Monday, March 31, 2008

Journal of Lutheran Ethics | Essay in Response to the ELCA Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality

If all goes according to plan, you will be able to read my essay in response to the ELCA Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality at the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. I look forward to reader responses. The essay goes live April 1st, I believe.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008

An Easter Message | John of Damascus | Easter Hymns

The LCMS have a great on-line resource for preaching hymns. Here's a quote on the hymn of John of Damascus:

Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain (LW 141, TLH 204)
This hymn was written in the eighth century by one of the greatest hymn writers of the Greek church-John of Damascus (c. 696 - c. 754). "The hymn is based on the first ode of the canon for St. Thomas Sunday (second Sunday after Easter) an ode based on the song of Moses in Exodus 15" (Lutheran Worship: Hymnal Companion, ed. Fred Precht, p. 158).
John of Damascus' hymn confesses two biblical realities: Israel's freedom from Egyptian bondage through the Red Sea waters and the Christian's freedom from the bondage of sin and death through Christ's resurrection. From John of Damascus' hymn the pastor can show how we take the same journey as the children of Israel did, for we have passed through the waters of Holy Baptism and are led by Jesus with unmoistened foot to salvation in the ark of the Holy Christian Church.

"Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain" is certainly appropriate at any of the Divine Services for Easter, but perhaps the most significant time to weave it into preaching would be at the great Easter Vigil when the focus is specifically on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

A few preaching themes that could spring from this hymn include the following: "The Christians' Life-Death to Life," "The Prefiguring of Holy Baptism," and "The Unwearied Strains of God's Baptized Children!"

There are actually two of the Damascene's hymns in our hymnal, the other one is The Day of Resurrection. Since the western church has a feast day for John of Damascus on March 27th, it is especially appropriate this Easter and week to celebrate and sing his hymns!

Both are translated by John Mason Neale, originally in a volume of "hymns from the East." Although the Easter Vigil service has gone out of use many places, it's good to know that this hymn was traditionally sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil as candles were lit.

As I have been preparing my Easter sermon, I have been pondering the words of this hymn:

Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain
By: John of Damascus

Come, you faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness!
God has brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness,
Loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters,
Led them with unmoistened foot
Through the Red Sea waters.

This the spring of souls today:
Christ has burst his prison
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun has risen;
All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From his light, to whom is given
Laud and praise undying.

Now the queen of seasons, bright
With the day of splendor,
With the royal feast of feasts
Comes its joy to render;
Comes to gladden faithful hearts
Which with true affection
Welcome in unwearied strain
Jesus’ resurrection!

For today among his own
Christ appeared, bestowing
His deep peace, which evermore
Passes human knowing.
Neither could the gates of death
Nor the tomb’s dark portal
Nor the watchers nor the seal
Hold him as a mortal.

Alleluia! Now we cry
To our King immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars
Of the tomb’s dark portal
Come, you faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness!
God has brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness!

I appreciate John's ability to relate the Exodus to the Resurrection in such a forthright way, his rich celebration of resurrection imagery and new life, and maybe especially his concept that the resurrection news simply bursts forth in song amongst God's people. He moves from the past event of the Exodus, to the living event of Christ's resurrection, to the "today" of our own seeing Christ, to the "now we cry" of the active worship of God that arises by faith in those who celebrate the resurrection.

Ludwig Wittgenstein said somewhere in his writings that at a certain point, when trying to explain "why" a flower is beautiful, language breaks down, and the best you can do is say, "Just look at it." The resurrection of Christ is like this--we might try to explain the wonder of it for a while, but after a bit, the best we can do as Christians is simply wonder at the wonder of it, stand in awe of it, and then maybe sing it.

Like this:

"Halleluia, Christ is risen, alleluia." He is risen indeed! Alleluia.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Life in Hawaii - Electronic Edition: Introduction

Life in Hawaii - Electronic Edition: Titus Coan

An electronic version of a book Wayne Cordeiro discusses in his new devotional resource, The Divine Mentor. Read a Cordeiro book on leadership for my doctor of ministry, and have found the idea of doing a Life Journal (journaling on Scripture) a compelling idea that I've struggled to put into practice.

It is possible that in order to journal on Scripture every day I would need to incorporate some personalized methods, thinking of it more like "study notes" than journaling. Anyone else journal on scripture and have good advice to share?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Philoctetes Project

The Philoctetes Project is an interdisciplinary project using Greek tragedy to encourage dialogue among doctors and medical students on social issues relating the humanities and science. You can even watch a Youtube broadcast of a reading of the entire play!

I am religious but not spiritual

Spirituality & Religion

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Faithful Folk: Spreading God's Word through music

Faithful Folk were kind enough to send me one of their CDs after they read my most recent post at Lutheran Forum. Thanks. I'm going to try and invite them some time to our church!

History of Christ's Lutheran Church in Woodstock

This might be the coolest church History site that I've ever seen. You can scroll by year or 25 year period. Fascinating.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Journal of Lutheran Ethics

Journal of Lutheran Ethics Essays on Gilbert Meilander's new book, The Way That Leads There: Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life

Ezra & Nehemiah

I'm reading a fascinating commentary right now on the books of Ezra and Nehemiah by Matthew Levering in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. The two books are quite similar, actually. It is an interesting exercise to sit down some evening and read slowly through both of them back to back. Unfortunately, these are not the most frequently read portions of the Scripture, even though I think they describe a period of time in the history of Israel that can teach us a lot about hardship, faithfulness, and rebuilding after calamity and loss.

The two long books of Chronicles end with the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezra is kind of like an addendum that tells how some returned from captivity in Babylon in order to rebuild the temple and try to restore their religion. The commentator I am reading specializes in writing about how Jesus is the fulfillment of "temple" and "torah", that is, Jesus is the fulfillment of the very things the returning Israelites are restoring in the narrative that we read as Ezra and Nehemiah.

I really believe some parts of our Christian world today could learn from these chapters. What does it mean to be a faithful or godly remnant rebuilding something that was almost lost?

The first chapter of Ezra that we read this past week introduces the history of the exiles return. The return has a historical location (during the reign of Cyrus). It also fulfills a prophecy (by the mouth of Jeremiah). There actually seem to be four stages to the rebuilding and return, the first under Cyrus, the second under Darius, the third under Artaxerxes, the actual return led by Ezra, and a fourth return under Artaxerxes II led by Nehemiah.

One way to distinguish Ezra from Nehemiah, at least a bit, is that Ezra describes the early rebuilding and the restoration of Torah law, whereas Nehemiah emphasizes the building up of the walls of Jerusalem against opponents. Nehemiah's book is kind of like a memoir, if we were going to label the book's style or type. Nehemiah also concludes with a reading of the book of the law (chapter 8), and a celebration of the festival of booths (also in chapter 8).

A number of the prophetic books are written during this period. Haggai and Zechariah prophesied during this time (see chapter 5 of Ezra). Jeremiah prophesied regarding the return itself. Some historians believe that the author of Isaiah 40-66 wrote the chapters around the same time as Haggai and Zechariah, which means the chapters we are reading right now from Isaiah are also a part of or address this return to Jerusalem.

But Isaiah has become much bigger than this because of what the book actually says. It is an "eschatological" text, which means it points to the future, God's promises, the purposes and ends of all creation. The most famous part of this section is the "Servant Song", which when we read it now we usually if not always connect it in our minds with Jesus Christ himself, the suffering servant. To see what I mean, re-read Isaiah 52:13--53:12. The author and original readers of this text would not have thought what we thought, but we as readers today can't help but think of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of this text.

As you read Isaiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah over the next few weeks, imagine the ways in which Jesus is the fulfillment of this story--but watch also for the ways God is faithful, and the returning exiles live out of that faithfulness. Ask yourself how exile and return is operating in your own life.

In conclusion, I include this quote from Madame Guyon on Bible reading:

"Here is how you should begin. Turn to the Scripture; choose some passage that is simple and fairly practical. Next, come to the Lord. Come quietly and humbly. There, before Him, read a small portion of the passage of Scripture you have opened to.

Be careful as you read. Take in fully, gently and carefully what you are reading. Taste it and digest it as you read.

In the past it may have been your habit, while reading, to move very quickly from one verse of Scripture to another until you had read the whole passage. Perhaps you were seeking to find the main point of the passage.

But in coming to the Lord by means of "praying the Scripture," you do no read quickly; you read very slowly. You do not move from one passage to another, not until you have sensed the very heart of what you read.

You may then want to take that portion of Scripture that has touched you and turn it into prayer."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology: Jurgen Moltmann

Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology: Jurgen Moltmann

Jurgen Moltmann's Autobiography | A Broad Place

If you read one autobiography this year, make it Moltmann's. It's not just a fascinating account of the journey of a premiere theologian. It also touches on a majority of the major events of the 20th century with new perspectives and insights.

One of the more amusing paragraphs in the book (page 75):

That brings me to the history of lecturing in German universities: Kant still fell back on philosophical textbooks, reading them aloud and then commenting on them; but from the time of Fichte and Hegel onwards, what the lecturer presented was what he intended to publish himself in the near future. Professors 'read' their future works in advance and made the lecture a run-up for their future printed works. It was only in America that I found the old way of lecturing again. It saves a great deal of trouble and time, but is also somewhat unproductive!