His heav'nly throne ascending,
Having vanquished all their fears,
Christ looks down upon His faithful,
Leaving them in happy tears.
- LSB 491:1

Forty years the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness before they were led by Joshua across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Forty days after Easter the new, wandering Israel is led by the greater Joshua (Yeshua) across the glassy, crystalline sea to the right hand of God on high. Christ is the beginning of the New Creation; He is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15) and the pioneer of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10ff). Today, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, "a new chapter in cosmic history has opened." Christ closed the door to everlasting death by his own death and opened heaven for all as easily as he opened his own tomb. The dragon is slain, the Lamb has conquered and now the King ascends to his throne. All of this (and more as we shall read on below) follows along in joyful refrain as we celebrate the Ascension. For "there is no possibility of isolating the doctrine of the Resurrection from that of the Ascension" (Lewis - Miracles, p. 236). Jesus' resurrection leads to his Ascension. You don't get one without the other. The 'It is Finished' of Good Friday must be extend throughout the whole world. And when one's work is finished they rest, or in Jesus' case, rest by siting down on at the right hand of God.

Think of Christ's ascension like the coronation scene towards the end of Tolkien's Return of the King: the Ring has been destroyed, Mordor is defeated, Aragorn ascends the throne having conquered the enemies of middle-earth, all things are under his feet and elves, men and even hobbits gather for feast and festival. Ascension is a triumphal entry, not into Jerusalem to die, but into the Heavenly Jerusalem as King: palms are waved in exaltation, the vault of heaven resounds, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive honor and glory and blessing."  That's why the most brilliant Easter cross is not empty but adorned with the Christus Rex - Christ is King through his very life, death resurrection and ascension.

Christianity simply cannot do without the story of the ascension - just as we cannot do with out the Resurrection. We confess it every Sunday in the creed. According to Lewis, we can only drop the Ascension story (as a real event - for it was seen by more than one person at a time and group hallucination/dreams are impossible) if we are prepared to throw out the Resurrection as well.

We can do so only if we regard the Resurrection appearances as those of a ghost or hallucination. For a phantom can just fade away; but an objective entity must go somewhere - something must happen to it. And if the Risen Body were not objective, then all of us (Christian or not) must invent some explanation for the disappearance of the corpse. And all Christians must explain why God sent or permitted a 'vsion' or a 'ghost' whose behaviour seems almost exclusively directed to convincing the disciples that it was not a vision or a ghost but a really corporeal being. If it were a vision then it was the most systematically deceptive and lying on record [not to mention the most brilliantly, skilled conspiracy ever conceived in history; lying takes work, you know!]. But if it were real, then something happened to it after it ceased to appear. You cannot take away the Ascension without putting something else in its place (Miracles, 243-244).

Speaking along the via negativa, Christ's Ascension is not an event such as a tractor beam or transporter; "Beam me up Scottie!"  He also didn't blast off like a rocket and leap tall cumulus clouds in a single bound. Jesus is more than a sanctified superman. He is very much a real man, or to speak in the words of the Creed, true God and true man. We must do away with any gnostic, mystical Jedi-mind tricks when it comes to thinking about the Ascension.  A disembodied Jesus is not the Savior you're looking for. A bodiless Jesus does you no good - not at his incarnation, not in his life, not in his death and resurrection and certainly not in his ascension and return on the Last Day. Thankfully, there is far more to say positively about Jesus' ascension than there is negatively. What Jesus assumes, Jesus redeems. And he redeems you. He just happens to do it with a body that is better than yours. He's sinless; you're not. He's able to make satisfaction for sin, perfectly; you're not. He's able to raise his body from the grave; you need him to do that for you. He's also able to walk through doors and walls and appear to disciples; he eats fish and then ascends in the body to the right hand of God. That's why we can say that he is present with his Church in the Lord's Supper with his body and the blood, not in a gnostic, absent way, but in a real, flesh and blood way. Risen and Ascended Jesus can do whatever he wants! This is what Lewis calls a 'new human nature' or a 'different mode of existence.'

The picture [of the Ascension and Resurrection and the ensuing New Creation] is not what we expected - though whether it is less or more probable and philosophical on that account is another question. It is not the picture of an escape from any and every kind of Nature into some unconditioned and utterly transcendent life. It is the picture of a new human nature, and a new Nature in general, being brought into existence. We must, indeed, believe the risen body to be extremely different from the mortal body: but the existence, in that new state, of anything that could in any sense be described as 'body' at all, involves some sort of spacial relations and in the long run a whole new universe. That is the picture - not of unmaking but remaking. The old field of space, time, matter, and the senses is to be weeded, dug, and sown for a new crop. We may be tired of the old field: God is not (Miracles, 244).

Indeed, in Christ the perishable are raised imperishable, the mortal puts on immortality. And this same imperishable, immortal, yet fleshly and real Savior, abides with his Church closer now in the Sacrament than he ever did with his disciples. Christ's ascension is the culmination of his work, the proclamation of his gracious reign over all things, the glorification and exaltation of humanity in the flesh and blood of Jesus and it is of the utmost consolation for his bride, the Church. What else is there to say, but "Amen, come quickly, Lord Jesus."

Now our heav'nly Aaron enters
With His blood within the veil;
Joshua now is come to Canaan,
And the kings before Him quail.
Now He plants the tribes of Israel
In their promised resting place;
Now our great Elijah offers
Double portion of His grace.
- LSB 494:4

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Justin Martyr: A.K.A. Apologist

Today is the commemoration of Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165).  An appropriate moniker considering his life and work and death - by which he was a witness to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The measure of a theologian and defender of the faith can hardly be grasped from narrow glimpses into his life and work such as we read from the LC-MS web site:

Born at the beginning of the second century, Justin was raised in a pagan family. He was student of philosophy who converted to the Christian faith and became a teacher in Ephesus and Rome. After refusing to make pagan sacrifices, he was arrested, tried and executed, along with six other believers. The official Roman court proceedings of his trial before Rusticius, a Roman prelate, document his confession of faith. The account of his martyrdom became a source of great encouragement to the early Christian community. Much of what we know of early liturgical practice comes from Justin.

The best way to familiarize yourself with Justin the apologist - or any other early church father/apologist - is simply to pick up the books and read for yourself.  C.S. Lewis was right when he said (in his introduction to On the Incarnation) that there really is nothing quite like reading the old books.  And before reading any new ones we should rub our fingers across the pages of Christian history in more than cursory fashion. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, this proves to be quite easy these days.  New Advent is a handy resource, from which I pulled the following little sample of his famous Dialogue With Trypho.  It's a marvelous work wherein he spends no short amount of time discussing the faith, refuting errors and making the case for Christianity from secular life to the Old Testament (Trypho was a Jew after all).  There wasn't much lacking from Justin's apologetic quiver.  May his work be a ready arrow for us this day as we commemorate his faithful apologia inscribed in antiquity through sainted blood and ink.

Justin: I excuse and forgive you, my friend, for you know not what you say, but have been persuaded by teachers who do not understand the Scriptures; and you speak, like a diviner, whatever comes into your mind. But if you are willing to listen to an account of Him, how we have not been deceived, and shall not cease to confess Him—although men's reproaches be heaped upon us, although the most terrible tyrant compel us to deny Him—I shall prove to you as you stand here that we have not believed empty fables, or words without any foundation but words filled with the Spirit of God, and big with power, and flourishing with grace. - Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 9.

Almighty and everlasting God, You found Your martyr Justin wandering from teacher to teacher, searching for the true God.  Grant that all who seek for a deeper knowledge of the sublime wisdom of Your eternal Word may be found by You, who, sent Your Son to seek and to save the lost; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.