If you love the Macintosh and love Star Wars, well…read on for a match made in heaven. Yes, the program works. How do I know? If you have to ask….the Force is not strong with you.
Thanks to my friend, Pr. William Weedon, for posting this and reminding me again how wonderful a writer O.P. Kretzman was. Here is OP’s Ascension Day reflection.
Now He was going home… In seven words the
years of labor and sorrow end: "While they beheld, He was taken up."…
There were no bells and banners on earth, but surely all the trumpets
on the other side sounded as they never sounded before… Surely the
chiming golden bells of heaven sang their welcome, and angel choirs
intoned the song of the throne: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to
receive power and riches and wisdomand strength."… On the anvils of
God the nails had been forged into the scepter of a king… "He was
taken up"… The angel hosts sweep to either side, leaving the way
clear to the Eternal Light that no longer blinds the eyes of us who
stand gazing after Him… He leads a procession which comes from the
ends of time and space, all the harvest of all the white fields the
world has ever known, the pilgrims of the night who come at last to the
dawn of an everlasting day… "He was taken up." The Child of the
manger, the praying heart on the starlit lanes of Galilee, the hunger
in the wilderness, the weariness of the Sychar Well, the tears of the
Garden and the Hill, the thirst of the Cross – all over now… The
robes of the Transfiguration once momentary, now clothe Him forever,
and angels and archangels sound the great doxology of the Waiting
Church: "Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and
An old story – perhaps too old for us to do more than
glimpse its glory… And yet – we ought to remember it more clearly…
It was the solemn moment in the story of God and man when the visible
Christ became the invisible Christ… From that hour everything
concerning Him became visible only to the eyes of faith… The final
line of demarcation in the world – between those who believe and those
who refuse to believe – was now clear… Men can say that all this is
not true and use the mind of man to reject the mind of God, or they can
know that God once walked among them and that they now have a Friend in
heaven who knows all that earth and time and pain can do to man…
Ascension did not take Jesus away… It brought heaven near… In the
realm in which He now reigns time and space have no meaning… There is
no up and down, no near and far, no darkness, and no distance in the
world of faith… He is as near as yesterday’s prayer, today’s joy,
tomorrow’s sorrow… His homecoming has made heaven a home for us who
still walk far from home… Wherefore stand we gazing into heaven?…
Our momentary task is here, but through the slow dimming of the years
we see the evening lamps of home tended by the pierced hands of Him who
has gone to prepare a place for us… Is there a better way to live -
or die? … All that we have to do now is believe and follow:
The lapping of the sea of death before his feet
Crept near; the wind was wild;
But he, who knew the One he came to meet,
Saw it and smiled.
Stepping without a hesitating word
Into the icy tide,
As if he saw the footprints of his Lord
Gleam at his side,
Borne up by Love that gave as he had given,
He crossed the midnight foam
And laid his hand upon the door of heaven
Like one returning home.
For some reason, yesterday was a record-setting day for Cyberbrethren. We had over 1,042 unique visitors stop by and look around. Maybe it was because I didn’t post much in the week before. For whatever odd reason, the less I post to this blog site and my Yahoo group mailing list, also known as Cyberbrethren, the more people seem to visit and join the group. I am thinking of writing a book and trademarking my "formula" for success: Ignore your mailing list and blog site and more people will show up.
Thanks for visiting.
A friend of mine, whom I’ll call "Ted" for the purposes of this post, recently e-mailed me perceptive questions, as he always does, and inquired about the distinction between Law and Gospel and Bible interpretation. I thought you might like to read our conversation, which I offer here with Ted’s permission.
Greetings, Paul. I’m helping someone with a manuscript. In it, he
says that in addition to the Law and Gospel, the Bible also contains
"wisdom literature," which gives wise, prudential counsel for everyday
life. For example, the Book of Proverbs does contain Law when it tells us
what to do, but it also just describes earthly consequences. When it
talks about how men sharpen one another like iron sharpening iron, it
isn’t really telling us to sharpen one another (which would be Law), it
just states a truth about life. That might be like other passages in
the Bible that just convey some historical or geographical fact and
thus might not either be Law nor Gospel. I’m familiar, of course, with the category of Wisdom Literature. But
would a Lutheran hermeneutic still insist that Law and Gospel are the
only two categories by which we should apply Scripture? The author of this manuscript is a Lutheran layman, and he asked me to check the doctrine, but I thought I’d run it by you.
It is my understanding that the Wisdom literature, traditionally, includes: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes. I would say that "Law" is best understood in the three ways the Holy Spirit uses it, mind you, there are not three "kinds" of Law, but we distinguish the way in which the Holy Spirit uses the Law, hence, the three uses of the Law include:
1) To curb the gross outbursts of sin in the world, to maintain order, to order things.
2) To show us our sin.
3) As a guide for the baptized child of God.
In that sense, then, could we not understand "iron sharpens iron" to be, yes, an observation on "how things work" but also, Law in its first use? If people "sharpen" one another that would sever a nice curb on gross outbursts of stupidity with people doing whatever enters their head [we sure could use a whole lot more sharpening!]. It is also second use in that when I read this I am reminded, immediately, of where I have either been "sharpened," or have failed to sharpen others, or…how I have *failed* to let myself be sharpened, and as third use, a guide for my behavior and interactions with others: how can I better serve others and so sharpen them? ?But how could this comment be heard as Gospel, as healing balm. I would suggest one way. When I read about iron sharpening iron, I am reminded of the One who bore the sharpened points of the iron nails, whose life and death is the atoning sacrifice for my sins, by which and through which I am set free to be sharpened, and to sharpen others.
Those are just some thoughts…I hope they help, and make sense.
I find the Law/Gospel distinction to be a "particularly brilliant light" as the Confessions refers to it, a true dynamic and powerful distinction that is used by God the Holy Spirit, the "two edged sword" of the the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
So is it true that every Bible passage is not so much either law or gospel,
but that there is both a law and gospel dimension, if we could only see
it? Working on the study notes, that seemed to be the implication,
and, indeed, I could nearly always see both law and gospel. Or are
some passages one or the other? (I can see how gospel passages would
not be law).
I would say it truly is an art, not a science. It’s why Luther said that the *only* person who really deserves to be called "doctor" in the church is the one who can always properly distinguish between Law and Gospel. And then he quickly admitted he has not mastered it [typical Luther overstatement]. I would put it this way. If you were to take a red marker and highlight every verse in the Bible that is Law and then do something similar with a blue marker to mark every verse that is "Gospel" you would discover that the Passion of our Lord passages are a beautiful shade of purple.
I think that is the point. It’s about distinction, not separation. Yes, some verses clearly are Law, others clearly Gospel, but at the same time, applying those passages to ourselves will always be an exercise in receiving both Law and Gospel, as the Holy Spirit uses them on us.
For instance, when I read the Psalms I like to apply the verses as both Law and Gospel in a devotional way.
I believe the Holy Spirit can use every part of His Word in our lives as Law and Gospel.
How, for instance, could the commandments be both Law and Gospel? Well, obviously they are LAW and the Christian considering/meditating on them will always be driven to repent, they are the LAW — Do this, and we do not! The Law always–always–accuses us of our sin. O, Lord have mercy! But then I start to think of Jesus and how perfectly he kept the commandment in every possible application of it and I am moved deeply to consider how He did this …for me, for the world and that, to me, then is Gospel working as I meditate on the specific commandments, and of course, I consider my station and calling in life and consider how the commandment applies to me as a child of God and consider how I can apply that commandment in my life, third use? And once again I return to consider my failure to do that, and again return to the Gospel.
And consider how Gospel passages could be law!
Can I be moved to repent of sin by considering the crucifixion? Yes. Why was Jesus nailed to the tree? What put him there? My sin!! I hope this is helpful. I am *not* suggesting that we turn Law into Gospel, but it seems to me that here we are dealing with matters of application of Law and Gospel.
Does that help?
So we should stick with Law/Gospel and not inject any additional categories in interpreting Scripture. Right?
Well…I will be pondering that question…but…my gut reaction is, "If we have Law and Gospel what else do we need?"
I think the Lutheran insight into the Bible’s own "method" of understanding it is SO powerful precisely because it is so comprehensive and all inclusive.
I sure would welcome understanding what other categories there may be, but Law and Gospel just seem to me as so wonderfully "all inclusive."
But of course, I’m hopelessly Lutheran in my "bias" so I can only answer according too that point of view, but….I’ve not seen anything better.
I love this comment in our confessions, from the Epitome of the Solid Declaration:
"We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be kept in the Church with great diligence as a particularly brilliant light. By this distinction, according to the admonition of St. Paul, God’s Word is rightly divided (2 Tim. 2:15)."
Another *very important* point here.
We need to be very, very, VERY careful when we speak about and talk about and embrace the concept of "distinction" that we not let it become something that is not , separation.
I’ve noticed recently in another debate that I’ve been monitoring that the "distinction" between the two natures in Christ leads some, in practice, to separate the two natures.
Similarly we would never want to take the Word of God and regard Law and Gospel as "separations" in the Word of God, but as distinction!
So, that would be, in my opinion, how it is that that we always distinguish between God’s Law and God’s Gospel, but we do not separate the Word of God into "only Law" and "only Gospel." Thanks for giving me a chance to reflect on all this.
You should post this conversation on your blog site, but don’t use my name since I should know all this already.
Ted, No, not at all. I think your question points to a real problem we have in our church. Pastors love to use "jargon" and "buzz words" and think in repeating them, nearly like mantras, somehow what these terms actually *mean* will "infuse" itself into our people. The older I get and think about these things the more I conclude that all our wonderful theological terms and categories are wonderful distinctions, but they have, in some respects assumed the role of being the substance of our theology, rather, than guidepost, maps, user’s guides, helpful instruction, etc. They are means to an end, not the end itself. Sometimes I get the impression that some among us believe that if we all just mouth the same words all will be well. And then you have the other extreme with people running around thinking the best way to go is to invent new buzz words, phrases and such. The pattern of sound doctrine as we have it in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions has to take root in meaning for each person. Your questions are spot on and reveal that Law and Gospel have been treated nearly like scientific categories when we approach the Scripture. Thanks for the opportunity to come clearer in my thinking and articulation of these things. Remember, iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another! So, thank you!
And there you have our conversation. I welcome your observations and responses.
Living Vine, Fruitful Branches
Sermon by Pastor William Cwirla
I am the Vine, you are the
branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much
fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
the vine; we the branches. He the source of life, we the ones who live
in Him. The image takes us out to wine country, to the rolling
vineyards lush with grape vines. Fruitful branches thick with grapes
growing on an old, gnarled vine with roots that reach deep into the
ground. Jesus is that true vine, the only vine planted by God. His
roots go deep down into Israelite soil and God’s covenant promise to
David, to Isarel, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all the way back to
Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, the place our origin.
Father, Jesus says, is the vinedresser, the gardner. The guy with dirt
under his fingernails and pruner’s clippers on his belt. Watch the
vinedresser in action. Watch how he cuts off every branch that doesn’t
bear fruit, while every branch that does he prunes so that it will be
even more fruitful. These aren’t random, hacking cuts he’s making.
These are selective, strategic cuts, precisely just above a tender
bud. He carefully distinguishes green wood from dead wood. He has but
one purpose: To make the branch even more fruitful.
Look at an
unpruned vine sometime, one that hasn’t seen the pruner for several
years. On the surface there is a lot of lush green growth, but deep
inside it’s mostly dead wood. And there’s very little fruit on such a
vine. Fruit happens on new growth, on buds that have been spurred into
action by careful pruning. That’s the first point of this analogy this
morning. The Father prunes us for fruitfulness.
Before we can
understand this image fully, Iwe need to understand precisely what the
“fruit” is that Jesus is talking about. I’m going to invoke the
general editorship of the Holy Spirit here, and suggest that “fruit”
generally means the same thing, no matter who says it, whether Jesus,
John, or Paul. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says that the
“fruit of the Spirit” at work in us through the Word is this: love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
self-control. It’s a singular fruit, not multiple fruits. This is the
fruit I think Jesus is referring to when He talks about His disciples
being fruitful branches joined to Him.
“Being fruitful” isn’t
about how much work you can do for Jesus or how many disciples you can
notch for the kingdom. Jesus isn’t giving His disciples a punch list
of things to do. He’s telling them what flows from a heart that trusts
Him, that clings to His death for life, that believes His Word: love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
Fruit happens more or less automatically when
the branch is healthy and properly pruned. I have a grape vine growing
in my backyard that produces a lot of fruit without a lot of effort.
It seems to come more or less automatically. I can’t imagine a branch
agonizing over its fruit production, or trying to squeeze out fruit
from a dead branch. If the vine is alive, and the life of the vine is
flowing out to the branching, fruit happens. it happens so much that
you have to thin out the fruit too.
Now if anything impedes
the flow of juices from the main vine to a branch, the branch will
wither and die and become fruitless dead wood. Dead wood is what the
Father’s pruning clippers are after. Going back to Galatians, we might
say that the dead wood is our own sinful self which gets in the way of
Jesus having His way with us. Paul calls these things the “works of
the flesh,” and give us some examples, sex outside of marriage,
homosexuality, adultery, immoral living, idolatry, witchcraft or
sorcery, fighting, arguing, jealousy, anger, selfishness, divisions and
the spirit of division, envy, drunkenness, carousing, that sort of
These are the things that Jesus died to take away from
us. These are the things we died to in our Baptism. This is what
Jesus absorbed into His death and buried in His tomb. These are the
dead works of unbelief, of the death of Adam at work in us and in the
world around us. “In Adam we die.” These things need to be cut away
and burned up. And so the Father prunes away the dead wood, whatever
gets in the way of Jesus life flowing through us.
Pruning can be
painful. The branch suffers loss and injury. When I prune that grape
vine in winter, it’s not a pretty sight. When I’m done, all that’s
left are a few short stubs with a couple of buds on each of them. But
that’s where the growth comes that makes fruit.
“Why do bad
things happen to good people?” we ask. Why do bad things happen to
me? Why does God permit tragedy to occur? Why does He let people lose
house and home and job and honor? The answer from today’s reading
comes this way: He prunes every branch in Jesus that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be
even more fruitful. You’re being pruned, not punished. Pruned by the
Master Gardner to produce greater love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control that you could ever
And that is the experience of many Christians. It
isn’t until they experience suffering and loss, until they’ve done some
“Job time,” that they discover a depth of love, joy, peace that would
have remained hidden. Two weeks ago, a series of tornados ripped
through a small town in Missouri and completely devastated the town,
including a large church. There was a picture in the paper last week
of the congregation worshipping outdoors, in front of the rubble of
their church. They set up hundreds of folding chairs set up in front
of a large, makeshift altar. They were caring for each other instead
of for a building. The tornado had pruned away their property, but a
whirlwind can’t take Jesus away, or His Spirit.
You’ve seen it
yourself, or maybe even experienced it for yourself. Someone who is
basically a wallflower Christian, barely recognizable, distracted
maybe, suffers some loss – loss of health, or work, or property. And
there’s great grief and sorrow. But instead of shaking your fist at
God, or cutting Him off, you turn to Him in your misery. You embrace
the loss and accept it. You turn to the Word. You commune more
intentionally. You come to confession. And you find that the most
difficult and painful times in your life are also the most fruitful,
spiritually speaking. There’s room for the implanted Word to grow and
blossom. And you find a joy and a peace and a softening of the heart
that you can have no other way.
No branch can bear fruit by
itself. It must remain joined to the vine. Apart from the vine, it
will wither, dry up, and die. “Neither can you bear fruit unless you
remain in me.…apart from me, you can do nothing.” That’s the second
point. This is not about you, but about Christ at work in you and you
living in Christ.
Last week, I was cleaning up a patch of
olalliberries in my backyard. Olaliberries are a big, dark, juicy
berry. Great on cereal. Mine grow on a long vine tied to the wall.
Olaliberries have this nasty habit of rooting whereever they touch the
groundm making them almost a weed. I hadn’t done much pruning on them
last year, and so many stems had touched the ground and rooted, setting
up new clusters of plants. As I was pruning and untangling things, I
accidentally cut a long branch at both ends. Here was this perfect
branch, with flowers and fruit on it, cut off at both ends from its
source of life. I noticed my mistake within about ten minutes, as the
leaves began to wilt in the morning sun.
Apart from Jesus, we
can do nothing. And yet we try. We who ought to know better, we
baptized believers in Jesus, yet we try to go it alone. I don’t know
whether it’s our rugged individualism or our old Adam. I suspect it’s
some of both. We try to have the Spirit’s fruit without Jesus. The
unbelieving world certainly does. It has all sorts of programs and
religions that promise peace and joy and fulfillment, but can’t
deliver, because it’s all up to you in the end. “The energy for change
is all inside you,” they say. “You just have to tap into it.” But
when you try to tap into it, you find the well to be dry. The truth is
there is no diet, no mantra, no exercise that will make you fruitful in
the way we are talking about. There is no twelve step program to give
you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control. These things don’t naturally flow from
our hearts. What comes naturally are lies and theft and slander and
gossip and immorality and murder and threats. Not the fruit of the
Spirit but the sin of Adam.
Good fruit comes from Jesus, out of
His perfect, sinless life. Out of His innocent suffering and death.
Out of the open, empty tomb of His resurrection. It comes from the
life of Jesus flowing into each of you, joined to Jesus. He is the
Vine, remember. We are the branches. We are not each vines unto
ourselves. We are branches joined to the Vine, drawing our life from
Him, our strength, our frutifulness.
Grafted into Him, hanging
on to Him in faith, we bear much fruit. Our lives are filled with
love, with joy, with patience, with kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and selfcontrol. That’s what Jesus does in us with His
Word. Remaining in Him, we hear His Word, we eat and drink His Body
and Blood, we hear and cling to His Word of forgiveness. What happens
here in the congregation each Sunday morning is “vine and branches
stuff.” Jesus the Vine, feeding and nourishing and refreshing the
branches to be fruitful.
When we cut ourselves off from the
Vine, when we refuse to hear or don’t make the time to read His Word,
when we stay away from the sacrament of His Body and Blood, when we
refuse the gifts Christ sets before us, why are we then surprised when
we feel dried up, withered, fruitless?
Sometimes we barely
notice it in our day to day habits. We just kind of slip away, lose
touch. We’re not at the Lord’s Table as often, we don’t read the Bible
as much, we go through the motions of religion but we’re not hearing.
And what happens? We dry up. Faith withers, like that Olaliberry
branch cut off from its source of life. We live small, puny, trouble,
discontented, empty lives. And it’s all so unnecessary.
has done everything – embraced us in the death of His Son, baptized us,
forgiven us, welcomed us to His table. He grafts us to the true Vine
and prunses the unproductive branches. So don’t blame God if you’re
all dried out and fruitless. It’s not God’s fault, it’s our own
fault. The Vine is always there, giving us life. We’re the ones who
cut ourselves off and say no. But Jesus is always faithful, always
forgiving, always urging and welcoming. “Come to me. I am the Vine,
you are my branches. I will fill you with my life, with my strength,
with my forgiveness. Apart from me there is only death and
destruction. And the hell of it is that it’s all unnecessary. I died
for you. I embrace you in my death. I remain in you, now you remain
in me. That’s where you’re fruitful and alive – in me. Not in
yourselve, but in me.” Jesus is saying that to each of us here this
morning. Remain in me, as I remain in you.
By His Word Jesus
remains in us, and by faith that Word we remain in Him. His Word makes
us clean, His Word makes us frutiful, His Word shapes our words of
prayer. First we hear, then we speak. That’s the order. The Vine
comes first, then the Branches. Jesus says, “If my words remain in
you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” That doesn’t
give us some magic formula to get whatever we wish. This is no carte
blanche guarantee for prayer. Instead, Jesus is saying that when His
word has had its way with us, when it has gone into our hearts and
struck our minds and our hearts so that we trust Him, His Word will
shape every word that comes out of our mouths.
Jesus wants each
of us, all of you, to be fruitful, to live large in His life, to live
freely in His forgiveness. He desires that for each of you. It’s to
His Father’s glory that you bear fruit, much fruit, that your lives be
filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and that you be His disciples,
trusting Him all the way in life, in death. You are the branches; He
is the Vine. In Him you are fruitful.
In the name of Jesus, Amen
Here is a really interesting statement from the Russian Orthodox Church announcing the severing of all ties with the Swedish Lutheran Church.
Statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Regarding the Decision of the Assembly of the Church of Sweden from October 27, 2005, to Introduce an Official Rite for the Blessing of Same-Sex Partnerships (January 2006)
With deep disappointment and great pain we received news that the Lutheran Church of Sweden not only has no objections against entering so-called “same-sex marriages,” but that it even resolved to introduce an official rite for its blessing.
It is clear that such a resolution contradicts the biblical doctrine of family and marriage. The biblical witness leaves no doubt that homosexuality is to be considered a sin and an “abomination” (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). According to the word of the Apostle Paul, those who commit this sin “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). A blessing of “same-sex marriages” is tantamount to an approval of a sinful disfiguration of the image of God in man and of a perversion of his nature. The Christian Church always has seen marriage between one man and one woman as a sacrament, because new life is born out of this covenant. This natural order of things was instituted by God and blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ at Cana in Galilee. The attempts to destroy this institution and to establish perversion as the norm represent an open contradiction against God’s will, a transgression of the commandments of God in Holy Scripture and of the centuries-old tradition of the Church. The rejection of anti-natural vices, to which homosexuality belongs, has always been an important part of Christian ethics, which has formed and shaped many generations of humans. This is why the approval of the shameful practice of “same-sex marriages” constitutes a severe blow against the entire European system of spiritual-moral values which were brought about under the influence of Christianity. Such “innovations” undermine the moral foundations of the European civilization and make it lose spiritual influence in the world; and such a loss cannot be justified at all.
We always regarded very highly the good relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Church of Sweden. Representatives of our Church actively participated in a host of joint programs; we saw this as a unique opportunity to bear a joint witness to the values of Christianity for the good of today’s Europe and world. However, the abovementioned resolution of the Church of Sweden has to be seen unequivocally as apostasy from the foundational norm of Christian ethics; and this forces us to declare our bilateral relations ended.
Published in Tserkovnyj Vestnik, no. 1-2 (326-327), January 2006. Translation from Russian to German by Prof. Dr. Reinhard Slenczka, Erlangen; translation from German to English by Rev. Dr. Holger Sonntag, Carver, MN.
Again, Pat Robertson has given Christians and Christianity in America another "black eye" … easily accomplished these day of course, but eagerly facilitated every time he opens his mouth. Can’t anyone get this man to shut his mouth??
And if he is going to tell us what God is telling him, can he at least wait until he is sure?
"If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America
will be lashed by storms," Robertson said May 8. On Wednesday, he
added, "There well may be something as bad as a tsunami in the
Is Ron Howard repeating the famous line from one of his best movies, Apollo 13? "Houston, we have a problem here."
The critics, so far, as assailing The Da Vinci Code as a being a dull, plodding movie. My favorite movie review site, Rotten Tomatoes.com has the scoop. Here are some choice quotes:
"An oppressively talky film that isn’t exactly dull, but comes as
close to it as one could imagine with such provocative material."
"You know a movie’s a dud when even its self-flagellating albino killer monk isn’t any fun.
"Way too long and duller than watching Da Vinci’s paint
dry…takes away the book’s little credibility and makes the flaws more
"I’ve solved The Da Vinci Code -%u2013 here is its secret: Zzzzzzzzzzz."
"Perhaps an interesting side-piece to those already fanatical
about the book, but ultimately a lifeless adaptation that reveals the
flaws of its source. So Dark, the Con of Dan Brown."
But, not all comments are so negative. The film does seem to have a fan base at Spirituality and Practice Journal:
"Opens the door for many spiritual seekers to think afresh about
Jesus, sexuality, the Sacred Feminine and the great mysteries that
cannot be contained in dogmas."
Howard and Hanks may not even be able to say of this movie what was said of the Apollo 13 mission: a successful failure. And I’m just not at all bothered by this.
I recently told somebody I have come to the decision not to see the movie, in spite of the fact that Tom Hanks is my favorite actor and Ron Howard one of my favorite directors.
I told my friend that I just didn’t feel right about, in any way, helping to fund a movie that attacks the most sacred truths of our Christian faith, that is all about portraying the "cover up" in the Catholic Church and so forth. It seems that "fair game" these days are Roman Catholics, and Christians in general. Imagine for a moment the public outcry that would erupt if somebody dared to make a movie portraying Islam as a fraud and a hoax, or the Holocaust as a myth. But this kind of things come along and people snap it up and protests are condemned as Christians being "narrow minded."
When my friend asked me to tell him what I would say to others considering seeing it and why perhaps they should not, I said, "Well, let’s put it this way. Should Christians really be going to a movie, to be entertained, that deals with the most sacred and holy truths God has given us and treats them as lies? Should Christians be regarding this movie as either fun, or in any way, informative, when the premise of the movie is that everything orthodox Christianity teaches, based on God’s Word, is a hoax and lie? And if we say, ‘Oh, but it is just movie.’ Then I would respectfully suggest that perhaps we need to consider why it is that we have reached a point where we are so passe and think that such a movie is "fun" or "entertaining." Finally, I observed to another person, "I can hear people saying, ‘If you don’t see the movie, you have no right to talk about it. You have to see it to know what it is really all about. But I say, "Do I have to sit through a slasher movie to know that murder is wrong? Do I have to sit through a bawdy, profane, and filthy movie to say that it is a violation of the sixth commandment?" Ok, off the soap box.
The fact is that the Da Vinci Code has caused a lot of conversation, and that is good. Perhaps people will realize how dangerous it is to be so appallingly ignorant of the basic facts of church history. The fact that so many are being duped by this absolutely fraudulent and baseless book and now the movie is evidence of just how low we have sunk when it comes to basic catechesis. And there’s the opportunity this movie presents…teaching, teaching…and more…teaching.
To aid you in that task, you may wish to consider Concordia Publishing House’s brief downloadable study on the Da Vinci Code. Other resources are avaialble as well, just follow the link on this web page.
Some people, from time to time, ask me why I usually only feature Pastor Cwirla’s sermons. I’m tempted sometimes to say, "Because he bribes me with big bucks."
I know there is a lot of great preaching going on "out there" — thanks be to God! I don’t mean to be "playing favorites" but the truth is simply that I read Cwirla’s sermons, they are good sermons, and so I share them. As he always says, "Your mileage may vary."
And so, here’s another one of Pastor Cwirla’s sermons:
The following is the text of a letter I sent to all Lutheran pastors in the USA a few weeks ago.
Letter to Pastors
As I walked out of the St. Louis History Museum recently, I did a double take as
I noticed two intriguing words carved in a large stone set in the pavement:
beauty and burden. I stopped to look more closely and read this interesting
quote from noted St. Louis author Eddy L. Harris:
The past is beauty. It is also burden. It is where we go, many of
us, to remind ourselves who we are and even sometimes to find out.
The Church’s history is a beautiful burden. To regard it as such is to embrace
simultaneously a realistic and grateful regard for it. To respect the past as a
teacher is to recognize the blessings God has given to so many faithful men and
women down through the ages. To idolize the past is to do a disservice both to
ourselves and to those who have gone before. To ignore the past is to place
ourselves, and our future, at great risk. Moving forward into the future while
regarding the past to be irrelevant is the greatest danger. To do so is like
driving down a dark road on a moonless, cloudy night with no headlights.
There is something about our culture that takes perverse pride in neglecting the
past. It is often the case that our culture regards anything "modern" or
"contemporary" as automatically worthy of more attention and more trustworthy
than long-held truths. This is certainly not a biblical attitude. Scripture
makes it clear that we are to remain rooted and anchored in the historic
revelation of God in Christ Jesus and in the Word of the Lord, which endures
"Continue in what
you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it" (2
Timothy 3:14 ESV). Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced
of, St. Paul said to St. Timothy. Elsewhere he wrote, "Teach what accords with
sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1 ESV). We are to "contend for the faith that was once
for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3 ESV).
As I reflected on the museum inscription, I was reminded of something G. K.
Chesterton once said:
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our
It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and
arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. . . .
Tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.
(Orthodoxy [Westport, CT: Greenwod Press, 1974], p. 85)
What about us Lutherans who, by God’s grace alone, remain committed to the
truths of Holy Scripture and to the confession of this truth that is contained
in the Book of Concord? How do we regard the past? We do well to embrace the
beautiful burden of our past, to let it remind us who we are and help us to find
out when we forget or are tempted to run after the latest fad or trend.
We do not embrace the past in an unthinking and uncritical manner. Neither do we
scurry about as some churches do these days, throwing overboard virtually every
discernible doctrine or practice anchored in the historic confession of the
Church through the ages.
Among many people in our culture is a deep hunger and longing and searching for
truth. This hunger for authentic spiritual truth is to them like a distant
melody that they can barely make out, but for us who have been brought into the
truth of Christ, it is a glorious symphony. The search for peace and genuine
certainty in an age of chaos is to many like peering far out at the deep, dark
expanse of the horizon and seeing small, flickering pinpoints of light. For
those who are in Christ, the light of His truth fills our lives with a warm and
eternally satisfying radiance from His eternal Word and life-giving Sacraments.
May God stir up in us renewed zeal for spreading the light of Christ and
bringing many, many more to hear the wonderful symphony of the Gospel of Christ,
truly, the splendor of truth.
Perhaps in many ways the burden of the past is a result of its great beauty, a
beauty that when contemplated and meditated on reduces us once again to
repentance as we recognize our many sins and failings. But then we are moved to
thankful praise to the One who has called us out of sin and death’s darkness
into the life and light of His salvation. For so many people today, the past is
a burden that presses down on them, forcing them to ask those questions that
come to all people in the moments of quiet and stillness, in the moments when
they are unable to stuff their ears and cover their eyes with the transient
sounds and images of a culture rushing always headlong toward new pleasures, new
sensations, new emptiness. In their quiet moments, so many find themselves all
alone with the haunting voice of grief or guilt that pierces their dreams at
night and their thoughts during the day. Pilate’s question echoes to this day:
"What is truth?"
It is precisely for the sake of Christ’s mission that we joyfully take up the
beautiful burden of the past and reflect together on those who have labored and
gone before us. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of
witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus,
the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him
endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the
throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV).
As the Church rejoices and celebrates our Lord’s resurrection victory, we are
embraced by, and in turn we embrace, the beauty and burden of the One who has
gone before us. He bids you to take your cross and follow Him. He lays the yoke
of discipleship on you because of the burden of your sin that He bore. He has
gifted you with the light and easy burden of grace, mercy, and salvation,
purchased by His body and blood sacrificed for you on the cross, the very body
and blood He gives to you in His Holy Supper. Forgiveness, life, and salvation
May you have great joy in your Lord’s Easter triumph. When the burdens,
stresses, and strains of your duties and responsibilities weigh heavily, when
the shadow of a sin remembered and guilt felt appears as a dark shadow on your
heart and in your mind, then hold even more closely to the forgiving love of Him
who loves you more than His life itself. He gives you, again and again, the
peace that truly passes all human understanding. May the Lord bless your
Rev. Paul T. McCain
Concordia Publishing House
A great new book. Ryan Fouts receives the "First Blog Notice" award for identifying the availability of this book. I’ve been reading it this week at home in the evenings and I have to say that it is really fantastic. It offers an extremely helpful explanation of why the historical Lutheran practice of offering the Lord’s Supper at each weekly Divine Service turned into the situation by 1920 whereby it was offered only four times a year! I love this thought from the book. When the church offers the Sacrament at every Divine Service it is not forcing anyone to receive it, but it is also not forcing anyone to *not* receive it. Rough paraphrase, not as well said as the book says it, but…you get the point.
Little Loci – "The Blessings of Weekly Communion" – Wieting.
One thing I find myself thinking about with some frequency is the whole "gender neutral" language thing, or, as I’ve come to refer to it: "gender neutered language." What lies behind what appears to me to be an obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to using words regarded as "gender neutral." For instance, instead of "mankind" we now have "humankind." In the forthcoming new hymnal from one Lutheran publisher, we read the Gloria as follows: "Glory be to God on high and peace to God’s people on earth" instead of "peace to His people on earth." Was gibt? What gives? What is the reason for this intense desire to "neutralize" our language? I was speaking with a person the other day who observed astutely that one fallout from the gender-neutering going on in language today is that it casts a pall over all previous words and literature. Here is an interesting and thoughtful reflection on these issues from TOUCHSTONE magazine. Dare I suggest that if we replace "Evangelical" with "Lutheran in this piece, we may well have something quite close to the truth for our circles as well? In fact, let me do that and see what you think.
A Dog’s Life
With regard to a certain Lutheran publishing concern, a
Catholic friend wrote, “I don’t understand [its] fanaticism
on inclusive language. What do they get
from it? What gives? Do they also send Gloria Steinem a birthday card? Why in the hell should they care what feminists think of
them? Or are they run by a bevy of
feminists themselves?” My answer was the old, and I think entirely correct, fundamentalist observation
that the inner dynamic of the main stream of the Lutheran intelligentsia has
from its beginnings in the forties rested upon the desire, both rabid and
unadmitted, to prove to the liberal establishment, to the Menckens and Fosdicks
and their progeny, that it is NOT fundamentalist–that it is, by the criteria that
establishment establishes, bright, learned, and urbane. The upper portion
of Lutheranism has a permanent crick in its collective neck from looking
over its shoulder to see if the liberals approve, exulting over every crumb
thrown from their table. When feminism came along as a central feature of
that confession, these Lutherans as one would expect, grabbed every bit of
it that they could possibly jam into the "biblical equality" bag,
dragged it home, and began stuffing it into their children. What has this gained them from their masters? By and
large, condescending tolerance, tolerance as one might tolerate a flatulent
spaniel that is, his aroma notwithstanding, an excellent retriever. Many in this same group of Lutherans now seem to have sensed that there is
also something in “ecumenical orthodoxy” they wish to get in on–not quite the Touchstone
variety, of course, which would be a bit, well, severe, but something
friendlier that they can join (or start) in a hail-fellow-well-met sort of
way–complete with their egalitarianism. How nice it would be to get validated not only by the liberals, but the
Catholics and Orthodox, too–to be admired not only by Wither, Frost, and
Devine, but by Hingest and Dimble as well. To be sure, the old C. S. Lewis figurehead may have to have some more
embarrassing parts cut away, as was necessary to make it presentable in
egalitarian company, but this is the sort of operation they are used to. It reminds me of a dog I once knew who, knowing he wasn’t
allowed on the couch, would sidle up to it bottom first, place his rump
tentatively on one of its far corners, then by degrees push his whole body up
on the cushions, grinning ingratiatingly in Golden Retriever fashion at anyone
who happened to be watching. His owners
actually let him do this for company because it was so amusing, but once the
feat was accomplished, off he went with a resounding swat on his ever-wagging
I was born and raised in the Heart of Dixie, but since both my parents are Midwesterners, I figured I must not be *this* Southern. Apparently…I am. The "taste of honesuckle" is a clincher. If you’ve never tasted a honesuckle flower, or don’t even have a clue how…well…it’s a Southern thing. Don’t fret your little self over it.
You are 84% true Southern!
You are pure belle or gentleman! You know your Jones Soda, Nehi and RC colas, your Moon Pies and sweet potato pie; you’d absolutely die without air conditioners in the summer, and you’ve seen Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes (or read the book!). Your grandmother lives in an antebellum home and has a cook who makes the best fried chicken and asparagus casserole and summer squash and everything else in the world. And you know the taste of honeysuckle and the feel of grass between your toes. You are blessed.