Sunday, November 29, 2009
The crowds lining the streets of Jerusalem hailed their king, as they spread their garments in the way, and on the First Sunday in Advent we remember that at every Feast of the Sacrament we join them, echoing their song with the words of the Sanctus. We spread our garments in his way, in which are wrapped all of our fears, sorrows, sins, troubles, and ailments. His beast treads on them all,as he goes the way of the cross to redeem us from them all.
Advent is surely a time of penitential sorrow as we prepare our hearts to receive Christ, but it is also a time of great expectation and joy. For between his first coming and his second advent, he comes right now into our midst in this blessed feast, and we receive him, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet, "I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts."
(as an aside, I wonder and grieve over the many churches who still cannot see fit to celebrate the Holy Supper every Lord's Day, particularly on this day when hear in the Holy Gospel of the first utterance of those words which so brilliantly appear in our Sanctus. How could they not?)
Christ's coming is threefold: in the past, to be born in Bethlehem, in the future, as a return in glory, and in the present, in the Holy Sacrament. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!
Here's the audio of today's sermon.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is the Gospel for the Last Sunday after Trinity, which is highlighted well by the queen of chorales, "Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying." We discussed it on our radio show, set for airing Sunday. For regular weekly downloads of that show, check out www.stpaulsontheair.blogspot.com. But for a sampling, here is Sunday program, and the sermon preached:
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Of course I know what Luther was getting at when he assailed the Romanist ex opera operato error. His chagrin over the peasants who thought they could be saved from the wrath of God without faith, if only they gave indulgences, or if only the mass was performed for them, is pretty well known. Sort of reminds me of that old Star-Trek episode in which some extra-terrestrial is having Kirk and Spock over for dinner, and, in place of saying grace, he has some Hindu-ish guy come in and hit a gong. Sure, that counts, doesn't it? Well, I think that's the kind of mischief Luther had in mind when he decried ex opera operato -- by the work worked -- and insisted instead that the means of grace are to be understood instead as opera operantis -- works working and producing faith.
On the other hand it seems to me there's also a kind of mischief that obtains if we go into apoplexy any time a hint of ex opera operato is sniffed, because there is a way in which this phrase may be understood as having a proper and salutary meaning.
The power of the sacraments is not effected by faith; it is received by faith. And there's a huge difference. For if the former were true, then I would have to wonder about my faith, whether it was sufficient to do the trick, and I would be depending upon how reflexive my faith was, and, in the end, would be resting my salvation on something in me, namely my believing, rather than on something in Christ, namely His grace.
I was thinking about this as I visited a shut-in today, who was fretting over the fact that she couldn't remember anything, that her memory wasn't serving her well. And I assured her that what matters is that her Lord remembers her.
This got me thinking about the Sacrament, and about doing it "in remembrance" of Him. A recent issue of Gottesdienst has a great article by Chaplain Jonathan Shaw about the matter of who is chiefly to be thought of as doing the remembering there: Christ. Just as the angel of death saw the blood on the Israelites' doorposts, and it was the angel that did the remembering, and so passed over their houses, so also it is God who remembers the meaning of the blood of Christs which He sees, as it were, on our doorposts, and His judgment passes over.
And I got to musing, now there's a salutary way to think of ex opera operato: the Israelites were all spared by virtue of the blood on their doorposts. And this is a token of the effect of the Sacrament on us. While affirming that in the case of the Sacrament faith is requisite on our part, we must also declare that what we believe to be happening here is that it is God who is seeing the Blood, and it is He who is doing the remembering. We are saved by the work which Christ worked.
Monday, November 09, 2009
There are probably about as many interpretations of St. Matthew 24 as there are interpreters, but that shouldn't stop us from taking a stab at it, particularly when it is the assigned Gospel (for the second Sunday of All Saints Tide), and especially if one believes that the parenthetical "let the reader understand" is an exhortation from the Evangelist meant for the one who is publicly reading this Gospel to provide an understanding for the hearers.
So here goes:
The abomination of desolation has something to do with the approach of Titus and the Roman armies -- frankly I can't figure out exactly what it is, but perhaps that doesn't matter so much -- and the indication that the Christians of ad 70 would have known precisely what it was, enough so that they all saw fit to flee Jerusalem, before the siege was laid to it.
According to the old Lutheran agendas, I read from the historical account of the destruction of Jerusalem today, a gruesome and despicable history which chronicles the fulfillment of Jesus' prediction in the first part of this Gospel.
What's interesting is that the second part of it is clearly about the Day of Judgment; hence, there is a blending of Jerusalem in ad 70 with the End of all things.
This is because Jesus was a prophet (He was the Prophet, actually), and as such, He did what all prophets do, gave a microcosm of the ultimate fulfillment of His prophecy within the immediate context of His first hearers. So when the microcosm occurs, or, as it were, the 'down-payment' on the final fulfillment, that is, when the 'type' is fulfilled, then that which it typifies or foretells may be the more confidently believed.
So therefore, since Jerusalem was destroyed in ad 70, and since this is a matter of record, therefore it is clear that the End of all things shall indeed come to pass.
So what, then is our abomination of desolation? It's hard to make definitive conclusions, but one thing is certain: when Christian worship is being replaced by entertainment and dance floors, this comes pretty close to being abominable. And when those guilty of perversion and sexual immorality are now being consecrated to serve at the altar, this is an absolute abomination. It is indicative of the desert-land that so many churches have become.
And so let us in our day 'flee to the mountains'-- let us run to the cross -- and let us as eagles be gathered around the Body of Christ.
Here's the audio:
Friday, November 06, 2009
Rev. Eric Brown brought up a helpful discussion over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds on the semper virgo--the question whether the Blessed Virgin Mary remained virgin all her life--when he asked for the theological reasons and ramifications of it for those who believe it. He was not interested in proof-texts or other arguments for or against; he merely wanted to know what sort of significance it held in the theological scheme. So I chimed in. I decided to cross post my response here. If you want to get the full discussion on the matter, check there. But here's what I said:
Semper virgo ultimately has to do with coming to terms with the fact of the Incarnation. Here's what I mean: generally--though not in every case--it seems to obtain that among people who reject semper virgo there is a corresponding view that the BVM was nothing really unique. She is given the nod as the mother of Jesus, even (grudgingly) the mother of God, but these are merely names, and anyone can live with names.
What I find particularly helpful among medieval and early meditations on the Virgin--although there are excesses--is evidence of an eagerness to grapple with the reality of the miracle of Christ's conception in her womb. This eagerness is something I sense has been lost on us.
Luther similarly opines somewhere that there is great gain to be had from meditation on the term "Mother of God."
The fact is that Mary is unique. The miracle that happened within her was a sharp and singular break from the ordinary manner of human reproduction. This miracle was enacted upon her flesh, resulting in the Incarnation of God within her. She became the vessel for Him who holds heaven and earth, and it was of her flesh that He partook. This is something that really cannot be parsed and analyzed as much as it can be wondered at. At such moments we must become more inclined simply to revere and adore than merely to understand.
And this reality means that she is no ordinary vessel any longer. Something has really and verifiably changed: the nativity of our Lord is an incontrovertible verification of the miracle.
Since this is so, it seems to me that the whole Church--including, incidentally, Joseph--must set this vessel apart from all others on earth.
She is the Holy Grail. One does not use the Holy Grail to drink milk or beer.
I would think that of all people struck by this reality, Joseph would have to be first. Remember also doubting Joseph, how it was necessary for the intervention of an angel to correct him on this matter. Would he not become reticent about taking this vessel into his chamber for common use? No law forbade it, but that's not the issue: she has become the theotokos. That changes things, really and physically.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Here's a riddle:
I noticed something during the reading of the passage from the Apocalypse for All Saints' Day this morning (Revelation 7:1-17), in which twelve thousand are numbered from each of twelve tribes of Israel.
The tribes listed by name don't correspond actually to the twelve tribes of Israel. Recall first that the tribe of Levi didn't get a land assignment, being the priests, so the tribe of Joseph was divided into Ephraim and Manasseh, his two sons, thus bring the total to twelve. But in the naming of tribes in this reading, we have Levi listed, as well as Joseph, and Manasseh. Thus two tribes are left out: Dan and Ephraim.
So, how come?