A-musement (29 Aug)

Haven’t had any a-musement around here for a while…and with McCain’s announcement of Sarah Palin for VP, this seems fitting:

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Hurricane Meditation

From last night’s Psalter reading:

Hurricane Rita picture

69:1 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3 I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
14 Deliver me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15 Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.  (Ps 69, ESV)

With Gustav and Hanna already wreaking havoc and continuing to churn, this reading was rather timely, I thought.

NOTE:  I recently became a bit dissatisfied with the Psalter readings in the LSB Daily Lectionary and adopted the Book of Common Prayer’s schedule of reading through the entire Psalter every thirty days.  Thus far, this practice has been most rewarding as I have become re-immersed in this magnificent collection of prayers, hymns, and laments.

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Bonhoeffer on God’s Will (from Ethics)

Last week I picked up Bonhoeffer’s Ethics.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this work, but I did anticipate a satisfying challenge to wrestle again with this 20th-century theological giant.  Having only read his Cost of Discipleship, however, I was unprepared for the struggle that lay ahead of me…this book is not an easy read!

While I’m not yet finished with the first chapter, I came across the following thought-provoking quote today in my reading:

“Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the will of God” (Rom 12.2).  “I pray that your love may about yet more and more in knowledge and discernment, that ye may prove the different situations (i.e., what is in each case right)” (Phil 1.0 and 10; cf. Rom 2.18).  “Walk as children of light…proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (Eph 5.8ff.).  These sayings show the error of the view that the simple recognition of the will of God must take the form of an intuition which excludes any sort of reflexion and that it must be the naive grasping of the first thought or feeling to force itself upon the mind, the error, in other words, of that psychologizing misrepresentation of the new life which has begun in Jesus.  It is not said at all that the will of God forces its way into the human heart without further ado, charged with the accent of uniqueness, or that it is simply obvious, and identical with whatever the heart may think.  The will of God may lie very deeply concealed beneath a great number of available possibilities.  The will of God is not a system of rules which is established from the outset; it is something new and different in each different situation in life, and for this reason a man must ever anew examine what the will of God may be.  The heart, the understanding, observation and experience must all collaborate in this task.

In short, I think Bonhoeffer is saying, “In any given situation, the will of God is not necessarily an easy thing to discover.”  How far this is from what we often read and hear in the contemporary Church!

So what does anyone think?  Is Bonhoeffer on to something here?  I plan to write more later but wanted to throw this quote out to whet the appetite…

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Luther on the Prosperity Gospel

It’s no secret that American Evangelical Christianity is obsessed with prosperity, health, wealth, material blessing, and positive self-image.  (Your honor, exhibits A, B, and C:  TBN, Joel Osteen, and Lakewood)  That statement isn’t even scandalous enough to draw a reaction on the blogosphere…it won’t even raise the readership of this post.  Unfortunately, such heresy is not new.  Preaching on John 6 and Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, Luther said:

Christ tells the people that they’re following him, not because of his teaching, but because of their stomachs, which they hold dear.  They were thinking to themselves, “Jesus is a great teacher for us!  He’ll give us freedom.  We will all be full and satisfied, getting whatever we want.”  In this passage, the Lord reveals what type of followers the gospel will attract.  Even today, the gospel attracts people who think it will fill their bellies, satisfy their desires, and help them here in this life.

This idea is so common today that I have almost become tired of preaching and teaching it.  People, pretending to be sincere disciples, come to hear a sermon.  But under this guise, they come only for personal gain.  However, the gospel wasn’t sent from heaven in order to allow people to fill their own bellies, take whatever they want, and do whatever they please.  Christ didn’t shed his blood for this purpose!
(from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional / LW 23:5)

Woe to us for focusing on solely material aspects of the abundant life (Jn 10.10) instead of recognizing the plentiful abundance we have at the cross through the complete forgiveness of our sins in Christ!  Let us not be blinded by the selfish desires of our sin but focus on the true mercies our Father showers on us each day through our brother and Savior, Jesus Christ!  Hallelujah!

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A Note on My Luther Quotes

The question hasn’t been asked yet, so let me take a moment to ask and answer it myself.  “What edition of Luther’s Works are you quoting here?”  In my “Luther on…” posts, which I’m drawing exclusively (so far) from Faith Alone, a excellent collection of Luther selections edited by James Galvin.  This volume uses the German edition of Luther’s works translated specifically into contemporary English by a group of translators and stylists.  I don’t necessarily think these renderings are better or worse than the traditional American Edition–it just so happens that I carry this little edition with me everywhere, so it’s handy.

In an effort to trace these quotes back to the American Edition (for all of you who want to run and read more Luther), I shall start cross-referencing my quotes to LW.  In fact, I have gone back and edited my last two posts to do just that.  Enjoy!

Luther on Ordinary Life

Luther’s understanding of vocation was revolutionary in the face of the medieval monasticism that surrounded him.  In contrast to the prevailing wisdom of the day, which held that some activities/vocations/callings were inherently more holy than others, Luther maintained that the seemingly ordinary life to which most believers were called was, in fact, a God-honoring calling.  Commenting on John 15.5, he writes:

False Christians cannot understand what Jesus is saying in this passage.  They wonder, “What kind of Christians are these people?  They can’t do anything more than eat and drink, work in their homes, take care of their children, and push a plow.  We can do all that and better.”  False Christians want to do something different and special–something above the everyday activities of an ordinary person.  They want to join a convent, lie on the ground, wear sackcloth garments, and pray day and night.  They believe these works are Christian fruit and produce a holy life.  Accordingly, they believe that raising children, doing housework, and performing other ordinary chores aren’t part of a holy life.  For false Christians look on external appearances and don’t consider the source of their works–whether or not they grow out of the vine.

But in this passage, Christ says that the only works that are good fruit are those accomplished by people who remain in him.  What believers do and how they live are considered good fruit–even if these works are more menial than loading a wagon with manure and driving it away.  Those false believers can’t understand this.  They see these works as ordinary, everyday tasks.  But there is a big difference between a believers works and an unbeliever’s works–even if they do the exact same thing.  For an unbeliever’s works don’t spring from the vine–Jesus Christ.  That’s why unbelievers cannot please God.  Their works are not Christian fruit.  But because a believer’s works come from faith in Christ, they are all genuine fruit.
(from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional / LW 24:231)

Thanks be to God for the blessing of our ordinary lives and his pleasure with all of our labors that spring from the vine of Christ!

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Luther on Testing God

On the subject of testing God, Luther writes:

Deuteronomy 6 teaches us to trust that God will take care of us in good and bad times.  We shouldn’t become overconfident in times of plenty, but we also need to patiently endure times of adversity.  God will never leave us.  He will be near us in our troubles.  Unbelievers don’t have this confidence in God, because they put their trust in earthly things.

If what we need isn’t available to us, we have to rely on God’s promises.  If we don’t rely on God, we are testing him.  This is what Moses was writing about when he said, “as you did at Massah.”  At Massah, Israel complained and asked, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Ex 17.7).  The people didn’t trust God’s promises because he didn’t fulfill them in the time, place, or manner they expected.  Therefore, they gave up and stopped believing.  When we try to dictate to God the time, place, and manner for him to act, we are testing him.  At the same time, we’re trying to see if he is really there.  When we do this we are putting limits on God and trying to make him do what we want.  It’s nothing less than trying to deprive God of his divinity.  But we must realize that God is free–not subject to any limitations.  He must dictate to us the place, manner, and time that he will act.
(from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional / LW 9:74)

When we talk, think, and write about testing God, we generally think along the same lines Luther discusses here.  At the same time, however, we usually fail to draw the conclusion that Luther rightly draws.  “If what we need isn’t available to us, we have to rely on God’s promises.  If we don’t rely on God, we are testing him” (emphasis mine).

In other words, testing God and/by relying on ourselves is, at its core, a manifestation of the sin of unbelief.  We usurp God’s throne, make ourselves out to be God, and attempt to take control because we do not trust God…we do not believe as we ought.

“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9.24, ESV)

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