Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Church Is An Article of Faith

From today's Treasury of Daily Prayer writing by Martin Luther:

This article, "I believe in the holy Christian Church," is as much an article of faith as the rest. This is why natural reason cannot recognize it, even if it puts on all its glasses. The devil can cover it over with offenses and divisions, so that you have to take offense at it. God too can conceal it behind faults and shortcomings of all kinds, so that you necessarily become a fool and pass false judgment on it. Christendom will not be known by sight, but by faith. And faith has to do with things not seen, Hebrews 11[:1]. Christendom joins with her Lord in the song, "Blessed is he who takes no offense at me" [Matt. 11:6]. A Christian is even hidden from himself; he does not see his holiness and virtue, but sees in himself nothing but unholiness and vice. And you, stupid know-it-all, would behold Christendom with your blind reason and unclean eyes!

In a word, our holiness is in heaven, where Christ is; and not in the world, before men's eyes, like goods in the market place. Therefore let there be offenses, divisions, heresies, and faults; let them do what they can! If only the word of the gospel remains pure among us, and we love and cherish it, we shall not doubt that Christ is with us, even when things are at their worst. As we see here in this book, that through and beyond all plagues, beasts, and evil angels Christ is nonetheless with his saints, and wins the final victory.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Birth of Post Modernism

The following post from Mr. Christopher Orr's Blog - Orrologion describes adequately and succinctly the philosophy that gave birth to literary criticism / theory and ultimately post modernism. The text is an excerpt from "The Death of Theory" by Michael Cook, an article appearing in Salvo magazine.

Literary Theory (always with a capital T, like the G in God)

...Since the 1980s, literary Theory (always written with a capital T, like the G in God) has captured English department after English department in universities throughout the English-speaking world....

Theory resists definition. It is not monolithic but fissured and fractured into scores of squabbling schools. But here are ideas that nearly all of them share:

  • All reality is constructed. That is, since we cannot, with any certainty, know what exists outside our own experience, we cope by constructing frameworks that we project upon reality. Consequently, a text does not contain the author’s meaning; it merely reflects the reader’s prejudices.
  • There is no such thing as truth; all opinions are relative. Living in a world with no fixed boundaries, no absolute definitions, and no ultimate truths could be a fearful burden. The ingenuity and playfulness of Theory teaches us to cope.
  • The job of the reader-critic is to identify the prejudices inherent in a text. The task of analyzing a text in this way is called "deconstruction." The critic’s job is to dismantle it and show what it really means—which may be a far cry from the author’s intention.
  • Everything is a text, from Shakespeare and the Bible to "South Park" and Harry Potter to billboards in Las Vegas and the New York skyline. One of the best-known shibboleths of Theory is the French phrase "il n'y a pas de hors-texte": there is nothing outside of the text.
  • Theory’s usefulness is not exhausted by literature. Since everything is a text, it can be deployed to analyze everything in our culture. Ultimately, it is a political commitment.
  • The author’s intention is irrelevant. In its most radical form, Theory proclaims the death of the author. Persons literally disappear, becoming merely relations of intersecting texts in a vast cultural conversation. Most theory is resolutely anti-humanist.
  • No doubt the accuracy of my account would be described as bumptious ignorance by an academic Theorist. But it’s close enough, especially for a theory in which it is axiomatic that there are no definitions.

The roots of Theory stretch back to Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who demolished the stifling rationalism of great 18th- and 19th-century thinkers like Kant, Mill, and Hegel. He defied what he regarded as their smug confidence that all of reality could be ordered and grasped by the human mind and asserted that there are no truths, just interpretations. "Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions, worn-out metaphors now impotent to stir the senses, coins which have lost their faces and are considered now as metal rather than currency," he wrote.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

John Rosemond's Bill of Rights for Children

  1. Because it is the most character-building, two-letter word in the English language, children have the right to hear their parents say "NO" at least three times a day.
  2. Children have the right to find out early in their lives that their parents don't exist to make them happy, but to offer them the opportunity to learn the skills they - children - will need to eventually make themselves happy.
  3. Children have a right to scream all they want over the decisions their parents make, albeit their parents have the right to confine said screaming to certain areas of their homes.
  4. Children have the right to find out early that their parents care deeply for them, but don't give a hoot what their children think about them at any given moment in time.
  5. Because it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, children have the right to hear their parents say "Because I said so" on a regular and frequent basis.
  6. Because it is the most character-building activity a child can engage in, children have the right to share significantly in the doing of household chores.
  7. Every child has the right to discover early in life that he isn't the center of the universe (or his family or his parents' lives), that he isn't a big fish in a small pond, that he isn't the Second Coming, and that he's not ever - in the total scheme of things - very important at all, no one is, so as to prevent him from becoming an insufferable brat.
  8. Children have the right to learn to be grateful for what they receive; therefore, they have the right to receive all of what they truly need and very little of what they simply want.
  9. Children have the right to learn early in their lives that obedience to legitimate authority is not optional, that there are consequences for disobedience, and that said consequences are memorable and, therefore, persuasive.
  10. Every child has the right to parents who love him/her enough to make sure he/she enjoys all of the above rights.
Dr. John Rosemond is a parenting specialist and has a regular column in the Living Section of the Sunday newspaper. His Bill of Rights For Children is taken from his website:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Restoring the Center (Part Two)

Back in August I wrote concerning the problem of risky behavior amongst the youth of our community. At the root of the problem, I posited, lay the breakdown of the traditional family consisting of a husband and a wife (one man and one woman united for life) at the center with children as orbiting satellites. This breakdown has resulted in a fundamental restructuring of the family where the children have become the nucleus and the parents the satellites, with Husband (father) and Wife (mother) existing in entirely separate and increasingly distanced orbits.

This time I intend to focus upon the traditional nucleus – Husband and Wife, mom & dad, the marriage covenant. After God created man and woman He established marriage: And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:22-24. God instituted marriage that a man and a woman could share a one flesh union by each giving of themselves wholly, completely, and unconditionally to the other, thus mirroring God’s selfless and sacrificial love for humanity. God blessed marriage that it should be fruitful and life-giving, evidenced most completely in the birthing and rearing of children. But first comes marriage. And the one flesh union of husband and wife is not to be broken, diminished, or superseded by the subsequent gift of children.

Yet this is exactly what has happened. Child / Family Psychologist John Rosemond often asks attendees at his lectures (typically parents of young children) the following question: Of the time you spent in your family during the past week, what percentage was spent in the role of father or mother versus the percentage you spent in the role of husband or wife? He recounts that “the typical distribution is 90 percent parent versus 10 percent spouse” which, Rosemond says, “is the empirical definition of a child-centered family. […] That’s simply not the way God planned it.” To place children above the marriage covenant is akin to placing the creation above the Creator (which is idolatry; see The First Commandment). A man is Husband before father; a woman is Wife before mother – A Husband and a Wife are one in each other, one flesh. Children simply are not a part of the Husband-Wife relationship. The family instituted by God is marriage-centered, where husband and wife “parent from within” their marriage.

The center, the nucleus, is what holds a family together. The one flesh union of husband and wife is the command center of a family. Husband and wife share a love-bond in Christ that provides the strength, the discipline, and the single-mindedness necessary to parent. Rosemond summarizes, “For a family to work according to God’s design, the husband-wife relationship must be far more active than either parent’s relationship with any child. Husband and wife must be more involved with each other than either of them is with the children. Their lives must be centered on the bond of their marriage, not the children.”

“Nothing makes a child feel more insecure than the feeling that his parents’ marriage is tenuous, that it could fly apart at any second,” observes Rosemond. Rather, a strong marital bond is comforting to children. The consequences of an “inside-out, upside-down, and turned around backward family situation include,” says Rosemond:

· The children lack a model of what being truly married is all about. Therefore, when they grow up, they are likely to either avoid getting married (which more and more young people are doing) – running instead from one “fly by night” relationship to another – or enter into marriages for all the wrong reasons (e.g., sex, status, financial security, to legitimize children), in which case their marriages are likely to fail.

· The children develop a sense of entitlement as regards the disproportionate amount of attention and material things they receive from their parents. They become ever more demanding, disrespectful, petulant, and even outraged at the notion that they should actually lift a finger around the house. As adults, they are likely to bring this same expectation into relationships. Symptomatic of this is the self-centered answer many newly divorced young people give when asked what caused the divorce: “He/she wasn’t meeting my needs.”

· Because the parents are more concerned with having a relationship with than providing leadership to their children, the children do not receive adequate discipline. Behavioral problems develop, almost always involving one or more of the “three Big Ds”: disobedience, disruptiveness, and disrespect. Quite often, however, these parents have their heads so buried in the sands of a fourth “D” – denial – that they do not even see that their children are undisciplined. They think they’re “just being children” while other adults generally think they’re obnoxious.

· When the normal time for emancipation rolls around, the children do not have permission to leave home. Quite simply, a child cannot emancipate him- or her- self easily from the center of the family universe. The center is too cozy. Who would want to leave? Besides, the child in this situation knows that for as long as he can remember, he has been the glue holding his parents together (in psychological terms, this is called codependency). If he leaves, he knows they are likely to divorce.

Being marriage-centered is as important to the healthy rearing of children as being Christ-centered is to a healthy marriage. It is with the love of Christ that a husband and wife love each other; it is with the love of Christ that a husband and wife can be successful parents. This is because God has a blueprint for our lives, an order. The world denies this vehemently, the secular media says that you are ignorant, foolish, and uneducated to believe such, but it is nevertheless the truth. Rosemond states, “If you depart from God’s plan in any area of your life, you will experience more (and more seious) problems than you would have encountered otherwise.” And what Christian family, struggling to be faithful, has not experienced this truth? Further, Rosemond states, “If you adhere to God’s plan in your life, you will still experience sadness, pain, frustration, and heartache (since the Fall, there is no escaping this tribulation), but you will endure and you will eventually come out on top.”

One of the purposes for which God instituted marriage is so that through this covenantal relationship humanity might come to know better their God and the kind of relationship He wants to have with the pinnacle of His creation. The selfless and sacrificial love husband and wife have for each other is to mirror the selfless and sacrificial love of God for humanity. Likewise, the bearing and rearing of children is nothing less than a participation in the ongoing creative activity of God, bringing life and increasing love. Husbands and wives in a one flesh union also mirror their Creator in bringing forth new life. As humanity, the creation, is not above God, the Creator, so children are not above their parents, the marriage unit, one flesh, that is husband and wife.

All of the John Rosemond quotes above are taken from his latest book Parenting by The Book: Biblical wisdom for Raising Your Child (ISBN 1-4165-4484-4). I cannot recommend this book too highly. It is simply fabulous! I encourage you to read it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not Wicked, Just Misunderstood

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to see the musical Wicked on Broadway. I must confess that I’ve always viewed Broadway with a certain degree of suspicion, viewing its productions as dolled-up vehicles for liberal propaganda. I’m sorry to report that my suspicions were, in some ways, confirmed. However, it would be incorrect to label Wicked a mere vehicle, though the play is most definitely the product of post-modern liberal thinking. It blurs the distinction between good and evil (wickedness) and questions (denies) the possibility of truth.

Wicked is the back-story, if you will, to The Wizard of Oz, told from the perspective of the two witches, G(a)linda the Good Witch of the North and Elfaba the Wicked Witch of the West. Anyone who has seen Wizard assumes that the Wicked Witch is wicked, but Wicked begins with the question asked of Glinda “Why does wickedness happen?” to which she replies “That’s a good question; one that many people find confusifying. Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” This is probably the most post-modern question possible because either answer releases the subject from moral accountability. If someone is “born” that way, then how can they be held accountable for that, they had no choice. If “it” was thrust upon them, then they had no choice in that either. So the post-modern experiment goes. Post-modernism assumes that there is no objective, absolute truth, so all we are left with is truth(s) as we perceive it (them) – pure, unabashed relativism.

Wicked is really the story of how Elfaba became known as the Wicked Witch. From the very beginning the opening question is answered – she was born in a certain way, she had no choice. But even with that, there was nothing particularly wicked about Elfaba, she was simply different – she was green. So the other possible answer to the question is given as well, Elfaba had the perception of wickedness thrust upon her by extenuating circumstances. The audience had to conclude that it wasn’t Elfaba’s fault, that she was not morally accountable – she wasn’t wicked, she was just misunderstood.

This is not a new idea in theater or literature. Mary Shelley explored this theme in Frankenstein; Nietzsche exhorted us to move Beyond Good and Evil. What does it mean to be good or evil (wicked)? Who has the objectivity to make that judgment? These are post-modern questions born of the fundamental assumption that there is no objective truth. Now this may be the source of an enjoyable philosophical exchange, but it is also the source of much mischievous chicanery. What is at stake is moral accountability, for according to this worldview there is no standard or rule, and no God, by which actions can be objectively judged. Is homosexuality a sin? How can it be, he was born that way? Is abortion a sin? How can it be, the circumstances were thrust upon her?

Of course, it is a lie, and there is Truth, and His Name is Jesus the Christ – I am the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). God has spoken in regard to homosexuality, abortion, and all sin. God has clearly delineated between good and evil. He, and His Word is the measure by which all things are judged – He alone is good. The perfect Law of God condemns all so that the perfect grace of God may forgive all in Jesus Christ. We are all wicked and fall short of glory of God, but in Christ Jesus we are all forgiven, restored.

All in all, Wicked was a delightful production – well acted, great set, wonderful music, and an enjoyable and thought-provoking story. But it denies the existence of Truth, so it has embraced the possibility of two lies, therefore existing in the post-modern plain of uncertainty. Perhaps it was born that way? Or was this philosophy thrust upon it? I do not mourn for Wicked, but I will pray for those deceived by its lies.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

(Mark 7:31-37; Romans 10:9-16; Isaiah 29:17-24)

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

If you listened closely to the Lessons today, if you truly prayed with me the Collect, if you chanted with me the words of the Introit, then you have heard with your ears and you have confessed with your own lips the fundamental ailment of our human race: We are not open to the Word of the Lord to hear it or to speak it, unless the Lord Jesus uses His finger the Holy Spirit to blast away our deafness and to open our mouths to speak His praise.

It is no coincidence then that the opening words of the liturgy for Matins, the traditional morning prayer of the day, come from Psalm 51, the confessional Psalm of King David: O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. These are indeed appropriate words to begin the day for if we are to praise the Lord this day, or any day, if we are to glorify Him in word and deed by selflessness, service, and sacrifice, then He is going to have to open our closed lips. Apart from His gracious activity by the Holy Spirit we are like the man in St. Mark’s Gospel, deaf and tongue-tied, unable to hear or to speak.

The lesson the Lord offers us today is perhaps the most difficult for us to hear and to believe, for it says to us that we cannot hear or know the Lord, that we cannot praise His Name unless He opens our ears and looses our tongues. We cannot hear the Lord, we cannot praise the Lord, we cannot know the Lord, let alone choose Him, on our own. To be sure, this is not a new lesson. You have all confessed in the words of the Catechism: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies, that opens ears and loosens tongues, that creates faith in Jesus our Lord. Not you, not me, not by anyone’s own will and volition.

And that’s what makes this lesson so hard. And that’s what makes this lesson, once learned, so liberating. Honestly, this lesson is what makes one a Lutheran. Faith in Christ Jesus is not a work that you do or a decision that you make. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, the finger of the Lord, given to you as a free and perfect gift. Your ears were closed, He has opened them. Your tongue was tied, He has loosed it. You were unbelieving, He has called you and given you faith. You were spiritually dead, He has raised to you to new life. You could not, would not choose Him, so He chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.

Why is this lesson so hard for us? Well, as enlightened Americans of the 21st century, we consider ourselves independent. We don’t want to have to depend on anyone for anything. We like to believe that if we study hard and work hard that we’ll be able to get good jobs and earn an honest living, purchase our own home, purchase our own car, put our own food on our own table, etc. That’s essentially the American Dream, right? And, in itself, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, as self-centered, self-serving sinners, what we really want is to be our own god. At the very least, we’d like to think that our faith is the result of our own decision and choice.

How then can learning this lesson, that only by the Holy Spirit can we truly hear the Word of the Lord and speak His praise, indeed, even believe in Him, how can learning this lesson be liberating, even make us Lutheran? Because it restores the proper relationship between Creator and creature, between your Lord and your self. You see it’s nothing less than a First Commandment issue: When God is truly your God, then you can realize and receive what it truly means to be His beloved. And that, my friends, is liberating, for it releases you from the bondage of the Law. Now you can serve the Lord and your neighbor, not in fear and guilt or under compulsion, but in response to His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Now you can truly love God and truly love your neighbor, because your Lord loves you, and it is with His perfect love that you love.

Christian faith begins in passivity – it is the Lord who creates, opens, resurrects by the Holy Spirit. We are as fruitless as soil until the Sower sows His Seed. We are as lifeless as Lazarus until the Lord calls to us with His life-giving Word. But we do not remain lifeless, fruitless, or passive, for He who has chosen us has also appointed us to bear fruit. More often than not, the fruit of the Spirit is not quantifiable or countable, but it is a way of being, a way of life – for it is nothing less than, nothing other than, the life of Christ lived in and through us.

What does this Christian life look like? Well, what does the life of Christ look like? What are the qualities that mark the life of Christ? Are they not mercy, love, compassion, forgiveness, grace, charity, peace, humility, selflessness, sacrifice, and the like? These you have received from the Lord in abundance; these He gives to you even now. Your ears have been opened to hear His Word. Your tongues have been loosed to speak His praise. By His finger the Holy Spirit, through the Word of the Gospel, the Lord calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps you. And He who is the True Vine has appointed you His branches to be fruitful. There is nothing for you to do, but there is something glorious for you to be – for you are a member of the very Body of Christ, His Church, His beloved and you have been called to share His life, His love.

Almighty and merciful God, by Your gift alone Your faithful people render true and laudable service. Help us steadfastly to live in this life according to Your promises and finally attain Your heavenly glory.

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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Restoring the Center

The Pawling community was shocked last month by the sudden death of one of its youth, Francis “Frankie” Hughes. Shortly after his death the word began to spread that Frankie died from a heroine overdose. Since then, several arrests of teenagers from our community have been made due to leads discovered in the investigation of Frankie’s death. Today, stunned, parents, teachers, church leaders, town and village boards, and countless others are alarmed, concerned, angry, and afraid. And the questions: How could this have happened? Why are our youth engaging in such risky behavior? What are we going to do to address this? Where did this problem come from? Why didn’t we see it coming?

Some thirty representatives from the above mentioned groups, including myself, met Monday morning (July 28) to discuss this problem. The one hour meeting amounted to little more than an airing of concerns, fears, and frustrations, but it was, nevertheless, the first step towards acknowledging the proverbial elephant in the room. In other words, the problem concerning the risky behavior of our youth is not a new problem and it did not suddenly develop over the course of a few months. And so, there will be another meeting, this time for the entire community, Tuesday, August 12, 7:30pm in the cafeteria of the Pawling Middle Schoolplease plan to be there.

Again, the problem is not a new one and it did not develop in a short period of time. In my opinion, the source of the problem (other than sin!) is the breakdown of the traditional family that began somewhere near the end of the 1950’s. When parents began to be encouraged to refrain from disciplining their children so as not to damage their self-esteem, to never say no, to ask the child’s opinion on decisions traditionally made by the parents (e.g., when to go to bed, what they would like to eat), etc. a fundamental shift in the structure of the family began to occur. No longer were father and mother (husband and wife) the center of the family with the children as satellites (remember the “nuclear family”), but the “nucleus” became replace with the children. Nearly fifty years later, our culture and society has further weakened the family structure with the phenomena of free and easy divorce, single mothers, gay and lesbian civil unions, etc. Further, children now decidedly reign as the center of the family. Particularly it seems in the Northeast, nearly all of the family’s non-working time is dedicated to the felt “needs” of the children. Parents expend countless hours and dollars shuttling their kids to myriad activities and events because they have been convinced, by child family psychologists and by peer pressure that they must do so to build their child’s self-esteem – and, of course, to make sure they have as good or better stuff as all their peers, to ensure their popularity with their peers, and to get them into the right college.

Let me address this boogeyman so-called “self-esteem”. A dictionary definition of self-esteem is “to have a good opinion of oneself.” Now I don’t know about other parents, but I, for one, am pretty certain that my kids were born with a healthy, strong opinion of themselves (or, they developed such rather naturally). Heck, to use Freudian terminology, young children are pure Id, all that they are concerned about is themselves and what serves and pleases them, me, myself, and I. Today parents are supposed to encourage, promote, and strengthen this infantile self-centeredness? Interestingly, there were some older teens present at the July 28 meeting. At one point they were asked what, in their opinion, were the reasons for their peers engaging in risky behavior. Their answer: boredom and – are you ready? – low self-esteem! For nearly fifty years parents have been derided, guilted, and pressured into building their children’s self-esteem and, lo and behold, it hasn’t worked! Youth still feel unfulfilled, there’s still something lacking – what could it be? Give me a break! They’ve been raised as the center of the family since infancy, they’ve been on the receiving end of their parent’s attention, time, and money – what’s lacking? MORE! We’ve made them into Id-iots and Ego-maniacs – they crave more and more attention and everything else they feel they need, and they’re never satisfied! You know what that sounds like? An addiction! Our youth are self-centered addicts who take and take, as we give and give, and can never be satisfied. And, you know what else – it’s YOUR fault (and MY fault), not theirs.

If you’re reading this and any of this matters to you then you have, or have had, school-aged children. This means that you are likely old enough to have not been raised in the most extreme child-centered way described above. So I ask you: Who had the final say in your family as to when you went to bed, what you ate for dinner, whether or not you went to church? When mom & dad had adult company over, did you participate in the conversation or interrupt repeatedly to express your desires, or did you sit quietly listening, speaking when spoken to, or remain out of the room altogether? Did you eat meals nightly with your family, or did you fend for yourself? With some degree of variation, I’m supposing that most of your experiences growing up were like this: Mom and Dad were the central figures of authority in the family. I may not have liked what they commanded, but in the end, their will was done. If I disobeyed I could expect to be disciplined. I knew that my Father and Mother loved me and cared for me. I knew that they forgave me. I knew that I could depend on them. I had a good opinion of myself because of this.

You see, it all goes back to God. God is a Father. God is Love. And God disciplines His children. God commands all of us to Honor your Father and your Mother and He promises that in doing so it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth. Parents have a God given vocation, a calling, to love and discipline their children (love and discipline are not in opposition). Today’s parents have been deceived into believing that they are showing their children love when they are permissive and lax with their children, and that discipline is abuse and diminishes their children’s self-esteem. They have exchanged the truth about God and their God given vocation for a lie. But there are some relatively simple things that parents can do to begin to rebuild their family in the image of God. First, nurture the marriage – this means husband and wife come first. For the family to function properly, the center (the nucleus) must be restored. Second, children should always expect to pay more attention to their parents than their parents will pay to them. Third, children must do as their parents say, and “Because I said so” is a perfectly good reason, no explanation needed.

In regard to the present problem of risky behavior amongst the youth of Pawling, it is not unreasonable for a parent to demand to know the whereabouts of their children at any and all times. A parent should know: Where are you going? Who’s going to be there? What will you be doing? And a parent should state when they’ll be home. At least the evening meal should, when possible, be eaten together as a family. Begin this meal with a prayer of thanksgiving and include any needs or concerns the family might have. And attend church frequently as a family. Ultimately, a family is only as strong as the marriage of mom and dad; and that marriage can only be strong if it is centered and strengthened in Christ.

Your children will know that you love them. They will have a high opinion of themselves because they will know that you, the most important people in their lives, have a high opinion of them. They will know that you love them because you actually care where they are and what they are doing, because nobody else does. Parents, does God love you? Does He expect you to obey Him? Does He discipline you to bring you safely back to Him when you stray? Yes, now go and do likewise, for you are like God to your children. But never lose hope and never quit. Parenting is the most difficult calling God gives, but through it we can experience what it’s like love like God – caring for, disciplining, loving even when your children rebel, fight, curse, and sin. God will bless you, strengthen and keep you because in such a manner He loves you too.

In the love and peace of Christ Jesus
Pastor Ellingworth

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Day of Resurrection (for this week!)

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! The past week has been full of strong discourse, heated exchange, and some self-centered and childish behavior. The spirit of charity, at times, seems almost to have evaporated - mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. If I have hurt anyone beyond the nominal angst that exists where there is disagreement, I am truly sorry and I ask your forgiveness. I likewise hold no one culpable understanding the love for Christ and His body the Church that compels us all.

That being said, as I prepare for the unique honor and privilege of serving the flock of Christ, to whom I have been called as undershepherd to the true and only Good Shepherd, with His most precious and holy gifts, knowing that many I have had the opportunity to dialogue with this week are preparing to do the same, I pray that in the mysterious will and power of God that, despite a particular ecclesiology, the performative and creative Word of God "This is my body given for you" "This is my blood of the new covenant shed for you for the forgiveness of sins" brings into being what He says as He did in the creation, at the raising of Lazarus, and in His Word from the cross "It is finished."

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life + of the world to come.

The Lord of life, love, and forgiveness bless you and continue to make you a rich blessing to others.

Pr. Ellingworth

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Orthodox Intentions?

The following comes from a response to a post found on Father Hollywood's blog. Father H. is responding to Fr. B's concern that the Orthodox are actively, intentionally proselytizing (sheep/shepherd(!) stealing) amongst Lutheran flocks (and other liturgical, sacramental flocks as well). Father H. is "bang-on" -- they are being dishonest. Call it strategizing, marketing -- it's deceptive, and intentionally so -- angels of light.

Dear Paul (Beisel, that is):

As a convert to Lutheranism via the Augsburg Confession, I'm just not affected one way or the other by the doubts and the hand-wringing of the Saxon immigrants. I see Lutheranism as a confession that transcends America and the LCMS. Countries and synods come and go. The whole "validity" thing just isn't one of my "buttons."

My beef is that I can't get straight answers. I know we are using different terms in different ways, in different contexts, and this "talking past one another" makes communication difficult. But still, if there really was a desire for dialogue (and not simply monologue), we could get beyond this impasse.

Now, my Orthodox brethren aren't going to like what I have to say here, but 1) I'm just being honest, 2) This is my blog, 3) Those who "dish" ought to be able to "take" as well, 4) I don't mean any of this personally, and 5) I could be all wrong, and I'm willing to be proven so - but all that has been "proven" in this thread is that I've not been critical enough of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Again, prove me wrong, and I'll change my mind.

Here is the reason behind my beef about not getting straight answers: the Orthodox treat us as brother Christians. When they leave Lutheranism, they all, to a man, gush about how Lutheranism taught them the Gospel, taught them the Scriptures, showed them the liturgy, Christology, etc. They rave about this pastor and that professor, etc. In some cases, we have Orthodox priests (former Lutherans) like Fr. Hogg admitting that the Holy Spirit works in Lutheran churches (but when pressed, he doesn't say the Spirit is doing anything in Lutheran churches other than drawing people away from the Lutheran churches...), or like Fr. Fenton speaking of "Holy Eucharist" and the work of the Holy Spirit in Lutheran churches.

I have heard several Orthodox Christians (some priests, some lay, and some former Lutheran converts to Orthodoxy) speak of us Lutherans (at least in private conversations) as part of the Christian Church. Maybe they have it wrong, but some of these people are pretty learned theologians. Maybe it's a "felicitous inconsistency". But I believe these people are sincere.

But look at the *in*consistency: Many Orthodox admire C.S. Lewis and openly call him a Christian (though he, like us, followed a heretical schism of a heretical schism, was unbaptized, never had absolution nor any sacrament his whole life long). Orthodox churches even belong to the WCC and NCC, take part in all sorts of ecumenical endeavors, speak at Lutheran retreats and symposia, sponsor ecumenical schools that include non-Orthodox Christians as faculty and administration, as well as take an active part in Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

But what has been confessed here is that the Orthodox do not recognize our sacraments (including baptism), our clerical orders, our status as Church, nor even our standing as Christians (they say they actually "don't know" - even though they who claim to be exclusively the ground and pillar of truth led by the Holy Spirit have had 500 years to figure it out, I mean that's 25% of the elapsed time since our Lord's resurrection, how much time do you need?). But they will, at least to our faces, grant us that they "don't know" if we're Christians or not, rather than call us "heretics."

If we *aren't* Christians, they should either "mark and avoid" us or call us to repentance lest we be condemned to hell - they certainly shouldn't be entering all sorts of ecumenical arrangements and pretending that we are brother Christians.

If we *are* Christians, they should acknowledge us such even if we are in some kind of "impaired communion" or even in some kind of schismatic relationship to the the Church.

Now, I did get someone (Christopher Orr?) to admit that we are followers of a heretical religion, and Fr. Hogg spoke of Lutheranism as a "hairesis" - but we as individual Lutherans have a great loophole - we can't be heretics because we don't qualify to be charged with heresy under Orthodox canon law (kind of a "venue and jurisdiction" issue). If we are followers of a heretical religion, are unbaptized, and are outside of the Church, how can someone say they "don't know" if we're Christians or not?

I think the Orthodox, in order to survive in the West, has to "play nice" with the (non)-Christians in their community. They can't come out and say: "You people aren't Christians" - since that would be a turn-off for the millions of potential converts.

Orthodoxy has a "marketing problem" in that sense. They need these heretics to convert to Orthodoxy, but if you call them heretics, that will chase them away. I think there's a little strategizing going on here, and I don't think it's very honest.

Also, I don't believe Orthodoxy is nowhere near as homogeneous as our Orthodox friends want us to think it is - and I think the confusion over what to do with Lutheran baptisms and the resulting individualistic episcopal retroactive hocus-pocus that's called in to deal with it is a result of this confusion and division that the Orthodox would have us think is only in *our* communion.

I've had several Eastern Orthodox priests (none on this forum) explain to me that the Western Orthodox have an intrinsically inferior liturgy, and that WO is really just a "stepping stone" to the East. Once again, it is almost a "marketing strategy." They'll say it to a Lutheran, would they say it to Fenton?

I just don't like being sold a bill of goods. I get the impression that someone is playing a shell game and trying to pull a fast one. But when you ask to see what's under the other shells (just to see if you're being greased), you're told: "Uh, ahem, that's not the right question", given a pat on the head and told to run along and read a book, or are given a quotation that sounds more like the wisdom of Master Po in a flashback scene from Kung Fu than an answer to a simple question.

I really get the impression that many Orthodox apologists feel they have to present themselves as cocksure, but I think a lot of them aren't quite as sure as they would like us to believe they are.

I also think there is great confusion among the Orthodox about our status. But I think they need to convince us that we need to doubt our sacraments and the Holy Spirit's work in our midst, while not driving such a wedge that they can't drop in once in a while for a "sales call."

I honestly don't understand why so many people who leave the LCMS and Lutheranism continue to spend so much time hanging around us. Not all do (Fr. Fenton doesn't seem to care what I or Paul McCain or William Weedon have to say, and good for him - I don't think he should care). I like Fr. Hogg personally, but I still have no idea why he cares a whit what any of us have to say about Orthodoxy or what awful things go on in our churches (if the Orthodox are correct, then the jiggers, the wine going in the trash, and who's in communion with whom are no problem anyway - since there's no church and no sacrament in the first place). He left it behind. He has a new flock. He has a new life and a new vocation. Unless he's trying to "rescue" some of us (what we might call "sheep-stealing" but what the Orthodox would call "evangelizing the non-Christians with the True Faith"), who cares?

I used to be a Baptist, but there isn't a single Baptist blog I even visit, let alone invest a lot of time commenting on. It's not even on the radar screen for me.

Of course, Jack Cascione is the worst. Here's a guy who left the LCMS, but his entire life, it seems, is all about researching, writing, and leading a one-man crusade to "fix" the synod that neither he nor his congregation belong to. Jack needs to collect stamps or take up woodworking or something. He's become a "stalker" and it's not healthy.

I think some of our Orthodox friends are running the risk of getting into the same rut.

Talking for the sake of mutual edification as Christians is a good and noble thing - but that's not what is going on here from their perspective. I think Paul McCain is right that this is about trying to bring about conversions - and I wish our Orthodox brethren would be up-front about it.

When Did I Become A Lutheran? - A layman's confession

Thanks to Rev. Paul McCain for posting this marvelous article on his Cyberbrethren blog. All I can say is Amen! This is exactly why I remain a Lutheran even in the face of a fractured and heterodox church body (synod). Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum - The Word of the Lord endures forever!

A Lutheran layman, a convert, prepared this little essay that I found to be extremely thought-provoking. Perhaps you will as well. Here is what layman Mr. Michael Baker had to say, when asked, "When did you become a Lutheran?"

When Did I Become a Lutheran?

While some bean-counter will tell me that I became a Lutheran when I joined the Lutheran church body to which I belong, I tend to disagree. You see, I am a rarity among converts. I did not even really know anything about Lutheranism until long after I left charismatic Anabaptism. Why did I leave charismatic Anabaptism? I started to read the Bible. When I read the Bible with discernment, I found Scripture that explicitly contradicted many of their teachings. I left because they were teaching false doctrine and I could no longer stomach it.

A few years later, I worked past my disillusion and decided to find a church that did not teach false doctrine. A few years of sulking was not a transition from one church to another. It was a conscious decision born out of years of objective research that measured many Christian and several pseudo-Christian faiths against Holy Scripture and church tradition on a level playing field. I resolved to find the truth and join the faith that best agreed with truth.

At the conclusion of this journey, I selected Lutheranism. I then searched for Lutheran churches and Lutheran church bodies, to find the one that was the most faithful to what I had been reading and what I had come to believe.

My confession: When I set foot in my current congregation, I had to take several trips back to my car to bring in my stacks of theological books and research notes. I held up my copy of the Book of Concord and told the pastor, “This is what I believe. Do you teach and follow this book?”

So I ask, “When did I become Lutheran?”

If I became Lutheran when I confessed Lutheran doctrine, then Lutheranism is objective truth that can be believed and understood – not just corporately, but individually as well. If Lutheranism is true and objective, then it needs no followers to be the correct confession. That is why I selected it. I knew nothing of controversies, synods, and church politics the day that I joyously declared, “I am Lutheran!,” for the first time. I did not know how many problems there may be in actually practicing Lutheranism. But I knew truth when I saw it. At that point, I could not be anything that disagreed with the truth. I should have realized that the ideal of Lutheranism is always practiced by people who are very much sinful human beings. There is no perfection on this planet, no perfection in any Lutheran church either. I get that now.

For me, the truths that are expressed in Lutheranism are objective and imperative. As much as my heart grieves for those who attend a whacked-out congregation that is only pretending to be Lutheran, this has no bearing on the validity of my confession. I confessed Lutheranism long before I joined a corporate body. I confessed it the day that I discovered that I could no longer commune with my family. I confess each day that I learn about a new horrible problem (both real and perceived) within the church body that I am in.

I confess the Book of Concord. My copy of the Book of Concord has my signature inked just below the list of original signatories. That is a very personal and intimate thing for me. I do not confess Lutheranism because I am Lutheran. I am Lutheran because I confess Lutheran teaching. I am Lutheran because I agree with the teachings contained in this book, and that is what people who agree with this book are called.

If extremists on either side of my Lutheran denomination tear it apart, and cause it to schism, I will still confess the teachings of the Book of Concord. If a day comes when my Lutheran church requires me to go against the confessions, I will rebuke her and confess Lutheranism. If I should be stranded on a desolate island for the rest of my life, I will still confess Lutheran doctrine and practice. Real Presence is objectively true. Justification by faith alone is objectively true. As far as the validity of truth is concerned, what others do or think is irrelevant.

If a group calling itself the “Purple Zamboni Church of Lower New Brunswick” takes up the Book of Concord and begins to follow it confessionally as the founders did, then I will encourage my church body to follow their example. If my Lutheran church does not listen, I will leave and join the PZCLNB... and start to lobby for the Zamboni-ists to pick a better name.

Do I confess Lutheranism because I was born Lutheran? No.

...because I like everything I see happening in Lutheran church bodies? No. I don’t.

...because Lutheranism is the rebound faith that I fled to? No rebound here.

...because my pastor is a good guy? No. (He is, but that is beside the point.)

...because I like Lutheran music and liturgy? I hated it at first.

...because I like Germany and Scandinavia? Never been to either locale.

...because I was witnessed to by Lutherans? No, modern Lutherans are horrible at this.

...because I think that Lutherans are better Christians than other Christians? They’re not.

...because Lutherans have all the answers? No. Lutheranism thrives on paradox. Lutheranism can only tell you what it has been told by Scripture. Lutherans have the fewest answers of any Christian confession. They don’t know squat because they don’t make stuff up when things do not make sense.

I confess this confession because no one has been able to show me where it is objectively false. I confess it because I firmly believe that it is the true explanation of God’s Word and stands apart as superior against all other human opinions. I confess it because of the human speculation and opinion that it lacks. I confess it because it is the clearest path to my Crucified and now Risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

Nothing will come between me and this true expression of Christianity... including Lutherans.

This article was copied from Rev. Paul McCain’s blog

Friday, May 30, 2008

Looking East?

There has been a discussion on the Lutherans Looking East list comparing and contrasting Lutheran and Orthodox sermons. First, I wish to state that I have not participated in this discussion because I have concluded that I am not the sort of list member that they desire – that is, I am not a Lutheran looking East. I guess I would have to describe myself as a Lutheran observing the East, watching the East, gleaning from the East when appropriate, but not Looking East with a goal (whether long or short term) of going East. In that regard, I am a Lutheran observing the West as well – West, as in the Western Church, the Roman Catholic Church. I’m sorry Episcopalians, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, etc., I am neither looking nor observing, watching nor gleaning from you, for you are playing an altogether different ballgame. No, though I may be a disgruntled and dissatisfied Lutheran at times, I am a Lutheran, and will remain a Lutheran, for I am drawn to the Truth (and He incarnate!), and I continue to find that Truth in the confessional faith that remains the bedrock of the Lutheran Church. Yes, yes, yes, I know, I know, I know – look at the disparate practice of Lutheran congregations; look at the varying interpretations of the Lutheran Confessions that exist; look at the lack of ecclesial authority to reprove and correct false teaching within the Lutheran Synods; yes, yes, yes, I know, I know, I know. The Truth is not affected, nor can It be changed. There is no visible Church – God continue to keep and protect the invisible Body of Christ.

Now, about sermons. What makes a sermon Lutheran? One might rightly presume a careful division of the Law and the Gospel, with the Gospel predominating. Though you will likely not find this coming from every Lutheran pulpit, I think that this sort of homiletic is emblematic of Lutheran preaching. Where this distinction is not made with intention I observe that Lutheran preachers often fall into the trap of proclaiming only the Gospel or admonishing with only the Law. In the case of the former, the people are at risk of antinomian indulgence. In the latter case the risk is self-righteousness or overbearing guilt, fear, and despair. That being said, one of the reasons that I am a convicted Lutheran is because I have never heard the Gospel proclaimed as sweetly in any other denomination as in even the most moderate of Lutheran churches.

Beyond the Law / Gospel distinction, however, there is little that could be said to be unique to or emblematic of Lutheran sermons. This is due to the myriad problems that I listed above. The greater part of North American Lutheran history would suggest that the sermon was the highpoint of the Divine Service. But no small minority of Lutheran pastors today would say that the Holy Eucharist is the clear pinnacle of the Divine Service with the Introit, Lessons, and even the sermon serving as preparation for the banquet in which Christ comes to us physically and spiritually and dwells with and in us, His flesh united with ours, His blood coursing through our veins. Viewed as preparation for this foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end, preaching will utilize highly sacramental and incarnational imagery and didactic. The goal is that Christ’s people come to His banquet in humble but confident faith, in selfless, sacrificial love for both God and neighbor. For me, and for many of my colleagues, this is emblematic of the typical Lutheran sermon.

The participants in the Looking East discussion also have stated that Orthodox sermons tend to focus on love much more than Lutheran sermons. Perhaps that is true, but again, I know that I preach about the love of God in Christ Jesus and the implications of that love for Christians in the world but not of the world in nearly every sermon I’ve ever preached. Certainly I’ve heard Lutheran sermons that were essentially Bible studies read from a pulpit, but I’ve heard many more that proclaimed the selfless, sacrificial love of God in Christ Jesus that enables us to love others as He has so abundantly loved us. Come on, love is what the Christian faith is all about! God IS love. Greater love is NOT POSSIBLE than one lay down His life for His friends. LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVE YOU. Divine love is known in action; divine love is a creative activity. It is useless to pontificate about love, to philosophize about love, to quote the fathers on love -- love must be experienced and love must be given (shared). Divine love is known in the Eucharistic Feast (which the sermon helps to prepare you to receive).

I often think that the “church” on earth is going through a humbling trial in this present age. Faithful Christians are being forced to return to the Word alone as they watch their institutional structures plagued by division, scandal, financial crisis, ceaselessly dividing. Even as my own institutional house is in disorder, the Truth remains unchanged. The invisible Church cannot be divided or broken, nor defeated. Where should we go? Christ Jesus has the Word of eternal life. There’s no need to look East, West, North, South or any other way the wind might blow.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pirate Christian Radio?

Issues, Etc. is (or soon will be) back on the air, internet, and downloadable podcast. Details of when and where you can listen are forthcoming. For the meantime, check out
for a foretaste of what’s to come. Jeff Schwarz and Todd Wilkin will return with engaging, thought provoking interviews with experts, worldwide church leaders, and newsmakers that impact our Christian lives in the world today. The new Issues, Etc promises to be even better than the previous. If you’ve never tuned in before, there is no better time to start.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Lamb Standing As Though Slain

The cliche "forgive and forget" is pure law, not to mention unbiblical. I can't forget. You can't forget. Let's be honest, it's hard enough to forgive! Moreover, God doesn't forget either. What about Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17? Well, the key word there is "remember", there is no mention of "forget". Further, it is contrary to God's immutable and omniscient qualities to forget. If God could forget, then it stands to reason that His promises of remembrance would necessarily lose some degree of their certainty and comfort.

In the passages from Hebrews mentioned above, remembrance is a conscious act of the will, an act of volition. God says " I will remember...". Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures does it say that God forgets sins or that he has forgotten them. Passages such as Psalm 103:12 speak to the fullness and perfection of God's forgiveness, but in no way to His forgetting.

Legalists and Pietists (pardon the redundancy) read into God's Word a new law commanding that we must forgive and forget like God. Like their Pharisaical predecessors, they place new shackles upon those whom God had freed, binding them under impossible commands and burdening consciences with guilt and fear. No, the faithful need not oppress themselves striving to forget the sins committed against them; rather, the faithful strive to not remember them, and when painful sins are remembered, to remember that forgiveness has been given, first to the trespassed against, and also to the trespasser.

Forgiveness is a selfless, sacrificial act of volition. One cannot be forced to forgive, but forgiveness must flow from forgiveness, just as love flows from love, sacrifice from sacrifice, mercy from mercy, etc. Understood in this way, the revealed truth that God forgives but does not forget can be seen for the selfless, sacrificial act of volition that it is. God forgives despite the burden and the hurt of sin, He bears it willingly and releases you. Does this not make His forgiveness all the more meaningful. He hasn't forgotten your sin, but He forgives you anyway; and His forgiveness is perfect, meaning, He will never bring it up again. Likewise, when you forgive others, you do not always forget -- some hurts you will never forget -- but you forgive anyway, you let it go, you release the ones who hurt you and do not hold their sin against them, because in this manner God has so richly and abundantly forgiven you.

Of course, God forgives you on account of the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And as an eternal mnemonic device of the sin forgiven and the sacrifice that made that forgiveness possible, the Lamb of God still bears the wounds of His atoning death. When the Father gazes upon His Son's wounds He remembers the width and the breadth and the depth of His love for His Son and for you -- selfless, sacrificial love. When we gaze upon those wounds we remember the debt we owed, the price He paid, and the value of the forgiveness we have. We want to, we need to behold those glorious scars, for there is the proof and the guarantee of our forgiveness. We know all too well that God has not forgotten and that by all rights we deserve His wrath and eternal damnation. This is why we remember those wounds when we eat the Lamb's broken body and drink His shed blood -- it is a proclamation of His death, a reminder to ourselves and to the Father that we are forgiven.

The homiletical illustration of the nail in the fencepost is a bit cliched, but in reference to the wounds of Christ for our sin remains powerfully visual. The illustration has, typically, a young person being made to hammer a nail into a fence post each time he or she, say, loses their temper. After a while, usually a long while, the young person begins to lose their temper less frequently; it's easier to control the temper than to continually drive nails into the post. Once the proverbial corner has been rounded, the young person begins to remove nails each day they manage to control their temper. Once all the nails are removed, the young person is directed to gaze upon the holes in the post that remain. The moral of the story being this: no matter how many times you apologize or try to right a wrong, even with the forgiveness of the offended, the wounds, the hurt, the hole in the post still remains.

God forgives, but He does not forget. The wounds of Jesus are an eternal testament to the Father's forgiveness and His selfless, sacrificial love poured out in His Son. Thanks be to God that the holes remain. Thanks be to God that the Lamb stands, alive, victorious, as though slain, still bearing the marks of His atoning, selfless and sacrificial death.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Oh, the Places You See and the People You Meet

Pawling, New York is a quiet, comfortable, and seemingly safe little village..., that just happens to be located about 60 miles north of Manhattan. We have our share of celebrities as locals: Soledad O'Brien, James Earl Jones, Sally Jesse Rafael to name a few. But then there are those just passing through. Yesterday, as I was leaving Dutchess Rehabilitation Center (a nursing home and physical rehab. center) I passed by Richard Simmons in his red, white, and blue, stars and stripes gym shorts and a strappy tank top, frizzy perm and all. He was surrounded by a group of Jewish men wearing yarmulkes. Dutchess Rehab. has a bariatric unit that works with extremely obese men and women. I'm guessing that is why Simmons was there. Thanks God for making life interesting.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

With Desire, I Have Desired

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. St. Luke 22:14-20

The Holy Triduum (Three Days) of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are rightly considered the Passion of our Lord Jesus the Christ. Passion is a word that has many connotations in contemporary English: great love, strong emotion, firm conviction, even lust. In Middle English, and in Latin prior, however, the word passion referred to suffering, particularly Christ’s suffering, beginning, most pointedly, on Holy Thursday.

Truly Jesus began His Passion Thursday evening as He reclined to eat the Passover with His disciples. He said “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” The two words “earnestly desired” are, in Greek transliteration, epithumia epithumāsa, two forms of the same word “desire”. Jesus says literally “with desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you.” This kind of intentional redundancy was a common rhetorical device in the ancient world, both in the Hebrew and in the Greek languages, to emphasize the importance, depth, or significance of something. Jesus’ earnest desire to eat the Passover with His disciples is best understood when one considers the type of love He had for them. Jesus’ type of love is essentially defined in John 15:3 - Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Greater love is not possible than the sacrificial love that Jesus was about to exhibit for His friends in the Passover meal and in His bitter suffering and death.

Of course, this was no ordinary Passover meal. Jesus, the Great Rabbi (Teacher), interpreted the Passover meal, indeed the entire account of the exodus out of captivity and bondage in Egypt, in terms of Himself as its fulfillment. The unleavened bread of the Passover is Jesus’ body. The wine in the Cup of Blessing is His blood. And as the angel of death sheathed His sword and passed over the Hebrew posts and lintels marked with the Passover lamb’s blood, so death cannot claim those so marked with the Holy Blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Greater love is not possible!

Jesus so loved His disciples, and all men, that from the very bowels of His being He earnestly desired to fulfill the Passover for them. In passionate agony and bloody sweat He prayed three times to His Father that there might be another way, but submitted, willingly, to His Father’s will. The Lamb of God went uncomplaining forth to die, His blood marking the post and lintel of His cross that the Angel of death might pass over once again. It is fulfilled, it is finished.

Still, our resurrected and ascended Lord and Savior Jesus Christ earnestly desires to eat the Passover with you. From the bowels of His love and compassion He eagerly desires to sup with you. Still He offers to you His holy body, His holy blood in remembrance of His Passion and for the forgiveness of your sins. This is but a foretaste of the feast to come, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end, but He is present with His Words and His Wounds to join you to Himself now, that you may eat and drink with Him in the Kingdom of God.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Blessed Easter
Pastor Ellingworth

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ad latus (to the side)

This Lent for our Wednesday evening Vespers I have been preaching a series of Meditations on the Bodily Sufferings of the Christ on the Cross. The inspiration comes from St. Bernard of Clairvaux's 12th century Rythmica Oratio, a series of poems addressed to the different members of Christ's body on the cross: ad pedes (to the feet), ad genua (to the knees), ad manus (to the hands), ad latus (to the side), ad pectus (to the breast), ad cor (to the heart), and ad faciem (to the face or head). This sort of mystical contemplation is handed down in Lutheranism through Buxtehude's cantatas Membra Jesu Nostri and the more familiar hymn O Sacred Head, Now Wounded by Paul Gerhardt.

Wednesday in Laetare

Ad latus (to the side)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Upon the First Adam, the LORD God caused a deep, death-like sleep to fall. And while the First Adam slept, the LORD God took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. That rib the LORD God made into a woman and then He presented her to Adam. Adam recognized her at once saying, This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Then Moses records for us in Genesis 2:24 the LORD God’s institution of marriage: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Now Genesis 3:15 is typically referred to as the protoevangelium or “First Gospel”, because, after the Fall into sin, God responds, in a curse upon the serpent, the devil, by promising that a seed, a descendent of Eve would crush Satan’s head and destroy his power. However, I posit to you that the prior verse, Genesis 2:24, is a Gospel proclamation which precedes the traditional First Gospel.

The reason that the proclamation, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh, is a Gospel proclamation is because a fuller meaning than mere human marriage was to be fulfilled in our Lord, Savior, and Bridegroom Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Second Adam, a new, better, perfectly human Son of God. Where the First Adam failed, the Second Adam is faithful. Jesus too was tempted by Satan, not once, but three times; not in a lush garden paradise where life was easy and comfortable and food plentiful, but in a barren desert wilderness where He had been fasting for forty days and was hungry. He resisted the devil by faithfully trusting in the Word of God, not adding to it or subtracting from it.

The LORD God caused also a deep, death-like sleep to come upon His Son, Jesus the Christ, the Second Adam, as He sent Him to the cross to die for the First Adam’s, and for all sons and daughters of the First Adam’s, sin. There, on that cursed tree, the LORD God made Him who knew no sin to become sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Protesting not that He was innocent, that He was God, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient, obedient even unto death on the cross.

Therefore a man – The Man – left His Father in heaven and the glories thereof; therefore a man – The Man – left His mother Mary…, that He might hold fast to His wife…, and that the two become one flesh.

As the Second Adam slept in death-like sleep, the LORD God opened His side. A centurion thrust his spear through Jesus’ side and out of His opened side issued, not a rib, but blood and water. As the LORD God from the rib He removed from Adam’s side made for him a wife, so the LORD God from the pure blood of Holy Communion and the recreating water of Holy Baptism, flowing from the pierced side of Jesus, made for His Son a wife, a bride, the Church, that the two might become one flesh. This is He who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.

It is the precious blood and the holy water of Christ that makes the Church His pure and holy Bride. We are birthed from His pierced side chaste and clean. Apart from Him we are unclean; we are no Eve “the mother of all the living” but the progenitors of sin and death. We are more like Hosea’s prostitute bride. But our Bridegroom has loved His Bride and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her, having cleansed Her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. The one flesh union of the Second Adam and the New Eve, of the Bridegroom Christ and His Bride the Church, is refreshed, renewed, nourished, sustained, and, yes, even consummated, in the Eucharistic Feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You eat His body, your flesh is united with His flesh; you drink His blood, and His blood courses through your veins. You are one flesh, one body, and He is the head of His body the Church. You are as intimately united as husband and wife, indeed as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.

Hail, side of the Savior
wherein sweet honey is found,
wherein love’s power is revealed,
from which pours a fountain of blood
which cleanses foul hearts.

Behold, I approach You.
Pardon, Jesus, if I am in Your debt.
With reverent countenance
I come to You of my own will
to behold Your wounds.

In the hour of death, may my breath
enter, Jesus, Your side.
Expiring from me may it enter You;
lest the fierce lion pounce,
let it dwell with You.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Contented Nihilism?

So, we live in a Post-Modern, Post-Christian age. The Church has tried to respond to this reality in many and various ways. Some have tried to embrace it, maintaining that "Post-Moderns" are at least open to spirituality, if not tradition. Others have determined to "ride it out", planting their feet firmly in tradition and reassuring themselves by the timeless promises of Christ to those who persevere. While others, still, try to ignore or deny our Post-Modern culture.

While I was never in favor of embracing the Post-Modern philosophy and/or worldview, I once thought that the Church could take advantage of the seeming openness of Post-Moderns to spirituality. I don't think that any longer. While we cannot ignore or deny the Post-Modern worldview, we can neither embrace it. It's like the cliche that I'm now infamous for saying in my congregation: "If you dance with the devil, pretty soon he's going to take the lead."

What I observe today is a sort of contented nihilism. People, young people especially, seem to not really believe in any sort of existence after death -- and they're content, happy, with that. There's no concern, no despair, just..... nothing. It seems to me that eastern philosophy has finally impregnated western culture and given birth. This is Star Wars Buddhism at its worst. The following are lyrics from a song I actually enjoy very much which capture this contented nihilism of which I'm writing:

Death Cab for Cutie
"I Will Follow You Into the Dark"

Love of mine some day you will die
But I'll be close behind
I'll follow you into the dark

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark
If heaven and hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs

If there's no one beside you
When your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark

This sweet sounding little song expresses a sentiment of jaded hopelessness -- at the best, purgatory; at the worst, kind of a melancholy death wish akin to many Romantic Period British poets. It seems that non-existence is preferable, for many Post-Moderns, to any kind of religious, spiritual belief in an after-life. Perhaps non-existence is preferable to existence, now!

The same band, on the same album, expresses this sentiment: "Love is watching someone die." Now, to be fair, that lyric is from a song called "What Sarah said", and it's really quite a nice, meaningful song about a man who is dying and appreciates the love that his wife shows him by waiting, watching, and ministering to him as he dies. At the end of the song he laments "Who's going to watch you die?", because he will be gone. But even with that poignant sentiment, there's no sense of a life after death of any kind, not the least a Christian understanding of eternal life.

I'm not optimistic about the potential to reach Post-Modern youth. To use Marx's phrase today, Post-Modernism is the "opiate of the masses". Our youth are on philosophical drugs. They are so thoroughly saturated by and under the influence of this Neo-Relativism that, not only are they incapable of seeing the truth, they don't care to see it or even believe that there is such a thing. God help them. Only He can.

A Singular Gift

The picture is of my, now departed, Lucy. I loved that cat. She had such a personality. Now, my other siamese, Maddie, is near the end of her run. So, here I am thinking about death. And life. And love. And why. And... . Anyway, when Lucy died, three years ago, I wrote the following prose-poem. Again, it is deeply personal, so I beg your pardon and ask that you oblige me, or, simply, don't read it if you are repulsed by such sentimentality. But, I think that this poem succinctly confesses my understanding of man's relationship with the animal world, and with nature in general, that is why I share it with you.

A Singular Gift

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’.” Genesis 1:27-28

Lucy, you were, and are, a precious gift of God.
You were preparation for a child when I was childless.
You were a reflection, a dim, but true, shadow of unconditional love and child-like faith.
God gave you to me, a gift, to love and to care for; you gave back to me, a gift, His love.
Your simple trust, innocence, and contentment are, for me, a symbol of the faith that God desires: simple, unencumbered, prepared to receive, content.

Nothing made you happier than to be with me, to knead your paws upon my middle.
Your eyes would close in blissful contentment and your purr would rumble from the depths of your happy heart.
You were gentle, loving, and gregarious beyond expectation of your breed.
You were a friend and a companion honest and true.

You did not withhold yourself from me, and, for six years, I did not withhold from you.
When the children came, you took a diminished place, as was proper and necessary.
Yet, in the quiet times, you were always ready to share time with me when I would share it with you.

Temptation to mourn the brevity of your life arises, naturally – but, what could that mean?
The time we had was the time that was given, and there is no other.
You were a gift, a singular gift – not even the most important gift – but a gift, nonetheless.
I thank my Father for you – for the time, and now, for the memories.
And I hope, that, in some unknown way, I was a gift of God to you.
I will remember you with tearful joy.
I love you, my Lu.