Monday, November 4, 2013

Doctrine and Practice

Quote of the Day

"Doctrine and practice, especially liturgical practice, while distinct, cannot really be divided. Doctrine is largely hidden, like the studs that form the walls of your house. But how those walls are finished has as much to do with the structure of that house as those hidden two by fours."

Pr. William Cwirla

Monday, May 20, 2013


Doxologizing – Texts for Pentecost: Gen. 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21, John 14:23-31

On the surface, it would appear that Pentecost is all about language. From the tower of Babel, where language and the confusion thereof seems the main problem; to the day of Pentecost in our Epistle where the ability to speak foreign languages seems the miracle, to our Gospel where Jesus promises the Spirit to teach us all things in a language we can grasp, finally, divinely

It is an appealing line of thought, that language is the pivot on which all turns. It has been an appealing thought in late 20th and early 21st century theology and philosophy where thinkers like Wittgenstein remain popular for their attention to language as the crux of the matter. It’s an appealing idea on a personal level for any of us whove ever struggled to learn a foreign language, like oh, say, maybe a hypothetical college sophomore tackling Hebrew (being poorly advised to do so) with a succession of weak amateur teachers, who managed to convince him only of this: that the story of the tower of Babel proves that foreign languages are a curse from God designed to gum up all the works of the world, and that laboring in the foreign language departments of academia is a sure way to experience the ancient curse in a very first-hand sort of manner!

So, the takeaway from this line of thought is that if we can only get our language right, find the right words, attach them to the right concepts, drill them into our heads and those of others, then everything will come right and Paradise will be restored. So much of the modern church has been devoted to this idea that Christianity is all about getting our language right in our talk of God, the right words, concepts, propositions and the acceptance thereof.

But I dont buy it.

Nope. I dont think language was the problem back at the tower of Babel, nor that the Holy Spirit is sent mainly to make me talk pretty one day. I think there is a much deeper problem in all three of our lessons today that God addresses in Christ and that the language thing is just a means to a much greater end, just a wrench in Gods toolbox, for getting this bigger problem sorted.

So what is more important than getting our language of God right? In a word - Worship!!!
Worship is what we were made for. Our worship is what got all fouled up in the Garden of Eden. Worship was the issue at Babel, the issue at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, the issue when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, and the issue that we are really trying to address in our catechesis, which four of our young people have undergone this past year and will be confirmed in this morning.

I have often wanted a bumper sticker (especially at pastors’ conferences) mirroring the old “Its the economy stupid that would say Its not the language, the concepts, the outreach, and its definitely not the numbers; its the worship, stupid! The very word orthodoxy does not, as most think, mean right teaching.” No, a beginning Greek student would tell you it means right glory, literally, the right glorifying of God which is to say right worship!” The Christian Church is about worship, first, last, always, and the restoration of that true worship of God which comes to us through faith in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Look: in heaven there will be no more catechisms, no more debates, no more question and answer sessions, no more evangelism, no more outreach, no more books designed to reshape our thinking. No. All of that will be gone. There will be no more faith even, because we will see what we now must believe. But what there will be, forever and amen, is worship, the worship of God in Christ Jesus, the Song that goes ever on, the Dance that never gets old, and the Game we never tire of playing where each round is better and more delightful than the last. We were created to worship the Holy Trinity, and in that worship to share the fullness of the divine life and delight forevermore. This is the light that illuminates Paradise, that which makes it Paradise, that indefinable something we have been chasing all our earthly lives and never quite envisioning, never quite capturing...

Our earthly worship gives, on the whole, a very poor idea of the heavenly reality (especially when we try to make the Divine Service relevant to ourselves instead of ourselves relevant to God). What we do here on Sunday mornings, is just the barest hint, the vaguest shadow of what goes on before the throne of God in heaven. But its a start.

In our catechesis this year, we went through a lot (306!) questions and answers. And we had had fun with that thing, didnt we? But the point of it all was not just to get confirmed and cash gifts, or to amass knowledge about God that we file away or impress others with. No, the purpose of all this was to draw deeper into the worship of Christ, to make all our words worship words, and what we do here on Sunday is meant to lead us to make all our lives one great doxology!

But I see some of you dont look so convinced of this.  That Pentecost is about worship not language. Alright. Lets go back to the very beginning, [a very good place to start!] to Genesis and the Tower of Babel. Maybe if I convince you of this, the rest will fall into place.

In the days of Babel, the whole earth had one language and one speech. And what they did with that was to try to make a Name for themselves by building a City, a Tower topping out in heaven. Trying to make a Name for ourselves is a total rejection of the Name God gifts to us through faith by Word and Sacrament, in Holy Worship, Divine Service. So, when God saw the building of the Tower at Babel, He pronounced it a disaster. And He came down and confused our language, started foreign language departments to stop this project - the Babel Project.

And what was that Babel Project finally, if not worship, fouled-up worship? It was worship of ourselves, a monument to ourselves, the man-made heaven modern man still yearns for and dreams of. It was a total rejection of the heaven that God gives in Christ and a demand to substitute a Kingdom weve built through our own engineering and outreach endeavors. And once the Tower is built, we go conquer the world and make’em live in it (like-it-or-not) by our proselytizing.

The confusion of our language at Babel was not the problem.  It was the divine solution, a temporary stop-gap to the real problem of fouled up worship. And so the restoration of true language at Pentecost was no final solution, just the means towards restoring true worship!

We still build our Towers of Babel today. Our businesses, governments, states, churches, are, too often, monuments to ourselves, attempts to scale heaven by our impressive works and too often explicit rejections of the heaven Jesus gives only as a Gift by Way of the Cross. Much of the modern churchs endeavors are just Babel-building!

You can drill people with the language of Christian dogma, but if that is the end-all, it is just another Tower of Babel. Language is an important tool, but one designed to be used to worship for Christs sake. That is to say, our language is only right when it is doxological, when it is by and for the worship of God in Christ.  To that end, God sends His Spirit again today in Word and Sacrament, to re-shape our language yes, but more so to glorify, to eucharistify, to doxologize, all our words by the incarnate Word of Christ Jesus, that, ultimately, in the worship of Him, well find Peace surpassing understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon by:  Pr. Kevin Martin (May 19, 2013 - Pentecost)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Brennan Manning (1934-2013)

It has been a long time since I have written anything here.  Not sure what will happen after this one.  But I really wanted to write something about Brennan Manning.  I have not seen any official news report, but word is going around rapidly around the internet indicating that he died yesterday, April 12, 2013.

It seems that I owe a lot to Brennan Manning.  He was an oasis for me while I was stranded in the 'wilderness' of evangelicalism.  It was truly a weary place.  It seems I only knew and lived by the law.  At times I took pride in my 'achieving' this Law, but many more times I came to a realization that I was a complete failure and would often find myself in despair.  Somewhere around the mid 1990's, a friend gave me a book - 'The Ragamuffin Gospel.'  And I soaked it up.

Manning writes:

This is the God of the gospel of grace.  A God, who out of love for us, sent the only Son he ever had wrapped in our skin.  He learned how to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for his milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross and died whispering forgiveness on us all...  The God of the legalistic Christian, on the other hand, is often unpredictable, erratic, and capable of all manner of prejudices.  When we view God this way, we feel compelled to engage in some sort of magic to appease him.  Sunday worship becomes a superstitious insurance policy against His whims.  This God expects people to be perfect and to be in perpetual control of their feelings and thoughts.  When broken people with this concept of God fail - as inevitably they must - they usually expect punishment.  So, they persevere in religious practices as they struggle to maintain a hollow image of a perfect self.  The struggle itself is exhausting.  The legalists can never live up to the expectations they project on God.

I was a legalist - through and through [and not to say I am completely done with my old ways, either].  I would project those expectations of pleasing this God on myself and others.  And I could not live up to those expectations he refers to.  Wilderness. I continued to wander there for a long time, but Manning was someone who I would constantly return to for refreshment and a bit of healing.  An oasis.

His theology was not perfect.  But neither is mine, nor yours I'd wager.  At a time when I really needed it, Manning revealed to me that God was not a bookkeeper, but Someone who forgives sinners of whom I was, and am, chief.  Manning was a fellow who, I believe, erred into mysticism, which is indeed troublesome.  God has not promised to speak to our hearts.  He has promised Himself in real, substantive ways- Baptism, the Eucharist, and in His proclaimed Word.  These things I don't believe he ignored, but it appears he would also try to find God via mystical experiences above and beyond Word and Sacrament.  I can hardly blame him.  We, Christians, are simul at our cores.  Saints and sinners.  Our default is to go after God with our power and will.  This is impossible as we are completely bent in on ourselves.  No amount of good feeling, vibes, or meditation draws us closer to God.  But we sure as hell try.  Among other things.  Ultimately it is God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit that does the drawing, the conversion, and the sanctifying.  Him alone.  Brennan Manning succumbed, like many of us, to the idea that if he cloistered himself enough, meditated enough, etc., he would be closer to God.  We think we know better than God.  Original sin, right?  I, too, continue to struggle with the idea of 'Do I do enough?'

May Christ have mercy on us all.

Rod Rosebladt speaks well to this concept of simul iustus et peccator, which describes our condition as Christians, in his presentation of "The Gospel For Those Broken By the Church":

It isn't just that we failures will get in. It’s that we will probably get in like that!
We failures-in-living-the-Christian-life-as-described-in-the-Bible will probably say
something like, “You mean it was that simple?!” “Just Christ’s cross & blood?! Just His righteousness imputed to my account as if mine? You gotta be kidding!” “And all of heaven is ours just because of what was done by Jesus outside of me, on the cross — not because of what Christ did in me” – in my heart, in my Christian living, in my behavior?!” “Well, I’ll be damned!” But, of course, that’s the point isn't it? As a believer in Jesus as your Substitute, you won’t be damned! No believer in Jesus will be. Not a single one! - Rod Rosenbladt (For Those Broken By The Church)

As I said at the beginning, I owe an awful lot to Brennan Manning.  He is my son's namesake.  He had that much of an impact on my journey as a Christian pilgrim.  I will miss him.  I pray that he is resting in peace.

The tilted halo of the saved sinner is worn loosely and with easy grace.  We have discovered that the cross accomplished far more than revealing the love of God.  The blood of the Lamb points to the truth of grace:  what we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us.  On the cross, somehow, some way, Christ bore our sins, took our place, died for us.  At the cross, Jesus unmasks the sinner not only as a beggar but as a criminal before God.  Jesus Christ bore our sins and bore them away.  We cannot wash away the stain of our sins, but he is the Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world. (Ragamuffin Gospel)

Requiescat in pace, Brennan. 

A Ragamuffin (Saint and Sinner)