The Femininity of the Church

bride-of-christ

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
She is His new creation, by water and the Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her to be His holy bride.
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

Elect from ev’ry nation, yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation: One Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food.
And to one hope she presses with ev’ry grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

Through toil and tribulation and tumult of her war
She waits the consummation of peace forevermore
Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth has union with God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O blessed heav’nly chorus! Lord save us by Your grace
That we, like saints before us, may see You face to face.

 

 

“The Church’s One Foundation” (Lutheran Service Book, 644)
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Hannah’s God

woman-crying-6

Had God forgotten Hannah? Was He just too busy with other, more important things? Maybe Hannah had sinned sometime in her past, earning her the punishment of childlessness…or at least had made some bad choices way-back-when that landed her here. She knew how the other woman looked down on her and wondered why she had the “woman’s curse.” Or worse. Maybe the LORD had just struck her barren for His own sick enjoyment, so He could laugh at her suffering and mock her childlessness, like her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, did. All the time.

Sure,  Elkanah said he still loved Hannah…she might’ve even been his favorite wife. As much as a wife who can’t give her husband any children can be favored over the one who does, anyway. You know how men are. He probably just liked her more youthful figure, compared to Peninnah’s stretched-out, well-used one. But a husband’s love, while wonderful, just didn’t fill that void.

And then one day, just after the annual sacrifice at the tabernacle in Shiloh…Hannah lost it (again). She was frequently depressed and didn’t want to eat or be around the family. But this time, she was DONE. Cracked. Bat spit crazy.

Only this time, they were all out in public, for God and everyone to see. Pastor Eli was sitting right there, on the bench next to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. And Hannah just brazenly wandered right up to the Doorway of God’s Own House! By herself! She didn’t even notice Eli, what with all the sobbing and incoherent mumbling going on as she poured out her heart, directly to God, laying it all drenched in tears and snot, right on His front doorstep.

God answers her prayer and gives her a son, Samuel, whom she then gives back to the Lord to serve in His house. In the next chapter, she sings a song of thanksgiving.

Yay, Hannah! What an example of an effective prayer! You should pray like that if you really want to see results.

No.

Actually, I think Hannah would be pretty horrified to hear our version of this story, the one praising her for her such a powerful prayer that God rewarded her by granting her plea for a son. What you need to do, then, is be like Hannah.

But she wasn’t given Samuel as a reward for being such a powerful pray-er, who managed to say just the right words and suddenly change the Lord’s mind about her barren state. And she wasn’t given a baby because she was just so pathetically desperate for a child that she promised she’d give him right back to God as her special gift to Him.

Hannah prayed to God, not because she thought her tears and sincerity would convince Him to do what she wanted and give her a child, but because she knew that He was the one from whom all good gifts come — including (and especially) the gift of children. She prayed to the LORD because she had a God who gives good gifts.

If her “pouring out her heart before the LORD” was anything like my pouring out my heart before the LORD, the world is probably better off not knowing what she said with all her groanings too deep for words. It’s bad enough being barren. Being barren with a husband who had another — very fertile — wife (who even mocked your childlessness)…that’s got to be a real special kind of torture.

Hannah probably told Him about Peninnah’s hurtful taunts and her utter hatred for her and all her stupid kids, and how it killed her to see her husband being fatherly with them. How she hated everyone for their polite questions and unhelpful platitudes, and their whispers and gossip. How she’d wait and pray and try-not-to-hope but couldn’t-help-hoping that this time it would happen…and then have those hopes-shattered-into-tiny-little-pieces as her period inevitably returned. Every. Single. Month.

Why God?? Why not her? Why all those other women? When would it be her turn? Didn’t He love her? What had she done wrong? She must’ve done something to deserve this shame-filled fate. She poured out all the doubts and fears and feelings that she had kept pent up for so long. ALL of them.

When she had confessed everything to the LORD, there was nothing left to get in the way of faith anymore. So she made a vow. Notice how this part gets recorded in Scripture, possibly because, unlike the sobbing confession, Hannah’s speech was now clear and quite lucid. “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV)

Oh, but there’s more! Hannah’s brazen faith didn’t even back down when, after watching the whole scene, Eli called her a drunk and told her to go sober up. She had just triple-dog-dared the LORD God Almighty to remember her and give her a son. It was nothing for her to now give His Holy Priest the what’s-what, explaining to him that she is not drunk (thank you very much), but that this is what a woman praying to her LORD “in anxiety and great vexation” looks like. The stunned Pastor Eli could only respond by sputtering out a perfunctory absolution and quickly sending her on her way.

And her faith Amen’d even that!

Whether God gave Hannah a child after this is beside the point. Hannah’s Canticle (foreshadowing Mary’s Magnificat) is not sung in celebration over her son’s birth or his being given to the Lord, but in praise of Her God, from whom all good gifts come. He doesn’t operate like other gods. In fact He does all sorts of things that Gods aren’t supposed do— even in the Old Testament! Hannah’s God is the One who strengthens the weak, feeds the hungry, gives children to the barren, and raises the poor from the ashes. He kills and raises to new life. He is the one who gave her barrenness and He is the one who gave her Samuel and his other brothers and sisters.

 

 

 

 

 

And You, Miss, are no Lady.

When I think of quiet and gentle spirits, I admit that Sarah isn’t the first one who comes to mind (1 Peter 3), though she certainly must fit the bill. I think of Melanie Hamilton Wilkes. Or “Mealy-mouthed Melly,” as Scarlett O’Hara referred to her. To Scarlett, as passionate and brash as her name, Melanie was a wuss. Melanie also married Scarlett’s crush, so that didn’t help the situation between them any. But you’d never know there was even an iota of tension between the two women by the way Melanie behaved.

enzerick-fandom-gonewithwind-splsh

Melanie exemplified thoughtfulness, generosity, and gracefulness. She always managed to put the best construction on everyone’s actions — especially when it came to Scarlett. Scarlett was moody, stubborn, outspoken, passionate, manipulative. And stunning. She had the smallest waist, prettiest dresses, perfect pout, and she knew how to work it all to get nearly anything she wanted.

Gentle and quiet are definitely not words that anyone (including me!) would normally use to describe my spirit. Hard and outspoken would be more like it. I guess that makes me more Scarlett than Melanie. (Just don’t look at my waist!)

But I figure I’ve got good reason to be that way. (Cue the flow of excuses. I’ve suffered. I’m a double-parent, I’m always on duty. If I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. I don’t know what a vacation is. And don’t even get me started on my relationships. My health literally changes with the weather.)

Gentle and quiet are great, but they don’t pay my bills.

And yet, buried away, that person is still there. Hidden actually. Or, in my case, buried under piles of self-pity, fear, and overbearing pride. I don’t want to be that way. I beat myself up whenever I hear that someone is afraid of me. I feel the nastiness welling up and still just can’t seem to stop the hurtful words from coming out. I can’t even manage to be gentle and quiet with myself, much less with the people stuck in range of my ever-swirling anger vortex.

Yeah, yeah. I’m the Father’s beautiful, beloved, precious child. My baptism means something to me, for a few seconds anyway. At least until everyday (read: fallen) life gets in the way. When we get a little stressed out and things aren’t going the way we want them to, we go dredging up our own sinful images from the muck. Gentle and quiet? No, what we really need is tough and forceful. Or maybe downright selfish and catty will be more expedient today.

You know what the problem is with being gentle and quiet in the face of this life’s troubles? It only happens by faith. You can’t fake a quiet and gentle spirit. Only the Spirit gives that to you. Sure, you can bite your tongue and retract your claws. You can force yourself (or be forced) into outward quietness and submission. You can only be as quiet and gentle as you are faithful. And you can only have as much faith as you have Jesus.

We get so distracted by the worries of the day that we even forget that we have a Jesus. And it’s not even that Jesus was gentle and quiet in the face of trials so we should follow His example and be that way too too. It’s so much better than that. We have a Jesus who is our guarantee, our promise that the Lord only has good gifts for us. Our baptism reminds us that we don’t have to storm ahead, take charge, and manipulate situations to make life tolerable. Christ died to save us from an eternity of worrying about ourselves. He was not just gentle and quiet, He was gentle for us. He was quiet for us.

Take a moment and step away from whatever has you stressed-out and worried today. Make the sign of the cross and remember that you are baptized. You have a Jesus.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theology is great, but it’s not the Gospel

Despite whatever complaints and commentary
that I may express about my classes at the ELCA seminary, I am forever grateful that I got to study under the late Dr. Gerhard
Forde…

What are we to do about God not preached?  Nothing.  We are to
leave the not-preached God alone and pay attention to the God clothed and
displayed in the Word.  But how can we do that?  Only, of course, to
the degree that we are grasped by the preached God. In Luther’s terms we cannot
— will not — do it by ourselves, not apart from the proclamation.  To put
it bluntly, everyone theologizes here as they must.  A veritable battle is
being fought over us between God not preached and God preached.  God not
preached devours sinners without regret, but the preached God battles to snatch
us away from sin and death.

All that, though difficult to swallow theologically, is understandable and
perhaps acceptable.  What puts everyone off, however, is the last sentence:
the assertion that God hidden in majesty "has not bound himself by His
word, but has kept himself free over all things." (LW 33:140 – quote
below
)  The usual objection is this: if God not preached (God hidden in
majesty) is not bound by God preached (by the Word of promise) but is free over
all things, then there is no basis for certainty or confidence that the promise
of the preached God will stand.  The fearsome specter of a God hidden in
majesty who can arbitrarily wipe out the promise has haunted theology every
since.

The driving impulse of this haunted theology has been the persistent attempt
to banish the specter of this terrifying absolute God (deus ipse) from
sight, to try to bind this God not preached to theology’s understanding of the
revealed Word.  But the only result of this attempt has been to forsake
proclamation for explanation.  Ironically, such theology abandons the real
weapon it has against the unpreached God.  For the point is not that
theology, but God preached is the only defense against God not preached.

What prompted Luther to leave the specter of a God who has not "bound
himself by his word, but has kept himself free over all things" to haunt
us?  There are at least three major reasons that should now be
obvious.  First and foremost, Luther recognized the primacy of the oral,
spoken word, that particular type of discourse called proclamation, the living
voice of the gospel.  The burden of the passage quoted above is his
insistence that we must take explicit theological note of this primacy and
observe careful distinctions in our speaking between God not preached and God
preached.  Luther let the absolute God be, precisely to make room for the
proclamation.  So we have the remarkable circumstance that the argument
Luther used to save the proclamation is the very one most systematic theologians
since have thought would endanger it.  The antithesis could hardly be more
clear.

This is the classic illustration of how a theology that understands the place
of proclamation will make certain moves and refuse to make others.  Luther
knew that only the proclamation — only the preached God, the living Word here
and now — could save us from the God not preached, the absolute God.  A
theology that intends to save us by attempting to remove or render the God not
preached harmless in the system makes just the wrong move.  It fails to
recognize the nature of the battle for the human soul.  It maintains that
it can bind God not preached to the Word and so "save" us.  It
makes the fatal assumption that it can accomplish more than the living
Word.  Theology must recognize its limits.  It must understand that
only the concrete address, the "I absolve you," the "I baptize
you," will save us from the threat of the absolute God.  Absolution is
the only solution to the problem of the absolute!

The second major reason why Luther did not banish the absolute God from his
theology is already implied in the first.  Such banishment cannot be
accomplished by any kind of theological artifice.  Luther left the absolute
God there in his theology because he knew he could do nothing about it. 
Nothing can be exalted above the absolute God.  It simply is not true that
God in general is bound even to an abstraction called the revealed Word. 
As Luther put it, "God does many things that he does not disclose to us in
his word; he also wills many things which he does not disclose himself willing
in his word." (Ibid.)  What would happen if we were to claim
that the absolute God is bound and limited by the Word?  We would revert to
the situation in which the preached Word — "I desire not the death of the
sinner" — becomes a general statement by which God is bound and
limited.  But that is not true, nor does it accord God any particular
honor.  For sin and death continue, and nothing — certainly not theology
— alters the reign of the absolute God except ("when and where it pleases
God!") when the concrete proclamation interrupts and creates faith. 
Not even God can do anything about wrath in the abstract.  Not even God can
somehow unmask God in the abstract.  The proclamation of the concrete,
incarnate word set against the absolute God so as to create faith is the only
way out.  Faith means precisely to be grasped by the proclamation in the
face of the terror of the absolute God, in the face of tribulation (Anfechtung),
as Luther put it.  Theology, no matter how sweetly done, does not cure
tribulation.  Theological opinion may provide momentary relief, but rarely
does it survive the heat and evil of the day.

The third reason that prompted Luther to leave the specter of the absolute
God alone is his knowledge that we as sinners live under the wrath of God. 
Our efforts — even the best of them — afford no escape.  Theology, no
matter how cleverly devised, cannot deliver us from the wrath of God.  It
may twist and turn to remodel God, try by every artifice to fashion less
frightening masks, but in the end such masks only turn on us.  We are
sinners confronted by the masks we cannot see through.  We cannot see
God.  Luther was not merely stating opinions at this point.  He was
describing as honestly as possible the actual state of things.  No doubt
only faith can risk such honesty.

Faith itself is endangered when the attempt is made theologically to bind the
hidden God to the Word as abstraction.  The nature of faith is
transformed.  Faith strives to become sight, to render the hidden God
visible.  Faith’s object is not the proclaimed God, not the sacramental
deed of God "for you" in the living present, but certain alleged
truths about God in the past tense.  Indeed, the very freedom of faith is
consequently lost.  Theology becomes a tour de force, an attempt to induce
or perhaps even subtly force belief in the God one has conjured up.  But
faith is a matter of being set free from the God of the past tense.  It is
not a matter of deferring to the authority of this or that theologian, but a
matter of being set free by the proclamation itself, by an actual word from
God.  Faith comes by hearing and being grasped by the proclamation. 
God speaks to you.  Faith is the Spirit-fired free flight from the hidden
to the revealed God.

The fact is that the terror of the absolute God reigns until the proclamation
that creates faith announces its end and liberates the believer from it. 
Theology must learn to speak the truth about this.  Theology must know its
own limitations and speak honestly about the way things are.  It must not
tell sweet lies about God.  It must assess the true nature of the battle so
that it can be joined in proper fashion.  Ironically, a theology that sets
out to protect the proclamation by tying the absolute God to the revelation only
undercuts the proclamation itself and bowdlerizes God.  Small wonder that
we find ourselves today with only tenuous belief in a platitudinous God and
little consciousness of what God wills to say to us.  So we talk mostly
about ourselves.

*  "God must therefore be left to himself in his
own majesty, for in this regard we have nothing to do with him, nor has he
willed that we should have anything to do with him.  But we have something
to do with him insofar as he is clothed and set forth in his Word, through which
he offers himself to us and which is the beauty and glory with which the
psalmist celebrates him as being clothed.  In this regard we say, the good
God does not deplore the death of his people which he works in them, but he
deplores the death which he finds in his people and desires to remove from
them.  For it is this that God as he is preached is concerned with, namely
that sin and death should be taken away and we should be saved.  For
"he sent his word and healed them." [Ps. 107:20].  But God hidden
in his majesty neither deplores nor takes away death, but works life, death, and
all in all. For there he has not bound himself by his word, but has kept himself
free over all things." (LW 33:140)

Forde, Gerhard O.  Theology is for Proclamation (Minneapolis:
Augsburg Fortress, 1990) 27-30.

"You meant it for evil…

…but God meant it for good." (Genesis 50:20)


I used to think that verse was so comforting because it meant that when life gave me lemons, God would make lemonade out of it.  We hear things like that all the time.  Bad, evil, horrible things happen in our lives that are just the effects of living in a sinful world full of sinful people and being sinners who do sinful things.  That’s just the way it happens.  The bumper sticker is right.  "Stuff" happens. 

Then I got thinking some more.  Does that mean that when something bad happens, when I’m suffering, that something slipped by God when He wasn’t looking? Oh, not to worry, He’ll help me get through it, make it better, turn it all out for good in the end.  But that still doesn’t answer the question of how it happened in the first place.  

Joseph’s replies to his brothers in the way that faith speaks.  They most definitely meant it for evil when they beat him, threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, and faked his death to their father, Jacob.  But all the while that was happening, all those evil things they (and others) did to him…God meant it all for good.

That’s something entirely different.  God meant it.  It didn’t slip by, God didn’t just make a whole lotta really nice lemonade for Joseph out of the lemons life threw his way.  God meant it all to happen to Joseph.  It was on purpose.  He didn’t "allow" it to happen (St. Augustine’s "cliche").  It was for good, that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Joseph really couldn’t have meant THAT, could he? How could anyone seriously believe such an crazy idea?? He HAS to be faking it. How in the world could such evil be the work of God, and what kind of idiot would ever call it "good" without first seeing how God makes it good? He needs to protect God from being God. Someone needs to teach Joseph the highest art of being a real theologian.  And fast, before someone actually hears what he says and believes that God could be so good to Joseph’s family as to look out for them…without them looking out for God. 

Or maybe he gets it better than most of us "real" theologians…

Joseph’s got God’s Word to him.  God is going to be good to His family – to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He has these wild dreams in which God tells him of his future relationship with his family. And boy, does he talk and meditate on it day and night! Day AND night to the point that his brothers are so sick and tired of hearing about what God is telling little Joseph in his dreams that they beat him up, throw him into a pit, sell him into slavery and fake his death. And there’s his suffering at the hands of his brothers, the slave traders, Potifar, jailtime, all suffering for the faith, the words that God Himself has put into him.  

In fact, this God-given gift Joseph has for interpreting dreams is what not only got his brothers riled up so that they did evil things to him, but it gets him the #2 spot ruling Egypt as Pharoah’s right-hand man.  Is that God making the best of a bad situation and turning something evil into a good outcome?  It doesn’t look that way to me.

I mean, really, what kind of God does that sort of thinking show us anyway?  That while He was busy adorning field lilies and fluffing sparrow feathers, Satan manages to sneak doozies into our lives?  Am I to believe that He was just looking the other way when I was wooed by an attractive, smooth-talking Navy S.E.A.L. into spending a few days with him and his friends, when really a round-trip ticket and a bit of vodka for a "nice" girl was a heckuva better deal than the going rates from the "experienced" ladies in TiaJuana.  Is God really that powerless and inattentive?  Or maybe He was teaching me a lesson, punishing me for my own stupidity and rebelliousness for going on the trip against the advice of friends and family.  Is He that cold and cruel?

But faith reminds us that our Father has only good for us – and Joseph – all the time. Not only does He save us from the truly evil and horrible suffering that we deserve for our sins, He usually does so in ways we don’t see Him working at all, or at least not until after the fact when we, like Moses in the cleft of the rocks, can see where He has been. But the cool thing about God is that He’s so good at being God and good at doing good, He doesn’t have to check with us about how He’s going to work good for us. He does something and it’s good. 

He saves us in such hidden ways that we usually miss His working and abandon the promises He has made to us in Christ.  We get caught up in our faithless suffering, tempted into believing that somehow we don’t deserve to suffer at all, that it can’t possibly get any worse, that God has forgotten about us, and that we really are alone in the big, bad world.  We forget that even in our suffering, God counts and cares for every hair on our heads, that our dear Father only has good gifts for His children, that He has not even spared His beloved only-begotten Son to save us from the torment and suffering we truly deserve, and has nothing left with which to punish us since He poured out all His wrath for our sons upon Christ instead of us.

That’s what bearing our crosses is really about. It’s not that "date rape" is itself a cross to bear, some sort of suffering we must endure with a stiff upper lip simply because we’re Christians. It doesn’t take a Christian to do that. Even a Pagan can find a rainbow at the end of a tragic situation. The Cross of being a Christian is to confess the Faith of Jesus through suffering, keeping the Cross of Christ before us when everything in and around us tempts us do otherwise. Now that’s bearing a cross!

And yes, that may mean that some days I don’t actually believe God’s promises to me in Christ are true, some days that it’s just THAT bad and my world turned so upside-down and inside-out that I can barely remember which way is up, much less that I’m baptized.  My confession won’t be all that heartfelt and I will just be repeating words that, honestly, seem cliche to even me.  My witness certainly won’t be convincing to others, I’m not even buying it.  But that doesn’t make it any less true. Yet repeating it and confessing anyway it is bearing my cross in the way Christ did, in the way of the Gospel.

When I was raped by my boyfriend, Pete meant it for evil.  God meant it for good, so that many people today may be kept safe from others like him…

Yes, I am a poseur in the faith, pray for me. 


St. Mark 9:24

Reflecting a Reflection – I am Baptized!

“But in all things commending ourselves as ministers of God, in much patience, in hard circumstances, in needs, in distresses, in plagues, in imprisonments, in insurrections, in work, in sleeplessness, in fastings, in purity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the Word of truth, in the power of God; through the weapons of righteousness of the right hand and the left, through honor and dishonor, through slander and good reputation, as deceitful and true, as being ignorant and being known, as dead and behold we live, as instructed and not put to death, as sorrowful and always rejoicing, as poor and making many rich, as having nothing and also possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians
6:1-10)

In the name of Jesus. Amen. When things got really bad for Dr. Luther, he would remind himself, “Baptizatus sum.” That means, “I am baptized.” When it seems like everything has gone wrong and everything is messed up, you are baptized. And when it seems that all you have going for you is your Baptism, then you have everything!

That’s how St. Paul can put such opposites together in our Reflection for today! All these opposites joined together, they don ‘t seem to fit. Honor and dishonor, slander and good reputation, deceitful and true, being ignorant and knowing, dead and behold we live, all of these are only true because St. Paul is baptized.

In times requiring patience, you are baptized. In great suffering, you are baptized. In hard work, you are baptized. In dire need, you are baptized.

In distresses, plagues, when they throw you in prison, you are baptized. When they revolt against you, in work, when you can ‘t sleep, then you are baptized, baptized, and baptized. When you don ‘t have enough to eat, when you hear the Gospel in its purity, when the kindness of God is obvious even to you and me: baptized, baptized, baptized, and baptized.

This is true solely because of the Cross of Christ. There on the Cross, Jesus took all that we ever have done – good and bad – and died in our place. He took what He earned and gave it to us. We are sons of God because He is the Son of God. We are heirs to heaven and earth, because all things were given to Him. We are kings and will rule forever and ever, for He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

All of that becomes ours in Holy Baptism! Jesus delivers Himself to us in the waters of our Baptism. He delivers everything to us through His ministers. We, who are dead, are, behold, made alive! We, who are sorrowful over our sins, rejoice! We, who are poor, are rich in the Spirit.

We, who have nothing, posses everything! At the font, it is given to us because, there, Christ is delivered to us.

When things look good, we are baptized. When things are normal, we are baptized. And when everything has gone wrong and it looks especially bleak, then this is most certainly true: Baptizatus sum! In the name of Jesus. Amen.