Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Enough of Lent

For me, there is never enough of Lent. Lent is the season of the Church year that gets me through the tough times. For me it is more uplifting than even Easter. As much as I love Easter and the glorious hymns of the Resurrection, their joy and glory come only in connection with the austere season of Lent.

I remember as a child and a teenager often being disappointed on Easter because we did not sing enough hymns. And my family attended at least three services on Easter Sunday. But especially as a teenager, I wanted to sing every hymn of the Resurrection in the book. Why? The season of Lent made me hungry. The season of Lent taught me why the Resurrection is both absolutely necessary as well as why it is possible.

It is the Lenten theme that carries me through every day. Yes, the awareness of the resurrection is my hope, but the theme of Lent is what makes the hope of the resurrection real.

Lent is God’s cure for depression. When I am feeling down and depressed, it is the hymns of lenten focus that lift me up. I also sing “The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want” (TLH 436) regularly, but the hymn that I can always count on to lift me out of the depths is TLH 146: “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy.” Nothing in this world has been able to drag me down beneath the reach of this hymn. Other Lenten hymns will come into my heart throughout the year as well, but this one is very easy to memorize and carry in my heart and mind. Moreover, this hymn does not mess around with anything other than the raw power of God. When I am hurting and despairing and depressed, this hymn unleashes the raw power of God to drive out all but the glorious power of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Death itself is rendered powerless by this simple hymn and what it preaches.

Mental Gymnastics

“Mental gynastics,” this is what Paul McCain flippantly calls using a word according to its actual meaning and according to the actual usage in the Scriptures.

If it requires this level of mental gymnastics to explain how not ascribing praise to the Lord is a way of being repentant, I think my point is made.

However, in order to force my post to “make his point” he had to change what I said, deleting portions and changing my words. This is very sad behavior, certainly not in keeping with honest communication. But this kind of contortion of the truth and torturing of words is common among those who desire to make their point regardless of clear reasoning and in spite of what is well intended and well thought out liturgical tradition.

What grieves me most is that McCain makes so much noise about issues like the theology of glory and enthusiasm and the thinking of the church growth movement and then deliberately divorces my comments from the clear connection that I made.

Who then is performing the “mental gynastics”?

Why make such a fuss over this? Why should I be concerned?

I am concerned regarding the false witness that is given through such abusive manipulations and dishonest presentations. I am concerned because the person’s personal opinion is elevated at the expense of the truth. I am concerned because gentle people who are daily confronted with the tomfoolery of the many schisms in Christendom are presented with still more tomfoolery and dishonesty paraded as wisdom and love. I am concerned because these things cause more confusion and often despair of finding true unity in the Church.

I also am concerned that truly helpful practices in the Church, ones that are not presented as anything more than beneficial and fine outward training, as Luther speaks of them in the Small Catechism under the Sacrament of the Altar, are turned into legalistic bondage. This is a tragedy.

For it is true, even as Luther rightly declares, although McCain and others quote Luther contrary to his intended meaning and context, “For the alleluia is the perpetual voice of the Church, just as the memorial of His passion and victory is perpetual.”

But in what context does Luther say this?

     Fourth, the gradual of two verses shall be sung, either together with the Alleluia, or one of the two, as the bishop may decide. But the Quadragesima graduals and others like them that exceed two verses may be sung at home by whoever wants them. In church we do not want to quench the spirit of the faithful with tedium. Nor is it proper to distinguish Lent, Holy Week, or Good Friday from other days, lest we seem to mock and ridicule Christ with half of a mass and the one part of the sacrament. For the Alleluia is the perpetual voice of the church, just as the memorial of His passion and victory is perpetual. Luther's Works (53:24)

Interestingly, Luther begins with limiting the gradual to two verses, and not only for Lent or Advent but for the entire Church year. He actually begins by omitting ascriptions of praise, saying that people can sing the rest at home at their leisure and in accord with the needs and desires of their hearts. Then he addresses the Alleluia that should not be omitted from the divine service.

What Alleluia is Luther holding as the perpetual voice of the Church? Is it not the same as St. Paul’s declaration in 1 Corinthians 11, especially verse 26? “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.”

Regardless of the season of the Church year, is this not the pinnacle of the divine service? Does not the entire service prepare us for this very thing, the holy communion in Christ’s body and blood? Is this not the part of the service called the Eucharist or Thanksgiving? Is this not the very praise concerning which Christ Himself says: “Do This!”? Is there any higher ascription of praise in the cosmos than this?

This is the life of the Church and her perpetual voice of praise! In this proclamation of the Lord is the perfect Hallelujah! This is the greatest Hallelujah in the Church, because it is worked by the Lord Himself for us.

And when this is counted as the perpetual voice of the Church, who can diminish Alleluia from the hearts and daily activity of the saints?

For example, yesterday, as I contemplated many things, including this one, the Triple Hallelujah (TLH pg. 20) began to resound in my heart and mind. Someone was singing it inside of me. Who could that have been? As I grieved over my deepened awareness of my sinfulness and my desperate need for the repentance that the Holy Spirit produces, inside from deep within this song began to reverberate, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

I thought, “Thank you, Lord. How marvelous!”

Omitting this in the divine service does not steal the Alleluia from the holy communion of the saints. The absence of this portion of the regular liturgical responses magnified my awareness of my need for the source of all alleluias. That source will not be silenced.

If someone wants to label as mental gymnastics the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit to work His metanoia in my heart and mind, so be it. Surely I cannot deny that the Holy Spirit wrestles tirelessly within me to bring about the needed change of my heart and mind. Perhaps McCain is right after all in labeling this mind altering work of the Holy Spirit as mental gymnastics.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More on Lent, Alleluia, and Repentance

On Pr. McCain’s blog I posted a comment regarding his challenge, a comment directed particularly toward his statement quoted below. He deleted my comment without permitting it to be displayed, so I am posting it here as I believe the challenge that he publicly presents is one that should be answered publicly. I believe that there is a cogent explanation to his challenge, and there is benefit in hearing it. So here is what I believe is a cogent explanation for all who desire to hear one, regarding why the omission of certain ascriptions of praise during Lententide is indeed a helpful expression of repentance. The deleted post follows:

PTM, in comment # 38 you say "I’ve yet to hear any cogent explanation for why not saying “Praise the Lord” is an expression of repentance."

You have repeatedly stated similarly on this matter throughout this challenge that you have presented. I find that amazing considering your knowledge of the languages.

Perhaps you have permitted your remembrance of the meaning of the word "repentance" to be narrowed by various causes and experiences.

In the Scriptures of the New Testament the word for repentance is metanoia. Varied forms of the verb are used as well, but this is the word used for repentance both as a noun and as a verb. You already know this, of course. You also know that this word means "change of mind/thinking."

The Scriptural usage of metanoia concerning us sinners is always a change from our thinking to the thinking that the Lord works and declares for us and also in us. It is a change from our thoughts and ways. Such things as fasting were outward exercises that assisted in remembering this needed change in the thinking of the members of the household of faith, continually needing to be called apart from our thinking to thinking akin to the way of true faith.

How then, being as knowledgeable and aware as you are, can you say that you do not see how the omission of "Alleluia" and certain other ascriptions of praise is an effective means of reflecting upon our need for change of mind/thinking, i.e., repentance? How is it that you persistently ignore the direct contrast that this presents to our sinful inclination toward the theology of glory and enthusiasm and the thinking of the church growth movement? How do you continue to deny the obvious "change of mind" involved in setting aside some of our ascriptions of praise for a brief season so as to be re-minded regarding the fact that true praise does not originate with us but with the activity of God in and for His Church?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Alleluia in Lent

“Not saying Alleluia during Lent is stupid!” This very bold statement is from a post entitled even more audaciously, Not Saying Alleluia During Lent is Stupid (Sure to Cause Apoplexy Among High Church Purists) at Paul T. McCain’s Cyberbrethren.

A response to this is posted at Gaba’s Notebook entitled Stupid Rubrics.

From a certain perspective I have to agree with McCain. It is actually the opposite of his intention, but I nevertheless must say from the proper perspective that “not saying Alleluia during Lent is stupid.” I don’t actually agree with McCain at all, but rather with Saint Paul’s statement concerning the Moron of God, in the 1 Corinthians 1:25 context.

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

The Moron of God or the Foolishness of God is wiser than men. Yet to sinful man, to the sinful flesh and the Old Adam, the wisdom of God appears as foolishness, and those who follow the way of God appear as morons.

From this perspective I relate to McCain. As the season of Advent approached, as the season of Trinity drew closer and closer to the close of the cycle of the Church year, I began to dread the advent of Advent. I dreaded Advent’s advent because I knew that soon I would no longer be singing the Gloria in Excelsis. It seemed to me that the season of Advent would be stealing away from me the joyous privilege of singing the song of the heralding angels. The Gloria in Excelsis is the preaching of what the Christ Mass really is. Thus, I dreaded the loss of the privilege of singing it and hearing it.

However, after the season began and the full measure of the awareness of the “why” settled over me again, I began to give thanks for this robbery. This was especially true when the season of Christmas had arrived and the exquisite joy of hearing the Gloria in Excelsis was restored after its absence had been felt in my heart and soul during the four weeks of Advent.

After pondering McCain’s outburst concerning the Alleluia not being sung during Lent, especially in observing the clear and deliberate quote from Luther both divorced from its context as well as in deliberate contradiction of its context, I realized more fully the source of my resistance to this ancient liturgical practice.

The source is the sinful flesh and the Old Adam. According to my sinful flesh, according to my sinful nature that is mine by inheritance from Adam, I do not want to face the truth. The truth is that I am unworthy of speaking or singing Alleluia. Alleluia is not truly the possession of the Church on earth. It is ours here on earth only as those who await the redemption of our body:

For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only —they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:19-23)

The singing of the Alleluia is the possession of the Church on earth in keeping with the rest of the passage quoted above, where St. Paul further explains:

For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:24-27)

And also,
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

I don’t want to let go of my imagined “right” to sing Alleluia!

I very much prefer the theology of glory, at least according to my fleshly nature. I want to imagine that my singing of Alleluia will loft its way heavenward and fill heaven with joy. I want to imagine that Alleluia is my right as a Christian!

But according to the new man, the one that rises up from the water where the Old Adam is washed away, according to the good conscience of the resurrection afforded me in Baptism (1 Peter 3:21), I thank God for the wisdom of the season of Lent. To the Old Adam, who tries to tread the water of the flood so as to shout his praises heavenward, this wisdom seems moronic. But the new man walks according to spirit and finds that the means of grace are the true means of praise. The new man is happy to be on his knees receiving the glory of God administered in bread and wine for his forgiveness and restoration to the fullness of God’s Holy Communion.

The new man realizes that there is a reason that the Alleluia is not found in the Scriptures of the New Testament until the revelation of the songs of the saints in heaven in Revelation 19. In the Scriptures of the New Testament the Alleluia is only hinted at through admonitions concerning regular use of the Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and in Old Testament quotations such as Romans 15:11 where St. Paul quotes Psalm 117 but not using Hallel. But the word Alleluia is not actually recorded until it is heard in Revelation 19.

In the accounts of the New Testament a very different language of praise is recorded. Instead of Alleluia we hear “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” We also hear, “Kyrie Eleison!” (Hosanna = save now & eleison = have mercy.) Sometimes we only hear the sobs of a woman anointing the feet of her Lord and God with perfume and washing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. We hear the pitiful cry of the publican in the temple, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” and of the repentant thief on the cross, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”

This is not the audacious language of the sinful nature. Not at all! This is the humble and contrite language of repentance. This is the language of John the Baptist and of Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Interestingly, neither John nor Jesus stood in the temple shouting “Alleluia!” They did not stand in the temple and call the people to join in praising God. Rather, they went out into the wilderness, where the people would have to abandon all of their lofty praises and be humbled by the harshness of the curse in the world to sit on grass and rocks and soil and to be quiet and listen. For this is the nature of true worship: not to speak and sing the praises of God, but to listen and to hear and to receive the Gospel through the means of grace.

Alleluia is not truly ours to sing at all. Rather, it is the response that God works in us through the seemingly common elements of water and bread and wine. Thus the meal of Thanksgiving is held before us as the showing of the Lord’s death till He comes. It is to this awareness that the season of Lent draws us. It is for this reason that we are urged for a season to set aside our audacious presumptions of Alleluias as our right so that we may again learn to acknowledge them as God’s gifts that have been purchased for us at the cost of the suffering and death of Jesus. Then the Old Adam has no claim on us and is no longer able to puff us up with empty and imaginary rights of our own to praise God. Then we humbly bow before our God and Savior to receive the worthiness of His glory, born of the Virgin, to suffer and die our miserable death for us so that by His glorious merits we are declared righteous to come into the holiness of God and receive the praises that fill us until we overflow with them in our lives and in our worship.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday & Divine Fasting

On this day of Ash Wednesday the appointed readings of holy Scripture are:

Psalm 6 (for Matins);
Psalm 51 (for Vespers);
Jonah 3:1-10;
Isaiah 59:12-21;
Joel 2:12-19;
and Matthew 6:16-21.

Repentance and fasting with and unto repentance is the theme of the day, as it is for the life of the Church.

People often choose only part of the definition of repentance for themselves. Often the chosen focus is merely the part that includes feelings of contrition and regret. But the New Testament word for repent is metanoia. It literally means a change of mind or thought. This is far more than the common feeling of sinful mankind of being sorry that we do not measure up to what we think that we ought to be and do. Metanoia is much more than this. It is an actual change of the mind in how it thinks. Metanoia is not only feeling sorry for our sinfulness and sinful actions, it is a change that is worked by God’s merciful love that overpowers us in our very being so that we are changed from idolaters to God fearing people. This is what changes one from being a disciple of choice to being a disciple of Christ, that is, a disciple of faith.

Faith is not a choice. Whatever godly and goodly choices that we make are produced by the faith that the Holy Spirit works in us, not the other way around. True contrition does not stop with being sorry and asking forgiveness. True contrition turns us around in our very thinking so that we no longer look to ourselves and our own thoughts and desires and actions, but to God and His thoughts and desires and actions.

The Old Testament word for this is shuv. It means to turn or be turned. God actually takes our minds and hearts and turns them back to Himself as the one from whom we receive all good things, so that we no longer look here and there or even to ourselves. When God works this change in who we are and in how we know ourselves, we are truly changed in our minds and in our being.

For this reason Philippians 2 seems especially appropriate for this day of repentance and fasting as well. Most especially the first twelve verses seem fitting:

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Likeminded. Oh what a wonderful focus for this season of Lent! If only we would repent of our own thoughts and our own ways, submitting to the will of God for His Church. If only we would hear the call of the Holy Spirit that we might be enlightened with God’s grace so as to be changed in our hearts and minds in accord with the merits of Jesus, who gave Himself for us and for all the world. How differently the Church would appear! How differently our lives would be lived. How truly blessed we would be! How confidently we would live, as we worked out our salvation so as to be certain that our faith is truly reliance upon the suffering and death of Jesus, and not upon anything else. Then we truly would be changed in our thinking and in our actions, for then the peace of God would rule our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus came to this world to be found in fashion as a man, though He Himself was the very form or morphe of God. He was and is the very morphe or nature of God. He is not merely godlike but is the very form of God. To see Jesus is to see the Father. To encounter Jesus is to encounter the Holy Spirit. Yet in Christ Jesus God made Himself to be a servant. In Christ God humbled Himself so as to serve as our Redeemer and Savior. When God works faith in us so that we are joined with Him in His holiness, this is the mind that is created in us in place of the minds that we choose. Jesus fasted concerning His equality with God, acting as a servant, placing our needs above His own glory and power. Today we fast of our weakness, in order that His power may not be hindered in us.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Weather Increases Need for Blood

Red Cross Action Alert: Winter Weather Affects Donations

Snow and ice storms across the nation are to blame for numerous blood drive cancellations. Plus, poor driving conditions are keeping donors away from our blood donation centers.

As a result, the Red Cross is unable to collect and produce enough blood platelets. Platelets are the fragile cells that control bleeding and can be used by cancer patients and those undergoing chemotherapy.

Your platelet or whole blood donation will help us meet the needs of area hospital patients.

Please consider scheduling an appointment to give blood today. Call 1-800-RED CROSS or log on to redcrossblood.org.

(This notice is copied from an e-mail notice from the American Red Cross.)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Brush Bandit Chipper

This video demonstrates the model of chipper that I use in my tree business, Model 250. The chippers in this video are newer and have larger engines than mine, but operate the same and with the same capacity, up to 12 inch diameter logs.

As can be seen in this video, these machines are designed for safety, but are nevertheless very dangerous. A twisted log, like the one in this video can sometimes move from one side to the other very rapidly. If standing in that area, it packs an horrendous wallop. On a few occasions I have been knocked across a sidewalk on the one side and part way across a street on the other side. The new models are easier to feed from the sides where this is less likely to happen.

For what it is worth, I thought that I would share this video, showing one piece of equipment commonly used by arborists.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Peter’s Affirmation of the Epistles of Paul

In a discussion regarding the practice of infant baptism at On the Wittenberg Trail, actually closer to a monolog on my part which the host graciously endured, I became aware of a point in one of the Scripture passages that had previously escaped my notice.

Here is the text:

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. (2 Peter 3:15-17)

While I was delving into the text regarding the manner in which people torture the Scriptures to try to force them to agree with their preconceived opinions, I noticed something else declared in this text. Surely this is not a new observation, but it is new to me.

Herein St. Peter states in absolute manner that the writings of St. Paul are Scriptures the same as all the other Scriptures.

While there are plenty of passages to affirm the Scriptures of the New Testament as divinely inspired and truly the revelation of God to man, while I always recognized in this text that St. Peter lovingly affirms St. Paul’s apostolic authority, I never was aware of the fact that St. Peter here declares the writings of St. Paul to be truly the Scriptures akin to all the other Scriptures. But there it is! Plain as day!

Another point, while not a new observation, is that those who torture one part of the Scriptures are said to torture the other Scriptures as well. It is common for people to take parts of the Scriptures and ignore them or to say of them that they are not truly the Scriptures or that they are limited by time or cultural relevance. But as St. Peter declares here and the Scriptures consistently affirm, to wrest or torture one part of the Scriptures sets the person in league with those who torture all the other Scriptures. To deny or wrest or twist or redefine or manipulate one point of the Scriptures is to place oneself in league with all who do so to any and ultimately all of the Scriptures. This is why Jesus declared to those who did so that they were not sons of God but had the devil, the father of lies, as their father.

Anyway, it is delightful finally to observe what has stood written for millennia, that in this text St. Peter affirms the writings of St. Paul as the Scriptures.