Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My Dog

Things have been a little busy lately, but the most difficult development in the past two weeks is with my dog. She's a mutt, with some border collie and other unknown breeds in her, but she has been a genuinely sweet dog. She would follow me around everywhere, would thump her tail when I came home, and loved for me to take her on walks in to the local recreation area. But those times are over. No, she isn't dead, but she will be soon. She is almost twelve, you see, and about two weeks ago something happened. A slipped disc, the vet said, and prescribed medication. It seemed to help at first, but after about 4 days she started to go backward. Now she cannot walk at all. The vet says all of the possibilities are bad; a tumor perhaps, or a stroke. It is difficult to tell for sure. The vet tried one more round of medication, on the slim chance that the dog would improve. But, as expected, that has not happened. So on this coming Thursday, my husband and I will take her to the vet's clinic, and it will be time to say goodby.

"To everything there is a season," it says in Ecclesiastes. And it is the season for my dog to die. She has had a good life, mostly, with us. She has been loved and cared for, and she has shown great love to us. And we will do this one last loving thing for her, let her die quietly, easily. To let her go on as she is now would be no favor, even though she is not in pain. But for her not to be able to walk around, to take care of her own needs, to enjoy the outdoors, even to wag her tail at me -- well, that is no life for her at all. And her muscles would atrophy, and she would sooner or later come down with pneumonia. No, that would not be kind, nor loving.

But I will miss her. I will miss her trying to climb in my lap (and she was too big to be a lap dog!), and trying to "herd" me to the kitchen to get her a treat, and putting her head in my lap, and getting so excited when I would pick up her leash, since that meant a walk. I will miss her unconditional acceptance and patience and joy at being with me.

She has been a good dog. May God give this gentle, sweet, loyal creature a good death. She will be mourned by her people, her pack.

It is going to be a long winter without her.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What is the Point?

I saw this today on the Goodsoil website, and something in me just snapped. You take a look:

"Lutherans Concerned / North America (LC/NA) is looking for a full-time Development Director to work out of its headquarters in St. Paul, MN. Read details of the position.
While LC/NA has been led by an all-volunteer working board of directors for much of its 35-year history, the organization currently has a full-time staff of five, led by an Executive Director.
Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, said about this search, "In order to create the change we seek, we must organize people and organize money. We must have the reach, visibility, and effectiveness required to continue our mission toward full inclusion in the Lutheran quadrant of the Body of Christ and beyond. This position will help us do that."
Visit www.lcna.org for more information."

No, it isn't that LCNA is looking for a full time Development Director. What got to me is the quote from Emily Eastwood. "We must organize people and organize money. We must have the reach, visibility, and effectiveness required to continue our mission toward full inclusion in the Lutheran quadrant of the Body of Christ and beyond."

Now, I am not surprised that LCNA and Emily Eastwood feel this way. Actually, Lutheran CORE is not far from feeling the same way. CORE is busy trying to raise funds to conduct its campaign, its work, leading up to the very important Churchwide Assembly in 2009. In fact, all sides are fundraising, trying to extend their reach, visibility and effectiveness into the ELCA and that all important bank of people who are willing to be a part of this fight.

And that is the problem. Fundraising to change the ELCA, fundraising to maintain the ELCA, fundraising to get directors, fundraising to get offices up and running so that more fundraising can happen so that the "other side" can be defeated, set back, held at bay, etc., etc.

What are we doing? All of us? How is this promoting, sharing, spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ?

I am still convinced that the campaign to change the ELCA understanding regarding homosexual behavior is wrong. But are we all involved in destroying the village to save the village?

I don't know. But I know I have to think this one through. And I am not sure where I will come out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Claimed by the Name of Jesus

This is a recent sermon, preached at a retreat of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Text: Acts 19: 1-10

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Names matter. Anyone sitting here this morning who is giving thanks he wasn’t named “Mephibosheth” is convinced of that. Probably many of you can tell the story of your name: who you were named for, how that name was chosen, or why you are called by the name you go by. You may even feel that if you had been given a different name, somehow you would be different too. Yes, names matter.

It is interesting that the Apostle Paul undergoes a change in his name during the course of the book of Acts. The young man Saul, breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, has his fateful encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, which leads to another fateful encounter with Ananias, and Saul’s own baptism in the name of Jesus. Saul is a changed man, but his name only changes as he travels on his first missionary journey into the lands of the Greek speaking Gentiles and Jews. Saul of the tribe of Benjamin -- and what memories are stirred by that name -- becomes Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles. This is a man who has encountered the power of names first-hand: the name of Jesus, which comes as the shocking answer to his startled question “Who are you, lord?”

It is no minor liturgical nicety, this business of the name that is spoken in baptism. In this rather odd story at the beginning of chapter 19 in Acts, Paul encounters a group of disciples who don’t know anything about the Holy Spirit, and this ignorance is explained when Paul learns that they were baptized into John’s baptism, and not in the name of the Lord Jesus. John’s baptism was good enough in its time, but it can’t bring about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Only baptism into the name of Jesus can do that. That point is made when, after being baptized into the name of Jesus, and receiving the laying on of hands from Paul, the group displays the classic signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit: they speak in tongues and prophecy.

This hits right at an issue that keeps coming up in the Church, over and over again down through the centuries: the connection between the Holy Spirit and the person of Jesus Christ. What the witness of the New Testament seems to be is that the Spirit comes in order to bear witness to the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Spirit brings one to faith in the only Son of the Father, Jesus who has been raised from the dead with power, and who now conveys that power to those who are found in him. Baptism is the entry point for being “in Jesus Christ”, that is, being baptized in his name. To argue whether being baptized in the name of Jesus is different than being baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity is to misunderstand what the name of Jesus means in these passages. Certainly Paul understood that baptism in the name of Jesus was baptism in the name of the Son of God, who was crucified in the flesh and raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so that the Spirit of Christ might dwell in us. That is the Jesus that Paul preached about.

And so, one is baptized in the name of Jesus because that is the only way that one can receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that Paul writes about in his letters is no “free agent,” answerable to nothing and no-one, bringing new revelation that is unrelated to the Father who is seen through the Son. Instead, the Spirit bears witness to the Son, and to the healing power of the resurrection as prefigured in baptism. In Acts that power is manifested in the gifts of speaking in tongues, in prophecy, and in healing. When the name of Jesus is invoked, things happen.

To confess that the Holy Spirit brings one to faith in this Jesus, crucified and risen from the grave, the only son of the Father, and frees us from the power of sin in the waters of baptism, is to make the only identification that one can faithfully confess about the Spirit within the Christian Church.

Unfortunately, we live in a time when faithfully confessing what the Church has always understood about any number of matters, including the Holy Spirit, strikes many as being hopelessly paternalistic, exclusivist, and irrelevant. We have itching ears, both within and without the church. We love to receive what is new, that special revelation and knowledge that has been saved until this time for our ears to hear. The Holy Spirit is transformed into a spirit of license and freedom, free to reinterpret, indeed to reinvent the faith of the Church as the Church has been enlightened to reject the errors of old.

Paul’s question in Acts 19 is the question we need to hear: Into what then were you baptized? To be baptized into any other name than that of Jesus, the Jesus of the Scriptures, the only Son of the Father as revealed by the Spirit, means that one receives not the Holy Spirit attested to in Scripture and Confessions, but a different, alien spirit. This alien spirit bears witness not to Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, but instead witnesses to the cult of individual rights and privileges, in which being accepted as one truly is replaces the drowning of the sinful self in the waters of baptism. Instead of being buried with Christ into his death so that we might be raised in his likeness, clothed in his righteousness, this alien spirit reassures us that what we are is what god intended us to be. True worship consists in recognizing the goodness of the self that is already inside each of us. Instead of drowning the Old Adam through daily contrition and repentance that kills all sins and evil desires, we celebrate! We celebrate the self that we find when we turn inward upon ourselves to discover who we really are. Denial of one’s self with its passions and desires is not only unnecessary, that denial is evil.

At the same time, we flee from any sign of physical aging and decay. As a culture we seek the fountain of youth in the form of potions, pills, and surgical procedures that promise us eternal life. These artifices preserve the illusion that our outer nature is being renewed day by day, while it is only too evident that our inner natures are wasting away. Sadly, this is seen even in the church herself by our willingness to discard that life which is too unformed, deformed, or ill-formed to be considered worth preserving or fighting for. The spirit of this age, a spirit which appears to be perfectly free and un-tethered to any moral code or being which would confine and restrict our human impulses, lures us with its siren song of self-actualization until, too late, we recognize it for what it really is: the spirit of the arch-deceiver, the father of lies who leads us on to despair and destruction. It is, in fact, the spirit of Antichrist.

In stark contrast, the Holy Spirit that bears witness to Jesus does not just reveal the resurrected Christ of glory and power. He confronts us, first and foremost, with the crucified Jesus, the Jesus who underwent humiliation, betrayal, suffering, and death on the cross for the sins of the world. To be baptized in the name of Jesus is to be baptized into his death, as Paul writes in his letter to the church in Rome. Baptism bestows on us a peculiar power indeed: the power to see in the cross the glory of God, the power to see the world turned upside down in terms of what it means to win and to lose. To receive baptism in the name of Jesus is to be baptized under the sign of that cross. Receive the sign of the Holy Cross, both upon your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. To be a Child of God through baptism is indeed to be marked by the cross of Jesus Christ and to be sealed by the Holy Spirit bearing witness to the presence of God in that most God-forsaken of scenes.

If the culture has sought a spirituality disconnected from the restraints of religion, then in the Church herself too many have sought a spirit unburdened by the very human flesh and blood of the Jew from Nazareth, whose messy death is an embarrassing reminder of our own inability to escape our own death.

But the Holy Spirit will have none of that. Attempts to claim the Spirit apart from his witness to Christ are certain to end in ultimate failure. Names do matter. The Holy Spirit is made known by the name he reveals to us, the name which he daily breathes into our hearts and minds, the name which is above every other name, the name into which we are baptized. It is that name to which every knee will bend, as we and all creatures finally recognize the King of Glory in the marks of slaughter that he still bears. His name is Jesus, as the Holy Spirit has called us to faith in him, the one who saves his people from all their sins.

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Statement on Scripture

Bishop Emeritus Mocko makes reference to the Lutheran CORE statement on Scripture. This statement makes no claim to be all that can be said about how Scripture is to be understood by Lutherans. Yet, in such a time when there is much discussion as to varieties of "theologies" of interpretation, this is one attempt -- a work in progress, yet a faithful one -- to be a part of the conversation. Against the claims that those who are conservative in their interpretation of Scripture must be "fundamentalist," this statement argues instead that holding that Scripture is over us is being faithful. Rather than place it here, I will direct you to the website where it is printed in full, and if you wish you can add your name to the list of those who wish to say, in a small way, here I stand. The statement is located here: http:// www.commonconfession.net/COREscriptset.htm.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Open Letter to Mark Hanson, ELCA Presiding Bishop

The following Open Letter was recently written by the Rev. George Paul Mocko, Bishop Emeritus of the Delaware-Maryland Synod, ELCA

An Open Letter to Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson

Dear Mark.

All my life I have been proud to call myself a Lutheran. Given my Hussite roots, I have quipped that I was a Lutheran a hundred years before Luther. That pride is not what it was, as I feel it breaking down before feelings of betrayal and alienation. This is happening as I watch my church, like a juggernaut follow the path of the ECUSA in the matters of the ordination of those openly living in homosexual relationships and the blessing and marrying of those in such relationships.

We ignore what this is doing to the ECUSA: it faces schism; it has become a pariah in Africa; the welcome mats from Rome and Constantinople have been pulled back; membership and income losses were recently described in The Christian Century as "precipitous." But undeterred, we push forward, apparently ready to accept the same sort of results.

Why? Is it because some new exegetical revelation has burst upon us? No. All attempts to claim that come up against the wall that every reference to homosexual practice in our scripture gives a clear negative judgment. Yet we would pronounce it blessed.

So next we launch into a study on the authority of Scripture, which, excuse me, early signs are, that it will tell us that we can continue to claim that Scripture is the "source and norm of our faith and life", as we clearly brush aside Scripture and turn to other sources and norms. We are preparing to sell our birthright as the foremost biblical theologians of the West for the pottage of this culture's approval, as we accommodate to its desires and demands in its extraordinary and overwhelming obsession with and worship of sex. What hubris possesses this generation to think it is qualified to rewrite the teaching of what has been the faith for two thousand years, and a thousand before that.

If we succeed in doing this, we will sacrifice the credibility of all our teaching. The very thing that has made our teaching notable has been its solid rootage in Scripture. Make that optional, take it away and who cares what we say about anything?

I read with deep appreciation the paper on the authority of Scripture produced by bishop Paull Spring, and Lutheran CORE. I hope there may still be hope for us.

In Christ,
George Paul Mocko,
Bishop Emeritus, De. Md. Synod, ELCA

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Yesterday was the commemoration of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. Now, I am one of those geek types who actually read this thing years before I went to seminary. Why, you might ask, would I want to do that? Well, I was curious. I had heard about this book pastors talked about called The Book of Concord. When I would ask about it, the only answer I would get was "Now, the pastors have to study this when they are in seminary -- but it's nothing that YOU have to worry about." So of course, I wanted to see what this book was all about!

But I didn't really, I mean really, read the Augsburg Confession until I was questioning my faith, and what the Lutheran Church really taught, and if it was something that held up even in the worst of times. (And at that point in my life, it felt like the worst of times.) The Holy Spirit has quite the sense of humor, I believe, because the Augsburg Confession didn't come across as a pile of dry-as-dust teachings. It was ALIVE! And suddenly, I GOT IT! Justification through grace alone through faith alone through Christ alone was truly good news. Jesus had done it all; I really didn't have to a thing, not one single solitary blessed thing. How was I to respond to such an overwhelming gift? That was the real question, and one I am still trying to live out nearly 30 years later.

The Augsburg Confession changed my life. So, thank you, Melancthon, and Luther, and all those who were brave enough, and foolhardy enough, to trust in God's protection as they went up against all the forces of state and church in presenting this document. We are still reaping the benefits of this great gift.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Conference and a Book

I will be gone for a few days at a conference in Northfield, MN. "Freedom and Authority in the Christian Life" is sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. Michael Root is the executive director, and it was founded by Carl Braaten and Robert Jensen. I am looking forward to hearing Ephraim Radner, whom I have read but never heard in person, as well as Gilbert Meilaender. When I get back I will have to comment on this weekend's synod assemblies, both on the tally of those that have approved the Goodsoil memorials and on the elections for bishop. (I hear there is a surprise out of Lower Susquehanna.)

Right now I am reading "The Pickup" by Nadine Gordimer. I have not read much by her in the last few years. I read her voraciously for a while. Then with the changes in South Africa, she had to adjust to the new situation in her fiction. I ran across this book in the local Barnes and Noble and was intrigued. It is the story of a young white South African woman, Julie, who becomes involved with a garage mechanic, a "colored" as they say there, who is in the country illegally (he overstayed his visa). Now he has been discovered and ordered to leave the country. Will she go with him? If she does, can she adjust to this new life that will be unlike anything she has known up to now? I am only one third of the way through the book, but I think Gordimer has found her footing in the changes that have occured in her country. With all of the discussions going on right now regarding our own inability to deal with immigration to this country, both legal and illegal, this may give an different twist on that question.

As I Was Saying. . . .

I've been gone for a while. First I was sick. Not life threatening, but it was one of those "one thing leads to another" downward spirals into fatigue (bone-deep fatigue) and not caring about much of anything because being sick was taking up all of my thought and energy. That is mostly over with now. However, after that comes the trying to catch up with life phase, including work, family, and other details of existence. No energy for writing, either on this blog or anywhere else.

I am getting back to this now, just as my church body is in the midst of synod assembly season. I am also reading some good books (well, most of them are good; funny that when I was sick my ability to read anything went right out the window. I am now trying to catch up on that, also). I haven't seen any movies in about five months; folks tell me I haven't missed much. And I am trying as much as possible to avoid discussions about the possible candidates for president: I just don't want to go there yet. (Living next door to one of the traditional "first primary" states means I get plenty of that, anyway!)

So there will be more blogging from me very soon. God is good, even if the state of the ELCA is not!

On this weekend when many synods are meeting, and many are considering resolutions that may determine the future of this denomination, I am praying this prayer almost without ceasing. And so I commend it to anyone who might (for what reason I certainly do not know) stumble across this blog: from (I believe) Cranmer, this prayer for the Church:

"Gracious Father, we pray for your holy catholic Church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in need, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son our Savior. Amen."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Aardvark Alley: What Is the BBOV?

Aardvark Alley: What Is the BBOV?

A thought for Ash Wednesday

"The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore -- on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe.It has been left to later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him 'meek and mild,' and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. . . He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had 'a daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,' and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness."
from "Letters to a Diminished Church" by Dorothy Sayers

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Redefinitions Coming?

If you had told me ten years ago that the ELCA was in danger of redefining marriage so that it would not be between one man and one woman, or that the ELCA might be willing to discuss redefining the teaching of Scripture and tradition in order to allow self-defined “committed relationships” to take the place of traditional marriage for both same-sex and hetero-sex couples, including but not limited to those on the clergy roster, I would have said that you were being unnecessarily alarmist and irresponsible. The ELCA has a clear understanding of the authority of Scripture, and a clear understanding and respect for the teaching of Scripture on marriage. I would have said that the understanding of the ELCA -- its leadership on all levels, its seminaries, and its congregations and members -- was identical to that reflected in the above prayer of Martin Luther. Yes, we have disagreements in the ELCA regarding the role of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the church, especially regarding blessing of same-sex unions and ordination of candidates who are gay or lesbian in their self-understanding and are in or seek to be in such a relationship. But such unions are not equivalent to marriage, nor does the ELCA plan to entertain any arguments that they should be considered the equivalent to marriage. As has been stated many times over the past 20 years, Scripture clearly teaches that the only legitimate place for sexual expression to take place is within the bonds of marriage. Outside of marriage, Christians are to be chaste and refrain from sexual relations.

“But now I know the things I know, and do the things I do” as some poet somewhere has written. Part 3 of “Journey Together Faithfully” Bible study seems to make clear that the understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman is up for grabs. It is “in play” as some would put it. And while the final proposed social statement on human sexuality may not go that far (and probably will not go so far as to propose equating committed heterosexual relationships outside fo marriage as being “good enough” in today’s culture and a reasonable interpretation of the intent of Scripture on marriage), it may be only a matter of time before the ELCA effectively adopts that interpretation.

It will happen slowly at first. It is no secret that the institution of marriage is in the process of being redefined and reinterpreted in the society at large. Couples living together before obtaining a license and going through with the legal ceremony is the rule, not the exception. Increasingly pastors are viewed as draconian in their strictness if they state that they will not officiate at weddings in which the couple is co-habiting before the ceremony. It is common to hear that while no one actually approves of such living arrangements, young people are doing it anyway, and what is one to do? Denying a large, expensive church wedding for the reason that the couple are living “in sin” (how quaint that sounds!) is seen as cruel and inhuman punishment, and for no good reason. After all, no one expects the couple to take up separate residences in the months before the wedding; most would say, what would be the point? And if the pastor enforces such behavior, most agree that the couple would just pretend; that is, lie.

There is so much wrong with this picture that it is hard to find a place to start. And certainly the churches have tried to discourage this sexual laxitude, to greater or lesser degrees. The church is not to blame for the sins of the society, especially with regard to sexuality. Or at least, anyway, not solely to blame.

But the time is coming (and in some places is already here) when marriage will be seen as one among many equally valid ways in which to have a God-pleasing sexual relationship. And those seeking to serve in the church as rostered church workers, including pastors, will not be required to be married, as long as their relationship (gay or straight) is “faithful, loving and committed” as the couple and close friends choose to define those terms.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds....” What was St. Paul possibly thinking?

A Prayer of Martin Luther

"O Lord God, who has created man and woman, and hast ordained them for the marriage bond, making them fruitful by Thy blessing, and has typified therein the sacramental union of Thy dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Church, His Bride: We beseech Thy infinite goodness and mercy that Thou wilt not permit this Thy creation, ordinance and blessing to be disturbed or destroyed, but graciously preserve the same; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."