Tuesday, December 19, 2006

St. Jerome and the Infant Jesus

Pastor Richard Johnson has posted the following over on the Forum Blogs section of ALPB Forum Online under the title "Jerome and the Child Christ." As I read it, I was visualizing the statue of St. Jerome in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which I saw during my visit to the Holy Land in 1985. I hope you find this as deeply moving as my friend Pastor Johnson and I do. You can find it over here.
In going through my files recently, I came upon a faded carbon copy of a translation (presumably from German) made by my late father-in-law. He unfortunately did not indicate the original source of the document (if anyone knows, I'd love to hear about it!). But I found it particularly moving, and wanted to share it with the rest of you, with wishes for a joyful Christmass celebration:

A Conversation between the Venerable Church Father, Saint Jerome, and the Infant Jesus in the Manger

Saint Jerome, to whom this conversation is ascribed not long before his death, spent the closing years of his long life in Bethlehem, close by the birthplace of the Savior—the manger of Christ. When he was called to the exalted office of Bishop, he replied, “Nothing can draw me away from the Manger of Christ. There is for me no better place on earth. From that very place at which God gave to me His Son from heaven, I would like to send my soul back to Him in heaven.

“Whenever I look upon this place, my heart holds a sweet conversation with the Infant Jesus

“I say to Him: ‘Oh, Lord Jesus, how you tremble! How hard is your bed for the sake of my salvation! How shall I ever repay this?’

“Then it seems to me that the Holy Child replies, ‘From you, Jerome, I ask only the song, Glory to God in the Highest! Let that be enough for you. My need will be deeper yet in Gethsemane and on Calvary.

“I speak further: ‘Dear little Jesus, I must give you something. Let me give you all my wealth.’

“The Child replies, ‘From the beginning the Heavens and the Earth are mine. I do not need your treasures. Give them to the poor. I shall receive that as if you had done it to me.’

“I speak again: ‘Dear little Jesus, this I shall do gladly, but I must also give something just for you, or I shall die of sorrow.’

“The Child replies: ‘Dear Jerome, since you are so generous of heart, I will tell you what you may give to me. Give me your sins—your bad conscience—and your condemnation!’

“I ask: ‘What will you do with them?’

“The infant Jesus says: ‘I want to take them upon my shoulders. This shall be my glory, and my glorious deed, as Isaiah once said, that I shall take your sins upon myself and carry them away.’

“At this I begin to weep bitterly, and say: ‘O, Child, dear, holy Child, how deeply you have touched my heart! I thought you wanted something good—but you want everything in me which is bad! Oh, take what is mine! Give me what is Yours! Then I shall be free from sin, and assured of eternal life!’”

--Translated from German by Richard W. Solberg
For more about Pastor Solberg, see his recent obituary from the ELCA News Service.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Latest from Lutheran CORE

Lutheran CORE is a coalition of ELCA pastors, laity, congregations and reforming groups who seek to preserve within that church body the authority of the Word of God according to the Lutheran confessions. I have been a part of this coalition for reform since its formation in 2005. This is the latest correspondence from the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee:

Dear Christian Friends,

The Lutheran CORE steering committee continues hard at work, as we seek to advocate for Biblical faithfulness and confessional loyalty in our church. We intend to remain in the "calling to which (we) have been called" (Ephesians 4:1) as members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA is our church. With the help of God's Word and Spirit, it is also God's church. Our intention, as Lutheran CORE, with the help of God's Word and Spirit, is to be a voice for the Word of God within our church. We are neither of the left not of the right. We are for the center, where Christ is Lord, and where his Word redeems us and calls us to newness of life.

At our November steering committee meeting we took a number of positive steps in furthering our mission and ministry. We approved the printing of a brochure about our work. We authorized the expansion of our web site, reachable through our new web address www.lutherancore.org. We considered how we might cooperate more effectively with the other reform movements in our church. In a spirit of mutual endeavor, we shared among ourselves how Lutheran CORE and the WordAlone Network can work together. This latter conversation will continue in January, when we meet with the WordAlone board of directors.

The bulk of our meeting time was spent on reviewing and projecting ways for us to implement the four basic themes for our work and ministry.

HUMAN SEXUALITY. We are anxiously awaiting the study guide in December, the run-up to a proposed social statement on sexuality in 2009. We are considering how we will respond to this study guide. We are watching carefully how the synods are implementing the decisions of the 2005 churchwide assembly on blessings and ordinations. We are also exploring how to respond, should attempts be made to overturn the decisions of the 2005 churchwide assembly.

LEADERSHIP in the ELCA. Among the most important actions of the 2007 churchwide assembly will be the calling of a presiding bishop and secretary and elections for the Church Council. Lutheran CORE is seeking to work in cooperation with WordAlone and others, so that our church may be led by persons who are committed to the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions. We plan to be in communication with the voting members of the churchwide assembly regarding our hopes and concerns.

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION. The 2005 churchwide assembly called for a churchwide study of the Bible and its interpretation. The plans for this study are still in process. We applaud the intention of this study. A number of regional conferences on Biblical interpretation are being planned. As Lutheran CORE, we want to be supportive of this study process. But we also want to be careful how this study deals with classic Lutheran norms and principles.

The NAMING of GOD as FATHER, SON, and HOLY SPIRIT. The imminent arrival of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (the "new hymnal") will cause considerable distress among many Lutheran CORE supporters. As Lutheran CORE, our concern is not so much about the liturgical elements, about which we have different opinions. Our chief concern is how the Trinitarian formula for God is used in the liturgy and hymnody. It is very worrisome to us that at so many points the classic Biblical name for the Holy Trinity is placed in parallel with other titles of address for God. It is as if the Holy Trinity were an option for right worship! Lutheran CORE is analyzing this matter. We are not against the new hymnal as such. But we are considering how we can give guidance, so that pastors and congregations who choose to use it will use this book responsibly.

We are grateful beyond words for the faithful and prayerful support we receive from throughout our church. We are thankful for the partnership we have with the WordAlone Network. We appreciate the financial support that we receive from individuals, congregations, and other reform movements.

We ask that you continue to pray for us. We encourage you to speak on our behalf to others. We invite you to support our work financially. We know that we are in this for the long haul, and we sense very keenly that ours is not an easy task. But we are sustained, as you are, by Christ himself, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Head of the church and the Lord of all creation.

Lutheran CORE Steering Committee:

Paull Spring, State College, PA, chair
Erma Wolf, Brandon, SD, vice chair
W. Stevens Shipman, Watsontown, PA, secretary
Mark Chavez, Landisville, PA, director
Mark Graham, Roanoke, VA
Scott Grorud, Hutchinson, MN
Ken Kimball, Waterville, IA
Ryan Schwarz, Washington, DC
Paul Ulring, Columbus, OH

For more about Lutheran CORE, see its website. And if you wish to be supportive of or part of this coalition (especially if you are in an Illinois ELCA congregation), feel free to contact me.

Friday, November 24, 2006

"The Church of Sweden is about to implode."

This past summer I visited Sweden for the second time to attend the General Chapter of the Society of St. Birgitta and to explore both my ancestral and churchly roots. (The photo here is one I took of the Kristdala kyrka (Kristdala parish church), where my maternal grandfather's mother and her family and ancestors were baptized and confirmed before they started immigrating circa 1870.)

Because of those connections I have long held an interest in the Church of Sweden, and I have followed the news of her decline particularly in the last couple of generations -- a decline the leaders of the Episcopal Church in the USA and, alas, our own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seem eager to emulate.

Among the leaders of the faithful in the Swedish Church is Fr. Yngve Kalin, chairman of
Kyrklig samling (The Church Coalition for the Bible and the Confession) and pastor of the Hyssna congregation near Gothenburg in western Sweden. His latest public letter, which has also been published in the journal Svensk Pastoral Tidskrift, was sent to me by my friend Dr. Birgitta Peterson who wrote, "Yngve Kalin would be grateful if you in different ways could help spreading this 'message from Sweden' to fellow Christians in the Church Universal."

A Commission of Inquiry, Please!

Hyssna, Sweden 16th September 2006

Dear Friends,

Many people have seen it and increasing numbers are beginning to discover it: Our church is in the process of fragmentation. We have to speak the truth in order to save what can be saved. The facts speak clearly. Attendance at worship has collapsed in many places (only a few more than 100,000 people constitute the average attendance at the Sunday service in the 1837 parishes that make up the Church of Sweden), parishes are being amalgamated (681 parishes and 212 joint parishes have disappeared in five years) and the members withdraw from church membership in large numbers.

Current prognoses predict that in 15-20 years, the membership will have decreased so much that the current level of work can no longer be maintained. We can see that already. Everyone will be affected. The Church of Sweden is about to implode. Now we must act and speak out. We must point out the reasons and work out plans of action.

The Church Order, copied on the Swedish Law of local self-government, expressing and aiming at uniformity, holds together a rocking and reeling organisation. The church is held together by its outward organisation, providing a structure of national coverage, by its organisation of territorial parishes, by its jointly held property, investment funds and pension commitments, but also by the secular social legislation regulating employment rights and the system of fees collection.

The formally free Church of Sweden did not become really free. The Church-State reform at the turn of the millennium only meant that the principle of democracy took effect at all levels in a way that was hitherto unknown throughout the history of the universal Church. Those responsible for preparing and adopting the Church Order chose to ignore the fact that the Church is, by its very nature, something different from a regular democracy. It is not an association, nor a popular movement, ant it is not a legally imposed authority. The theologically motivated national "folk-church" became the democratic "folk-church" at the turn of the millennium, in which the people, through their elected representatives have the right to make decisions on all matters, including matters relating to the "faith, confession and teaching" of the church. This is the threat against the identity of our church as part of the universal, worldwide Church of Christ. If decisions that are contrary to the revealed faith continue to be taken, the Church of Sweden will become more and more isolated from the rest of Christendom. This provincialism threatens her catholicity. The description, "the Swedish Church" will take on an entirely new meaning, with the emphasis on "Swedish." If that will still be a church in the real sense of the word remains is debatable.

This is the reason why the Church of Sweden is losing ground in all areas. How can a church province that is profoundly uncertain about its profession of faith in the living Lord ever hope to awaken and sustain faith in the hearts of its people? How can a church that undertakes its activities on a foundation of doubt and uncertainty ever hope to encourage people to live their lives by faith in the Risen Lord and to proclaim their faith through their actions?

The foundation of the Church of Sweden, its faith and teaching, is in principle unchangeable at all times, regardless of any majority decisions by the politically constituted General Synod. The proud reference in opening statement of the Church Order, proclaiming that the church "is founded on the Holy Word of God," does not seem to have any real consequence in practice. We cannot pass over the fact that the politically elected General Synod is the teaching authority of the Church of Sweden, wielding unimpaired power and primacy as the interpreter of matters of faith and teaching. The so-called Doctrine Commission is purely cosmetic. It can be voted down by a two-thirds majority of the political General Synod. What the Universal Church has formulated during a long process of handing on the tradition of teaching, by ecumenical councils, by studies of the Holy Scripture under guidance of the Holy Spirit can all be changed by political majority decisions.

In this outward framework, a modern, experimental theology flourishes, which has made a virtue out of its own constructed theological model of a continuous revelation. Someone has put it like this: "The church wrote the Bible, and therefore the church can rewrite the Bible." Now that is plain speaking. The Bible is not the revealed word of God which contains everything we need to know for our salvation, and by which the church stands and falls. The Bible is rather a collection of peopleÂ’s experiences of God, and it should be considered in relation to our own experiences and insights. Now you can no longer declare with St Paul: "I know in whom I believe" (2 Tim. 1:12). The cry is rather: "What is it that I no longer have to believe in?" All this takes place under the cover of the concept of biblical interpretation, which now no longer means to translate the words of the Bible into our own circumstances by penetrating ever deeper into the divine Revelation itself, but rather to seek to find out what you might plausibly consider to be the real message of the Bible, and which is often summarised as its "message of love." That is theology without pastoral action, without any enthusiasm for mission and testimony. That can only serve to impoverish the church and its parishes. We have become a church of questions, but without any answers! A "folk-church" without the folks, because the folks are deserting the church!

If you want to pinpoint this a little further, you could say that this theology, which has lost its faith in the Revealed word, make God unknown to us, and Jesus becomes no more than an interesting person, whom some people might find either interesting and others will resist. That which we call the church is no more than an organisation among others, mission equals propaganda and liturgy is reduced to ceremonies. The Christian life-style becomes no more than ethical action, which can change over time. However, the faith in the revealed Word, and in the Risen and living Christ, present in his Church and in the Gospel, is a life-giving power that recreates and transforms us human beings. Even the hardest of hearts might one day be transformed into hearts of flesh...

In the past, I have been accused of painting a black picture. Never mind. I will not cease to speak what is obvious and what an increasing number of people can feel, right into their bones. The words in the Book of the Apocalypse, 3:17 "You say: How rich I am! What a fortune I have made! I have everything I want" would seem to fit the Church of Sweden only too well. That text in the Bible continues: "In fact, though you do not realise it, you are a pitiful wretch, poor, blind and naked."

It is possible to turn things round. First, however, insight about the real situation is required; an awareness of the crisis, in other words. There are still counter-images and there are places where the profession of the faith in the church as "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" are still proclaimed and expressed, in faith and life. There are people who stand firm in this profession of the faith of the apostles, and who uphold that faith in relation to both doctrinal and ethical issues. They take the view that this faith carries far more weight than the political majorities, who have taken on the role as the teaching authority of the Church of Sweden. It is these people, these groups, which are the future of the Church of Sweden. We must not abandon our church in these difficult circumstances, even though there are serious and skilful attempt to drive us out by administrative measures and ever new decisions. To remain will require sacrifices from many of us, and we will have to find unconventional solutions in order to survive. We will continue to tell the truth about how things really are, and to plead for a "commission of inquiry." A commission that would have the courage to evaluate the consequences of the decisions taken, and that would analyse the causes behind the collapse of customary and popular church attendance and the alienation felt by such large groups of the Swedish population in the face of developments in the parishes. We need to recover our confidence and our courage to profess out faith, and we need to find ways to live an authentic Christian life and to be the Church in a minority situation.

If nothing is done, the ecclesiastical system will collapse. Our role is to remain and firm and assiduously proclaim and keep the apostolic faith. When destruction hits, we must start building again on the old foundation, because "There can be no other foundation than the one already laid: I mean Jesus Christ himself." (1 Cor. 3:11)

Kyrklig samling (The Church Coalition for the Bible and the Confession) wants to continue to play the role as the mouthpiece of the truth. I therefore appeal for support for our work, seeking to be a meeting place for all those in our church who desire that the only guiding principle for the church should be the Bible and the Confessional Documents of the Church of Sweden, as the opening paragraph of our constitution puts it.


Yngve Kalin
The Church Coalition for the Bible and the Confession

Translation: 2006 © Sr Gerd Swensson, Te Deum
2006 © Yngve Kalin

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A National Day of Thanksgiving

The first National Day of Thanksgiving in these United States was proclaimed by the Continental Congress in 1777, as the Revolutionary War was still being fought:
November 1, 1777

FORASMUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth "in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost."

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.
Similar proclamations by the United States in Congress were made annually for the next seven years. You can read them all here. Rather amazing language, isn't it, by today's standards.

The first Presidential proclamation was issued by George Washington in 1789, and he issued another one in 1795. President John Adams proclaimed National Days of Fasting and Humiliation in 1798 and 1799, and President James Madison (at the request of Congress) proclaimed a "day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States" and a Day of Thanksgiving, both in 1815. Read them here.

The next Presidential Proclamations for a Day of National Thanksgiving were issued by Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis in 1862, both of these being specific thanksgiving for battle victories during the Civil War. 1863 brought the next Presidential proclamation for a general Day of Thanksgiving. He proclaimed another one in 1864, then President Andrew Johnson did so in 1865 (you can read them here), and the sitting President has done so annually ever since. All of them are linked here.

Again in 2006, the President of the United States has proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving, encouraging "all Americans to gather together in their homes and places of worship with family, friends, and loved ones to reinforce the ties that bind us and give thanks for the freedoms and many blessings we enjoy." So tonight at Zion, at President George W. Bush's request, we will gather together as a congregation to offer such thanks. And, as has been my practice since arriving here in 1992, I will read the Presidential Proclamation during the Divine Service, as we also hear the proclamation of the Gospel and celebrate the Great Thanksgiving commended by the Lord Jesus Christ to his Church.
Thanksgiving Day, 2006
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

As Americans gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks for the many ways that our Nation and our people have been blessed.

The Thanksgiving tradition dates back to the earliest days of our society, celebrated in decisive moments in our history and in quiet times around family tables. Nearly four centuries have passed since early settlers gave thanks for their safe arrival and pilgrims enjoyed a harvest feast to thank God for allowing them to survive a harsh winter in the New World. General George Washington observed Thanksgiving during the Revolutionary War, and in his first proclamation after becoming President, he declared November 26, 1789, a national day of "thanksgiving and prayer." During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln revived the tradition of proclaiming a day of thanksgiving, reminding a divided Nation of its founding ideals.

At this time of great promise for America, we are grateful for the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and defended by our Armed Forces throughout the generations. Today, many of these courageous men and women are securing our peace in places far from home, and we pay tribute to them and to their families for their service, sacrifice, and strength. We also honor the families of the fallen and lift them up in our prayers.

Our citizens are privileged to live in the world's freest country, where the hope of the American dream is within the reach of every person. Americans share a desire to answer the universal call to serve something greater than ourselves, and we see this spirit every day in the millions of volunteers throughout our country who bring hope and healing to those in need. On this Thanksgiving Day, and throughout the year, let us show our gratitude for the blessings of freedom, family, and faith, and may God continue to bless America.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 23, 2006, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage all Americans to gather together in their homes and places of worship with family, friends, and loved ones to reinforce the ties that bind us and give thanks for the freedoms and many blessings we enjoy.

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

See the official proclamation here. And whether or not your view of this President is favorable, I hope that you will follow his encouragement.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Make a gratuitous sign of the cross!"

Over at the Pontificator, Alvin Kimel posts some wonderful advice for "improving the liturgy" -- teaching some ways laity (or, to use the term another friend uses of himself, "pew-warming schlumpfs") can easily get more involved in the liturgy -- in a blog entry called "Living on the ritual edge—the wild world of crossings and bowings."
But Catholic worshippers can help improve the liturgy now, immediately, without waiting for the eschatological reform of the reform. All they need do is take a page from the Anglo-Catholic playbook and start gesturing like mad. Suddenly you will find yourself worshipping more fully and more actively, despite the liturgy, despite the celebrant, despite yourself. The first place to begin is with the sign of the cross. Why restrict yourself to the opening invocation, gospel, and closing blessing? Live on the edge! Push the ritual envelope! Make a gratuitous sign of the cross! I know. It feels wild and irresponsible, but be of good courage and step out in the freedom of the Spirit. Cross yourself! But when, you ask. Okay, I know it’s helpful to have some suggestions. Fortunately, Anglo-Catholics have blazed the trail—or perhaps more accurately, remembered the trail—for all of us. In addition to the three occasions mentioned above, Anglo-Catholics also make the sign of the cross at the conclusion of the Gloria in exclesis (”in the glory of God the Father”), at the conclusion of the Nicene Creed (”the life of the world to come”), at the Benedictus qui venit (”Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”), at the consecratory elevations, and at the presentation of the Holy Gifts to the congregation. And this is just the beginning. Once you have mastered these difficult gesturing moments, look for other opportunities within the liturgy to cross yourself.

After you experience the joy of crossings, you may then want to take a step into the exciting world of bowings. Just think to yourself: “at the name of Jesus …”

Be bold. You don’t need a rubrical command. You don’t need the permission of the priest. Gesture!
Read it all here (including comments).

And yes, Lutherans can do this, too. In fact, the Lutheran Reformers (who in the Augsburg Confession claimed to keep the Mass better than the Papists) would be rather surprised that so many contemporary Lutherans don't do such rituals in the presence of the Lord God, King of the Universe, but rather just sit there barely warming their pew. As several Zionites have learned over the years, Pastor Zip doesn't make the sign of the Cross, bow, genuflect, etc. for show -- he's worshiping the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Morning After the Election

or Pastoral Care and Public Church?

Tuesday was Election Day. I was not at home, but in Fort Wayne on a Society of the Holy Trinity multi-chapter Retreat (I had voted in Peoria the previous week). We watched some of the election returns on the TV, then went to bed with control of the Senate still up in the air and unaware of most of the Illinois results.

Wednesday morning there was "free time" as the Retreat was winding down. I had brought a couple of the books I'm currently in the middle of reading, hoping I'd have some time to spend with at least one of them. And finally, with this particular period of "free time," I took one of the books, opened to my book mark and -- seeing that I'd not marked anything for a couple of pages -- I went back a few paragraphs to remind myself of the context. And I began reading...
Now, gold is dimmed when a holy life is corrupted by earthly deeds. The finest colour is changed when the former esteem of those who were credited with living religiously is diminished. For when anyone resigns himself to earthly activities after a life of constant holiness, reverence for him is ignored and grows dim, as though his lustre had faded in the eyes of men.

Further, the stones of the sanctuary are scattered in the streets when those who should have occupied themselves in the interior mysteries for the adornment of the Church, as it were in the secrets of the Tabernacle, wander outside in the broad ways of secular affairs. Evidently, they were made the stones of the sanctuary, that they might appear in the vesture of the High Priest within the Holy of Holies. But when the ministers of religion do not demand the Redeemer's honour from their subjects by their meritorious way of living, the stones of the sanctuary are not in the vesture of the High Priest. Indeed, the stones of the sanctuary lie scattered through the streets, when persons in Sacred Orders, given over to the laxity of their pleasures, cling to earthly affairs.

We should observe, too, that these are said to be scattered, not merely through the streets, but at the top of the streets; that is, to say, even when they are engaged in earthly matters, they wish to appear at the top, so as to both occupy the broad ways in the enjoyment of their delights, and yet to be at the top of the street in the external repute of holiness.

Furthermore, we are not prevented from understanding these stones to be the stones from which the sanctuary had been constructed. They lie scattered at the top of the streets, when men in Sacred Orders, in whose office of holiness the glory of sanctity was previously seen to exist, devote themselves to the preference of earthly affairs. Secular employments, then, are sometimes to be sympathetically put up with, but never sought after out of affection for them. Otherwise, when they oppress the mind of him who is attached to them, he becomes submerged by the weight and sinks down from the concerns of Heaven even to the very depths.

Some, on the contrary, undertake the charge of the flock, but wish to be so free for spiritual occupations, as not to give any time at all to external matters. Now, when such people wholly neglect to attend to what pertains to the body, they afford no help to their subjects. It is no wonder that their preaching is disregarded for the most part, for while chiding the deeds of sinners, and not giving them the necessities of the present life, their words certainly do not find sympathetic listeners. Doctrine taught does not penetrate the minds of the needy, if a compassionate heart does not commend it to the hearts of hearers; but the seed of the word does germinate promptly, when the kindness of a preacher waters it in the hearer's heart. Therefore, that the ruler may be able to plant within, he may be able to plant within, he must also, with irreproachable intention, make provision for what is external. Let pastors, then, give their entire devotion to the inner life of their subjects, yet not neglect to provide for the exterior life also.
-- Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, Part II, Chapter 7

Friday, October 20, 2006

The ELCA's "new energy and commitment"

And then there's this news item on the ELCA News Blog:
Lutherans help set world record by "Standing Up" against poverty

by Annie Lynsen, ELCA Washington Office

More than 1,500 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) were among the 110,332 U.S. citizens and 23.5 million people worldwide who stood up during worship Oct. 15 to fight global poverty. The "STAND UP" event set a national and global record in the Guinness World Records for the largest number of people to stand up for a cause.

Lutherans across the United States participated in the event organized as part of "ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History," in cooperation with the United Nations' Millennium Campaign. People stood together to ask their governments to take action to end poverty and inequality and meet the Millennium Development Goals. "Participation of Lutheran congregations in the STAND UP event reflects the new energy and commitment that the ONE Lutheran Campaign has generated at the local level. Our commitment as Lutherans to fighting poverty and disease in the world is part of a global movement with a common goal to end the scandal of poverty that kills," said Kim C. Stietz, ONE Lutheran Campaign coordinator, ELCA Washington Office.

More than 400 people stood up at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, and 250 stood up at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hinsdale, Ill. Around the world, Lutherans and members of other faith traditions also organized STAND UP events. At Solor Lutheran Church in Webster, Minn., 52 people stood for a moment during worship, 14 of whom participated in a house party later that day. "At the house party, we called our representative, our senators, and our candidates and left messages asking what they've done or what they plan to do about hunger and the Millennium Development Goals," said Carrie Young, a member of Solor Lutheran Church. "We also watched the ELCA World Hunger Video, 'For Such a Time as This,' and we talked about the ONE Campaign." ONE Lutherans across the country joined with other volunteers, students and community members as a part of this movement.
Okay, the ELCA reports 4,850,776 baptized members, 2,256,700 of whom are "communing and contgributing" members of her 10,549 congregations.

In case you're wondering, the ONE Lutheran Campaign is about eradicating poverty in the world, though with this kind of "new energy and commitment," those who make up the campaign will soon be one Lutheran.

Meanwhile, in the 10 ELCA congregations of Peoria County (including Peoria, Bartonville, Chillicothe, Glasford, and Trivoli), more than 1600 people stood up last Sunday to confess the Apostles' Creed. Stop the presses!

Friday, October 13, 2006

"Canoga Park High's Lugo teaches ... about life"

Rudy Lugo was my PE teacher in 10th Grade at Canoga Park High School. This was general PE, where we played touch football (well, it was supposed to be touch football, but this 105 lb. Center was usually in the mud after "blocking" a couple of Chicanos who probably each carried twice my weight), soccer (I once scored a point for the other team with a shot off my head; I was bit better as a Goalie), basketball (you really don't want to know), track (now running I could do, finishing in the middle of the pack), volleyball (I actually played for the Hunters my senior year, receiving a JV letter!), calisthenics, etc.

Through it all, Coach always encouraged me to do my best and taught me to the best of his and my (meager physical) abilities. Fortunately for him, I was a Math major -- and I didn't wear my glasses when trying out for the Hunters' baseball team. (He was JV baseball and football coach in those days.) But neither did I bail out when Mac (legendary CPHS baseball Coach Doug MacKenzie), pitching at the baseball team's tryout, called for a suicide squeeze -- and fired the next pitch straight at my ear. I'd not gotten much wood on the ball yet, but I could -- and did -- lay down that bunt.

I didn't take any classes from him in 11th or 12 grade. But when I read the front page article about him in yesterday's Los Angeles Daily News, well, that's the same Coach Lugo I first had 32 years ago in the Fall of 1974. And for those who wonder why 14 years after being called to Zion I'm still Pastor at a declining, urban parish that some had given up for dead long before I came here, well, Coach was one of my teachers -- one that I've never forgotten -- who taught me well through his subject.
Canoga Park High's Lugo teaches more than football; he teaches about life
Article Last Updated:10/11/2006 09:50:47 PM PDT

CANOGA PARK - He speaks softly now, barely louder than a whisper.

The booming voice that has ruled the football sidelines at Canoga Park High School for 38 years is now raspy and weak.

Lung cancer and three rounds of chemotherapy have taken their toll on Rudy Lugo. He's lost weight, hair, energy - but never his faith.

"I need football," Lugo said. "Cancer is a terrifying experience. It's a monster. Sometimes, I wake up at night looking at the ceiling in my house, and I just want to break down.

"But I have to fight. And football will give me the positive attitude, the strength and the courage to fight this, to beat this."

Lugo comes to work the days he feels well enough, just to be around the students, the coaches, the game. And while he speaks softly, his words have never carried more weight.

"When he talks, the kids just go dead silent so they can listen to him," said Ivan Moreno, who has taken over as co-head coach along with Kevin Carlsen, an All-City player under Lugo in 1997.

But Lugo is still the man.

For 38 years, his image has been the same as the Hunters: tough, scrappy, making do with what you have, finding a way to overcome any limitation.

If they're bigger than you, be faster. If they're stronger than you, work harder in the weight room. If they've scored three touchdowns against you, score four.

He was never afraid of losing - only of not trying hard enough.

"It's never been all about winning," Carlsen said. "For him, it's about turning the kids into men. That's what he did for me.

"In a lot of ways, he's been like a second father."

Looking in the mirror, Lugo can recall all the pep talks he has given, wondering whether he was right - and whether he's strong enough to live the words himself.

"I guess it's my turn now," said Lugo, 58. "To practice what I've preached."

More than a coach

Word of Lugo's illness spread quickly through the football community after he was diagnosed in August. Since then, his former players have been dropping by the boys' physical-education office at Canoga Park High - one comes just about every day - to check on him.

They don't talk much about cancer, though. They come to ask how the team's doing, to hear about some of the players or to scout next week's opponent.

But mostly, they come to see Lugo.

"He's the kind of teacher you remember 20 years later because he really touched your life," said Jim Smith, who has taught P.E. with Lugo for 15 years. "It's amazing to see the players who come back year after year to thank him.

"He didn't just coach them or teach them football; he teaches them about life and how to be men."
Read it all here.

I don't expect Coach to remember me, but I'm going to drop him an e-mail to thank him and tell him I'm praying for him.

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers: Mercifully hear our prayers and grant to your servant, Rudy, the help of your power, that his sickness may be turned into health and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Jesus' Inspriational T-shirt

Listen to (okay, read) Pastor Karl Johnsen, STS, preaching the first Vespers sermon at the General Retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity. The texts that Tuesday evening were Job 12:1; 13:3-17, 21-27 and St. John 8:33-47:
I have been known at times to frequent certain Christian bookstores of the sort with which I am sure most of you are familiar. You know the ones. The place where you can buy everything from "God's Gym" and "This Blood's for You" T-Shirts, to the latest installment in the ubiquitous Prayer of Jabez franchise. And of course, let us not forget, right up there by the checkout, the ever popular "Testa-Mints". The breath freshener with a message to share.

Somewhere in that same store you are bound to find any number of wall plaques, posters, calendars, and coffee mugs, each bearing some inspirational message straight from the mouth of our Lord. You know the ones; "I am the bread of Life", "I am the light of the world", "Behold I stand at the door and knock". But it strikes me that I have never seen an inspirational poster, coffee mug, calendar, or T-shirt quoting our Lord's words in today's gospel text where he says "You are of your Father the Devil, and your will is to do your Father's desires." (John 8:44a) I guess this is not surprising. When looking for something to put on an inspirational poster, we tend to gravitate toward something more, ... well ..., inspirational. Something more comforting than convicting.

At the end of the day however, we ought not to worry overmuch about what brothers and sisters in other Christian denominations do or do not put on inspirational posters and T-shirts. But perhaps we would do well to worry that we might just be tempted downplay or even ignore words such as these in our ministry of preaching and teaching. They are after all, uncomfortable words, and we like to see ourselves as being in the business of comforting people.

Therefore, perhaps we might be tempted to ignore them, or to relegate them to some sort of secondary status on the grounds that they do not "drive Christ" as well as does a passage like Romans chapter 8. But the mental gymnastics required to contend that the words of St. Paul drive Christ more effectively than the words of Jesus himself is just a bit beyond my ability to bear.

Or, we may choose to interpret these words very narrowly, solely within the context of Jesus' conversation with those particular people, in that particular place, at that particular time. But it strikes me that perhaps we are overly quick to do this. Especially when you consider how quick we are to interpret a more comforting passage such as Jesus' gracious words of forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery in the more universal sense, that is, as being true for all of us, and not just for that woman, in that place, and at that time.

Perhaps there is some benefit in letting Jesus' hard words stand and accuse us, in all of their stark and dark simplicity.

So, let me try this T-shirt on for size:
    "I am of my father the devil, and my will is to do my father's desires."
But immediately, I begin to protest. "Am I really all that bad? Doesn't this sound just a bit too judgmental? Surely I do not deserve God's wrath, if indeed such a thing still exists in these enlightened times. Soon I find myself taking the position of Job, protesting my innocence. Soon I, like Job, am desiring to speak to the Almighty, and to argue my case with God.
Read it all here on the Society's web site.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Angels (cont'd)

From the Society of the Holy Trinity's General Retreat

The sermon for Michaelmas proclaimed by Pr. Pari Bailey, STS, at the Society of the Holy Trinity's General Retreat that I mentioned a few days ago is now posted on the Society's website.
We've got angels. Boy, do we. There are angels of the month, birthstone angels, dashboard charms that say, "Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly." Bumper stickers that proclaim, "Angels on board." There are gardening angels, Mother's Day angels, Hallmark angels holding everything from Thanksgiving turkeys to St. Patrick's Day shamrocks.

Fat blonde babies with wings cavort on every possible item. Chubby cherubs, swathed in Victorian chintz drapery, halos charmingly askew, look more like spun-sugar dumplings than anything that would cry, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty!" Greeting cards, wallpaper, candy bars, movies like "Angels in America"— feathered wings joined with human fallibilities are just everywhere these days!

But then there's this:
    Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way
    As the Lord of light descending from the realms of endless day
    Comes, the pow'rs of hell to vanquish
    As the darkness clears away.
Set them side by side, the post-modern depiction of angels as a pleasant remnant of myth, made in our image, bent to our will, filling desire for spirituality and a crass marketing niche all at once —and then the Scriptural image of the vanguard of the army of heaven, the praises of God in their throats and a two-edged sword in their hands, a choir in battle formation, with captains and princes, standards and banners arrayed around the throne of the Lord of Light.

Singers with shields, messengers, bringers of the divine Word, some appointed to ceaseless praise, some appointed to help us on earth: these are the angels of the Lord.

The cosmology of the ancient world is not ours—or so we think. We no longer see angels behind every physical force of nature, every unexplained scientific phenomenon. Except for the Left Behind crowd and the devotees of Frank Peretti and those who tend to see the world in terms of Star Wars, anyway—most Christians, and certainly most Lutherans, don't describe our reality with reference to a cosmic battleground between the evenly-matched forces of good and evil. We already know what battle standard the Host of heaven carries, what device is blazoned on every shield and breastplate, in what sign they conquer.

Whether our modern sensibilities accept it or not, the holy angels are not incidental to, or independent from, the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ. In the might of the Messiah and under the banner of the cross, the host of heaven continues to do God's will and bring his Word despite the death throes of the dragon. The war is over, Satan is finished. Cast down. But still he fights on, mortally wounded, utterly defeated. His time is short.
For the entire sermon, click on this page or on the STS site the link for the St. Michael's Day Sermon.

And the Catholic Church became "Lutheran"

In his opening address at last week's General Retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity, the Rev. Dr. Frank C. Senn, Senior of the STS and pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Evanston, Illinois, first took us back to the Reformation and the 16th Century:
In that confessional hardening, the Western Catholic Church split into competing confessions that were encoded into law. We today are not only the heirs of Martin Luther's reform movement; we are also the heirs of the lex reformandi. When the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg was adopted in cities and lands by vote of city councils and by order of princes, church and society had to be reformed in the light of this Confession. That meant that laws or ordinances had to be drawn up and enacted. There's nothing unusual about this. A reform that fails to attain legal status and to be incarnated in institutions will fail. It will remain just a good idea. But if it is encoded in law, a reform can change people's behavior and even their thinking, no matter how much they may at first begrudge the change. Through law -- church ordinances -- and official teaching on a popular level-catechisms-Lutheranism became the confessional reality of the Catholic Church in some places across central and northern Europe. Church life went on, but with significant changes that were inculcated into the hearts and minds of the people through consistent preaching and teaching and new patterns of worship.

In most places implementing these reforms required a break with the local hierarchy and therefore also a break in communion with the bishop of Rome. But Lutherans did not think they were breaking with the catholic tradition. They asserted twice in their Confession -- once after the twenty-one doctrinal articles and again after the seven pastoral articles -- that their churches had not departed, in their teachings and practices, from the Catholic Church, or even the Church of Rome, insofar as that is known from its ancient writers. Insofar as they were returning to the clear testimonies of Scripture and the church fathers, they implied that the Church under the pope had departed from this tradition. Later on the second Martin, Martin Chemnitz, would examine the Council of Trent and conclude that the Council had proposed a new understanding of tradition that was a novelty in Christian history.
Later in his address, Pr. Senn then brought us into the contemporary era, both throwing down and taking up the ecumenical gauntlet:
If Pope Benedict XVI, who was so instrumental in working out the final details of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, wants to strike a blow for Lutheran-Roman Catholic rapprochement, let him lift the papal bull of Leo X, Exsurge Domine, and declare that Martin Luther is not a heretic. In 1958, Father Joseph Ratzinger addressed a pastoral council in Vienna with these words:
There is no appropriate category in Catholic thought for the phenomenon of Protestantism today (one could say the same of the separated Churches of the East). It is obvious that the old category of "heresy" is no longer of any value. Heresy, for scripture and the early church, includes the idea of a personal decision against the unity of the church, and heresy's characteristic is pertinacia, the obstinacy of one who persists in his or her own private way. This, however, cannot be regarded as an appropriate description of the spiritual situation of the Protestant Christian. In the course of a now-centuries old history, Protestantism had made an important contribution to the realization of Christian faith, fulfilling a positive development of the Christian message and, above all, often giving rise to a sincere and profound faith in the individual non-Catholic Christian, whose separation from the Catholic affirmation has nothing to do with the pertinacia of heresy.... We must try to think our way forward here in the spirit of the New Testament and to apply this spirit to all the things that did not exist then, but are in our world today.

If this still represents the mind of Pope Benedict XVI, then we are grateful that we cannot be regarded as heretics. But can Martin Luther still be regarded as a heretic? He issued his call for reform as a loyal son of the Church. He had widespread support among the clergy and people. His proposals were never dealt with in a free council bringing all theological parties together. If "Protestantism has made an important contribution to the realization of Christian faith," Martin Luther had a lot to do with that. Pope Benedict XVI's admiration for the reformer is well known. Let him advance rapprochement to the next step by rescinding Exsurge Domine.

And on our part, let Lutheran Churches declare that the pope is not the Anti-Christ, turn to him for authoritative teaching in matters of faith and morals, and expect his leadership in the pursuit of Christian unity.

In the meantime, we members of the Society of the Holy Trinity are pastors in Lutheran Churches. According to our Rule, we are committed to the reconciliation of Lutheran Churches with the bishop and Church of Rome. It is not up to us to say what this reconciliation will look like, although we can use our ecumenically-informed imaginations. What we can do is move our Churches closer to the Roman Church by moving them closer to our own confessions, which include the three ecumenical creeds. There are many ways in which our Lutheran Churches have drifted away from their confessional moorings. I need not count them here; our Founding Statement gives such an accounting, and it is worth revisiting that document from time to time. But this Society exists primarily "to work toward the confessional and spiritual renewal of Lutheran churches." It is for that purpose that this ministerium has been formed and convenes in retreats. We will contribute to the renewal of Lutheran Churches by being ourselves renewed in our ordination vows, following the discipline laid out in the Rule of this Society.
There's more and you can read it all here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Parable of the Good Soccer Mom

A the tail end of my Saturday entry I mentioned that I would be on the Peoria Life Chain, missing a big chunk of the final game of my beloved Los Angeles Angels. That enables me to bring to your attention to, if you haven't already read it, last Thursday's First Things: On the Square entry.

For background, it seems that the Democratic candidate for Governor of Texas is joining a growing number of Democrats (including our Junior US Senator from Illinois in (rightly) declaring that a "Christian voice" (or, at least, a "voice of faith") in American politics ought not be the exclusive property of the Republican Party. Congressman Bell invokes Jesus in the national debate over embryonic stem cell research, declaring a clear answer to "What would Jesus do?"

First Things Junior Fellow Ryan Anderson responds by offering this "retelling of a familiar parable."
The Parable of the Good Soccer Mom

“You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Chris Bell, because he wished to be elected governor, asked, “And who is my neighbor?”

Consider the Parable of the Good Soccer Mom: An embryo fell into the hands of ambitious scientists after she was left over in the freezer of an in vitro fertilization lab.

A molecular biologist happened to be journeying through the lab. Seeing that the embryo was very small and didn’t look like other human beings, he decided that it was not a human being. And he passed to the other side of the lab and left the embryo for his colleagues.

Likewise a moral philosopher came to the place and launched into an exposition of human embryology and developmental biology. He concluded that the human embryo was a whole human being at the very beginning of her life. The embryo possessed all of the internal resources necessary to guide herself—by a self-directed process—through further stages of development toward the maturity of organismic life. In doing this, the embryo integrates herself so as to keep her unity, identity, and determinateness all intact. No mere part of some other organism—as the sperm and egg cells whose union brought her into existence were—the embryo is both functionally and genetically distinct from any other organism, a whole and complete (though immature) human being. The term embryo is just a way of classifying the early human being, just as the terms fetus, newborn, infant, child, adolescent, adult, and octogenarian all refer to human beings at other stages. These terms, he concludes, refer to the same self-developing, unitary organism: the human being.

While the molecular biologist got the science wrong, the philosopher got it right. But the embryo could feel no pain or pleasure and exhibited no consciousness of any type, and so the philosopher concluded that the human embryo had no moral status and possessed no rights. And he, too, passed to the other side of the lab and left the embryo to the tender mercies of the scientists.

But a Soccer Mom who came upon the embryo was moved by both scientific fact and right moral reason. Aware of the humanity of the embryo as established by modern embryology, she wondered what was owed to the human being in the embryonic stage of life. She thought that whatever was owed to human beings at other stages of life was owed to them at the embryonic stage. For age and stage of development certainly are not morally significant. Older people do not have greater moral status; neither do the more fully developed. All human beings are of equal moral worth, she reasoned, because they are equally human. So, what is owed to human beings? Why, human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, possessing free will and rational natures that make them entities of intrinsic—and not mere instrumental—worth. They are to be treated as subjects and not as objects. Hence they are owed protection, support, and aid. In a word, they are owed love.

She summed up her findings: A human embryo is a whole member of the human species. Each human being entered life as an embryo. And all human beings are subjects of profound, inherent, intrinsic worth in virtue of what they are, not what they can do. And if they are subjects of worth in virtue of what they are, then they bear this worth from the moment that they first come into existence.

The Soccer Mom then rescued the embryo, transferred her to her womb, and cared for her.

“Mr. Bell, which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the embryo?”
Read the rest here.

I've been a subscriber to First Things since issue #13 and I was an Intern Pastor at Saint John's Lutheran Church, Helena, Montana -- when every penny counted.

"Creator noster"

or One Word Really Does Make a Difference

The Confessing Reader has picked up on my prior entry, calling the prayer suggested for LWF Sunday "a parody of the Our Father." (Creator Noster is his blog-entry title, "because it is neither the Pater noster nor the Lord’s Prayer.")
The Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father, has from time to time suffered this sort of parodying, most such parodies directed at removing the offensive “Father” in the prayer’s address. If there be any truth at all in the dictum lex ordandi lex credendi, then it is particularly egregious that the Our Father, given to the Church by the Lord Jesus himself and in liturgical use by Christians probably since the time that the Gospel According to Matthew was written or redacted (given the addition of the concluding doxology that is not present in the Lucan text) and at least since the time that the Didache was written (which enjoins on Christians the thrice-daily recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as a sort of embryonic daily office), has been so subjected.

As for this particular parody, there are elements that are essentially noncontroversial. Who indeed could disagree with praying God to grant us “courage to denounce what is wrong” or to “encourage us by[his] Word”? Who would dispute the assertion that “many needy people are seeking justice, truth and freedom”?

But this parody distorts, both by commission and omission, the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. In the place of Jesus’ invitation to his disciples to share the filial relationship he has with God the Father in prayer, the parody would have us pray to a more distant - if loving - Creator. The parody also asserts the same modalistic heresy that such faux-triniatarian ascriptions as “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” make, in limiting the creative power of God only to the Father, while the holy Scriptures and holy Tradition ascribe creation to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Go ahead, read the whole thing here, as Todd Granger offers critiques that I hadn't thought of -- because I saw no need to go past "Our Creator" in the first place. (Sometimes I can be short-sighted.)

He was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples."

And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation."

Whereupon that disciple said, "Oh my, this will not do. Is there someone who can teach us better?"

And a scribe called Ishmael replied, "Here is a prayer a group of my students crafted...."

(With apologies to the dear and glorious physician, St. Luke the Evangelist.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Our Father?

This is the prayer included in the materials provided by the Lutheran World Federation for use on LWF Sunday 2006, which was yesterday:

Our Creator in heaven,
        you have created everyone--those dear to us and also our enemies. You are our creator and you love us all, unconditionally.
Hallowed be your name
        in our lives so that your love may change our hearts and fill our lives with what really matters.
Your kingdom come
        through us now--so that the abundance of mercy will give a new perspective to what we do and say, and to the faith we live.
You will be done on earth as it is in heaven,
        for your thoughts are not ours, neither are our ways your ways. You know your plans for us - plans to prosper and not to harm us, plans for hope and future.
Give us today our daily bread
        for body and soul. Many needy people are seeking justice, truth and freedom. Encourage us by your Word.
Forgive us our sins
        when our hearts are filled with anger, sadness and hopelessness. Teach us how to
Forgive those who sin against us.
        Give us love and heal our wounded memories.
Lead us not into temptation
        of being deaf, blind and mute. Give us courage to denounce what is wrong. Make us ambassadors of truth who stand beside the suffering.
Deliver us from evil
        You are holy, God. You lead us and love us above all, for
Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(Adapted from a prayer by Slavka Danielova, 2005 LWF Youth Pre-Council Workshop, Jerusalem.)

No, we did not use this prayer at Zion.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Mr. Angel

He is, by any account, Mr. Angel.

Tim Salmon has been to this franchise what Tony Gwynn was to the Padres, what Cal Ripken Jr. was to the Orioles, what Kirby Puckett was to the Twins.

He has been the homegrown star who started and stayed right here, loyally remaining with one team and one franchise for the duration of his career.

A case could be made for him as the most consistent player in the 45-year history of the organization. But what has made him so endearing, so wildly popular that fans are standing and cheering for him every night on this final homestand before he retires, isn't so much the long list of impressive numbers he has put up.

It is more about Salmon, the person. It is more about the way he has conducted himself, on and off the field. For 15 years in Orange County, Salmon has pounded the ball and pounded the pavement, always there to help with all sorts of causes and charities.
Read here for the rest of this article by Steve Bisheff of the Orange County Register.

It was August 1992. Having graduated from seminary, accepted this call as Parish Pastor at Zion, and making the final arrangements for my upcoming ordination, I was temporarily living with Mom & Dad in the West Hills/Canoga Park home I'd been raised in. That meant I could again listen to the games of the baseball team that had been my favorite since I was a little boy, the California Angels -- originally, and now again, the Los Angeles Angels. I didn't catch the game the night Tim Salmon made his debut -- that was the night of my sem roommate's wedding rehearsal dinner -- but I would catch others over the next 3 weeks until I was on the road to Peoria. Like other Angels fans -- there weren't a whole lot of us in those days -- I had big hopes for this new right fielder, and I was able to follow his Rookie-of-the-Year 1993 season as well as the Peoria Journal Star would report it.

Tim Salmon's legacy as an Angel includes memorable moments both on and off the field. The biggest on-field was the Anaheim Angels winning the 2002 World Series (which I watched on TV while chatting with my Mom and sister at the end of the day Zion celebrated my 10th Anniversary of ordination and as their pastor). Some of his off the field legacy is listed here in his offical baseball biography. The one I find most interesting is California's Responsible Fatherhood Campaign. Not mentioned there is part of his testimony to the Christian Faith.

Last Wednesday night came the 299th Home Run of his 15-year career, all with the Angels. Thursday he announced his retirement. I'll catch tonight's game on XM Radio, rooting for him to hit #300 tonight. The Angels' season, and Salmon's playing career, end tomorrow afternoon, while I'll be part of the Peoria Life Chain.

The Angels

The day that has just past was the festival of St. Michael and All Angels (aka Michaelmas). We celebrated the festival a day early at the closing Eucharist for the STS General Retreat, where Pr. Pari Bailey, STS, preached about the place angels in our culture and in the Christian Faith. I will soon post a copy of that sermon on the STS website, but until then I suggest that you check out The Confessing Reader where you will find -- as you will for nearly every Christian festival that included in the Calendar of the Book of Common Prayer -- a good and faithful description of angels in the Holy Scriptures and Christian tradition.

As the depiction here (taken shamelessly from The Confessing Reader's blog entry) of St. Michael suggests, the angels of God are not the harmless, cute beings in the "angels" section of gift shops, on greeting cards, or in popular American culture. I daresay that images of angels you might find in your local "Christian" bookstore or in a church's children's pageant won't be in line with this photo, either. But ponder upon the first words so often spoken by an angel in the Bible: "Do not be afraid."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Swedish Confession Service

In his introduction to The Hammer of God last evening at the General Retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity, Pastor Ronald Bagnall, STS, described the beginning of the pre-1942 Swedish Mass, which was partially quoted in the book. Here it is, using the texts as translated into English for The Hymnal and Order of Service of 1925 as authorized by the Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod:

The priest enters singing:
Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts! The whole earth is full of His glory.

Then he says:
The Lord is in His holy temple; His throne is in heaven. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of an humble and contrite spirit. He heareth the supplications of the penitent and inclineth to their prayers. Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto His throne of grace and confess our sins:

The priest and congregation together say:
Holy and Righteous God, merciful Father, we confess unto Thee that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against Thee by thought, word, and deed. We have not loved Thee above all things, nor our neighbor as ourselves, and are worthy, therefore, to be cast away from Thy presence, if Thou shouldst judge us according to our sins. But Thou hast promised, O heavenly Father, to receive with tender mercy all penitent sinners who turn unto Thee and with a living faith seek refuge in Thy Fatherly compassion and in the merits of the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Their transgressions Thou wilt not regard, nor impute unto them their sins. Relying upon Thy promise, we confidently beseech Thee to be merciful and gracious unto us and to forgive us all our sins, to the praise and glory of Thy Holy Name.

May the Almighty, Eternal God, in His infinite mercy and for the sake of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, forgive all our sins, and give us grace to amend our lives, and with Him obtain eternal life. Amen.

Then the Kyrie and Gloria in Excelsis are sung...

On Communion Sundays, in place of the "May the Almighty, Eternal God..." sentence above, the following Absolution was pronounced by the priest;

If this be your sincere confession, and if with penitent hearts you earnestly desire the forgiveness of your sins for the sake of Jesus Christ, God, according to His promise, forgiveth you all your sins; and by the authority of God's Word and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I declare unto you that God, through His grace, hath forgiven all your sins; in the Name of God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then the Gloria in Excelsis is sung...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How often should one go to the Lord's Supper?

Among the readings for discussion at the 2007 General Retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity is the book The Hammer of God, by Bo Geirtz. A wonderful book that I wish I'd known about prior to my pastoral care courses in seminary, what struck me on my first reading a few years ago was how contemporary were the issues Giertz was addressing.

The first section of the book focusses on a young enlightenment-era priest who in 1808 gets caught up in the Pietist renewal. In one episode, the young Fr. Savonius is, with the the more veteran Pietist priest Fr. Lindér, speaking with a group of people following a evening gathering. The laity are taking advantage of an opportunity to question their priests. From page 66 of the Revised Edition of the book:

Then a new voice was heard.

"How often should one go to the Lord's Supper?"

It was again Lindér who answered.

"That depends a little on how you ask the question. If you ask how often you must go, it may indicate a stubborn heart that wants to buy God's grace as cheaply as possible and that does not really want to be with Jesus. If that is the case, you must pray God to convert you. If, on the other hand, you ask how often you ought to go, our Lord's answer is, 'As oft as ye do this,' and that means that you must do it oftener than the great majority, who commune four times a year just for the sake of propriety. And if you ask how often you may go, you are showing the right hunger for grace, and my answer then is: Go in the joy of the Lord as often as you can. But do not be careless about the preparation."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Words without knowledge

[Finally, a first post to this blog.]

In the midst of the debates that are convulsing the "mainline" churches, debates in which I participate in various spots online, at the basis of our debates is how we read the Holy Scriptures themselves. Increasingly, the Bible is being authoritatively interpreted by scholars who enthusiastically endorse the reversal of traditional Christian teachings on how the Christian lives his life -- sexuality is the flash point, but I have been long convinced that this is barely the tip of the iceberg -- and seemingly too often are unable to honestly confess the Creeds of the Church. So I was struck this morning in our weekly pericope study (where a group of fellow pastors spend some time discussing the assigned readings [pericopes] for the upcoming Sunday) when I came upon this.

From the First Lesson according to the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 7B or, in the ELCA, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year B):
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" Job 38:3

From The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, OT VI: Job (p. 196)--

Elihu Is a Model of Arrogance.
St. Gregory the Great: As often happens with one who incorrectly says right words and correctly bad words, so Elihu, in his arrogance, does not speak right word correctly, because in his defense of God he speaks humble sentences with an arrogant tone. So he is the perfect example of those who, in the universal church, look for vainglory. While they believe themselves to be more expert than anybody else, they are accused of being ignorant by the judgment of God, because, as the apostle says, "If one believes to know something, he still has to learn how to know (1 Cor. 8:2)." Morals on the Book of Job 28.11