It is the proverbial elephant in the room, very large and imposing. However, most easily ignore it. Others are annoyed by its presence, but would also prefer that it would go away. Still others acknowledge its presence, but don't know what to do about it. And then there are those who say, "There's an elephant in the room! What are we going to do about it?" I say, "Let's deal with it. How can we ignore it?" The elephant in the room, as the title of this essay implies, is the communion of all the baptized, which often goes by the incendiary (and demeaning) title: Infant or toddler communion. My intent for this essay was to take an irenice tact. Yet an injustice needs to be addressed. Elephants are big, hard to ignore, but not so the subjects of this essay. They are the little ones of the Lord. The debased, the weak, the insignificant. They have no voice, they cannot defend themselves. Their brothers and sisters are being slaughtered in the womb. They seek justice, they seek our care. Above all they seek their Jesus, their incarnate Jesus who is sacramentally and eucharistically present in every Lord's Day Mass. Yet they have been unfairly put on a fast. They have been denied the fullness of their Lord. Why? This essay seeks to answer this question and provide food for thought. People who read this essay will in the end come to different conclusions. All that is asked is that those who read this essay will do so with an open mind and with the words of our dear Lord in their hearing. To God be the glory!
Same Sex Marriage - the SCOTUS Decision
The position paper below was first presented to the saints whom I serve at St. Peter Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Chicago in July of 2015. It was an attempt to clarify the issues raised by the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Much of what is presented here has been said many times before. However, perhaps the value of this essay is the emphasis on the underlying ontological matters which undergird the biblical prohibitions against same-sex sex and marriage. This is especially so when it comes to the iconic relationship which Jesus the Bridegroom has with His Bride, the Church. Although it may not be immediately evident, same sex marriage is every bit a life issue as is the matter of abortion. I am reminded of Thomas Sowell's trenchant observation that when the organ for procreation and conjugal pleasure is replaced by the organ which excretes waste from the body, then it should come as no surprise when the unborn are treated as excrement. Equally astute is this insight from the pen of Dr. Peter Kreeft, "Abortion is the Antichrist's demonic parody of the Eucharist. That is why it uses the same holy words, 'This is my body' with the blasphemously opposite meaning."
Ironically many of the advocates of same-sex marriage are reducing their numerical and political clout through birth control, abortion and gay marriage, while opponents of same-sex marriage, like evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, etc. are increasing in number.
All glory be to the heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ!
+IN THE NAME OF JESUS+
Dear members and friends of St. Peter Parish, the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage in our country has raised questions in the minds of many believers about the position of the Christian Church in regard to this action. Of course this would include members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It is quite obvious that the decision runs counter to everything which the Church has taught about marriage over the centuries, yet many believers are confused and conflicted about the matter of same-sex sexuality and same-sex marriage. This confusion is a reflection of the general confusion about this issue in our country. One recent poll indicated that about 60% of Americans agree with the Supreme Court decision. Even Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States and a professed “born-again Christian”, has stated that he thinks Jesus would approved same-sex marriage. However, neither the Supreme Court nor popular opinion nor flawed theological opinions determine the teaching and practice of the Church. The Church's theology and practice on this issue and all other matters comes from Holy Scripture. As pastor of St. Peter I pray that this position paper which I have prepared will help clarify the Church's stance on this critical matter. Please feel free to direct any questions or comments to me on the comments box.
On Friday, June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) made public its decision to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the entire nation. The news was received with great joy by some and with great dismay by others. In a statement made in the wake of the SCOTUS decision the president of our synod, Rev. Matthew Harrison, stated that “The ramifications of this decision are seismic.” I would say that his remark is not an overstatement. However, it is probably true that few among the very ardent supporters of the decision and few among its opponents truly understand why this is so. Certainly those folks less passionate about this issue, both supporters and opponents alike, who are the large silent majority, are in the dark about this matter. In other words, their support or opposition for same sex marriage is a gut feeling, but not something which they have thought out in a systematic or rational way.
Debate about this matter will continue in the future as it has in the past, and that is unfortunate. The debate is often engaged on a very emotional level, and so consequently many of the arguments on both sides are either beside the point or, though valid, fail to get to the heart of the matter. Proponents of same-sex marriage have likened their struggle for equality to that of the struggle of American Blacks for equal rights, a fallacious argument which attempts to equate homosexual acts (a function of one's will) with race (a matter beyond our willing). Proponents will continue to play the emotional card, heralding the great love which homosexual couples have for one another. However, the emotion of love is not the genesis of marriage. Indeed a marriage can exist without love, especially the modern, western notion of romantic love which Hollywood has idealized for years. Proponents will also trumpet the American ideal of freedom and liberty. However, the American ideal of freedom and liberty was never without the constraints of responsibility. To use the old illustration: One is not properly practicing the ideal of free speech by screaming, “FIRE!” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. Abused freedom can become license for a myriad of silly and dangerous things. Are we really that far from the day when a man can marry his horse, or when a woman can marry a tree, or when siblings can marry each other? A decade ago such suggestions were seen as absurd, but in today's climate these once far fetched scenarios no longer seem out of the question.
Those who oppose same-sex marriage have not been faultless in this debate either. We have heard hateful vilification of the proponents. Some vociferous opposition has come off as stupid and bigoted. However, more to the point, some of the arguments which have been used, though valid, have not gotten to the heart of the matter. Some of these valid arguments are as follows: It has been duly noted that throughout human history marriage has been defined as the union of a male and a female, which is also the case of mating in the animal world. Therefore, the opponents rightly argue that the SCOTUS decision goes contrary to all human history and against nature itself, which makes the decision an act of sheer 21st century arrogance. Advocates of same-sex unions have argued that there has always been a minority of the human population that is homosexual in orientation. But opponents have counter-argued that exceptions to the general rule do not negate the general rule. Furthermore, the opponents also rightly argue that people of the same sex cannot compliment each other sexually. Our human physiology couples males and females, but does not do so comfortably when it comes to people of the same sex. Furthermore, it is argued that the rearing of children is done best when children have a parent from each sex. Males and females bring to child-rearing things which are unique to each gender. It's not that two males or two females can't raise a child, but that those things which are unique to each sex are not fully in play in a same-sex parenting situation. In this regard, it is common knowledge that our prisons are filled with young men who never had a father or a father-figure in their lives. Of course there are many other factors that go into incarceration, but this one missing component is noteworthy.
WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE SAY?
While these arguments against same-sex unions are valid and compelling, we Christians seek our direction in this matter from Holy Scripture. In keeping with this, Christian opponents of same-sex marriage rightly note that God created a heterosexual marriage in the Garden of Eden, which was to be an icon of all marriage unions to follow. In His day Jesus never spoke about same-sex unions but only heterosexual marriages. In fact Jesus uses the imagery of a heterosexual union of a man and woman as a type of His relationship as the Bridegroom with His Bride the Church. (Mt 9:14-17) Through His called and ordained ministers the Bridegroom, through preaching and the Eucharist, places the seed of His Gospel into His Bride, the Church, and she conceives her children, “faith, hope and love.” (1 Co 13:13) Opponents also cite the strong prohibitions and condemnations of same-sex sexuality in both the Old and New Testaments. Had our Lord foreseen a more “enlightened” time when same-sex unions would be acceptable, it is strange that He did not challenged the Law of Moses on this matter. No, the Lord accepted the Torah, the Law, without qualification, even with its harsh words about homosexual behaviors. While all of the foregoing arguments are true, if we stop here we are missing the one truth which undergirds these oft-cited verities.
ONTOLOGY – THE STUDY OF ESSENCE AND BEING
Scripture's prohibition against homosexual behaviors should not be the starting point for the discussion, but the logical outcome of a fuller understanding of the ontological nature of God. The ontology of God (and our ontology which we derive from Him) is about God's very nature, being, and doing. It is about who God is and what God does, and, by way of reflection, how we resemble God in our own being and doing. First and foremost, God is Life. He is Life and He creates life. He who is Life begets life! It must be this way because God, who is Life, is also Love. God as Love desires objects of His love, therefore He creates life, that is living people whom He loves. This was the way it was from all eternity. God, who is Father, eternally (without beginning) begets and loves His Son. The Father desires an object upon whom He can pour out His Holy Spirit, who is Love, and this He did by loving His Son from all eternity. In like manner He created us who are the objects of His love and blessing. Since we have been created in God's image and are in an iconic relationship to Him, we too have been given the capacity to create life to be loved. Indeed, that is the chief purpose of marriage, to be “fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:28) The propagation of the human race is the chief purpose of marriage, just as procreation is the purpose of sexual intercourse in the animal world (except for asexual reproduction of some bacteria and some reptilian cloners, the animal kingdom is a binary world).* The next generation of doctors, nurses, laborers, soldiers, civil servants, politicians, police officers, fire fighters, pastors, teachers, mothers and fathers, etc. must be brought into this world to care for humanity and the earth! Although we are to love one another, love (especially romantic love) is not mentioned in Scripture as the chief purpose of marriage, even though God grants the blessing of love to many married couples. Yet the lack of love does not negate marriage nor its purpose. In the same way, God can withhold the blessing of children from some marriages, yet that does not negate His overall purpose for marriage and for human sexuality. Similarly, the pleasure with which God has imbued the act of sex is not the chief purpose of our sexuality, but an added benefit which serves the chief purpose of sex, procreation. Sex remains pleasurable even when procreation does not occur, but procreation remains the chief purpose of sexual intercourse. He who is Life begets life to love!
Once again God is about Life and Love. But God is not about death. Yet that is exactly what Adam and Eve chose when they turned from Him who is Life. To circumvent God, or to remove Him completely from one's life, means death, for everything outside of God is death and darkness. It is not surprising, therefore, that the first account in the Post-Fall world is about a brother (Cain) killing his brother (Abel). And mankind has been spilling his brother's blood ever since! We are a culture of death. It has been estimated that over 57 million babies have been killed in our country since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973. In Belgium it is now legal for a minor to request to be euthanized. Assisted suicide no longer shocks us. Suicide bombers kill themselves and others every day. Add to all this the countless wars that have been fought down through the ages due to greed and prejudice, and that our city streets are sometimes awash with blood due the death-dealing culture of drugs, and that hatred and prejudice pour out of human hearts every day, and we are forced to cry out, “Yes, we are a culture of death!” St. John wrote, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” (1 Jn 3:15) To this we all must plead guilty. For this reason we all need the offering up of God's only-begotten Son for our many sins, who in His conquering of Death gives us Life!
With the ontology of God as the starting point we can more properly assess the current situation. Same-sex sexual acts and same-sex marriage are a part of the culture of death, for this does not fulfill God's purpose in marriage to create life nor can it possibly do so. The seminal seed passed from one man to another man in a sex act cannot result in life, it only results in the death of the seed. The act cannot further the propagation of the human race. The act may have some of the trappings that come with many heterosexual unions: romantic love, sexual pleasure, a sign of commitment, etc., but it is not iconic of God who is Love and who creates life to be loved. It is furthermore not iconic of the Bridegroom Jesus and His Bride the Church. These acts are not in the service of God but are self-serving because they do not further God's purpose of the propagation of the next generation of those servants who will be caretakers of the earth and humanity. Therefore homosexual acts are acts of rebellion against God. The human body itself, fashioned by God, rebels against homosexual sex until it is beaten into submission and contorted beyond its created purpose.
I WAS BORN THAT WAY!
Of course it will be argued, as it has been in the past, that homosexuals are born with their sexual orientation and that to prohibit same-sex sexual expression is to inhibit their orientation and deprive them of the love and satisfaction which male/female couples enjoy. However, no one is depriving anyone of any kind of pleasure they desire nowadays. Homosexual acts are no longer held to be criminal acts in almost all cultures. These acts have long been decriminalized in most western countries and many countries of the East. This is not the issue. The issue is that just because someone has a certain orientation does not necessarily mean that orientation is godly. We are a warped, fallen race! What God calls good, we call evil, and what God calls evil, we call good. Child molesters have a certain orientation, but that does not mean that they are oriented in the right way. What I feel, want, or am compelled to do by my orientation does not necessarily make any of that godly. Only God determines what is godly, that is, what is iconic to Him. And this He reveals in Holy Scripture. Defenders of same-sex marriage counter that to declare same-sex sexual acts as ungodly is to judge others, and they are quick to add that Jesus said, “Judge not.” This very selective approach to the Bible is what we've grown to expect from those who could care less about the scriptures, but conveniently appeal to certain passages taken out of context. Jesus routinely sat in judgment upon others, any reading of the four Gospels will make that clear! The judging He was speaking against is that self-righteous judging that looks at the sins of others without first looking at one's own sin. If something is immoral according to God's Word, then it is not judgmental to point that out; indeed, it is an act of love because you are calling a sinner to repentance. (For scriptures pertaining to this matter see Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.)
At this point a question begs to be asked: Can people who have homosexual desires be accepted in our churches? Most certainly! Those who have these desires but acknowledge that the homosexual lifestyle is contrary to God's will, who struggle against these desires and who desire the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus, and who yearn for the Holy Spirit to support them in their struggle are welcome to our fellowship! In one sense they are no different from anyone else in the church, each with their own struggles against their sinful desires, whatever they might be. Yes, we were all born that way, born sinners; that is why we need to be reborn of water and the Spirit! (Jn 3) However, we cannot receive those who do not repent and who continue to live out a sinful lifestyle, whatever it might be. Repentant sinners are welcome; the unrepentant are warned. The Church on earth has always had members who have had homosexual desires and who have fallen into homosexual acts. In the same manner the Church has always had heterosexual people who have had sinful desires and have fallen into sinful acts. St. Paul wrote, “...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) So it will be until the Lord returns. Thankfully Paul did not end his comment with the “glory of God”, but continued on with the sweet Gospel of forgiveness, “...and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...” (Rom 3:24)
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE CHURCH
Therefore, in one sense, everything remains as it always was. Yet, in another sense, everything has changed. The SCOTUS decision will certainly change the rules of engagement, and will probably do so in many dramatic ways which are yet to be known. History has taught us that advocates for dramatic social change have started their campaigns asking for tolerance when they were in a minority position, but when the advocates achieved a majority status they often became very intolerant of any opposition. The Church should brace itself for such intolerance. A few examples of possible implications for the Church follow: A confessing Christian pastor cannot in good conscience officiate at the marriage of a homosexual couple. And so it appears that our pastors will have to recuse themselves as agents of the state when it comes to performing marriages. Our marriage couples will have to be legally married before the clerk of the court, but then come to our pastors for the Christian solemnization of the marriage. This is how many Christian pastors in Europe have handled this situation. Our synod's legal counsel is investigating this matter. The matter of officiating at same-sex weddings has possible serious implications for our Synod's corps of military chaplains. There are also very real concerns on the part of the Christian community that speaking against homosexual acts, as the Bible does, will be considered a hate crime punishable by fine and/or imprisonment, and that our pastors and professors will be held liable. Other concerns are whether or not the tax exempt status heretofore enjoyed by churches and non-for-profit church charitable organizations will be revoked. Christian schools and universities are also in jeopardy. Our Concordia university system may suffer greatly due to the SCOTUS decision. The government will most likely withhold federal loans to students who attend Christian colleges which do not permit same-sex housing for practicing homosexuals. This could mean that many students, who are considering our Concordia universities throughout the country, will not enroll, reducing the income that the universities depend upon.
For the Holy Christian Church the twenty-first century is beginning to look like the first century, which saw the start of the persecution of the Church. Many patriotic American Christians are deeply troubled by the course our nation is taking. Yet we should not be afraid. God does not need America to be God. The Holy Christian Church has survived many an empire. The Church will remain even after all of the world's empires are done and gone. Our Lord told us that these days would be coming, and He has promised to bless all those who confess, even if that confession means they will lose opportunities for advancement, their freedom, their property and even their lives. God give us wisdom and courage in these dark days! Let us ever remember the words addressed to the Hebrew Christians, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is come. Through (Christ) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Heb 13:14-16/ESV)
*It's more than ironic that gender benders are some of the most devoted advocates of animal rights, even anthropomorphizing and deifying animals. Why they can't see that they are out of sync with that which they idolize, or out of step with all of human history is simply amazing. But then again these neo-gnostics have destroyed all categories and constructs, even if they've never heard the word gnostic.
Pr. Peter M. Berg
Oh, Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down - a Look at Lutheran Liturgical Practice
It seems that we've come to a stalemate in the "worship wars" which have raged in Lutheranism for the past two decades or so. You know: High Church Liturgical Lutherans pitted against the so called Christian Contemporary Worship crowd. Like a scene from the fields of France during the First World War the two sides are deeply entranced in their positions, and only lobbing an occasional grenade back and forth. Any further engagement than this does not seem in the offing. However, on the rare occasion when I encounter a person from the Contempo crowd, I do like to redirect the discussion from questions about worship styles and the whims of the worship consumerist to the far deeper matters of Christian dogma and the ontology of the Godhead. This must always be the starting point in any discussion about worship. Get it wrong here and your worship will be deeply flawed. We worship the way we believe, and what we believe forms our worship. And so when someone from the Lutheran Contempo side says, "We believe the same thing, we just have different styles of worship!" I reply "No, we worship differently because we believe differently." The Prosperity Gospel, to which many a Lutheran church has sold its birthright, says, "Lord, give me a better life!" Confessional Lutherans plead, "Lord, forgive me for my life!" The mercies of our merciful Lord have always found a suitable setting when the Church took a high view of its worship life. And so I offer the reader the following thoughts on this matter, which have been adapted from an article which first appeared in the Motley Magpie (January 2005, Vol. 3, Num. 1)
When it comes to worship "God must lay the first stone," thus Doctor Luther. Whether it is a tree planted in the middle of a paradisiacal garden or a tree planted on an accursed hill, God must lay the first stone, he must do the planting, the initiative belongs to him. That becomes patently clear when we recall that the first "liturgical" movement of Adam and Eve after the Fall was to hide. Their movement was not God-ward but away from him. God had to coax them out of the shadows, and slay an innocent victim, so that he might properly dress his fallen children who had in vain tried to cover themselves with their fig leaf excuses. Ever since the Fall man has always gotten it wrong when it comes to worship. He would prefer to dance in front of a golden calf rather than behold a bloodied lamb. Through the Holy Liturgy God continues to coax us out of the shadows. This first coaxing was a promise of a Savior who would crush the Tempter's head. That promise is at the center of all true worship.
The crushing of the Tempter's head would be the work of the woman's Seed, the Word planted in a virginal womb. "Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow." As Jehovah promised, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." (Is 1:18, ESV) The manner in which God would redeem his people would involve incarnation and scarlet death, and this incarnation and death would shape everything in worship. Who the Savior was and the Way in which he would redeem his people would form the way of their approach back to God. (Much of this essay is a summary of two excellent articles which appeared in the liturgical journal The Bride of Christ. They are Way of Salvation, Way of Liturgy by Fr. John Fenton (July 2002) and a a two-part article by Fr. Lee Maxwell entitled, Vere Dignum et Justum Est: Deed Becomes Creed (December 1999 and March 2000).
THE WHO AND THE WAY
Once again: The way of Old Testament worship would be shaped by the Who and the Way. It was shaped by the One who would be worshipped and who would encounter his people, and by the Way in which he would redeem them.
The worship of the Old Testament people was divinely prescribed. Its center was sacrifice (the Way and way)), with an altar as a visible, tangible focal point. It involved the honor and dignity of God (the Who). At the altar the Who and the Way were joined together, both as type and reality, with the Blood Atonement read back into time. The Who dictated the way of the Way. There is no separation between the Who and the Way and the way of worship, as if the Who and the Way were the lone non-negotiables, with the way of worship merely being one way among many other ways. The way of worship, shaped by the Way of redemption, was mandated by the Who. There was no other way. God is not arbitrary. Left to themselves God's people will always smelt a calf. God will not give his glory to another, and his glory is his self-giving of himself, the way of grace, the way of liturgy.
(It should be noted that in the New Testament context the way of worship would include the proclamation of the Gospel, the sacraments and the liturgy.)
Since the way of worship was divine it brought with it divine blessings, having a profound effect upon the life of the nation of Israel. In the way of the Israelite cultus liturgy and life were bound together since liturgy is the sanctification of life. When an Israelite man bathed himself or when he brought a sacrifice for slaughter he was profoundly reminded that he was not his own man, but rather a marked man bought at a horrific price. Through the way of worship time was also sanctified. The week was made holy by the Sabbath and the year was sanctified by the three great festivals. The way of worship was above all messianic, that is Christocentric, not anthropocentric. Therefore, the worship of God's people would be formed by Christ and his cross (it should be noted that the first crucifix was the bronze serpent fashioned by Jehovah, Jn 3:14). Only Christ could sanctify both men and time. Israel's worship, given by God, would be cruciform in nature. Altars, sacrifices, priestly sacrificers, sacrificial movements, incense, official vestments, knives, sacred fire, etc. were all natural, even necessary, expressions of the Who and Way. Liturgy, whether of the Old Testament or the New, is liturgical or ceremonial because it is first of all Christological and sacramental. To put it another way, it is incarnational, naturally requiring liturgy and ceremony (words, movement, and concrete things). God's worship dictates are not arbitrary, but flow naturally out of his essence and saving work (no gnosticism here!).
Yet for all of the awesome dignity of the Temple cultus, for all its august beauty, and for all its divine character, it was still temporary and unfulfilled (and intentionally so). This brings us to the era of the New Testament. Types and promises were at an end, now had come the time of fulfillment. Type and promise give way to reality and divine presence.
NEW TESTAMENT DIRECTIVES FOR WORSHIP
It is often said that the New Testament does not prescribe any from of worship. For all too many in the church today this is carte blanche for doing one's own thing, with the chalk line drawn around the corpse of good liturgical practice. The above statement is so woefully inadequate and misleading that it has no place in this discussion. For one thing Jewish Christians, who were steeped in the cult of the Temple and in the protocols of the synagogue, needed little instruction on what it meant to worship. The Old Testament liturgical order had reached its fulfillment in Christ and yet it continued to served as a paradigm for the new church. Exodus and Leviticus record for us the only time that God prescribed worship, and that should be of great significance for God is not arbitrary. No order of divine service is given to us in the Book of Acts simply because the early Christians continued as they had with the obvious liturgical changes that would give witness to the Fulfillment of the Ages, with the celebration of the Supper being most prominent. In spite of the absence of the kind of detailed instructions given in Exodus and Leviticus the New Testament does have significant things to say about worship. As an example one could cite the description of the church at worship in the second chapter of Acts. Here we see the fledgling church going about worship, on the one had attached to the Temple, and on the other demonstrating its freedom from the restrictions of the Mosaic code which had now reached its fulfillment in Christ. We read in Acts 2:42, "And they continued steadfastly in the didache of the Apostles and in the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. "(author's translation) Here is the ordinary of our Mass in embryonic form: Reading, Preaching, Eucharist, liturgical prayers.
Again, the New Testament has its say about worship. This is especially true in the context of Gentile mission work. While the worship of the Jews was decidedly God-ward, Greek idolatry focused on man, engaging him in a most sensuous way (anthropomorphism at its worst). Gentile Christians not accustomed to the theology and protocols of the Temple would need guidance and correctives as their patterns of worship evolved. This was the case at Corinth, which occasioned Paul's intervention. This congregation was Paul's unruly child. He had to deal with factionalism, a case of incest, the role of women in the church, a nascent form of Gnosticism, and disorderliness in worship. In regard to the last point Paul had to deal specifically with the disorderly use of speaking in tongues. The Apostle had to remind the Corinthians that the ultimate purpose of these showy gifts was a judgment upon unbelief. Humility, rather than religious exhibitionism, was to be the attitude of the worshipful heart. Worship is principally about God's gift to man, not man's gifting himself in order to gift God. Chaos in the worship assembly would only convince the unbelieving inquirer that the Corinthian believers were out of their minds. On the other hand, Paul asserted, orderliness would permit the Word of God to be heard, and thus "the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." (1 Co 14:25) Note how naturally liturgical praise and action (the way of worship) flow out of the Word (the Who). The situation at Corinth before Paul's intervention was Mt. Sinai and the gold calf redux. Once again, God must lay the first stone.
In the same chapter of 1 Corinthians we come upon the most famous New Testament directive for worship. In the last verse of the chapter we read, "But all things should be done decently and in order." The word rendered "decently" means "with dignity and decorum." Our word decorum comes from the Latin which means "with grace, comeliness, and beauty." The word "order" comes from a word from which we derive our technical term "taxonomy" (the study or practice of classification). Simply put, worship is to be dignified and ordered. After all, our God is a God of order. He called all things into being in six ordered days. We are beholden to him since we are a part of that order. He is to be feared. Though grace triumphs in the end, this side of the Jordan we never leave the burning bush and Sinai. Today's ecclesiastical comedians, who weekly wander on stage with their "cute" self-deprecating humor, are wholly out of place before this Holy Other. They have no decorum, or to put it another way: Jehovah did not dress Aaron in khakis and a polo, and hand him a mic saying, "Play the crowd!"
Paul gives another reason for decorum in worship. He writes, "For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." (1 Co 14:33) Silly sermon props, humorous anecdotes which feature the preacher, dumb-downed sermons, sloppy liturgics, emotive contemporary songs which have little to do with the incarnate, suffering Christ, testimonials which tell how much the speaker loves Jesus, congregants who do not have churchly manners, homemade mediocre orders of service, etc., etc. all serve to disrupt and distract. Shoddy liturgics and anthropomorphism distract, and where there is no order or decorum there is no peace (v 33). Whether it is the disorder of a disorderly life (sin), the cacophony of our noisy and busy lives (and narthexes), or a worship service in which people are constantly jumping up and down and speaking their own testimonial without regard for others, all serve to disrupt peace. Where peace is disrupted faith flounders. Order, you see, is about faith.
Jesus alone is the answer to this disorder. He ordered the Law of God in his holy life and died for our disorderliness, bringing us peace through his Gospel. He brings meaning to our seemingly meaningless lives, and though the fast pace does not always change we are given strength to continue on. In regard to worship, his directives in both testaments bring a sense of order to what the church does with resultant decorum and peace.
Of course the expected counter argument is that much of what goes on Sunday mornings has to do with personal taste, as if all matters of taste are on the same level with no ones taste or style better or lesser than another (which usually amounts to the democracy of mediocrity). Matters of taste and style are far more objective than many would admit. Your three-year old daughter's finger painting may hang on the fridge, but it won't make to the Louvre (though it might be better than some pieces of avant garde art). All too many preachers should allow their wives to chose their clothing in the morning (Females often seem to have an innate sense when it comes good style). Apparently the Apostle Paul felt that there were objective standards when it came to taste and style, among other things, otherwise he would not have written as he did in Philippians 4:8. (It should be noted that all Christian traditions are liturgical in a manner of speaking. All uses texts and rituals. The question is: Which texts and rituals best proclaim the pure, unadulterated Gospel? A false gospel will result in flawed worship practices. All the more reason not to import worship practices from the Protestant Left. Beware of Trojan horses!)
WORSHIP IN THE EARLY CHURCH
Although the New Testament church was not under the Mosaic code, it still saw wisdom in patterning its worship after that of the Old Testament church, but without slavish duplication. Early Christian worship was held in private homes, involved Scripture readings, exposition of the texts, liturgical prayers, the offering of the gifts of bread and wine, and the Eucharist. There are hints about the patterns of early liturgies, but they remain tentative. Some of the prayers and liturgical responses were those which were used by the Jews. Liturgically things come and go. However, by the 5th and 6th centuries the worship of the early church is very familiar to us. However, though the liturgy evolved it showed its true catholicity by never completely separating from the past. As an example, things in the worship of the early church which had Old Testaments precedents were: a church year, liturgical prayers, a series readings (the pericope), altars, lights, priestly vestments, and the use of incense and oil.
Above all, the Who of worship and the Way of salvation helped to form and inform what the church did (the way). To put it another way, the Gospel sought her own forms. Right doctrine results in appropriate forms or rites. Orthodoxy is, after all, correct praise. Again, God lays the first stone. He will not leave the patterns of worship to the whims of fallen people, even his own people. His gospel will seek her own forms. Our western rite is glorious proof of this, in spite of occasional midcourse corrections. The place of the rite in the Church of the Augsburg Confession was crucial. The rite must be right, it must be orthodox. Luther's recension of the Roman Canon is an example of this attention to the details of the rite. An interesting twist on this principle is the infamous "black rubric" in the Book of Common Prayer. It offered the disclaimer that kneeling to receive the Sacrament in no way was to be taken as an act of veneration, since Christ is "not there, but in heaven." This disclaimer was a not so subtle admission that ceremonies, in addition to the words of the rite, are confession and teach truths. In view of this one wonders what is being confessed on "non-communion" Sundays in all too many Lutheran churches, or when bowing, genuflection and the sign of the cross are vehemently opposed by some Lutherans. To date the answers are very disappointing.
Worship not only involves the words of God and of his people, but also physical action and the plastic arts. Given the make up of our being (soul and body), and the incarnational/sacramental theology of the Bible, ceremony involving physical actions and things fashioned for the glory of God are simply natural expressions of who we are and how God has fashioned us and the world around us.
Unfortunately, the iconoclasm and aversion to ceremony found in most of Protestantism have found their way into much of Lutheranism with a bizarre suspicion of noble things. In contrast consider the attitude about ceremony of the early Lutheran confessors, who while teaching that ceremonies in themselves did not save, taught that ceremonies teach the Faith: "For just as the Word enters through the ear in order to strike the heart, so also the rite enters through the eye in order to move the heart. (Apology, XIII.5, Kolb-Wengert Edition) Luther says in his The Adoration of the Sacrament, "(Worship) is not a function of the mouth but of the whole body. It is to bow the head, bend the body, fall on the knees, prostrate one's self, and so forth, and to do such things as a sign and acknowledgement of an authority and power." (AE vol 36.292) One wonders what those who stubbornly resist ceremony think when they sing in the Venite, "Oh, come, let us worship and bow down...." Today's prideful resistance to genuflection is completely absent in the reaction of Isaiah and John when they found themselves in the presence of the Holy. The Lord who commanded holocaust offerings and plumes of incense would have little patience with those who complain about Holy Smoke. It is worth noting that Lutheran rubrical books do not appear immediately on October 31, 1517. Lutheran pastors were simply expected to follow the rubrics of the Roman Mass unless directed otherwise. (As an aside: Some Lutheran liturgical scholars believe that Luther's recension of the Roman Canon, mentioned above, was too drastic, though given the context of the day understandable.)
Unfortunately, when liturgically astute pastors attempt to reclaim some of the noble ceremonies of the past they sometimes encounter fierce resistance, and they are not helped by brother pastors who recite the Protestant mantra, "In our glorious Gospel freedom we don't have to do that stuff!" Those who mindlessly chant these words must be reminded that our freedom in the Gospel does not mean doing stupid things or resisting that which is noble. Above all it doesn't mean being niggardly with the sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Absolution.
Fr. John Fenton gives this excellent description of the symbiotic relationship of the spiritual and physical in worship:
The preaching and sacraments, which implant the Lord and His saving benefits into our
flesh, at the same time proclaim that the body is made to be saved, redeemed to be
recreated, and sanctified to be the home of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Because the Holy Spirit implanted the Word incarnationally into Mary, and implants Him
sacramentally into believers, the redemption of our flesh, our union in God - in short, our
way of salvation - takes place not noetically (just in the mind) and spiritually, but cor-
poreally and palpably. This corporeality and palpability.... both assume and require cere-
monies that are liturgically corporeal and liturgically palpable. (Way of Salvation, Way of
Liturgy", Bride of Christ, July 2002)
Thus bowing the head or genuflecting demonstrates the attitude of a pauper receiving a gift. Signing one's self with the cross is a remembrancer of one's baptism. The elevation of the consecrated elements is a testimony to the Real Presence. All of this is much more than nice aesthetics or symbolism, rather this is the acknowledgement of the presence of the divine in our midst. We are in the presence of God! Like Mary and Thomas we touch the divine/human, resurrected Son of God. He pours his presence into our bodies as well as into our souls. The soul is moved to faith, the body to action, both in liturgical ceremony and also in service to neighbor.
Examples of the use of appropriate ceremony and the plastic arts briefly follow: The procession of the clergy with crucifer / The restoration of the historic mass vestments (cf. Ex 28:2f) / The restoration of the crucifix (together with the altar the ultimate epiphany of the Glory of the Lord) / Making the sign of the cross at appropriate times during the mass (cf. Luther's rubric to do so at the praying of the Morning and Evening prayers) / The use of an ornate Gospel book to indicate that the Gospel is the culmination of the Old Testament and the revelation of Christ / The bowing of the head at the name of Jesus (C.F.W. Walther once said, "May we never lose this practice.") / A full genuflection at the words of the Creed, "And was incarnate by the Holy Spirt of the virgin Mary and was made man" to indicate humble reverence for Christ's incarnation (cf. Phil 2:10)/ The use of incense / The elevation of the host and cup with the genuflection of the celebrant and the adoration of the people / Above all, sermons that preach Christ crucified and resurrected for the salvation of sinners! Of course these ceremonia would serve to embellish the Eucharistic rite in an officially approved hymnal to which all pastors would voluntarily pledge to use for the sake of the people and the unity of the church.
Practices such as these, not to mention our incarnational/sacramental theology, will help to distinguish the Lutheran Church from other Protestants, who often seem go in the way of the Law with the result that worship becomes an "information hour" during which the people sit passively receiving instructions on how to live better lives, or are entertained by a dynamic, motivational speaker backed by a praise band, or hear testimonials about how God is working good things in someone's life (which are the ersatz sacraments of non-sacramental churches). However, worship is not merely a thing of the mind or emotions (i.e. noetic or emotive), but rather is a spiritual/physical encounter with the living God, who is revealed in his enfleshed Son, and who gives out his life-giving words, and the very body and blood of his Only Begotten for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, thus redeeming and reclaiming the whole man.
Anyone who has witnessed the moving ceremony of the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. knows the power and instructive value of ceremony. The Church also knows of a tomb, but in contrast to the tomb of the Unknown, no body now rests there and the identity of its former occupant is known throughout the world. On account of this, we will not remain for long in our tombs, for we will be raised up one day to join with "angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven (to) laud and magnify" the glorious name of the Savior. Therefore, there is no room for shoddiness, cuteness, or the trivial in the Holy of holies. There is no room for Protestant iconoclasm, Reformed pallidness, and Evangelical sacramental poverty in the Temple of God. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:8)
In the Name of Jesus, + Amen.
I will read you the Christmas story. You must be very quiet and very still.....
And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from the Prince of this World, the Prince of Darkness, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Adam chose to become governor of his own life, the captain of his own fate, when he turned his face away from God and communed at the wrong altar. On account of this all went to be taxed, for the wages of sin is death and the tax on the wage is eternal doom (Rom 6:23). Everyone unto his own city, unto his own lineage. From sire to son, from maid to maiden the curse would be passed down, and the government of the Prince of Darkness would be on all men's shoulders. And Adam also went out from Eden to be taxed with Eve his wife, soon to be great with child. And so it was that the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son and named him Cain. And she conceived again and bore a son named Abel.
Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the soil.
And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering unto the Lord. And Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord came unto Cain and warned him that sin was crouching at the door. But Cain did not listen to the Lord and he went out into the field where his brother Abel was keeping watch over his flock. But there were no brother shepherds in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night to protect Abel. It was night in the heart of Cain, and Cain slew his brother and spilt his blood upon the ground, and ever since man has been soaking the earth with the blood of his brother. And the Archangel of Evil and all his hellish host sang out, "Glory to Satan in the highest, and on earth doom and death to man!"
Millennia later it came to pass that there went out a decree from a lesser potentate, a lackey of the Prince of Darkness, Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And his name was Jesus.
He whom the heavens cannot contain rests in the womb of a virgin maid. Caesar resides in his palace and taxes his empire, but the King of kings lies in a manger and gives his eternal gifts at no cost. He who feeds the ravens still must be fed at the breast of a virgin. The reign of this king is not for his own advantage or good, but for the good of his subjects, even though they have rebelled against him. Yes, you too have rebelled against him and you know it. He is no cosmic St. Nick, making his list and checking it twice to see who has been naughty or nice. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and the wage for sin is death. You know your inmost thoughts in all their hateful, covetous, lustful, self-pitying vileness. Yet, in spite of this he comes not in vengeance but in mercy. Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow, but he will die a crimson death upon a tree. He will die because of us; he will die for us, and his death will be our life.
And it came to pass that the Lord came unto Cain and inquired about his brother. Though his brother was a keeper of sheep, this brother was no brother's keeper, as he sneered. He was instead a brother slayer. The ground was cursed on account of Adam's sin, yet the Lord promised that with the sweat of his brow it would yield a crop for him. But not so for his son Cain. Abel's blood spilt upon the ground would not allow it to yield for Cain. Cain would be a fugitive and a vagabond. Cain whined a bitter whine. His punishment was more than he could bear, he cried. All who would come upon him would kill him, he complained. But though Cain showed no mercy toward his brother, God was merciful. He set a mark upon Cain and pronounced a seven-fold vengeance upon anyone who should slay him.
We too have received the Mark of Cain, and this we desperately needed. For we have slain our brother, if not with fists, with thoughts. Our hateful thoughts have murdered; our lustful thoughts have fornicated; our covetous thoughts have stolen; our jealous thoughts have slandered. Yet no vengeance will be visited upon us. We need not fear. We have been marked, signed with the Holy Cross at Holy Baptism, our Mark of Cain. We have been spared divine vengeance. What we deserve due to our sins will not be visited upon us. The wages of sin is death and the tax on the wage is eternal doom, but the baby Jesus has endured all that for our sake. Therefore, with good reason we gather in our Father's house this night to adore the baby Jesus, the little lamb marked for death, our death. Shepherds went here long before us. They came to the Holy Church. They came to Mary, for Mary is the first catechumen, the first Christian, the icon of the Church and of every believer. The shepherds, the pastores in church Latin, came to the Church, these pastores, these pastors entered the Holy of Holies. And Holy Mother Church sent them out, called and ordained them and they did what pastors or preachers are supposed to do: they told others all that they had seen and heard: That there is mercy for the Cains of the world, a mark to spare them divine judgment, a lamb to die in their place! In an old Italian hymn, Viva! Viva! Gesu, we read, "Abel's blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies; but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries." (LSB 433.4) The blood of Abel closed the ground to all fruitfulness for Cain, but the blood of Jesus opens Cainite hearts, and his mercy sprouts forth fruits of love through them to all.
And Mary pondered all these things in her heart.
You have chosen the best this night. You have chosen to come to your Father's house, and there is room in this inn. You too pondered all these things in your hearts. Your shepherd has unwrapped the Lord Christ from the swaddling clothes of the Old and New Testament scriptures. He will invite you to the manger, to the altar, to feed on Christ. As ox and ass fed at Christ's manger, so people with beastly passions are nonetheless invited to feed upon the life-giving body and blood of their Savior, and in doing this they will share in the divine nature and become truly human, helping their neighbor in every bodily need.
Yes, soon we will enter the stable, the chancel, and feed upon God in the manger. And this is our highest worship: for there is no greater worship than to receive Christ's gifts, to let Jesus be what his name says he is, Savior! Our greatest worship is not that we are here this night, but that in the deep of night our God came here to us. Our greatest worship and service to God is not that we have resisted spilling our brother's blood, but that Jesus, our true brother, spilt his precious blood upon the ground, that is, pours it into people who are dust through the Holy Eucharist and makes them truly human: fruitful and zealous for good works. What can we do as we walk away from this grand mystery but be like Mary and ponder all these things in our hearts: "That God was man in Palestine, and lives today in bread and wine" (John Betjman), and mortal men who live and die shall feast forever up on high. Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
A merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A Sermon for Christmas Midnight Mass
A Sermon for the Easter Vigil
In the Name of Jesus+
"God grant that it was not the devil's trick!" Thus old Hans Luther to his son Martin on the day of Martin Luther's ordination into the priesthood. His father had not written to him for over a year after he had entered the monastery. He was still angry by what he saw as his son's impulsive career change. This was before things like pensions and Social Security. If you lived much past sixty you hoped that your children would take care of you. And so though Hans struggled as a miner and mine owner he managed to finance his son's university education in the study of law. Good to have a well heeled lawyer as a son! But all of that changed. The young university student, returning to school, was caught in a furious storm. Fearing for his safety and his soul's salvation he cried out to the patron saint of miners, St. Anne, "St. Anne, save me and will become a monk." With that vow Hans Luther saw his retirement plan fly out the window. A promising career in law gave way to a vow of poverty. Still, he honored his son by attending the ordination mass. He came with a retinue of some twenty horsemen and he paid for the festivities of the day. At one point that day Luther tried to mollify his father. He told him of the terrible storm and how St. Anne had saved him. He spoke of his solemn vow. That was enough, old Hans snapped. "God grant that it was not the devil's trick! Have you never read, 'Honor your father and your mother'?" Luther never forgot his father's answer. Old Hans stood squarely on the Word of God. All that Luther had to show for his actions was an impulsive decision made at a highly emotional moment. Years later he would write, "The feelings come and the feelings go, but the Word of our Lord remains forever."
Luther was death on following one's intuition. He called human reason a red dressed whore. He paid no regard to alleged apparitions of the saints or the Blessed Virgin. He certainly would not have bought into the Disneyesque sentiment, "Follow your heart!" In contrast he would have approved of the statement, "Judge God not based on his providences (that is, on whatever he's doing in your life at a given time, which you can neither decipher or understand). No do not judge God based on his providences, but on his promises." Who knows if your inner "revelation" was of God or was the Devil's trick. Perhaps it was the burrito you ate for lunch that made you feel in that weird and fantastical way. Nothing certain here.
In like manner, do not be enthralled by the power of God, although we depend upon it every day. Sinners and the power of God don't go well together. Yet we never learn. We call upon the almighty power of God frequently. We want a miracle today! We want grandma to be miraculously cured of her cancer! We want to feel better in an instant! We want to learn that we have a rich, unknown, uncle who has put us into his will! Yet beware. What if God gave us what we really deserve. What if he was as faithful to us as we have been to him. We ought to shudder at the thought. However, wasn't it this enthrallment with the power of God which made that ruler of the Jews, Nicodemus, come to Jesus one evening. He was not blinded by the hateful jealousy of his fellow Pharisees. He concluded that no one could do the miraculous deeds that Jesus was doing unless God was with him. But Jesus didn't want Nicodemus to find him in his power, but rather in his powerlessness. That is why he told him, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up." (Jn 3:14) Nicodemus' finest moment was not when he confessed to Jesus that he believed in his almighty power, but rather when he and Joseph of Arimathea laid the powerless, lifeless, beaten body of Jesus in a tomb. There Nicodemus found a merciful God and the remission of all his sins.
Before Moses ever lifted up the serpent in the wilderness he was dispatched to Pharaoh to demand the release of God's people. The Lord armed him with miraculous signs. Do you recall when he cast down his staff before the king and it became a serpent? Yet what did the magicians of Pharaoh do? They too cast down their staffs and they became serpents. "You want snakes, Moses, we got snakes, lots of them!" Yet their power did not come from on high, but from the old serpent himself, who can turn wooden staffs into serpents and people too. We sadly think of Judas.
No, do not be enthralled by the power of God, nor be dismayed when he chooses to be powerless. And do not trust your feelings, your heart or your eyes. Rather trust your ears when they are attuned to God's Word. However, that did not describe the women as they came to the tomb Easter morning (Mk 16:1-8) Their hearts had been crushed, their feelings raw. And to add insult to injury they were powerless to help their once powerful Lord due to the stone in front of the tomb. But behold, the stone was rolled away! "He is not here," the angel told them. "See the place where they laid him," he said. Yet an empty tomb does not necessarily seal the deal. The leaders had cooked up a lie to cover that. "He's still dead, they just moved the body somewhere." No, it would be the post-resurrection appearances of the Lord and the many eyewitnesses that would seal the deal. Yet, there was a prior proof of it all. Just three words in the original text, "kathos eipen heemin", "just as he told you." He told you he would meet you in Galilee. He told you he would be crucified. He told you he would give his life as a ransom for many. He told you he would rise on the third day. He told you, you just forgot. And you forget too, that's why your heart is so often anxious, and why you are often thankless, and sometimes afraid. We forget God's promises too.
Martin Luther once said that we ought to take a fistful of the promises of God and hold them before his face. What greater promise do we have but that given us in Holy Baptism, which is our redemption and sanctification. You can't get too far into the Vigil liturgy without getting soaking wet with baptismal water. The Spirit hovering over the waters on the great days of Creation, as he hovered over the Lord at his baptism. The little church of Noah about to be engulfed by the unbelieving world, which itself was engulfed in the Flood. And haughty Pharaoh and his hosts drowned in the waters of the Red Sea. No wonder Luther wrote on his study wall, "I am baptized!" And so when that haughty Pharaoh, the Devil, comes after you, confront him with your baptism. And do know this, he will most surely come with his sneers. "So you're a child of God? Then why are you sick, discouraged, depressed, and poor?" Say to him, "Old boy, I am baptized! My reward will come later and it will be grand!" When he sneers, "You're a Christian, ha, I know of your sin and sinning!" say to him, "Old snake, I am baptized. I have no sin. Jesus took it all!" "Look, Christian, you labor long and hard yet no one thanks you for it. No one recognizes what you do." "So what, Old Demon, no one thanks my heavenly Father either, why should I complain when I'm not thanked. I am baptized, that's all I need!" "Well, Christian, I'll leave you for now, but I will return. I'll return when you're in the throes of death and will fill you with so much doubt, remorse and regret that I will rob you of your faith and drag you down to hell!" "Well, Old boy, hell I do deserve, so why wait 'til later, let us go down into the Abyss now. And since you are Prince of this World you go first!" And then BANG! slam the door behind him, for you are baptized!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The One True Koinonia Is the Blessed Holy Trinity
Sometimes biblical words and expressions are beyond the capabilities of a given language. This frustrates the process of translation and gives rise to paraphrase, a device not without pitfalls. Such is the case with attempts to find an English equivalent for the New Testament word koinonia. It has long been noted that the word fellowship is not an adequate translation of koinonia. It does not convey the rich meanings of koinonia, nor does any other single word in our language. Indeed, the English rendering and common usage of the word fellowship have virtually hijacked its true meaning.
The one true koinonia is the Blessed Holy Trinity. Fellowship is first God, not us. First God, then only us. Fellowship is not a hall, it is not a social, it is not a program, it is not "us serving us", it is not about ecclesiastical membership, nor "Friendship Sunday", it is not even a doctrine. It is God. There never was a time when God was alone, out of koinonia: never a time when the Blessed Holy Trinity was not The Koinonia. Our God is a family, a koinonia, a Holy Communion. While it is risky talking about God being compelled to be what He is and do what He does, there is an inner compulsion within God. God is not arbitrary and so cannot act contrary to His being, and His being is the source of all other godly being and doing. It's not a matter of looking for metaphors for God and then exclaiming, "Isn't fatherhood a wonderful thing! Maybe God is like a father!" No, we have fathers because God is the Father. We have doors because Jesus is the Door. We have pastors because Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Bonus Pastor. We have an all-male pastorate and heterosexual marriages because Christ is the Bridegroom and His Church is the Bride. When it comes to the ontology of God there are no options, as if God according to His nature could be different, or could have fashioned the world and mankind differently. God is Father, He must be. It is constituent to His nature forever, run into eternity both ways. Fathers love, as their heavenly Father does. Since fathers love, as their heavenly Father does, they must create, beget, give life. Our Father in heaven begat out of His essence, love, will, power, word, and dust and made man, and then begat woman out of man. Adam and Eve were eternal eventualities. "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh..." (Gen. 2:23, ESV) But of course, it could not have been any other way, for God is not arbitrary and ontologically so.
After worshiping and communing at a forbidden altar, Adam's glorious love song soon turned into a bitter whine, "The woman whom you gave to be with me...." (Gen. 3:12) Man had become demonically arbitrary, denying his own God-given ontology. The bitter whine and flawed liturgical rubrics continued in Adam's progeny. The tough guy, Lamech, sang what had to be the first country-and-western song, "Adah and Zillah hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold." (Gen. 4:23-24) Man had turned his face away from his Father and worshiped and communed at a different altar, sought the fellowship of demons, thirsted for the wrong blood, and contemporary, anthropocentric worship was born for all the sad ages of fallen man. On account of all this, God must be Son. It is constituent to His nature. God is love for all eternity. For all eternity there must be a son to love, and there is. From the sinner's perspective there must be a son for another reason. The majesty of God had been assaulted in the Fall and in every human act thereafter. God as God is love and therefore must beget, He must give life because He Himself is Life. But now, in view of the Fall, there is death and therefore there must be The Death, because God is not only life but also love. Therefore, this loving God must also begat a lamb, for there must be death: crimson, bloody, sacrificial death to save the dying. God must give up His best, His all, to atone for the sins of mankind. The Father does not have the grim "luxury" of going to the cross Himself, as fathers are wont to give up their lives for their children, for then He would have held back something of His majesty. He must give up His Son, who is Life, for the life of the world. He displays the glories of His mercy in and through His Son. The Fall and the grace which covers the Fall, display the glory of God's mercy as nothing else can. The wonderful words of the Exsultet come to mind, "O truly needful sin of Adam, which was blotted out by the death of Christ! O happy fault, that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer!"
Within the council of the Holy Trinity the glory of God's grace needs no foil to make it glorious - it is glorious on its own. But for sinners the glories of God's mercy are all the brighter set against the backdrop of their sin. In order for this sacrifice to become reality God must be incarnate, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He must be, for this too is constituent to His nature. We read the Incarnation and the sonship of the Son back into eternity noting along the way all of the incarnations of the Son in Old Testament history. Gimpy Jacob, the wrestler - Israel - can attest to this. Mano a mano. Deus ad Deum. God must become what He will redeem, He must become incarnate. God must die, for only in the dying of Him who is Life is there life for sinners. "O grosse Not, Gott selbst liegt tot!" (O sorrow dread! Our God is dead. LSB, 448, st.2). He must pour out and breathe out His life for the life of the world, for only in this dying is there life. No Good Friday, no Easter. No abandonment, no koinonia. No death, no resurrection. Yet we cannot stop here.....
You see, there must also be a giving out of this resurrection life. Blood and breath, which are life, must be breathed into and poured into lifeless sinners. Therefore there must be the Mass, the great ER! There must be resuscitation and transfusion. Therefore God must be Spirit, Respiratus: the Great Physician of body and soul.
But there is yet more, for salvation is not about starvation rations: Let the resuscitated eat, drink, and be merry! "Give her something to eat," Jesus said of the daughter of Jairus. But not just a morsel. Let there be a feast for the once dead! The great Feast! But of course! Liturgy, speaking, hearing, eating and drinking, the Feast of the Lamb, music, singing, and rejoicing, a bridal meal - resuscitation, transfusion, and chasubles to boot! Thus Jehovah had divinely mandated a grand liturgy for Aaron and his priests to celebrate, and the church of the New Testament took its cue from the cultus of the past. To describe this worship as an adiaphoron, an indifferent matter, is to describe it most inadequately. The Gospel seeks forms appropriate to itself, for God is not arbitrary. The humbly wise will recognize there goodly forms, and unfit forms as well.
Still more. The Feast requires a master of ceremonies, one who iconically stands in the place of the Bridegroom, a man who resuscitates and transfuses, or to speak in more intimate terms, one who will place the Seed, the spermos, into the Bride. The Bridegroom has brought His beloved Bride to life. Prince Charming, the Prince of Peace, has kissed Sleeping Ugly and she has awakened in beauty! He has brought her to the bridal chamber. He will consummate the marriage. The Seed is planted in the Bride's hearing of His Holy Absolution and her receiving of His Holy Communion, and she will conceive "faith, hope and charity." (1 Cor. 13:13, KJV) This is true fellowship. This is koinonia at the altar rail between God and man, and man with his brothers and sisters.
This why Allah cannot be God. Allah has no son, no Sweet and Holy Jesus, no Lamb of God, no sacrifice, no atonement. Instead he must accepted the maimed sacrifices of unholy people. How can this be? This is not right. Not holy. No just. Perhaps Hinduism has the better of it by comparison with its whimsical panoply of gods and goddesses, a family of sorts, dozens of trinities and koinonias, along with dozens of hells, purgatories and resurrections. But then who needs a soap opera?
There is only one koinonia, one sacrifice, one atonement, and one resurrection. These suffice for the sins of the world. God accomplished all this in His own unexpected and surprising way, the only way it could have been done. Yet we must say still more, and here's the real kicker: These truths are largely lost to the church today. Egyptian plunder was once fashioned into a golden calf and demonic dance began, and unfortunately the dance continues. Listen: God is not arbitrary and neither are the actions of His Church. Therefore the ordination of women, homosexual "marriage", "everyone is a minister", spiritualized non-incarnational worship, void sacramentology, banal contemporary drivel, chancel comedy and cuteness, anthropomorphism, etc, etc, are not iconic of the Divine Being and so are to be rejected, for these things threaten to sever koinonia with Him who is The Koinonia. God is not arbitrary, neither are the actions of His Church. The Body does not deny its Head. The wise will understand this; the foolish will continue to fashion golden calves, living in demonic disobedience. Let the reader understand....
In nomine Patris + et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.
Ever since the Lord God ordered Moses to inscribe His Torah on tablets of stone the church has been in the business of exegesis, a business which promises great blessings but which is fraught with perils of its own. Get it wrong here and you get it wrong everywhere else. What is quintessential to good exegesis is getting the right hermeneutical key with which to unlock the secrets of the text. It should be obvious that the correct hermeneutical key is Jesus Christ and His Holy Gospel. Yet what should be so very obvious to the exegete, both professional and lay, turns out to be an elusive thing, much like losing your car keys. The end result is that many exegetes and their auditors are left hermeneutically hamstrung, doomed to taking exegetical side trips off the narrow way. It is my prayer that this investigation of the Parable of the Prodigal or Lost Son will help to make clear what our dear Doctor, Martin Luther, once said, "All of Scripture is God's and Mary's son."