Sunday, July 29, 2007

Luther on False Prophets

As I pondered the Gospel for this morning's sermon (St. Matthew 7:15-23), I decided to take a look at Luther's sermon for Trinity VIII, in the Lenker Postils, as I occasionally do. It was rewarding, as ever. Luther cuts to the chase: since Jesus tells His disciples to "beware of false prophets," therefore it is the duty of every Christian, man, woman, and child, to learn to do this. The reason is that no one can rely on the word of anyone, whether councils or popes or even Peter or Paul, when standing before the judgment throne of God. He goes on to say that Peter and Paul, of course, do not preach themselves, but Christ; yet his point remains a clear and good one. Before Christ's judgment, one can rely only on His words.

Much has been written and debated about the ultimate authority on which we may rely, and people have rightly pointed out that even the Scriptures came forth from the Church. Yet this can be misleading. For, as the Scriptures declare, holy men of God wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Thus they are not the words of men but of God, delivered through men.

False prophets abound everywhere, and there is no defense against them in the words of other men. For, as this Gospel declares, they say, Lord, Lord, and they cast out demons and do wonderful works in His name. They wear ingenious disguises, that is. The only defense against them is the word of God.

But what is that word? And who interprets it? On this point, the Lutheran forefathers have made two most helpful contributions to the debate. First, that the Scriptures interpret themselves; and second, that they are clear. That is not to say that all parts are clear, but certainly that they are clear where they need to be, where God knows they need to be.

Here is where the Holy Liturgy is so helpful, for it directs us to those points. Framed by the Our Father, Christ's words of Institution are at the pinnacle of the Liturgy: My Body and My Blood are given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

No interpreter is needed here. It is simple and clear, provided you can understand language at all. Not only so, but by these words, His Body and Blood are given to us here as well.

This makes Christ Himself the Good Tree, which produces Good Fruit, as the Psalmist also declares. For He was hanged on a tree, and there came forth from his limbs the Fruit of the Vine (I am the Vine, said He), His holy Blood.

See, no popes or councils, no official church declarations or positions, no synods or decrees are needed. Therefore we are glad to affirm, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Great Convention Blog

OK, now that I'm back from vacation, I can catch up a bit. But I don't really have to post anything about the convention, because I find to my great delight that it's already been done, by Pastor Rick Stuckwisch on his blog (click here to read it). That was his first post after the convention, and a more recent one is here at his home page. Both are great reads, and they say exactly what I was thinking. Thanks, Rick, you saved me the work!

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Little Convention Fun

I'll leave the deep, serious, abiding matters of the LCMS Convention for others to blog about in depth--things like the ramifications of the reelection of President Kieschnik, but by only 52% of the vote; the unprecedented shut-out of all floor nominations by a clever new standing rule that somehow had us asking the convention each time a single name was introduced, and the requirement that each time the name was introduced, mention had to be made of the recent lawsuit on everyone's mind and whether or not the nominee was a plaintiff (at least I can't recall ever having seen such shenanigans before, and this is my seventh convention); the declaration of altar and pulpit fellowship with the AALC, a small synod comprised of parishes that had left the old ALC when it merged with the LCA to get the ELCA (I was a bit pleased by that action, actually)--and I'll just mention in passing that although this is only the second day of the convention, and there's still much to do, so who knows what will happen.

But in the meantime I had a little fun. At a certain point when the voting boxes weren't working and everyone was just sitting and waiting, and the Synodical President told a few bad jokes, I took the down time to write a little poem, and then I brought my poem to the floor. With permission, I read it to the delegates, to their evident satisfaction, and even applause. Here it is:

There once was a Synod convention
Which endured not a little contention
But they all had to sit
When the vote boxes quit
And declare, What a splendid invention!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Sleight of Hand

Yeah, I think I'm convinced. Wasn't sure at first, but I can't come up with an alternative explanation for this.

LCMS President Gerald Kieschnik, smiling nearby, took great pains to ensure that all of us Synodical Delegates were duly elected. How very thoughtful. But actually, what we Synodical Delegates were really wondering was whether our votes would really matter, in view of the shenanigans that seem to have transpired in recent years.

See, there was—for the benefit of the uninformed—this little lawsuit a few years back, about the question of suspected illegitimate circuit divisions and the mustering up of more delegates to reelect the incumbent the last time around. That was finally settled out of court, but then along came Rev. Fred Baue with a letter to all delegates explaining, quite intelligently and succinctly, how he remained unconvinced. Very convincing letter, that. Verrry convincing. Like, where did all these delegates come from, when the size of Synod is shrinking? How come they mostly came from districts favorable to the president's re-election in 2004? How come the "exceptions" he granted didn't seem to have sufficient logic? The bylaws permit the President to grant exceptions to the general rules in extraordinary cases, but up to now it was always taken for granted that the extraordinary cases would be just that: extraordinary, and rare. Now the exceptions started popping up like crazy. These were, as I understood them, Rev. Baue's points, which, I thought, were sensible and sound. They certainly raised some questions in my own mind, just when I was beginning to wonder if this entire lawsuit clamor was so much ado over nothing.

So anyhow, President Kieschnik sends this blue ribbon committee to "investigate" the matter, and, sure enough, he reports, Ta Da! They found that everything was done properly. At least, that's what his cover letter said. And that's what the first three or four points of the report also said.

But I kept reading the thing, and, strangely, the last points didn't seem to be saying that at all. The whole tenor of the last part was, I thought, one of a large however.

As in: true, the President didn’t actually break any rules: however, we did find some curious discrepancies which merit further investigation . . .

In other words, the entire report seems to exonerate Rev. Baue, but only if you read the entire report. If you’re an ordinary lay delegate who wants to take his appointment seriously, but you really haven’t got the kind of time you'd like to take to look this all over, since you have other things to do like milking the cows or whatnot, you might well just read the first part, or even the whole thing, but with the President’s preliminary remarks in mind, and finally shrug, scratch your head, and say, Yup, somebody was unhappy with the results of the lawsuit situation, so tried to makes something out of nothing, and here’s the report to prove it. Sure, it seems there’s something minor in the later points, but hey, that’s nothing.

In fact, I recently talked to a Synodical official about my concerns, and he said just that! Naww, you go back and read it again, and you’ll see . . .

Well, I already knew what I read. If you take the report—the whole report—at face value, and you just might begin to see what Rev. Baue has been saying all along, namely that something does smell a bit fishy after all.

Oh, and by the way, I happened to have the opportunity to talk face to face with one of the men who sat on that committee, over drinks, so I asked him about what I had observed. Was I missing something? Nope, he said. You’re exactly right.

Hah. I knew it.

So, to the two or three of you who might actually be worried about whether you’re a legitimate delegate, I hate to rain on your parade, but my recommendation to you is simple: never trust a guy who has a personal stake in making assurances to you. We have a name for that: conflict of interest.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Grammarian, V

The Old Testament for this morning's mass is another instance of the superiority of the KJV (from whose subservience Fr Petersen reportedly remains on the lam). The Aaronic Blessing reads, "The Lord bless thee and keep thee, etc." Thee, not you. A little lesson in King's English grammar reminds us that "ye" and "you" are plural, while "thee" and "thou" are singular, and there are no exceptions to this rule. Modern translations all blur this distinction, because, of course, modern English in general has abandoned the distinctions between singular and plural in the second person. The pericope from Deuteronomy indicates that these words are to be spoken to the children of Israel; nevertheless it is "thee" not "you."

So the question arises: why?

And the answer is: Israel is addressed as one here, the son of Isaac. One nation, one people, one person. Ultimately for the people of Christ, upon whom the ends of the ages has come, this means that we who are many are one body in Christ, indeed one body of Christ.

Especially is this manifest to us who have just partaken in the Body of Christ at the altar. Hence, the Aaronic benediction is reserved only for mass, and not for prayer offices. It hearkens first to the solidarity of Israel as one son of Isaac, who is the only-begotten son of promise (Ishmael doesn't count, remember); and it hearkens ultimately to the fulfillment of this in Christ the only-begotten Son of God.

At Mass, the body of Christ feeds on the Body of Christ: Holy things for holy people, as the Greeks traditionally say.

All this is succinctly put in the grammatical singular: The Lord bless thee.