quod pro nobis traditum est

Sunday, June 24, 2007

In Holiness and Righteousness

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist 24 June 2007
In Holiness and Righteousness Before Him Luke 1:57-80

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

From birth we are lost in our sin. We spend our days fleeing from God and His mercy. Except for the grace of God we would not even be here this morning. He protects us with His holy angel and guides us by His Spirit and we are gathered on this day in Holy Communion with Him and with all the saints in heaven. This is possible in that here we are blessed with His presence and forgiveness. This is why the Church does not take a vacation during the summer and why the early Church was open for the hearing of the Word and prayer on a daily basis. The Divine Office of Matins, which is a daily prayer of the Church, includes the song of Zechariah that we heard this morning in the Gospel reading. Everything is dependent on God's grace and promise. As He commanded His people to keep the Sabbath holy so He also keeps His promise to us. Zechariah's mouth was opened to speak of God's visitation and promise that He could see coming following the birth of John. So He speaks of salvation being fulfilled that was spoken of from the beginning by the holy prophets:
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve Him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.

When John was still in the womb he leapt for joy upon hearing of the Lord's visitation to the blessed virgin Mary. Now John is in the temple and it is the eighth day, the day after the Sabbath (Bede), a sign of God's covenant promise that comes to fruit in the resurrection of Jesus. This is our Baptism - our washing away of sins and our resurrection from the dead. He is called John because this means "the grace of God" or "in whom there is grace." (Bede) By grace Elizabeth gave birth to John and his parents brought him to be circumcised. By grace Zechariah sees what is happening and is able to speak of the blessings of the Lord who guides our feet into the way of peace. John is the prophet of the Highest, the one who prepares the way of the Lord. These too are the men called and ordained to speak the Lord's Word as pastors so that His people may know their salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.

On the Nativity of St. John the Baptist we are reminded of the Lord's mercy promised to our fathers and the oath God made to our father Abraham. John's birth preceded that of our Lord. He prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins. John had to decrease so that the Lord would increase. At John's baptism of Jesus, God, the Holy Trinity, was revealed. Jesus has visited and redeemed us, paying the cost of our sins and of the sins of the whole world with his blood shed on the cross. He is risen and ascended and sits on high just as He continues to meet us here on earth where He reigns in grace. By His grace our feet are guided to His house once again this morning. Before John and before Abraham, He Is and He now visits us here to guide our feet to the altar to receive His redemption and peace.
Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people.

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The "c" word

Recently, a Lutheran pastor received an anonymous phone call from out of state from someone asking, "Are you a 'contemporary' church?" When the pastor began to explain the liturgical practice at his church the person on the other end of the line hung up. Obviously, the pastor had offended the anonymous caller by not simply saying "yes" or "no".

On a trip south through Illinois I noticed some new "churches" in sight of the freeway. These buildings were not called churches, cathedrals, basilicas, temples, synagogues or other words that reflect the theological and historical nature of the religion's belief but simply "Worship Centers."

One could probably bring up many examples of similar experiences of one's own that reflect what is happening in terms of worship in the protestant tradition, not excluding what is happening in Lutheranism.

In fact for some Lutheran congregations this is the Future, the very thing that makes them one and at home in the Christian faith. "Contemporary" is a good word and not something to be questioned.

Normally, "contemporary" means something totally different, something new and vibrant. Contemporary is here and now. It is in. It is cool. There is plenty of hype about this word to go around. Having been introduced on the basis of adiaphora it is now left to stand without question as the norm for all future liturgical endeavors.

Whether or not this focus and insistence on "contemporary" is a fad or is here to stay it is certainly distinct from that which stands in the historic catholic tradition. In view of the height, depth and width of the historic liturgy and the church's hymnody "contemporary" seems to fall better under some "e" categories: "experimental", "experiential" and "entertaining." When I am there I know it is all about me and my feelings about God.

The catholic faith and liturgy stand in contrast to the trends of the day. The catholicity of the church holds on to that which is true for people in all ages and in all places. This faith and liturgy are clearly focused on the Triune God and His love and salvation in Christ Jesus for us. The holy faith is prayed in the liturgy and the "now" does not stand in stark contrast to all that has gone before us nor all that is to come. Contemporary is but a part, and not the central part, of the Church's ongoing faith and liturgical practice.

To know Luther, Chemnitz, et al, is to know the church fathers and the historic traditions. They were not looking to a future without a past but a future that is one with the past and the present and that is fulfilled in Christ. They handed over what they received in line with the Holy Scriptures.

From the Augsburg Confession and Apology:

"What need is there of a long discussion? The holy Fathers did not institute any traditions for the purpose of meriting the forgiveness of sins or righteousness. They instituted them for the sake of good order and tranquillity in the church." (AC Ap XV:13)

"We gladly keep the old traditions set up in the church because they are useful and promote tranquillity, and we interpret them in an evangelical way, excluding the opinion which holds that they justify." (AC Ap XV:38)

"Nothing should be changed in the accustomed rites without good reason, and to foster harmony those ancient customs should be kept which can be kept without sin or without great disadvantage." (AC Ap XV:51)

"In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals,when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc." (AC Ap XXIV:1)

"The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray." (AC Ap XXIV:3)

"As can be seen, there is nothing here that departs from the Scriptures or the catholic church or the church of Rome, in so far as the ancient church is known to us from its writers." (AC XXI:1)

"Only those things have been recounted which it seemed necessary to say in order that it may be understood that nothing has been received among us, in doctrine or in ceremonies, that is contrary to Scripture or to the church catholic." (AC Conclusion 5)

"There is nothing contrary to the church catholic in our having only the public or common Mass." (AC Ap XXIV:6)

"So in our churches we willingly observe the order of the Mass, the Lord's Day, and the other more important feast days. With a very thankful spirit we cherish the useful and ancient ordinances, especially when they contain a discipline that serves to educate and instruct the people and the inexperienced." (AC Ap VII,VIII:33)

Maybe a more appropriate "c" word for the Lutheran Church and her worship is catholic.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Homily - Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity 3 June 2007
Jesus teaches Heavenly Things John 3:1-15

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

Though a mystery, the Triune God comes to dwell with His Church this morning in the divine liturgy. This is why the liturgy is called “Divine Service” and “Holy Mass.” God is here with His people that we may receive His forgiveness, strengthened in the holy faith and go into the world which He created as holy people, born of water and the Spirit, knowing and trusting that He is our Father in heaven and we are His beloved children here on earth. In earthly means, He creates faith and justifies us, making us holy. Faith then is not just an individual pursuit, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that pours out grace in Baptism, the preaching and hearing of the Word and in the blessed Sacrament of the Altar. All of these things Jesus taught, instituted and gave His Apostles teaching them to do as He commanded. All of these things bring His promise to those who receive them. For Christ Jesus shows us the things that we need to look beyond the earthly things and see the heavenly things that He was sent to give His Church on earth, and in this teaching of our Lord we come to know the heavenly Father who loves us so. For whoever believes in the Son knows the Father and the Son of Man is lifted up so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

In the Gospel lesson for the Day of Pentecost we see that the Holy Spirit teaches His Church all things. He teaches the Church the words of the Lord who calls on us to keep His Word in the face of all opposition – from inside and outside of the Church. When the Church loses sight of the heavenly things, she becomes enslaved to earthly things. We are indeed flesh born of flesh. Yet Jesus teaches us that that which is born of Spirit is spirit. He guides us with His Spirit, which we received in Holy Baptism, to hear, learn, and keep His Word, to gather with His saints in heavenly worship, and to live godly lives here. In the Spirit, we are born anew with the hope of eternal life and we can see and enter the kingdom of God. We can see that Jesus came down from heaven, though being from all eternity with the Father and the Spirit. We can see that He taught with authority as one who even the unbelievers said that God was with Him. He brought teaching of the kingdom of God and showed this kingdom to them in Himself – teaching the Gospel, healing the sick, raising the dead. He was lifted up on the cross for us and our salvation and crushed the power of the serpent over us, making atonement for all sin, and making possible for us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He ascended into heaven. Christ still teaches His Church in the holy writings, the law, prophets and psalms, in the writings of the Apostles and Evangelists, keeping us in this holy faith. Only in Christ are we born again, our eyes opened to the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. Like Nicodemus, we ask, “How can these things be?” Jesus answers,”We speak what We know and testify what We have seen.” If we are to believe the heavenly things that Jesus teaches then we must also believe the earthly things He teaches. In Jesus we receive the witness of the heavenly Father by the Spirit. As He knows and testifies to us so we hear and receive His witness and, though sinners, we see the kingdom of God. As He has come down from heaven so He will bring us up to heaven. Once again we taste of these heavenly things at the altar. He is given all authority in heaven and on earth, and reigns together with the Father and the Spirit, one God, forever blessed. Amen.