Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lenten readings

As promised, here are the readings for Vespers reflecting on the first article of the Apostles' Creed:

Apostles’ Creed- First Article
Reader #1

Say: I’m going to be reading a portion of Martin Luther’s Large Catechism. Many of you probably memorized portions of Luther’s Small Catechism when you were in confirmation. In addition to the Small Catechism, which was intended for memorization, Luther wrote a larger catechism to help pastors and parents teach the faith to their parishioners and children.

Luther writes: This is the shortest possible way of describing and illustrating the nature, will, acts, and work of God the Father. Because the Ten Commandments have explained that we are to have no more than one God, so it may now be asked: “What kind of person is God? What does he do? How can we praise or portray or describe him in such a way so we may know him?” This is taught here in what I now say. The creed is nothing else than a response and confession of Christians based on the First Commandment. If you were to ask a young child, “My dear, what kind of God do you have? What do you know about him?” he or she could say: “First, my God is the Father, who made heaven and earth. Aside from this one alone I regard nothing as God, for there is no one else who could create heaven and earth.

What is meant by these words or what do you mean when you say, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator,” etc.? Answer: I hold and believe that I am God’s creature, that is, that he has given me and constantly sustains my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, my reason and understanding, and the like; my food and drink, clothing, nourishment, spouse and children, servants, house and farm, etc. Besides, he makes all creation help provide the benefits and necessities of life- sun, moon, and stars in the heavens; day and night; air, fire, water, the earth and all that it yields and brings forth; birds, fish, animals, grain, and all sorts of produce. Moreover, he gives all physical and temporal blessings- good government, peace, security. Thus we learn from this article that none of us has life- or anything else that has been mentioned here or can be mentioned- from ourselves, nor can we by ourselves preserve any of them, however small and unimportant. All this is comprehended in the word “Creator.”

Here much could be said if we were to describe how few people believe this article. We all pass over it; we hear it and recite it, but we neither see nor think about what the words command us to do. For if we believe it with our whole heart, we would also act accordingly, and not swagger about and boast and brag as if we had life, riches, power, honor, and such things of ourselves, as if we ourselves were to be feared and served… therefore, if we believe it, this article should humble and terrify all of us. For we sin daily with eyes, ears, hands, body and soul, money and property, and with all that we have. For this reason we ought daily to practice this article, impress it upon our minds, and remember it in everything we see and in every blessing that comes our way. Thus our hearts will be warmed and kindled with gratitude to God and a desire to use all these blessings to his glory and praise.

page 432-433, Wengert translation

Apostles’ Creed- First Article
Reader #2

Say: The following is from an interview between Peter Seewald and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Peter Seewald is a German journalist who has conducted extensive interviews with Cardinal Ratzinger. This interview took place over three full days spent at the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino in a setting of silence, prayer, and hospitality of monks. Peter, who had fallen away from the faith but eventually returned to the church, asks many interesting questions. Cardinal Ratzinger gives even more interesting answers to these questions. He is the “Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”, which is a fancy way of saying that Cardinal Ratzinger is the premiere teacher of church doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church.

Peter asks: Let us stay with God, with the question of where and how we can find him. There’s a little story about this: Once, a mother brought her son to the rabbi. Then the rabbi asked the boy something: “I will give you a quarter if you can tell me where God lives.” The boy didn’t need to think about it very long; he answered: “And I will give you two quarters if you can tell me where he doesn’t live.” In the book of Wisdom, it says that God “lets himself be found by those who do not tempt him and shows himself to those who do not mistrust him”. But where exactly is God?

Let us start with the Book of Wisdom. There we find a saying that seems to me to speak to us today: God does not let himself be found by those who put him to the test”, that is to say, he does not allow himself to be found by those who wish to conduct experiments on him. This truth was already known in the ancient world, and it hits its mark right up to today. If we want to, so to speak, test God- are you there or not?- and undertake certain things to which we think he must either react or not react, if we make him the object, so to speak, of our experiment, then we have set off in a direction that will not lead us to find him. God is not prepared to submit to experiments. He is not a thing we can hold in our hand.

But just where is God exactly?

God is not in any particular place. To put it more positively: There is nowhere where God is not, because God is in everything. Or to put it another way: God is never where sin is. God is present, then, wherever faith and hope and love are. God is present in a quite specific sense in every place where something good is happening.

Apostles’ Creed- First Article
Reader #3

Say: This third reading is by another contemporary writer and theologian, Robert W. Jenson. He is considered by many to be the greatest Lutheran theologian teaching and writing in the United States. He has a unique and somewhat poetic way of expressing things.

Jenson writes: God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt. Asked who God is, Israel’s answer is, “Whoever rescued us from Egypt. Asked about her access to this God, Israel’s answer is, “We are permitted to call on him by name.” God even said, “I am JHWH your God, who brought you out of the Land of Egypt.”

To the question, “Who is God?” the New Testament has one new descriptively identifying answer: “Whoever raised Jesus from the dead.” A name we use today for God, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is a very compressed telling of the total narrative by which Scripture identifies God and a personal name for the God so specified… The church is the community and a Christian is someone who, when the identity of God is important, names him “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Those who do not or will not belong to some other community.


  1. Doesn't Luther urdge pastors to teach parishioners the Catechisms frequently, even as adults? Does that ever happen? Our church doesn't even catechize adults.

  2. Yes, Luther does urge this, which is why we're doing our lenten Wednesday services centered on the catechism, especially this year the Apostle's Creed.

    What would a good catechization of adults look like in your context?