Monday, June 25, 2007

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

At the beginning of this portion of his Sermon 293, St. Augustine of Hippo notes why this Festival celebrated on June 24th is so unusual. Part of what captured my fancy when I read it -- this is the fourth reading for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist in For All the Saints, and also a reading in the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours -- was the confession of this Doctor of the Church that his explanation may not really be up to the occasion. Another part is the theological respect he offers to his hearers as he begins. And it fit very well with the Gospel appointed for this Festival Day, St. Luke 1:57-80.

The Church observes the birth of John as a hallowed event. We have no such commemoration for any other fathers; but it is significant that we celebrate the birthdays of John and of Jesus. This day cannot be passed by. And even if my explanation does not match the dignity of the feast, you may still meditate on it with great depth and profit.

John was born of a woman too old for childbirth; Christ was born of a youthful virgin. The news of John's birth was met with incredulity, and his father was struck dumb. Christ's birth was believed, and he was conceived through faith.

Such is the topic, as I have presented it, for our inquiry and discussion. But as I said before, if I lack either the time or the ability to study the implication of so profound a mystery, he who speaks within you even when I am not here will teach you better; it is he whom you contemplate with devotion, whom you have welcomed into your hearts, whose temples you have become.

John, then, appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new. That he is a sort of boundary the Lord himself bears witness, when he speaks of the law and the prophets up until John the Baptist. Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come. As a representative of the past, he is born of aged parents; as a herald of the new era, he is declared to be a prophet while still in his mother's womb. For when yet unborn, he leapt in his mother's womb at the arrival of blessed Mary. In that womb he had already been designated a prophet, even before he was born; it was revealed that he was to be Christ's precursor, before they ever saw one another. These are divine happenings, going beyond the limits of our human frailty. Eventually he is born, he receives his name, his tather's tongue is loosened. See how these events reflect reality.

Zechariah is silent and loses his voice until John, the precursor of the Lord, is born and restores his voice. The silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ. At John's arrival Zechariah's voice is released, and it becomes clear at the coming of the one who was foretold. The release of Zechariah's voice at the birth of John is a parallel to the rending of the veil at Christ's crucifixion. If John were announcing his own coming, Zechariah's lips would not have been opened. The tongue is loosened because a voice is born. For when John was preaching the Lord's coming he was asked: Who are you? And he replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. The voice is John, but the Lord in the beginning was the Word." John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.

Here ends the reading.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Canoga High's Rudy Lugo Retires

I just discovered today this June 8 report by Eric Sondheimer in the Los Angeles Times that Canoga Park High School's Rudy Lugo, about whom I blogged last fall, is retiring:
Rudy Lugo, the football coach at Canoga Park since 1986 who has been associated with the program since he was an assistant coach in 1969, has announced his retirement as a teacher and coach. Assistant Ivan Moreno will take over for Lugo.

Lugo, a Canoga Park graduate, has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer. He has been so closely tied to Canoga Park that his battle with his illness has deeply affected current and past students. His late wife attended Canoga Park, along with his two children.

Athletic Director Jo Ann Heller said the school is hopeful Lugo can help with the football program again once he regains his health.

"It's a big loss emotionally and support-wise," she said. "He's been a pillar of Canoga Park High and will never be replaced."
My 10th grade Phys. Ed. teacher, Coach Lugo was also Assistant Coach for both Hunter baseball and football teams when I was in high school 1974-77. His wife, Nancy, who was a year behind me in school, died very suddenly last March as he was recovering from and building up strength after a prior series of treatments.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Father's Day

Oh, I wish I had known about this earlier.

I have almost from the beginning of my ministry had the practice of reading, at Zion's Thanksgiving Eve service, the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of the President of the United States. But Thanksgiving Day is not the only holiday that comes with a Presidential Proclamation.

Sunday was Father's Day, and the President issued a proclamation. You may agreee or disagree with much that President Bush does and says, but his speechwriters are clearly familiar with the Scriptures and Christian teaching. Yes, they use them for political purposes, but that has a long tradition in our Republic. Besides, as a friend and colleague, Pr. Brian Hughes has noted elsewhere, this years' Father's Day Proclamation has Luther's fingerprints all over it.
Father's Day, 2007
A Proclamation By the President of the United States of America

On Father's Day, we reflect on the many ways that fathers contribute to the lives of their children with spoken words and unspoken kindness.

Fathers are one of the most important influences in the lives of children, and their unconditional love is an indispensable anchor of certainty and strength. By placing their family's well-being above their own, fathers provide children with an example of what it means to be a responsible person. Through unwavering devotion and daily sacrifice, fathers work to create an environment where children are protected and encouraged. Fathers instill in their children an understanding of right and wrong and help them to grow in confidence and character. These dedicated men strive to give their sons and daughters the necessary foundation to make good choices and lead lives of purpose.

On Father's Day and throughout the year, we honor the men who have taken on the great joy and responsibility of fatherhood, and we celebrate their extraordinary impact and influence. All Americans are especially grateful to the many fathers who are serving their country as members of the Armed Forces, and we lift them and their loved ones up in prayer.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, in accordance with a joint resolution of the Congress approved April 24, 1972, as amended (36 U.S.C. 109), do hereby proclaim June 17, 2007, as Father's Day. I encourage all Americans to express admiration and appreciation to fathers for their many contributions to our Nation's children. I direct the appropriate officials of the Government to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on this day. I also call upon State and local governments and citizens to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eleventh day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.

Study after study shows that the role of fathers in the church and in our society cannot be underestimated. The decline of the church and of our society is directly related to the diminishing of fatherhood in both. Not just the Fatherhood of God, but the fatherhood of Dad.

At Zion on Sunday our Fellowship team presented lapel roses to all fathers -- the first time we'd done something like this. And I called my Dad long-distance on Father's Day afternoon, which later he celebrated with the rest of family at my sister's home. "Through unwavering devotion and daily sacrifice," the President proclaims, "fathers work to create an environment where children are protected and encouraged. Fathers instill in their children an understanding of right and wrong and help them to grow in confidence and character. These dedicated men strive to give their sons and daughters the necessary foundation to make good choices and lead lives of purpose."

I'm thankful I was able to do what I did. But I wish I'd used those words, too, for both. Thanks to those faithful Zionite dads. And thanks to my Dad.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Holy Trinity

This Sunday is the Festival of the Holy Trinity, which in the Western Catholic Church has been observed on the first Sunday after Pentecost since 1334. It is commonly described as the only festival devoted to a doctrine, but I find that a rather short-sighted description. The day (as well as the doctrine) is about how God has revealed himself to man, so that we might know him and be in relationship with him. That's no dry academic thing, though we often treat it that way.

A liturgical tradition for Holy Trinity Sunday, one that we follow at Zion, is for the congregation to speak the "Athanasian Creed." According to the Lutheran Confessions, this Creed ranks with the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, all three of which appear at the beginning of the Book of Concord -- in front of the Augsburg Confession and the other Confessions. It is named after St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria from 328-373, the most steadfast of the defenders of the Creed of the Council of Nicea in 325 against the Arians, who nonetheless frequently controlled the Church (including exiling Athanasius several times) until the Council of Chalcedon in 381, from which came what we now call the Nicene (or Niceno-Constantinopolitan) Creed. The Arians were the initial evangelizers of Western Europe and remained strong there well into the 5th Century, the latter part during which the Athanasian Creed emerged in Gaul (France) as a meditation (or even hymn) upon the Nicene Creed against the Arians.

The congregation at Zion will be reading it antiphonally following the Sermon, using this elegant translation from the Lutheran Book of Worship -- which is by Prof. Ralph Quere and under the LBW copyright (and not ICET/ELLC as the ELCA website erroneously states). For purposes of this Blog, here is an older version (not under copyright) as found in the (current) 1979 Book of Common Prayer. (Don't need Augsburg Fortress' copyright department coming after me for this!)

To begin to "understand" the Holy Trinity, I recommend that you meditate on this, for it beats all those modalistic children's sermons Pastors (and, yes, I did it myself a couple of times) keep foisting upon their congregations. And Lutherans really do (or at least we have officially said so for 427 years) believe this!

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.

Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.

The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.

The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.

So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty.

And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.

And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.

And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,

So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.

The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.

The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;

But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.

So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;

God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world;

Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.

Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood;

Who, although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ;

One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God;

One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.

For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;

Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.

He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.

At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works.

And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.