Friday, 30 March 2012

This Is Very Neat: The Lutheran Lectionary Project

This is very neat: the Lutheran Lectionary Project (click on post title to view). This resource puts the Propers of the historic, one-year Lutheran lectionary in easily accessible format. While my congregations, like most in the LCA, follow the Revised Common Lectionary, this is still a useful resource to have as it is a veritable treasure trove of prayers and Biblical resources. And there are the odd occasions when I will revert to the historic Lutheran lectionary - for example, Palm Sunday, which the RCL makes a terrible hash of, perpetuating a 9th C. decision of the Roman church to split the Propers of the day between Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. The Eastern Orthodox, to their credit, have always maintained The Triumphal Entry as one of their 12 major feasts, an ancient practice the Lutheran Church reprised in the West when it developed its own lectionaries. It's disappointing, then, that we gave up this Sunday with the adoption of the RCL, relegating the rich themes of the triumphal entry to a procession around the church or even a pre-service gathering in the hall!

I'll likely post some more on Palm Sunday on the day; here, in the meantime, are the Propers for Palm Sunday from the Lutheran one year lectionary, courtesy the Lutheran Lectionary Project (please consider supporting them via their site):

Palmarum (Palm Sunday)


Almighty and everlasting God, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross. Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


But You, O LORD, do not be | far from Me;*
O My Strength, hasten to | help Me!
Save Me from the | lion's mouth*
and from the horns of the wild | oxen! (Psalm 22:19, 21)

My God, My God, why have You for- | saken Me?*
Why are You so far from | helping Me.
All those who see Me ridi- | cule Me;*
they shoot out the lip, they | shake the head.
They say "He trusted in the LORD, let Him | rescue Him;*
let Him deliver Him, since He de- | lights in Him!"
Be not far from Me, for trou- | ble is near;*
for there is | none to help. (Psalm 22:1, 7-8, 11)
(The Gloria Patri is omitted)

Old Testament: Zech. 9:9-12

The Coming King of Zion

9(A) Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!(B) Behold,(C) your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,(D) humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10(E) I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and(F) the war horse from Jerusalem;and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and(G) he shall speak peace to the nations;(H) his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from(I) the River to the ends of the earth. 11As for you also, because of(J) the blood of my covenant with you,
(K) I will set your prisoners free from(L) the waterless pit. 12Return to your stronghold, O(M) prisoners of hope;
today I declare that(N) I will restore to you double.

Cross references:Zechariah 9:9 : Zeph 3:14 Zechariah 9:9 : Cited Matt 21:5; John 12:15 Zechariah 9:9 : Jer 23:5 Zechariah 9:9 : Matt 11:29 Zechariah 9:10 : Hos 1:7 Zechariah 9:10 : Mic 5:10 Zechariah 9:10 : Mic 5:5 Zechariah 9:10 : Psalm 72:8 Zechariah 9:10 : Exodus 23:31 Zechariah 9:11 : Exodus 24:8 Zechariah 9:11 : Isa 42:7; 51:14; 61:1 Zechariah 9:11 : Gen 37:24; Jer 38:6 Zechariah 9:12 : Jer 31:17 Zechariah 9:12 : Isa 61:7


You hold me by my | right hand.*
You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to | glory.
Truly God is good to | Israel, *
to such as are | pure in heart. (Psalm 73:23–24, 1)

Epistle: Phil. 2:5-11

5(A) Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6(B) who, though he was in(C) the form of God, did not count equality with God(D) a thing to be grasped, 7but(E) made himself nothing, taking the form of a(F) servant,[b](G) being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by(H) becoming obedient to the point of death,(I) even death on a cross. 9(J) Therefore(K) God has(L) highly exalted him and bestowed on him(M) the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus(N) every knee should bow,(O) in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and(P) every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is(Q) Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Footnotes:Philippians 2:5 Or which was also in Christ Jesus Philippians 2:7 Greek bondservant
Cross references:Philippians 2:5 : Rom 15:3; Matt 11:29 Philippians 2:6 : John 1:1 Philippians 2:6 : 2 Cor 4:4 Philippians 2:6 : John 5:18; 10:33; John 14:28 Philippians 2:7 : 2 Cor 8:9; 13:4; Mark 9:12 Philippians 2:7 : Isa 42:1; Matt 20:28 Philippians 2:7 : Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4; John 1:14 Philippians 2:8 : Heb 5:8; Matt 26:39; John 10:18; Rom 5:19 Philippians 2:8 : Heb 12:2 Philippians 2:9 : John 10:17; Isa 52:13; 53:12; Heb 2:9 Philippians 2:9 : Matt 28:18 Philippians 2:9 : Acts 2:33 Philippians 2:9 : Eph 1:21; Heb 1:4; Acts 5:41 Philippians 2:10 : Isa 45:23; Rom 14:11 Philippians 2:10 : Rev 5:3, 13; Eph 1:10 Philippians 2:11 : Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3 Philippians 2:11 : Rom 14:9; John 13:13


My | God, My God,*
Why have You for- | saken Me?
Why are You so far from | helping Me,*
and from the words of My | groaning?
Our fathers trust- | ed in You;*
they trusted, and You de- | livered them.
They cried to You, and were de- | livered;*
they trusted in You, and were | not ashamed. (Psalm 22:1, 4, 5)

Gospel: Matt. 21:1-9

The Triumphal Entry

1(A) Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to(B) the Mount of Olives, then Jesus(C) sent two disciples, 2saying to them, "Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once." 4This took place(D) to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
5(E) "Say to the daughter of Zion,'Behold, your king is coming to you,
(F) humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and[a] on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'"

6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8Most of the crowd(G) spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting,(H) "Hosanna to(I) the Son of David!(J) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna(K) in the highest!"

Footnotes:Matthew 21:5 Or even
Cross references:Matthew 21:1 : For Matthew 21:1-9, Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-38; John 12:12-15 Matthew 21:1 : Matthew 24:3; 26:30; Zech 14:4; John 8:1; Acts 1:12 Matthew 21:1 : Mark 14:13 Matthew 21:4 : Matthew 1:22 Matthew 21:5 : Zech 9:9; Isa 62:11 Matthew 21:5 : Matthew 11:29 Matthew 21:8 : 2 Kgs 9:13 Matthew 21:9 : Rev 7:10; Psalm 118:25 (Heb) Matthew 21:9 : Matthew 20:30 Matthew 21:9 : Matthew 23:39; Psalm 118:26 Matthew 21:9 : Luke 2:14; Psalm 148:1

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Lutheran Teaching on Marriage

From Luther's exposition of the 6th Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery", in the Large Catechism, a confessional document of the Lutheran church:

"These commandments now are easily understood from the preceding; for they are all to the effect that we avoid doing any kind of injury to our neighbor. But they are arranged in fine order. In the first place, they treat of his own person. Then they proceed to the person nearest him, or the closest possession next after his body, namely, his wife, who is one flesh and blood with him, so that we cannot inflict a higher injury upon him in any good that is his. Therefore it is explicitly forbidden here to bring any disgrace upon him in respect to his wife. And it really aims at adultery, because among the Jews it was ordained and commanded that every one must be married. Therefore also the young were early provided for [married], so that the virgin state was held in small esteem, neither were public prostitution and lewdness tolerated (as now). Therefore adultery was the most common form of unchastity among them.

But because among us there is such a shameful mess and the very dregs of all vice and lewdness, this commandment is directed also against all manner of unchastity, whatever it may be called; and not only is the external act forbidden, but also every kind of cause, incitement, and means, so that the heart, the lips, and the whole body may be chaste and afford no opportunity, help, or persuasion to inchastity. And not only this, but that we also make resistance, afford protection and rescue wherever there is danger and need; and again, that we give help and counsel, so as to maintain our neighbor's honor. For whenever you omit this when you could make resistance, or connive at it as if it did not concern you, you are as truly guilty as the one perpetrating the deed.Thus, to state it in the briefest manner, there is required this much, that every one both live chastely himself and help his neighbor do the same, so that God by this commandment wishes to hedge round about and protect every spouse that no one trespass against them.

But since this commandment is aimed directly at the state of matrimony and gives occasion to speak of the same, you must well understand and mark, first, how gloriously God honors and extols this estate, inasmuch as by His commandment He both sanctions and guards it. He has sanctioned it above in the Fourth Commandment: Honor thy father and thy mother; but here He has (as we said) hedged it about and protected it. Therefore He also wishes us to honor it, and to maintain and conduct it as a divine and blessed estate; because, in the first place, He has instituted it before all others, and therefore created man and woman separately (as is evident), not for lewdness, but that they should live together, be fruitful, beget children, and nourish and train them to the honor of God.

Therefore God has also most richly blessed this estate above all others, and, in addition, has bestowed on it and wrapped up in it everything in the world, to the end that this estate might be well and richly provided for. Married life is therefore no jest or presumption; but it is an excellent thing and a matter of divine seriousness. For it is of the highest importance to Him that persons be raised who may serve the world and promote the knowledge of God, godly living, and all virtues, to fight against wickedness and the devil."

The translation is that of the old Triglotta text from 1921. More could be said,of course, but this is a good place to start.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

This Is Progress?

Well, there I was half an hour ago following my usual Saturday night ritual - since my wife, a nurse and midwife - usually works Saturday evenings I make the family dinner for the hungry hordes and then sit down in front of the TV to enjoy, relatively undisturbed, 'New Tricks', a British light drama about a few crusty retired policemen who are called back to work investigating 'cold cases' under the supervision of an attractive and very capable female detective, whence a lot of subtle, humorous repartee between the main characters derives. Apart from the evening news it's one of the few TV programs I watch regularly; I find it relieves me of some of the stresses associated with preparing for Sunday mornings. But not tonight: "No Signal" is all I can see. I wonder for a moment if the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission, our equivalent of the BBC) has neglected to pay its electricity bill? No, it's just one of the vagaries of the allegedly wonderful new world of digital TV which we now have no choice but to contend with since the eminently reliable analogue signals were switched off some months ago. It's now a rare event to watch a single program without annoying signal interruptions and now it seems we should consider ourselves fortunate to get TV at all. This is progress? Looks like it's off to bed early with a good book.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Slow Blues in E

I feel like listening to/playing the blues tonight. If you're an intermediate level guitar player looking to get into the blues this is a good place to start, courtesy daddystovepipe:

As this Generation-Xer advances inexorably into middle age, I find this is about as fast as I can play anything on guitar...oh, and btw, if you think a Christian has no place listening to the blues, check out the psalms of lament!

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Detachment of Grace from the Person of Christ

Luther once wrote critically of spiritual enthusiasts (Ger.: schwaermerei) who seemed to have swallowed the Holy Spirit "feathers and all". If Luther were a systematic or historical theologian instead of a professor of Old Testament with a happy knack for conjuring up memorable word images, he might have put it the way T.F. Torrance does here:
"Early in the history of the Church the understanding of grace came to be affected by notions of charis long rampant in Hellenism. In classical times 'grace' or charis could be thought of as a supernatural quality conferred by the gods on legendary heroes making them 'godlike'' could refer to an objective endowment, to a mystical power affecting even inanimate objects, to a pneumatic potency infused into the soul, or to the divinity that dwells upon Caesar endowing him with the power to confer divine blessings. ...In the New Testament grace is regularly associated with the Person and work of Christ, and is only twice brought into connection with the Spirit (Heb. 10:29; James 4:6), but later on grace was often used in detachment from the Person of Christ and then thought of as an independent principle or as correlated only with the Spirit. This facilitated its lapse into the Hellenistic notion of pneumatic potency... ...grace came to be treated as something akin to magical power. The connection of grace with the Spirit is not itself theologically unsound, for grace must surely be understood in relation to the Holy Trinity, but detachment from intimate relation to the personal Being of Christ,...could, and often did, lead to serious error. Notions of 'spiritual grace' are found in Protestant as well as in Roman pietism."

T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction, p172.

A long sustained Lutheran critique of Reformed theology is that it separates Word and Spirit and therefore Christ and Spirit, thus setting the stage for Pietism, Methodism, Pentecostalism and other hyper-spiritual aberrations in the Christian life that continue to plague us today. When it proclaims dogmas apart from the Word of God and promotes apophatic mysticism as a genuine path to experience and knowledge of God Rome also exhibits this "enthusiastic" tendency, which is "as old as Adam".

Torrance, at least in the quote above, seems to be squarely on the Lutheran side of the argument and traces the origins of this enthusiasm to the negative influence of Hellenism on early Christianity. There are some profound implications in what Torrance writes but I find my mind dwelling on a particular aspect of this subject. By "Hellenism" above I think Torrance means the popular Hellenistic religious milieu of the day rather than the refined Greek philosophy of the academy, including the belief in "pneumatic potency" ascribed to inanimate objects that seems to be behind the episode reported in Acts 19 where Pauls' body is touched with aprons and handkerchiefs (or pieces of cloth associated with his trade as a tentmaker and which he had thus used?) which are then taken away and used to heal the sick and exorcise the demon possessed (cf the legend of Veronica's handerchief in popular RC piety which features in Mel Gibson's film "The Passion").

Which episode raises an interesting question: since Luke ascribes the healing power of these objects to a divine power that comes through Paul personally ("Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?"), how is what is reported in this episode different from the the popular Hellenistic belief that "holy people" or "holy objects" had spiritual power (a belief which persists in Christianized form to this day wherever the bodies of saints and various holy objects, icons and places are ascribed miraculous powers)?

Accepting as a matter of course that Luke's report is true, the best explanation I can come up with is that 1) the power operative here was indeed divine power and not a counterfeit of either human or demonic origin; which possibly means that 2) God condescended to the popular beliefs of the Ephesian people both out of mercy and to give extra weight or testimony to the truth of Paul's preaching given that the Ephesians were a superstitious and idolatrous lot. This might also explain the continuance of similar phenomena on the mission fields to this day.

Of course, what the episode in Acts 19 does not give us is a commandment or mandate to replicate the practice (thus I conclude that the similar practices of the Romans and the Orthodox past and present are at best erroneous and at worst idolatrous) . It strikes me that the absence of a command to "do this" is probably related to the unique place of the Apostles in the history of salvation as personal emissaries of Christ (cf John 20:22).

Recommended for further reading:
Holy Spirit: Shy Member of the Trinity by Frederick D. Bruner (Augsburg, 1984)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Religious Freedom Takes A Hit In Canada...Is Australia Next?

Australia and Canada are often said to be sister societies sharing much in common - both are vast, sparsely populated lands, settler societies which, with both good and evil motives, displaced aboriginal cultures. Both nations are heir to British legal, political and cultural legacies which have been adapted to forge prosperous and peaceful nations in modern times which have served as beacons for immigrants in the post-WWII period.

The history of both nations is also largely contemporaneous with the modern experiment which involves the separation of church and state and the guarantee of religious freedom. These values derive from the Reformation, but a radical twist was put on them in the Enlightenment. Thus it is that in both nations religious freedom and church-state separation have been interpreted differently by Christians and secularists. Secularists, who increasingly have the upper hand, it seems, due to their strong presence in certain vocations in the media, academe and the legal fraternity, argue that the separation of church and state requires a radical privatisation of religion; consequent upon this is a denial of the Christian ethos that many would say has underwritten the peace and prosperity with which both nations have been blessed.*

Can a society survive without religion? More to the point, can a society built on a Christian ethos "liberate" itself from that ethos while yet retaining the values and qualities which have made it what it is? While many Christians would blink at that question, unwilling to be seen to be imposing their values on non-believers, secularists have never had qualms about imposing their ideas on believers. Latest case in point, the decision by the Canadian Supreme Court to compel Québécoise school children to attend ethics classes where the dogmas of Liberalism in religion will be taught. George Jonas of the Canadian National Post writes:
"God isn't ecumenical. He spells out exactly what he is, in Exodus 20: 4-5. "You shall not make yourself an idol," he tells prospective worshippers, "for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God."

When a jealous God talks about religion, he doesn't say: "Hey, six of one, half a dozen of the other." On the contrary, he commands his followers to regard him and his cosmology as the truth, and view others as being in error. Those who worship idols are idolaters. This doesn't mean bash their heads in, or give them false measure, but it may mean pray for them, and it definitely means don't tell your children: "Oh, it's all the same."

Jealousy isn't the only thing religion is about, but it's certainly one thing. "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me" is the second commandment in the Hebrew bible. In the Christian bible, it's the first.

God speaks plainly; Supreme Court justices speak legalese. They're different languages. If one looks for an innocent explanation of why the Ottawa Nine ruled as they did last Friday in S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes, this may be it - though the real reasons are probably a little more complex or sinister.

Without blinking, the full court held that it's okay for Quebec's education minister to compel believers to describe God to their children, not as they see him, but as non-believers do. It does no injury to their Charter guarantee of religious freedom.
Read the whole report here.

Alert Australian readers will be aware that one state in this nation, New South Wales, has instituted Ethics classes in schools as an alternative to Religious Education. At first glance this might seem to be an appropriate response to increasing numbers of non-religious students, but considering that the Ethics classes were "marketed" not as an option for those who had opted out of RE but as an alternative to RE their introduction was likely an indicator that the advocates of Enlightenment secularism in the NSW Parents and Teachers associations are intent on a longer-term scenario that mirrors Quebec. That can only be construed as an attack on religious freedom and another attempt to revise the historical Australian settlement on church and state by subterfuge rather than debate.

* I'm not for a moment suggesting that a Christian ethos leads to a perfect society (I believe in original sin!). Nor would I agree to sweep under the carpet the sins committed and wrongs perpetuated in the name of Christianity during the history of these two countries or others with similar histories. But I am suggesting that the Christian ethos, over the centuries, gave a cultural form to these societies that was largely positive and self-reforming. One could point to the rule of law, the democratisation of political power, both of which enabled business to flourish and prosperity to be shared, an elevated sexual morality that protected women from exploitation and guarded the foundational institution of the family, the provision of organised charity and health care, the abolition of slavery and wage justice for workers, the cultivation of the arts, the humane treatment of animals and so on.

Enlightenment secularists too often downplay the degree to which such progress and reform was made possible by the cultural form which Christian doctrines (humankind made in the image of God, for e.g.) gave to society and the degree to which the movements which led to these reforms were led by active Christians motivtaed by the Christian ethos ("Love thy neighbour"). Is it merely accidental, one is led to ask secularists, that these positive cultural traits originated in Christian societies and not, for example, in Muslim, Hindu or even Buddhist societies?

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Acroamaticus Under Surveillance?

From today's The Australian newspaper:
"PRINT and online news will come under direct federal government oversight for the first time under proposals issued yesterday to create a statutory regulator with the power to prosecute media companies in the courts.

The historic change to media law would break with tradition by using government funds to replace an industry council that acts on complaints, in a move fiercely opposed by companies as a threat to the freedom of the press.

The proposals, issued yesterday by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, also seek to widen the scope of federal oversight to cover print, online, radio and TV within a single regulator for the first time.

Bloggers and other online authors would also be captured by a regime applying to any news site that gets more than 15,000 hits a year, a benchmark labelled "seriously dopey" by one site operator." [italics mine]

Incredibly, even the virtual old manse and yours truly could be under "direct government oversight" (i.e. subject to censorship of views deemed politically incorrect) under these proposed laws. Why, if the bureaucracy were efficient, we might be worried! Still, discretion being the better part of valour, it might soon be prudent to resurrect my nom de plume.

Read all about it here.