No posts with your specified tag(s) were found.

April 19, 2014

0 Comments

Viewing Good Friday Through Luther, Augustine, and Barth

First, a confession: I wasted too many years as a pastor trying to ratchet up the statistics by reading books on church growth, which almost invariably had me laying prostrate before the Almighty Flow Chart.  Apparently, Jesus died so we could fill the pews – not necessarily change lives – and the Holy Spirit could do His work as long as He was marketable.

I’ve since seen my error.  I’m racing through the literature and making up for lost time, grabbing theologians from the right and left: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Donald Bloesch, Thomas Oden, Jacques Ellul, NT Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Roger Olson, Stanley Grenz, and others.  And I have not yet begun to fight.  Give me more and more.  I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I find thinkers from previous ages more gripping than the moderns.  Three especially shine: Augustine, Martin Luther, and Karl Barth.  Each made colossal mistakes – with Luther’s chilling essay against the Jews the most inexcusable – but each understood that theology was a discipline offered to the Church at large, not merely to academia.  What’s more, each wrestles with God.  They’ve glimpsed transcendence.  They’re doing theology on their knees.  They’re imperfect because they see things through a glass dimly, but at least they’ve tried.

I tried finding what each said about Good Friday.  It’s allowed me to gaze at the day through their insights.

Martin Luther

Luther (1484 to 1506), the Father of the Reformation,  is willing to plunge deep into the darkness, which is not surprising to anyone who has read him.  He uses seemingly morbid language for American 21st-century ears.  In his Good Friday sermon “On How To Contemplate Christ’s Holy Sufferings,” he discusses three harmful methods, then says this:  “Fourthly, they meditate on the Passion of Christ aright, who so view Christ that they become terror-stricken in heart at the sight, and their conscience at once sinks in despair. This terror-stricken feelings should spring forth, so that you see the severe wrath and the unchangeable earnestness of God in regard to sin and sinners, in that he was unwilling that his only and dearly beloved Son should set sinners free unless he paid the costly ransom for them …  An earnestness must be present that is inexpressible and unbearable, which a person so immeasurably great goes to meet, and suffers and dies for it; and if you reflect upon it real deeply, that God’s Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, himself suffers, you will indeed be terror-stricken; and the more you reflect the deeper will be the impression.”

Many would respond with terror at Luther’s call to be “terror-stricken.”  It is “unhealthy” because it makes us feel bad — because feeling good is always healthy.  Right?  Perhaps not.  How healthy is the individual who laughs at Cambodia’s killing fields or the bodies floating down Rwanda’s rivers?  The unbearable terror-stricken response is the healthy response.

Luther forces us deeper into the darkness: “Fifthly, that you deeply believe and never doubt the least, that you are the one who thus martyred Christ. For your sins most surely did it. Thus St. Peter struck and terrified [his audience] as with a thunderbolt in Acts 2, 36-37, when he spoke to them all in common: ‘Him have ye crucified,’ so that three thousand were terror-stricken the same day and tremblingly cried to the apostles: ’0 beloved brethren what shall we do?’ Therefore, when you view the nails piercing through his hands, firmly believing it is your work. Do you behold his crown of thorns, believe the thorns are your wicked thoughts, etc.”

He pushes us still deeper in points six, seven, eight, and beyond: “For the characteristic, natural work of Christ’s sufferings is that they make all men equal and alike, so that as Christ was horribly martyred as to body and soul in our sins, we must also like him be martyred in our consciences by our sins. This does not take place by means of many words, but by means of deep thoughts and a profound realization of our sins.”

But he doesn’t leave us there.  As Tony Campolo’s pastor once said, Sunday is a-comin’: “Until the present we have been in the Passion week and have celebrated Good Friday in the right way: now we come to Easter and Christ’s resurrection. When man perceives his sins in this light and is completely terror-stricken in his conscience, he must be on his guard that his sins do not thus remain in his conscience, and nothing but pure doubt certainly come out of it; but just as the sins flowed out of Christ and we became conscious of them, so should we pour them again upon him and set our conscience free.” So, he says, “cast your sins from yourself upon Christ, believe with a festive spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Is 53,6 says: “Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;” and St. Peter in his first Epistle 2, 24: “Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree” of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Cor 5,21: “Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Upon these and like passages you must rely with all your weight, and so much the more the harder your conscience martyrs you. For if you do not take this course, but miss the opportunity of stilling your heart, then you will never secure peace, and must yet finally despair in doubt. For if we deal with our sins in our conscience and let them continue within us and be cherished in our hearts, they become much too strong for us to manage and they will live forever. But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing. For upon Christ they cannot rest, there they are swallowed up by his resurrection, and you see now no wound, no pain, in him, that is, no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul speaks in Rom 4, 25, that he was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification; that is, in his sufferings he made known our sins and also crucified them; but by his resurrection he makes us righteous and free from all sin, even if we believe the same differently.”

He concludes: “But now bestir yourself to the end: first, not to behold Christ’s sufferings any longer; for they have already done their work and terrified you; but press through all difficulties and behold his friendly heart, how full of love it is toward you, which love constrained him to bear the heavy load of your conscience and your sin. Thus will your heart be loving and sweet toward him, and the assurance of your faith be strengthened. Then ascend higher through the heart of Christ to the heart of God, and see that Christ would not have been able to love you if God had not willed it in eternal love, to which Christ is obedient in his love toward you; there you will find the divine, good father heart, and, as Christ says, be thus drawn to the Father through Christ.”

Luther says more, but we have enough to grasp his insight: Redemptive guilt is far better than guilt-avoidance.  He forces us to see sin for what it is – and the healthy response is absolute terror.  But redemptive guilt – as opposed to morbid guilt – does not leave us in the grave.  Like Christ, we rise again.

The Church does no one any favors when it buries the terror in a heap of health-and-wealth clichés – and we heal no one when we merely try to fill our pews.  Luther, medieval though he sounds, offers a far better remedy when he escorts us through the darkness and into the resurrection’s light.

Augustine

Augustine (354 to 430 AD), often thought of as the “father of theology,” sees us in Christ through his life and passion: Christ “represented us in Himself, when He willed to be tempted by Satan. For in Christ you were tempted, since Christ had flesh for Himself from you, salvation from Himself for you; death for Himself from you, life from Himself for you; insults for Himself from you, honors from Himself for you; therefore temptation for Himself from you, victory from Himself for you.  If in Him we have been tempted, in Him we overcome the devil. Do you observe that Christ was tempted, and not also that He conquered? Recognize yourself as tempted in Him, and recognize yourself as conquering in Him.”

Karl Barth

Barth (1886 to 1968) helped turned the tide against German theological “liberalism,” which often jettisoned key Christian teachings to accommodate modern thought, and resurrected the insights of classic theologians such as Anselm of Canturbury (1033 to 1109), John Calvin (1509 to 1564), and Luther.  This quote softens Luther’s “terror” without cheapening our Good Friday devotion by bringing insight from Eastern Orthodoxy: “The mystery of the Incarnation unfolds into the mystery of Good Friday and of Easter. And once more it is as it has been so often in this whole mystery of faith, that we must always see two things together, we must always understand one by the other. In the history of the Christian faith it has, indeed, always been the case that the knowledge of Christians has gravitated more to the one side or to the other. We may take it that the Western Church, the Church of the Occident, has a decided inclination towards the theologia crucis—that is, towards bringing out and emphasizing the fact that He was surrendered for our transgressions. Whereas the Eastern Church brings more into the foreground the fact that He was raised for our justification, and so inclines towards the theologia gloriae. In this matter there is no sense in wanting to play off one against the other. You know that from the beginning Luther strongly worked out the Western tendency—not theologia gloriae but theologia crucis. What Luther meant by that is right. But we ought not to erect and fix any opposition; for there is no theologia crucis which does not have its complement in the theologia gloriae. Of course, there is no Easter without Good Friday, but equally certainly there is no Good Friday without Easter! Too much tribulation and sullenness are too easily wrought into Christianity. But if the Cross is the Cross of Jesus Christ and not a speculation on the Cross, which fundamentally any heathen might also have, then it cannot for one second be forgotten or overlooked that the Crucified rose again from the dead the third day. We shall in that case celebrate Good Friday quite differently, and perhaps it would be well not to sing on Good Friday the doleful, sad Passion hymns, but to begin to sing Easter hymns. It is not a sad and miserable business that took place on Good Friday; for He rose again. I wanted to say this first, that you are not to take abstractly what we have to say about the death and the Passion of Christ, but already to look beyond it to the place where His glory is revealed.”

In essence, we can walk the resurrected life even on the day of terror – because Sunday is, indeed, coming.

Continue reading...

April 17, 2014

1 Comment

A Maundy Thursday Prayer

I can feel your broken heart, O Lord, as you watched the fingers reach for food in your final Earthly meal with your disciples.  You saw the gulf between them and you.  Some banally argued over rank and prestige while one tabulated his silver reward.  All missed your foot-washing portrait: Brawls over crowns and garlands are for Gentile leaders and would-be CEO’s and partisan kingpins ruled by the latest opinion polls.  Such spats are worse than irrelevant.  They’re spiritual tear gas.  They blind us to your vision of the self-effacing servant with a towel: The first is last and the last is first.

I think of your disciples even more.  They were like an amnesiac church committee feuding over who cleans the altar linens, forgetting the icons representing you on the altar itself.  Perhaps they viewed this meal as a routine Passover – a scene of rote we’ve-been-here-before prayers: Bless you, Oh God, for the deliverance of our ancestors from Pharaoh’s slavery … Now hurry up, Jesus. We’ve grabbed the temple – Israel’s political, economic, and religious hub – so stop the peace talk.  Mount the war horse.  Become a militant Messiah.  Overthrow our current Pharaoh, the Roman Caesar.

They couldn’t see this Passover’s distinction.  They were actually performing what other Middle Eastern feasts symbolized: They were eating a meal with God.  Their frustrating Messiah was the Lord who freed their ancestors from slavery.  They couldn’t see that the first Passover meal foreshadowed this one and that this meal foreshadowed yet another: the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  Their minds possessed no interpretive grid for your strange words, so did they did not hear.

We say that in sympathy.  We confess that the tear gas blinds our Western 21st-century eyes.  We see things through our own self-focussed, libido-riddled grids: Former obligations are now options and former privileges are now rights.  We’re so fixed on our urges and desires that we cannot see our genuine needs.  Our thinkers talk as if our technological savvy has altered our DNA.  We live longer, travel faster, and gather billions of information bytes in a single keystroke.  Therefore, we’re a different species.  They’ve squeezed the spirit out of our bodies and shrunk us to a fleshly machine while hollowing the universe of deity – and they call such a vision more “sophisticated.”  Our meetings with the reaper are shuttled into quiet rooms and secluded homes – and talk of eternity is dismissed as irrelevant.  The man with a towel is a schmaltzy picture at best, offensive at worst.

But that meeting with the reaper inevitably comes – and we discover, in those rooms and homes, that we’re still the same species as our ancestors.  Our issues were their issues after all.

Yet we take heart, even within the gas’s haze.  You give us the same grace as you did the original disciples – even while your heart breaks for us.  We pray that you will magnify your grace all the more.  Widen our parameters so we can see your vision. Wipe our slates clean of our assumptions.  Sync our hearts with your broken heart so we’ll feel your redemptive grief.  We’ll then walk your path to the cross, experience your death to sin, and rise up with you in your victory over death through your resurrection.  The gas will clear and we will see with your eyes and we will dwell in a more brilliant joy than we ever imagined.

 

Continue reading...

April 16, 2014

0 Comments

An Evangelical Christian who is also an environmentalist is thrilled to shake hands with the president — and America survived

Mitch Hescox, the CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network — a fine man who has shown vast patience with grumps like me — wrote the following reflection for Holy Week. I lifted the first couple of paragraphs and then provided a link to the original site. You’re a good man, Mitch.  It’s rare to have […]

Rate this:

Continue reading...

April 16, 2014

0 Comments

Holy Week, 2014: A Time of focused worship

Christians are now remembering those climactic, universe-rattling days, otherwise known as Holy Week. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and reaches its zenith in the three days of the Easter Triduum (the period including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday). It’s a week of focused worship …

Rate this:

Continue reading...

March 25, 2014

0 Comments

Vladimir Putin and strict pacifism’s false comfort

It’s suddenly clear. We now see why Eastern European countries hustled in their NATO applications after the Berlin Wall tumbled: Mother Russia is a brooding matriarch coveting the children she once kidnapped, and Vladimir Putin stands in the tsarist lineage of thuggish, self-appointed successors of the Byzantine Caesars. Bare your chest and steal Crimea — and throw in that 97 percent vote as homage to yesteryear’s Soviet elections.

Rate this:

Continue reading...

March 16, 2014

0 Comments

Saint Patrick would be proud

Many will celebrate the great Saint Patrick on March 17, which is tomorrow as of this writing. My heritage primarily lies with the Anglo Saxons, who oppressed the Irish for centuries, but I plead my Americanism: We sympathize with the Irish despite our ancestors. In that spirit, here are two videos — one of Ireland’s president in 2008. She greets all Irish the world over. The second is presents a nun saying the Lord’s Prayer in Irish Gaelic.

Rate this:

Continue reading...

February 1, 2014

1 Comment

Six decades in 15 seconds

Click on the NASA video below and watch how the Earth has changed in the last sixty years, then follow this link to Mitch Hescox’s piece. Hescox, head of the Evangelical Environmental Network, is a life-long Pennsylvania Republican who agrees with President Obama on climate change.

Rate this:

Continue reading...

January 23, 2014

3 Comments

Remember the heat amid the clattering teeth: In a picture

Shall we remind ourselves that there’s more to the Earth than the right half of the United States? Many of the temperatures in Europe and Australia have been up while ours have been down, and NASA (a socialist-in drag agency?) tabulated world-wide warming trends and found that we marched on, unabated, last year. That doesn’t bode well for our children’s future.

Rate this:

Continue reading...

January 21, 2014

0 Comments

Words from Robert Reich on Citizens United

“Citizens United vs. FEC” is right up there with “Bush vs. Gore” and “Dred Scott vs. Sanford” as the most shameful decisions in Supreme Court history.

Rate this:

Continue reading...

January 18, 2014

0 Comments

At least display a want-ad …

The executive branch’s density has swung into full action. We’ve heard nothing of a new nominee. Does anyone see the underlying religious issues in Syria? Iran? Afghanistan? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Religious freedom, or the lack of it, is not only for kids in Sunday School. It’s for everyone — atheists and “nones” included, especially since many of the “nones” rush to churches, synagogues, and mosques after they check off the little box in the survey forms.

Rate this:

Continue reading...
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 822 other followers