Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Subduing the earth

At our house we've been working on the biggest project in family history. We're remodelling the bathroom, and since I'm a poor preacher (or so they tell me), it is necesssary that I learn to do as much of it as I can by myself. So in my spare time I've been a carpenter: tearing walls and floors apart, removing old tiles, old shower, old sink, etc.; building new structures here and there, putting up insulation, drywall, and cement board. We have a contracter working with me, but I've been doing things alongside of him every step of the way to reduce his hours of labor. We're finally to the point where most of the new light fixtures are in, new electrical, some new plumbing, new shower, new tub, new sink, and now stone tiles for the countertop and floor are going in. Soon we'll be finished.

Every night I go to bed sore, and wake up stiff. What a way to get in shape.

As I was mixing mortar today, I got to musing on the fact that this is what man does: he fills the earth and subdues it. He makes things do what he wants them to do. He puts them in order, by the sweat of his brow, even as Christ did in our redemption.

Jesus was a carpenter. That isn't just an interesting point of trivia. It means he was raised by Joseph in the trade of subduing the earth. This was a token of the redemption he would work.

Some say that the most godly places on earth are serene natural settings: sunsets, glaciers, canyons, mountains, etc. I think not. Raw nature can be beautiful, to be sure, but it generally needs to be tamed. It needs man. The most godly place on earth, therefore, has to be a place which man has crafted from the raw materials of earth. The most godly place on earth is a temple.

Destroy this temple, said Jesus, and in three days I will raise it.

The resurrected Christ has subdued the earth. It's something to appreciate when you're in the midst of a remodelling project.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Preaching and His Word

O preachers, it is written that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

That is, do not think yourself wise if you think that the beginning of wisdom is within you. Do you hold the Sacred Scriptures in the highest regard? Do you really believe them to be God’s Word? That all matters of faith and confession are to be answered by the Scriptures? Is Sola Scriptura your motto? And your preaching Bible-based and Christ-centered?

Then do not say that the Word of God needs to be made relevant. Do not they think of yourself as the filter through which the Word of God becomes relevant, something that the people can relate to, something they can take home with them. Do not think the sermon becomes the making relevant of the Word of God, putting it into terms we already understand. Do not make the preparation of a sermon an exercise in taking something from Scripture and using it to launch into something else, something you find easy to hear. So, for instance, a sermon on the multiplication of loaves and fish for the four thousand, ought to be more than a discourse on how able Jesus is to provide for our needs. The details are not to be omitted or ignored, or deemed insignificant. Take notice of the fact that the loaves and fish were brought by a boy who seems to have more faith than the disciples do. Consider how Jesus says to make the men recline where there was much grass, a link to the Twenty-third psalm. In short, do not preach something you find in the shrine of your heart to preach. Rather, preach something you have found in the words of the Gospel themselves.

If men would become true preachers of the Gospel, whose preaching they expect others to hold sacred and gladly hear and learn, they must learn how it is that their preaching will be in truth the very Word of God. It will not be if it is only something they themselves have dreamed up and hoped would be relevant. Rather, it must be something to which their hearts are held captive, which they have learned upon a musing on the sacred words themselves. For in this musing the Holy Ghost is present, as Luther also said.

But this will never happen among those who presume to know better than the words upon with they preach. Who for instance might find it too dangerous a thing simply to say, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you,” for they worry that someone might take them literally. What? They don’t think Jesus thought of that? They know better than He about what might be an ill-advised thing to say? Or again, they might find it too immodest to preach those texts which happen to refer to the breasts of a mother. That might be too embarrassing. Or they might think it too violent to preach about the bloody texts of murder or its vindications. What would the children think? Or—here it gets really dangerous—they might think themselves too loving to preach the imprecatory psalms. So what do they do with them? They simply ignore them, ignore those words of the Holy Ghost. For they know better, they are wiser than that, they know their people, and they know what might be offensive to them. So they say. And thus, beginning in ever so innocent a way, they listen to the shrines of their hearts over the written revelation of God.

O preachers, rather, be captive to that Word, not only in a general sense, but in very specific ways. If Scripture rebukes, you must rebuke; where Scripture becomes graphic you must be graphic; when Scripture is frank you must be frank.

Yet on the other hand, do not be more so than Scripture. Do not speak openly about shameful things which are done in secret; do not attempt a shock treatment on their hearers with a load of terms and descriptions Scripture does not use, especially when dealing with matters pertaining to sexual conduct and thought. Here, Scripture uses circumlocution very consistently. Thus, so must you. Though Scripture may be graphic about the battlefield, it is never graphic about the bedroom. You must follow suit.

You must, in a word, follow Scripture. You must not employ Scripture—Scripture must employ you. You must muse on the Scripture you are preaching, search it, rather than simply musing on what you might be able to say about it from your own resources. You must hear the Scriptures preaching to you first, and only then will you be ready to preach the Scriptures. You must regard especially the words of Christ as His sermons to you, and then when you yourselves preach, you will be preaching His sermons, His Word.

Simply, submit to His Word and fear it with a holy respect and reverence; that is the beginning of wisdom for preachers.

Adapted from a 1999 article.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Meditation on Pentecost

According to Moses, Pentecost was observed by the bringing of new offerings, on the fiftieth (pentecoste) day after the day after the Sabbath following the Passover. So Jesus (our Passover) instituted the Holy Sacrament at twilight before His crucifixion, rested in the tomb on the Sabbath (Saturday), and rose from the grave on the day after. Fifty days later comes Pentecost on which a new offering is given, that is, a new age of the Spirit inaugurated. Today Christ's promise to His disciples is fulfilled, as the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, is sent to them, and they begin to declare His peace to the nations assembled there, on the fiftieth day from Easter. Pentecost, for seven is creation=s number, and forty-nine is creation squared, creation fulfilled; fifty then begins the age of the new creation. Sunday, because this is the third and final great Sunday of history, Creation Sunday being the first and Easter Sunday the second. So on Pentecost Sunday all is fulfilled, when the Spirit begins to give life to the Church through apostolic preaching.

--Burnell F. Eckardt Jr., Every Day Will I Bless Thee (Sussex, Wis.: Concordia Catechetical Academy, 1998), s.v. The Feast of Pentecost. To Purchase this book for $21.00, go pages 2-3 of the online catalog for the Concordia Catechetical Academy for ordering information, then click here for their printable order form to mail in your order (their online bookstore is currently under construction).