Friday, April 6, 2012

A very Good Friday

Good Friday April 6, 2012
It is finished!
Until I opened the e-mail yesterday, I was unaware of the fact that on March 1st of this year, a Christian missionary – Jeremiah Small – was shot and instantly killed by one of students while opening his class in prayer. Moments later, the student turned the gun on himself and died a few hours later. There is precious little understanding as to the reasons for this tragedy. To be sure, Jeremiah was very open and honest about his own walk with Christ, both in the classroom and outside of school. He was very well loved and respected for that very reason. The 11th grade student was not a strong Muslim, and for years even denied the existence of God. Recently, he had begun to show sincere interest in the things of the Lord. Upon his shoulders was the reputation and hopes of one of the best known and most powerful families in Iraq, -- his grandfather’s brother is the President of Iraq.
Jeremiah was the first American, civilian or military, to be killed in the Kurdish region of north Iraq. The entire country felt the shame and bloodguilt of this teenager’s action. They were all waiting for revenge from the Americans. What they discovered, and broadcast on national TV, was Jeremiah’s family’s forgiveness. Hundreds attended his memorial. His students mourned and were inspired. He began teaching history and literature at the Classical School of the Medes in Sulymania, Iraq in January 2006. He returned to teach year after year because of the great gospel changes and hope he saw in the lives of his students. In one of his last e-mails, he wrote the following: I see great things being accomplished and am amazed. Kurdistan is already transformed. May our hearts be stirred both to faith and action.
In 2008, Pope Benedict said this: “Through the sorrowful way of the cross, men and women of all ages, reconciled and redeemed by Christ’s blood, have become friends of God, sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. “Friend” is what Jesus calls Judas, and he offers him the last and dramatic call to conversion. He calls each of us friend because he is the true friend of everyone. Unfortunately, we do not always manage to perceive the depth of this limitless love that God has for his creatures. For him, there is no distinction of race or culture. Jesus Christ died to liberate the whole of humanity from ignorance of God, from the circle of hate and vengeance, from the slavery to sin. The cross makes us brothers and sisters.
Many, in our age as well, do not know God and cannot find him in the crucified Christ. Many are in search of a love or a liberty that excludes God. Many believe they have no need of God. Let us allow his sacrifice on the cross to question us. Let us permit him to put our human certainties in crisis. Let us open our hearts to him. Jesus is the truth that makes free to love. Let us not be afraid. Upon dying, the Lord saved sinners, that is, all of us. The apostle Peter wrote: Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:24). This is the truth of Good Friday.”
Because Jesus cried out “It is finished!” for the past 5 and 1/2 years Jeremiah Small was able to serve his brothers and sisters in Kurdistan and ultimately lay down his life. Because Jesus cried out “It is finished!”, we are certain that Jeremiah’s death was not in vain, nor were the deaths of countless martyrs – witnesses who joined Stephen the first martyr in praying for those responsible for their deaths, whose blood becomes the seed of the Church. May we pray that because of Jeremiah’s death, another Saul of Tarsus would meet Jesus on a different “road to Damascus” and be transformed into a mighty missionary, bringing thousands of Muslims to saving knowledge of him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, Jesus the Anointed One. May we never see the cross, remember the cross, make the sign of the holy cross without remembering Jesus’ last triumphant cry: “It is finished!” When our last our draws near, may these words be upon our lips and in our hearts:
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes,
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee!
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
We adore You, Jesus Christ, and we bless You. Truly Your cross and passion bring us life and healing, Amen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Obstoacles to synod and concordia

At the risk of sounding heretical, I will say that the way back to synod and concordia will only be found by returning in humility and child-like faith to the Giver (Jesus) and His gifts (word and sacracment). In my experience, there are two major historic (LCMS) obstacles to reaching this blessed end.
First, We were taught with great certaintly that the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls is justification by grace thrrough faith for Christ’s sake, aka forensic justification. As Dr. Jack Preus, Jr. points out in his book on Biblical Metaphors for Jusitification, however, this is only one of many biblical metaphors describing how we are being saved by the person and work of Christ. Yet we have made the whole enterprise stand or fall on this one aspect of the truth. This begs the question, if I am declared righteous for Christ’s sake, why do I need Holy Communion? What good can it possibly do for me? The way Luther’s Large Catechism speaks of the Sacrament of the Altar was not reflected in the teaching and practice of the LCMS in which I was raised. Until we see the whole life and mission of the Church flowing from and returning to the Eucharist, I fear we will remain divided.
Secondly, we were taught with great certainty that we have the pure doctrine. Aside from the problems of triumphalism inherent in such a view and its somewhat unscriptural base (we see through a glass darkly — if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, etc.), it leads us to the false assumption that it doesn’t matter how we practice so long as we believe correctly. Ironically, the questionable proposition of pure doctrine splits asunder what the church desperately needs to hold together: the law of prayer and the law of belief. I am not trying to say that we cannot know and confess true doctrine, but that we cannot claim to have it “pure” apart from our worship and life.

Friday, March 16, 2012

for freedom

From Schiller's William Tell:

"By this fair light which greeteth us, before those other nations, that, beneath us far, in noisome cities pent, draw painful breath, swear we the oath of our confederacy! A band of brothers true we swear to be, never to part in danger or in death! We swear we will be free as were our sires, and sooner die than live in slavery! We swear, to put our trust in God Most High, and not to qual before the might of man!"

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sermon for Oculi

+ Third Sunday in Lent +
1 March 2012 I Corinthians 1:18-19

Scripture speaks of wisdom in at least two different ways: first and best, as beginning in the fear of the LORD; second and worst, as finding its source in mankind and human reason alone. Let me give you a little taste of what nowadays passes for the wisdom of the wise:
 Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created. Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as the result of a continuous process. We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural;
 As non-theists, we begin with humans, not God; nature, not deity. We can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species.
 Humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.
 Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful. There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body.
 Human life has meaning because we create and develop our futures.

William Bennett, in The Index of leading Cultural Indicators (1994), pointed out that in the thirty years since 1960, violent crime in America increased more than 500 percent, illegitimate births increased by more than 400 percent, the percentage of children living with single parents tripled, as did the teenage suicide rate, while the divorce rate doubled. ‘Over the past three decades we have experienced substantial social regression. Today the forces of social decomposition are challenging, and in some instances, overtaking the forces of social composition. And when decomposition takes hold, it extracts an enormous human cost. Unless these exploding social pathologies are reversed, they will lead to the decline and perhaps even to the fall of the American republic.’
My dear fellow forgiven sinners! There is only one possible way to reverse this alarming trend, found in our text: For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. In the cross of Jesus, God destroys the wisdom of the wise by permitting the destruction and raising of a greater temple : the body of His Son.
1. The folly of man’s wisdom
a. Seen in the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the experts
Story of Belshazzar: 5 At that moment the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the king’s palace wall next to the lampstand. As the king watched the hand that was writing, 6 his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that his hip joints shook and his knees knocked together. 7 The king called out to bring in the mediums, Chaldeans, and astrologers. He said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this inscription and gives me its interpretation will be clothed in purple, have a gold chain around his neck, and have the third highest position in the kingdom.” 8 So all the king’s wise men came in, but none could read the inscription or make its interpretation known to him. 9 Then King Belshazzar became even more terrified, his face turned pale, and his nobles were bewildered.
10 Because of the outcry of the king and his nobles, the queen came to the banquet hall. “May the king live forever,” she said. “Don’t let your thoughts terrify you or your face be pale. 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the days of your predecessor he was found to have insight, intelligence, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the diviners, mediums, Chaldeans, and astrologers. Your own predecessor, the king, 12 did this because Daniel, the one the king named Belteshazzar, was found to have an extraordinary spirit, knowledge and perception, and the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems. Therefore, summon Daniel, and he will give the interpretation.”
13 Then Daniel was brought before the king. The king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the Judean exiles that my predecessor the king brought from Judah? 14 I’ve heard that you have the spirit of the gods in you, and that you have insight, intelligence, and extraordinary wisdom. 15 Now the wise men and mediums were brought before me to read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not give its interpretation. 16 However, I have heard about you that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Therefore, if you can read this inscription and give me its interpretation, you will be clothed in purple, have a gold chain around your neck, and have the third highest position in the kingdom.”
17 Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts, and give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription for the king and make the interpretation known to him. 18 Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, greatness, glory, and majesty to your predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. 19 Because of the greatness He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages were terrified and fearful of him. He killed anyone he wanted and kept alive anyone he wanted; he exalted anyone he wanted and humbled anyone he wanted. 20 But when his heart was exalted and his spirit became arrogant, he was deposed from his royal throne and his glory was taken from him. 21 He was driven away from people, his mind was like an animal’s, he lived with the wild donkeys, he was fed grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with dew from the sky until he acknowledged that the Most High God is ruler over the kingdom of men and sets anyone He wants over it.
22 “But you his successor, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this. 23 Instead, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven. The vessels from His house were brought to you, and as you and your nobles, wives, and concubines drank wine from them, you praised the gods made of silver and gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or understand. But you have not glorified the God who holds your life-breath in His hand and who controls the whole course of your life. 24 Therefore, He sent the hand, and this writing was inscribed.
25 “This is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.
26 This is the interpretation of the message:
MENE means that God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.
27 TEKEL means that you have been weighed in the balance and found deficient.
28 PERES means that your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
29 Then Belshazzar gave an order, and they clothed Daniel in purple, placed a gold chain around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. 30 That very night Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans was killed,
b. The foolishness of trying to live as if the Ten Commandments were never given.
2. The power of God’s wisdom
a. The greater Temple destroyed and raised again – why? so that we would look to Him alone.
b. We preach Christ crucified: the foolish of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God si stronger than men. Ministerial use of human reason.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Praise God's gifts in Baptism

Gregory Nazianzus

"Let us discourse upon the second birth in baptism, which is necessary for us, and which gives its name to the Feast of the Lights (Epiphany). Illumination is the splendor of souls, the conversion of the life, the questions put to the good conscience toward God (1Pt 3:21). It is the aid to our weakness, the renunciation of the flesh, the following of the Spirit, the fellowship of the Word, the improvement of the creature, the overwhelming of sin, the participation in light, the dissolution of darkness. It is conveyance to God, dying with Christ, the perfecting of the mind, the rampart of faith, the key of the kingdom of heaven, the change of life, the manumission of slavery, the loosing of chains, the remodeling of the whole man. Why should I go into further detail? Illumination is the greatest and most magnificent of the gifts of God. For just as we speak of the Holy of Holies, and the Song of Songs, as more comprehensive and more excellent than others, so is this called illumination because it is more holy than any other illumination which we possess.

"As Christ the giver of it is called by many various names, so too is this gift, whether it is from the exceeding joy of its nature (as those who are very fond of a thing take pleasure in using its name), or that the great variety of its benefits has reacted for us upon its names. We call it, the gift, the grace, baptism, anointment, illumination and, the clothing of immortality, the font of regeneration, the seal, and everything that is honorable. We call it the gift, because it is given to us in return for nothing on our part; grace, because it is conferred even on debtors; baptism, because sin is buried with it in the water; anointment, because it is priestly and royal. It is called illumination, because of its splendor; Clothing, because it hides our shame; the font, because it washes us; the seal because it preserves us, and is moreover the indication of the Lord's dominion. In it the heavens rejoice. It is glorified by angels, because of its related splendor. It is the image of the heavenly bliss. We long indeed to sing out its praises, but we cannot worthily do so."

Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 40.3-4


Almighty and most merciful God and Father, we thank and praise You that You graciously preserve and enlarge Your family and have granted us the new birth in Holy Baptism and made us members of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and heirs of Your heavenly kingdom. We humbly implore You that, since we have become Your children, You would keep us in our baptismal grace, that according to Your good pleasure we may faithfully lead a godly life to the praise and honor of Your holy name and finally, with all Your saints, obtain the promised inheritance in heaven; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

conversation overheard

(Thanks to Pr. John P. Freitag for this!)

Pardon My Dying
A Sequel To Ash Wednesday

Today's first lesson recalls yesterday's Imposition of the Ashes, Genesis 3:19: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." The second lesson is I Corinthians 15:49: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven."

'A conversation overheard,
at least imagined,
a private conversation
between a husband and his wife--
she on her deathbed,
he seated close beside,
both of them hoping still to say
what needed saying most
before the end.
"Before I leave," she said,
"I do have something to confess."

"Please don't," he said
"Now's not the time for that.
If there's confessing to be done,
let's let it go at saying
you're my girl
and that I've loved you always."

"That's right," she said, I'm only yours.
And that you love me, that I know.
It's just because you do
that I believe
that you could handle
my confession now."

"But don't you understand,"
he said,
"that I don't need
for you to say you're sorry,
not for anything."

"Well," she agreed, "you may not need that
but I do.
And I do understand
that if I have that need
--the need to make confession
and to be forgiven--
you're strong enough to hear me out."

"Maybe," said he, "I'm not so strong at that,
At least I'm not afraid
that some last, unacknowledged sin
still stands between us.
And if I'm not afraid of that,
why should you be?"

"Oh, Adam, you poor dear,
Is that what you had thought I said,
that I'm afraid,
that that was why
I wanted to confess?
I'm not afraid, at least not much.
At any rate that wasn't why
I wanted to apologize:
not out of fear
but out of hope.
I dare to hope that I'm absolved
and hoping that, I want to hear you say
I really am.
And hoping that I am
does make it easier to say
I'm sorry."

"All right," said he, "You win.
What is there to forgive?"

"Forgive my dying.
Pardon this damned mortality."

"Your dying? Pardon that?
But girl," said he,
"that's something you can't help.
Dying is . . .
only natural."

"No, it's not natural at all,"
she said.
"Life wasn't meant to die.
Neither were we.
We both know that.
We've known that ever since
we've known of Easter.
Death isn't natural at all.
It's a downright dirty, dastardly demeaning defeat.
We're not meant to 'accept" it,
not even if with 'dignity.'
We're meant to trump it,
as we shall."

"But then," said he,
"if death is conquered anyway,
if we outlast it,
(and we shall)
why do you still think
dying needs forgiving?"

"Does that," she asked, "disturb you so,
for me to say that death
is what we've brought upon ourselves,
what we've got coming to us?
Does that strike you as morbid,
despite the fact I'm not afraid?
Despite the fact that it's my hope
and not my fear
which frees me to admit
the shame of dying,
do you see that
as merely clinical escape?
Come, Adam, can't you deal with that?
I believe you can."

"I wouldn't say," said he,
"that that is morbid.
Still, it does seem - -
how shall I say? - -
a bit too self-important
for us to take the credit for
so vast a thing as death.
Are we, for all our guilt,
really that influential?"

"That does seem hard to believe,"
she said,
"unless we manage first to believe
that God is interested enough to judge
because he's still more interested
in resurrecting and forgiving.
For him to let us die is judgment,
not contempt.
And there's a difference.
Ignore us? That he never does.
But deal with us he does.
That important we all are."

"But then," said Adam,
"why do you
ask now to be forgiven
by me?
Forgiveness, yes. But why from me?
I'm not the one who judges you."

"But you're the one I hurt.
For, Adam dear,
I do hurt you by dying.
You know I do.
It hurts me, too, of course.
Death even hurts my vanity.
Death isn't pretty
and, as you know,
I've always liked being pretty.
But worse than that by far,
it hurts to have to liquidate
the fondest love affair
that any wife could want.
And it's for that, for interrupting that,
That I do say I'm sorry."

To which he said, "I do forgive,
I too forgive."

"And thanks for that," said she.
"Meanwhile, Adam, think spring.
Think Christ."

"I'll see you later, girl."

Robert W. Bertram
Concordia Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri
17 February 1972

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where are you going?

"Which road do I take?" she asked. "Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire Cat. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."