The Resurrection is Everything

Obiwan Kenobi once said to a bewildered Luke Skywalker, “You’ll find that many of the truths we cling to in life depend greatly on our point of view.”   The transcendent Jedi was right.  The problem with relativism is found in the fulcrum.  The existentialists are right if we are the fulcrum.  If we are the fulcrum, then truth is relative to us.  But if Jesus is right, then He is the fulcrum and truth is relative to Him.  But, someone may point out, if we allow that Jesus is the fulcrum, that truth is relative to Him, aren’t we simply making this true for ourselves.  Haven’t we retained truth as relative to us even if we have said that truth is found in someone else, namely, Jesus?  Philosophically, yes; theologically, no.

The answer to this little problem is in the answer to this question: who is risen from the dead?  One of my philosophy professors in undergrad was fond of saying that “philosophers climb the daunting mountain of wisdom only to find the theologians eating on top of it.”  In the end, Jesus will be proved to be the truth to which all things must relate.  The evidence of this: He is risen.  All theology, all Christology is defined and comes from the resurrection.  The resurrection of Jesus is everything.  No, it’s not the only thing, but all other things – atonement, justification, sanctification, love, et. al. – find their completion, their telos, in His resurrection.  It is in the resurrection that all things in heaven and on earth, all authority, has been given to Him.

The Church, the Christian, lives in the resurrection.  We eat our heavenly food in the resurrection.  We hear our Savior in the resurrection.  We love one another in the resurrection.  Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, we are raised with Him.  The implications of this (and, yes, the applications too) are limitless even as He is all in all.  We await the revelation of God’s sons, those who are buried with Christ and raised with Him.

The Cult of the Saints (not what you think)

This Lent I have done something I didn’t think I’d ever do: I formed a Lenten Sermon Series.  I don’t like Lenten Sermon Series’ for many reasons that I won’t get into here, and most of which are somewhat psychological, unprovable, and downright ghostly. Anyway, I succumbed – honestly because what else are going to do for the five midweek services that are more sacrosanct than the Eucharist to many Lutherans, yet so few attend them.  Anyway…

My sermon series is entitled, “Living the Christian Life in…”  Last week was, “…in Witness,” this week is “… in Community”.  Living the Christian Life in Community.  How do we live according to the Way in the community?  First by participating (not merely attending) the Eucharistic Feast, the heavenly banquet, the gathering of the saints.  This is the chief thing; the one thing needful.  It’s more than “going to church”.  It’s living a life that is ordered by our heavenly Father.  It is more than just eating and drinking.  It is hearing, responding, serving, being served, eating, drinking, and yes, sharing.  Not the pedantic sharing of two strangers trying to feel good about themselves, but the sharing of two brothers sharing life together.  We share in the life of God, the life of Jesus.

Our first community is the community of Jesus; He being the Head, the Chief, the Captain, the King.  This community defines all other relations, even the one with our spouse.  We do not give this community up for anything.  We do not belittle it in any way.  We do not belittle those who belong to it.  We cherish it like a husband cherishes a good wife.  We cherish it like a woman cherishes a strong husband.  We cherish it like children cherish a loving and strong parent.  We let it form us, shape us, break us, mend us, yes even control us.  If this sound cultish, it is.  The cult of the saints. Not the medieval cult of the saints, but the culture of the saints of God.

But hear me: this is not voters or members or councils.  This is the Diving Liturgy, the Divine Service.  This is the gathering of the Spirit calling the children of the Father by the Gospel, calling them to participate in the life of Jesus.  This is not meetings or boards or anything that smacks of organization.  This is the eschatological in-gathering.  This is the only community that matters.

Then, it those less-than-real moments of what is called “day-to-day life,” when we find ourselves in the wilderness, among the dogs, in chaos, our life will be ordered. It will not be anxious but free.  It will not be tiresome but content.  Then we will be lights in that other community in which we move (but not live or have our being), the cult of the damned; the culture of the unholy ones.  For we do indeed live in this world.  But the light of Christ, which only glows as longs as we are united to Him, glows in us so that we – the good works of Jesus – shine before the sons of this world and His heavenly Father is glorified.

The Way You Carry the Book

Pr. Peters over at Pastoral Meanderings has posted a nice post which I would have entitled, “The Profundity of Ritual”.


Penance and Duty

Recently I posted on fasting.  It raised the question of whether fasting was optional or obligatory.  Also whether it is sacramental or … I don’t know what.  A response to the post (in Facebook) brought up penance, suggesting that Lent is a season of penance (a popular notion) and that fasting is part of penance.  I wonder.

Penance is a discipline imposed by church / ecclesiastical authority.    No matter how you twist it, this is the bottom line of penance.   By the time of Luther penance had developed into satisfaction for venial sins, sins that do not lead to death. Penance became that which atoned for our guilt.  There’s no whitewashing this.  This is heresy.  As Lutherans we reject the teaching that imposed penance justifies us before God.  Penance does not atone for our guilt.  It does not satisfy the demands of the Law or the sentence the Law gives.

So let us expel the immoral brother in order to save him.  That is, let us expel the heresy in order to save penance. Why save penance?  Because it is good and useful for godly training and encouragement.  It is true that penance does not cleanse us from sin or the guilt of sin, and neither does is satisfy the consequences of sin.  But penance is still good.  It reminds the sinner that he is not his own.  He belongs to another.  He does not live to himself and he does not die to himself.  If he suffers, the whole Body suffers.  It is good to assign penance to the penitent. Not to satisfy guilt or assuage God’s wrath, but to encourage, exhort, rebuke, and build up.  Consider that the highest penance is excommunication.

Excommunication is not imposed to relieve guilt or satisfy the Law.  It is imposed to discipline, to train the sinner in the ways of righteousness. But this is extreme.  There are lesser penance.  Say, for example, imposing on the adulterer who cheats on his wife with virtual women to cancel his internet subscription for a set time. If he needs the internet, he can use the church’s (or some similar arrangement).  Or for the woman who cannot control her anger at her children, give her the penance of reading the Table of Duties in the morning, at noon, and at night?  These are ecclesiastically imposed disciplines for the purposes of training the faithful in the ways of righteousness.  The sinner is forgiven by God’s grace (presumably coming to Confession where forgiveness is given and penance is assigned).  The penance does not merit anything.  It trains.  Some is severe, some is less so.

So what of fasting and other such spiritual exercises like prayer?  They can be penance.  The sinner who is tempted by gluttony can be assigned a fast (pastors be wary of health issues).  The sinner who is tempted by greed may be given penance of increased alms giving.  But again, as penance these things do not change our status corum Deo, before the face of God.  And neither do they come without the sinner confessing his sin.  They are not imposed because we think a person could benefit from them, but because the person has confessed specific sins and so can benefit from specific penance.  But Lenten fasting is not penance.  Neither is alms giving.  Penance is a specific discipline for a specific temptation/sin of a specific person.  Fasting is commanded by our Lord for all.  Alms giving is commanded for all.  Prayer is commanded for all.

So if they are not penance, what are they?  They are the duty of the Christian.

Consider a mother.  A mother does not consider (or should not!) that changing a diaper is penance for having a baby or for feeding her baby.  Changing the diaper is her duty.  Not merely done under compulsion (though that may depend on the stank of the diaper), but in love.  She loves her baby and so cares for him, part of which is diaper changing.  Or consider a father.  A father doesn’t play with his children as penance for having children, but out of duty of being a father.  Again, this is not a burdensome duty but a loving duty that the father carries out happily.  It is a gross confusion that equates duty or obligation with suffering and negative attitudes.  It is the duty of a father to teach his children. That doesn’t mean he can’t be excited about teaching them.

So with fasting, alms giving, and prayer.  As our Christian duty they are not penance assigned to sinners (though they can be).  They are our duty as Christians.  Why? In service to God and neighbor.  I do not fast to assuage God’s wrath or to satisfy the Law or to remove guilt.  I fast because our Lord says, “When you fast…”  My Lord teaches me in fasting.  By fasting I worship (serve) Him by confessing that He provides all I need to support this body and life (among other nuanced confessions).  Through fasting my Lord teaches me to have faith in Him and fervent love for my neighbor (sound familiar?  It should.).  So to with alms giving and prayer.

So I’m not so sure fasting, alms giving, or prayer (things that are done year round, but heightened in Lent) are penance.  They can be in some situations, but as the Body of Christ they are not.  They are our duty. They are part of thanking and praising, serving and obeying Him.  This is most certainly true.

Warning! Fasting is compared to the Sacraments

With the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of the faithful, Lent has begun.  And with Lent comes all sorts of thoughts and questions about fasting. It seems to be the big question of Lent. Why fast? How do I fast?  What does fasting mean?  The questions are truly endless.  And I will confess that I am an infant when it comes to fasting.  I was never instructed on it.  But maybe I was.  Maybe I have been instructed on it by my Lord through His Word and Church.  Maybe I didn’t have ears to hear.

Lent is known in the East (Eastern Orthodox) as the Great Fast and they have oodles of rules about it, as does Rome.  But we know fasting doesn’t work, right?  I mean, we know fasting is important. Our Lord said “when you fast” not “IF you fast”.  The fathers, the prophets, the apostles, even Jesus Himself fasted.  It’s important.  Or anyway, it was for them.  But we know better, right?  I mean, fasting is so earthy and not heavenly.  It’s not a sacrament.  What is gained by fasting?  Don’t those people who fast think that by doing so they earn some sort of favor from God, whether salvation or the answer to prayer or something?  Instead of fasting shouldn’t we read our Bible or pray more?

As I said, the questions are endless.  But let’s look at fasting.  Specifically the three great fasts in Scripture.  Moses fasted (twice) 40 days and 40 nights when he went up the mountain of God (Mt. Horeb) to receive God’s word and again (40 days and 40 nights) when he went up the Mountain of God after the Golden Calf debacle (Deut. 9:9, 18).  So Moses fasted to receive God’s Word and to remain faithful when the people had been unfaithful, even to intercede.

Elijah (the second great fast of Scripture) also fasted 40 days and 40 nights.  Having killed the prophets of Ba’al, Elijah fled from Jezabel, finally despairing of life and asking God for permission to die. God denied his request and sent Him, of all places, to Mt. Horeb where Moses had fasted when he received God’s word and when Israel was rebuked.  God gave Elijah food to eat and on that food Elijah fasted 40 days and 40 nights, making the journey to Mt. Horeb where he was both rebuked and received by God (1 Kings 19:1-18).

Now we come to Jesus.   Our Lord fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.  Mt. Horeb is in the wilderness of Sinai.  Connection? Probably.   Moses and Elijah both fasted at times when God was receiving and rebuking them personally (Elijah) or when the people of God were rebuked (Moses).  (Though even with Elijah the people are involved, ie, the 7,000.)  So too, Jesus.  The people (everyone) were rebuked.  All have sinned.  Jesus fasts.  But Jesus is received by God.  Just before He is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, the Father gives witness saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus is received by God; Jesus fasts.  Receiving and rebuking, rebuking and receiving. Fasting.

I don’t have the answers to our quandary about fasting and I continue to pray and seek, but I think maybe we’re asking the wrong questions.  Or at least we are not satisfied with the answer we seem to receive from the Scriptures.  The Great Fasts of the Scriptures (Moses, Elijah, and Jesus) came at particularly poignant times of reception and rebuke by God.  Is that not where we are now? Does God not preach both the Law and the Gospel today?  If Jesus said to Saul on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” when Saul was “actually” persecuting Christians, then maybe our Lord still fasts in His Body, the Church.  Maybe our Lord fasts because we are received and rebuked by God.  Maybe the Great Fast (Lent) is not so optional as we thought.

I said above that fasting is not a sacrament.  Perhaps.  But is it sacramental?  Didn’t Moses fast and see God and avert His wrath and was received by and sustained by God?  Didn’t Elijah fast and see God and was comforted and instructed?  Didn’t Jesus fast and have angels minister to Him?  We see a bit of this idea when people fast on Sunday morning, eating and drinking nothing (drinking nothing?) before the Lord’s Supper.  But then, maybe most of us hold this fast because we’re too lazy to fix breakfast for ourselves.  Maybe fasting is more than a simple reminder that man does not live by bread alone, just like the Lord’s Supper is more than a reminder of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Maybe fasting is participating in the Lord who even now fasts, not drinking from the final cup until He does so with us in His kingdom.

Just a thought.

Enlightened by His Gifts

We confess in the Small Catechism that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in the Lord Jesus, but that the Holy Spirit “calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith with Jesus Christ.”  He calls, enlightens, and sanctifies us.

What does it mean to be enlightened?  It means to be brought into the light.  The Spirit brings us into the light by His gifts.  What are His gifts?  St. Paul writes, “Concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be misinformed … I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle begins his preaching on the Spirit’s gifts with the premier gift: the confession of the truth, Jesus is Lord.  This confession is a gift.  It enlightens us.

The Apostle goes on to say that there are a variety of gifts but one Spirit.  The Apostle never nails down a definitive number of gifts (Romans and 1 Corinthians (and Ephesians) have some different ones between themselves), but the point of the gifts of the Spirit is clear: to build up the Body of Christ.  These gifts – prophecy, healing, tongues, miracles, etc. – are all used by the Spirit to build up the Body of Christ, “for the common good,” the Apostle writes (1 Cor. 12:7).  They are the Spirit’s gifts.  They are not ours.  And He gives His gifts according to His grace to build up the Body.

Now comes Eph. 4:12ff.  The Lord gave gifts among men, apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers.  Why? To build up the Body, to equip the saints, and to do the work of the ministry (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18).  This office, the apostolic office, the Office of the Holy Ministry, is itself a gift to the saints so that the Lord may enlighten us with His gifts.

When the Gospel is read in the Divine Liturgy, you are being enlightened by the gifts of the Spirit.  When you receive Holy Absolution, you are being enlightened by the Spirit.  The calling and enlightening, though perhaps differing in some aspects, are largely the same.  The Spirit calls and enlightens and gathers by the Gospel in its many and various forms, such as healing.  Hmm … such as healing.  Wherefore art thou, O divine healing? Is this not a gift of the Spirit?  Perhaps it is of us that our Lord said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief (Mk. 6:4-6).

Why is it that prophecy, tongues, and other such vocal gifts are tied to the Office but not healing?  And what of miracles?  I’m not so sure that we should be so sure that miracles were only in apostolic times.  Maybe we should do some more research in this area.  Maybe we need to do some more confessing and believing in this area.  Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!  Is this not said of the father who was awaiting the healing of his son?

Lenten Observances

Sacrifice. Self-denial.  Increased prayer.  What are you doing for Lent?  Whatever it is, whether you give up caffeine, chocolate, or View Full Size Imagemarital pleasures, if you have not love you are noisy gong  and a clanging symbol.  If you increase your Bible readings and pray an extra hour a day and have not love, you are nothing.  If you have a faith that keeps your body in check and gets you to every extra Lenten service and Triduum event, but have no love, you gain nothing.

Those preachers who insist on the historic/one-year lectionary often (jokingly) claim that it was inspired.  Maybe it’s no joke.  Before the season most associated with self-denial, increased faith, even persecution (most often self-inflicted), our Lord preaches to us of love (1 Cor. 13), even as  He proclaims (the Gospel reading) His death and resurrection as He journeys toward the city of peace, healing the blind on the way so they would follow Him to the cross and then to glory.  For greater love has no man than that he would lay down his life for a friend.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday when our Lord preaches to us true righteousness, fasting, prayer, and alms giving (one-year lectionary).  But the readings of Quinquagesima are still ringing in our ears.  The Son of Man has gone the way it was written of Him that the Scriptures would be fulfilled and the Father’s will accomplished.  He has gone the way of sinners that sinners may go the way of God.  And He has done so in love, by love, through love.  But before we get wrapped up in allegory and literary fine wine, consider the Apostle.

St. Paul is writing to the Corinthians who have not loved one another at all (chapters 1-12).  One might say that chapter 13 is an anti-Corinthian writing, demonstrating the opposite of what was happening.   It is the pivot upon which the whole epistle turns.  There is no love for one another.  So the Apostle says, “And I will show you a more excellent way.”  The way of love.  Then, after his discourse on love, he pens these words, “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully even as I am fully known.”  Most often this is thought to be our status before God.  But I disagree.  This is our status before one another.

Why all the talk about love, all the correction of abuses for many, many pages, only to say, “Then we’ll see God face to face, and know Him fully”?  Of course we will, but that’s not St. Paul’s point here.  Here the Apostle is saying to the Church, “You see one another and judge the outside according to status, riches, looks, prominence, etc., but you should not!  You should see one another and treat one another as you truly are, beloved of God.”  Now matters.  What we do, how we treat one another, even our enemies, matters.  No more aesthetic Christianity.  No more ideological Christianity.  No, now we must walk in the incarnation.  Now we must do unto others.

How will you observe Lent?  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God.  But he who loves not, knows not God for God is love.  Lent is not about self-denial for self-denial’s sake, or even for only my self’s sake.  Lent is about love.  After all, doesn’t it end with the Passion of our Lord?

So here’s the point: whatever Lenten observance you observe, if it is not for one another, for the world, for your enemies, then it is a noisy gong and a clanging symbol and you have gained nothing.

Let us ever walk with Jesus, Follow His example pure, Through a world that would deceive us And to sin our spirits lure. Onward in His footsteps treading, Pilgrims here, our home above, Full of faith and hope and love, Let us do the Father’s bidding. Faithful Lord with me abide; I shall follow where you guide. (LSB 685)

Ecclesiastical Supervision

Like hundreds of others (I don’t know how many “hundreds”), I attended the Free Conference at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kearney, MO this past Tuesday and Wednesday (though  I only attended on Tuesday, so I can’t speak for the whole of it; as I’m sure many blogs will do).  I must say, I was impressed.  It wasn’t theologically earth shattering.  There were no deep, awe-inspiring papers (perhaps with the exception of the Rev. Rick Sawyer’s paper on the “Divine Service and Liturgical Offices” – I hope this is posted online somewhere).  But neither was anything pedantic.  There were no pointing fingers except at ourselves.  There was no witch hunt.  And let’s face it, other than bibliolotry, the LCMS is really good at witch hunts.

At one point the Rev. Richard Bolland said – speaking on the hopes that are sometimes placed in President Harrison – “Let’s face it: one man didn’t get us into this mess and one man isn’t going to get us out of it.”  Wise words.  But what’s the mess that we’re in?  The first paper, presented by the Rev. Richard Bolland, was on “Ecclesiastical Supervision/Dispute Resolution”.  This, it seems to me, is by far the biggest issue of the day.  Closed Communion (ala Rev. Brent Kuhlman), the role of women in the Church, even liturgy (as big a topic as this is), are not the real issues.  The real issue is that we have zero accountability with each other.  The reason we have zero accountability with each other is because we have authority.  Well, we do, but we say and act like we don’t.

Rev. Bolland made the distinction between “divine ecclesiastical supervision” and “man-made ecclesiastical supervision”.  Divine ecclesiastical supervision is the parish.  The pastor supervises the laity and the laity supervises the pastor (popular Walther).  This is not wrong. But it’s not complete.  The evidence that it’s not complete is the man-made ecclesiastical supervision, which I argue is not man-made at all.  What Rev. Bolland calls man-made is the agreement of synod.  We have ecclesiastical supervisors (DP’s and the synod president), but they are not such by divine mandate.  I’m not so sure.

I asked Rev. Bolland in the panel discussion if St. Titus was the ecclesiastical supervisor of the churches in Crete by divine or man-made authority.  His answer? Divine.  The Apostle sent Titus for that purpose.  Titus was the chief bishop by apostolic authority.  Rev. Bolland went on to say that he was so, but only so that what remained may be put into order and bishops be appointed in every town.  But still there remained Titus, chief bishop to whom all the other bishops were accountable.

I don’t want to drag this all out here, but it seems to me that this loss of divine ecclesiastical authority among the churches of the LCMS has lead to widespread variant practices (which we confess are ruled by Scripture as much as doctrine), and occasionally variant and false teachings (I recently had an LCMS pastor tell me that he would not insist that the bread that we break is the body of our Lord, but that the body comes “in, with, and under” the bread, but is not the bread itself).  If the LCMS is to remain (become?) an orthodox body of congregations we shall need to submit to the authority of Scripture in doctrine and practice, including the practice of ecclesiastical supervision.

Orthodoxy is self-correcting, leaving off that which is unnecessary or harmful and clinging to that which is divine.