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Archive for March, 2016

Leviathan and the Christ

Destruction_of_LeviathanDestruction of Leviathan By Dore

“You have one Master and that is the Christ”, said Jesus.  Jesus showed that the Master becomes the slave of all.

It seems hard to believe that “rights” were never really a part of religious or political conversation like we have today for most of human history.  Paul talks about rights.  Paul talks about limiting his rights so as not to offend the weak.  Paul talks about not forcing his rights to certain things even though he has the right too.  Paul talks about his freedom allowing him to be free to serve.

Luther says that“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, and subject to all.”

In the political philosophy that developed because of Christianity that statement cannot stand.  There can be one “lord” and all must be subject to him.  Thomas Hobbes called him “Leviathan” (Job 41), and saw him a sovereign as completely in control.  He envisioned an all powerful King who declared what was right or wrong and people would listen because they are afraid of having a solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short life.

As time went on the concept of Leviathan became any state or assembly, elected or not.  A political power in this system does not really believe in religion but it uses religion to help control of the populace that is encouraged to be religious as long as the religion is private.  Keep it personal and you are fine with Leviathan.  Leviathan will also establish a “state church” which will mirror the politics of the sovereign or the ruling class.  Notice how many churches have taken to the talk about rights.  Churches here in the United States have become part of a state church without even knowing it.  They have turned from mercy to justice and from grace to rights and have become tools of the state without even realizing and will get very angry when it is pointed out.  Even the so called prophetic voice of the church is used as a tool by Leviathan because the tension between rights and duties, faith and politics is used as a tool to keep and maintain power.  Populations are kept in a constant state of concern and even fear by the appearance of efforts of some to take their “rights” away, or to give those rights to someone else.

Issues with the church that confesses truly that Christ is Lord have to arise by definition.   If a church is “confessional” there are some interesting things that happen.  We will see what later.

 

 

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Curmudgeon Notebook – Easter Egg Hunts and Rights and the Powers that Be.

easter egg hunt

Two things happened this week that are illustrative.  This from MSN News.

“What’s supposed to be a cherished Easter tradition turned into a mess after pushy parents caused a scene at egg hunts over the weekend.

Saturday’s event at the visitor center of candy company Pez in Orange, Connecticut, drew hundreds of people, some of whom ignored the rules.

“Everyone just rushed the field and took everything,” Pez General Manager Shawn Peterson told WFSB-TV.

Event organizers placed more than 9,000 eggs on three fields with the intention of having staggered start times for each age group. But Pez officials say parents didn’t wait.”

My favorite radio station in Minnesota has several on air staff who are new parents, and they relayed information on taking their babies to their first Easter egg hunt and had the same kind of experience.  Parents were so bent on getting their children Easter eggs and candy that they actually pushed other people’s children over and almost stepped on them.

Notice that the parents didn’t follow the “rules”.  Why would there need to be rules at an Easter egg hunt at all?

We have been having conversations on rights and parental teachings and responsibilities.  We are heading to an understanding of how moving from responsibilities to rights actually enslaves human beings but we have to lay the groundwork.

When Christianity gained control of much of the world the powers that be noted.  Subtly the Christian understanding of many things was not so much challenged as undercut and derided.  One of the teachings that came out of a deeply intellectual and vigorous Christian intellectual tradition was the concept of natural Law.  Simplifying almost to the point of being silly here, natural Law basically means that the moral Law of God is imprinted on the human heart so that it is impossible not to know that some things are wrong.  From the Lutheran perspective the Law always accuses,  and the Law curbs us from doing really bad things and thus keeps human society from going completely berserk.  Natural Law can be summed up quickly by reading Paul’s letter to the Romans Chapter 1.

Secular powers moved the emphasis from natural Law to natural rights.  The idea was that human beings left alone have the right to anything that they want.  Parents have the right to get Easter eggs for their children even if it means trampling other people’s children.  A women has a right to her body even if that means killing her own children in the womb.  You have the right to feed your family even if that means starving someone else’s family.  But here is the kicker.  Rights are morally neutral.  They are not “right or wrong”, they simply are.  There is no moral authority in the universe because the universe just is.  It was not created, it simply is.  Human beings are not special creations- they simply exist and because they exist they have rights.  There is no over arching authority like God to move men to good or evil, and since they have the right to whatever they want, whenever they want it, the life of man in nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.*

Who can save us from this “body of death”?  The King or Sovereign or the secular State enters the picture and saves the day.  God must be removed from this picture in the secular States mind, but God is subtly reintroduced among the masses as long as He is kept in place.  Where is that?  In the “private place” wherever that might be.  You have the right to believe in your God as long as you don’t force your morality on anyone else.  Only King, Sovereign, or State has the right  to force morality and regulate rights.

The “state” decides, literally, what is right and wrong.  Public officials will come out at some point and say that it is “probably not a good idea” for adults to trample children for candy and they will try and shame them into stopping such behavior.  They will go after the planners and the companies who sponsor such events and fine them or regulate them to stop or change what they do.

We will think about how this state of affairs affects mission and mercy and preaching the Gospel.

*Thomas Hobbes.  “Leviathan”.

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The Curmudgeon Speaks – We Are Lorded Over Precisely Because We Have Rights.

feeding-5000

We pointed out that Luther had a table of duties, not rights.  My Father always talked of responsibilities not rights.  The Old Testament is a record of God trying to get His chosen people to understand that because of His grace they had responsibilities to Him and to their neighbors.  They were to be a “light to the nations”.  The marvelous message of responsibility from of Micah, “7Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do mercy, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” is instructive.  Compassion and charity, mercy and grace are signal words in the Old Testament and Jesus fulfills them in His person.

“Matthew’s comment on the compassionate ministry of Jesus is his quotation of Is. 53:4 “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” He thereby evoked the picture of the Servant of the LORD of whom the prophet had spoken, that Servant who goes the downward way of quiet and selfless ministration for the broken and despairing into a vicarious and atoning death for the sins of the many. What had been spoken by the prophet, Matthew saw fulfilled not only in the sufferings and death of Jesus but also in His ministry of healing and restoration. And rightly so; for Jesus was in His mighty deeds completely the selfless Messianic Helper and Giver; He never used His authority and power to serve Himself, to assert Himself, to advance Himself, or to protect Himself. (Martin Franzmann, “Follow Me” . CPH )

The early church tried to emulate their Lord.  Though tainted by sin their concern for others and the individual Christians self giving sacrifices were noted by the powers that be.  A Roman official was reported to say that where Rome held sway there was poverty, and begging, and suffering, and filth, but where the pagans were numerous, meaning Christians, the poor and sick and needy were cared for.

The political classes noted that here was a group of people that held there to be no authority except from God; who had no allegiance for earthly rulers except what they owed them because God created them for the control of evil; who trusted one who promised to bring them to an eternal Kingdom to the point that they cared not for the things of this world and would impoverish themselves for others.  They noted these Christians going to their deaths with hymns on their lips and they were afraid.

Confronted with other worldly people who nevertheless sought to bless the world, the powers that be set about to change and ultimately usurp the One that these people followed.  They did it in a way that was surprising.  They decided to emphasize “rights”.

It is precisely because we have rights that we are lorded over and controlled by a political class.  We will show how later.

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Quiet Saturday

holy saturday

I have often wondered what the Saturday after the Friday we call good was like.  We know that the disciples were hidden away for fear of the Jews so they were afraid.  We know that they were sad and that is probably a word that doesn’t cover the grief and the shame.  We all experience a sense of guilt when someone we love dies which is usually unreasonable but not always.  In their case they had multiple reasons to be ashamed and filled with guilt.  Abandonment of their teacher, downright repudiation in one instance, begins to describe the personal turmoil that must have existed in each of them.  A sense of futility that they had given up all they knew to follow this one that was now dead had to enter into their calculus.  Anger at being duped must have been high on the list.

At the same time it is important to remember that as much as Jesus patiently told His disciples that He was going up to Jerusalem to die, He also told them that He would rise from the dead.  I can imagine that in between those deep sighing breaths as the hours passed, and those anxious glances at the door to see if some officials were coming to arrest them, was the nagging suspicion and fear that there would be a resurrection.  There is an old joke – I have good news and bad news.  What’s the good news?  Jesus is coming back!  What’s the bad news?  He is really mad!  “What if this Jesus who we have forsaken does rise?  He may be coming back to punish!”  If that sounds silly to you think of the thoughts that you thought in the hours before a loved one died, or in those breathless trips to a hospital not knowing what you would find when you got there.  Think of the endless thoughts as you tossed and turned in the long watches of the night over something said or done, that even today makes your ears and cheeks burn red with shame.  Think about these things and try and get into the thoughts that were probably swirling through that small band who probably could not even worship properly.

Trying to get into their mood and thoughts makes the events that take place tomorrow joyous and frustrating as well.  After all these events the laconic saying will still ring out about the events of Easter that “some doubted”.

 

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Anamnesis – Good Friday

good fridayYesterday we said that anamnesis is bringing the past into remembrance in a potent and important way.  In clinical medicine the word is used for a patient’s medical records, with the idea that the patient’s past and present may contain relevant information bearing on their health past, present, and future. The medical history, being an account of all medical events and problems a person has experienced is an important tool in the management of the patient.  A medical anamnesis is also the patients own recollection of their health history.

On Good Friday our anamnesis brings to our present the understanding that our sin sickness was “unto death”.

Isaiah 53 says “Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

The word translated “grief” also means sicknesses.  Our anamnesis tonight reminds us that the sin sickness of human beings that was “unto death” was placed upon Christ and Christ was nailed to the tree to bring us peace and health and salvation.

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In the Front Lines – a Call for Prayer

Belgian Lutheran Church President Issues Call to Prayer Following Terrorist Attacks

ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem.
ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem.

BELGIUM – On the morning of March 22, Belgium suffered twin terror attacks on Brussels’ international airport and a city metro station. At least 34 people are confirmed dead with more than 230 injured as of this report. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We are devastated by this news,” said President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB – Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België), who had been scheduled to fly from the airport later the same day. “But we take comfort in the peace of Christ—a peace which passes all understanding. Despite the raging of the world, we have the suffering and risen Lord with us.”

President van Hattem is encouraging Christians across the globe to lift up the situation in prayer. “We ask our friends around the world to keep Belgium in prayer in these days,” he said. “Pray especially for those who are mourning the loss of loved ones, those who are recovering from injuries, and those tasked with investigating this dreadful incident and protecting citizens.”

“And keep not only us in prayer,” he continued. “Pray for all those suffering in the midst of civil unrest and terrorism—in Europe, yes, but especially also in the Middle East and Africa. May God grant comfort to the sorrowing and peace to the persecuted. And may the Gospel of Jesus Christ be good news to a world in great conflict.”

The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Maundy Thursday – Anamnesis

Maundy Thursday 1We will get back to our discussion of what happens to mission, mercy and witness when we live in an environment where everything is defined by rights later but we are entering the most Holy time of the Christian calendar.  On this night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and said that we should receive it and celebrate it “in remembrance” of Him.

The Biblical meaning of remembrance is more than a simple remembering, more than just having a vague idea of something that happened long ago. Instead it is an “anamnesis”; a making present of past events! (Cf. Num.l0:10; also Israel’s anamnesis or remembrance, of the Exodus, as a making present and potent in the lives of the people the past events of God’s deliverance.) B. The once-for-all death of Christ is therefore remembered and made present for us tonight. (“Do this in remembrance of Me!”) This sacrament is the memorial of His perfect Passion and death for our sins. “But if the Eucharist is a memorial of the Passion of our Lord, it is also the abiding witness of His resurrection: only a church which possessed a living experience of the risen Christ in her midst could have celebrated week by week the memory of how on that dreadful night on which He was betrayed the Lord Jesus took bread and made eucharist. It was no sad, funerary commemoration which the apostles kept: ‘breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God’ (Acts2:46ff.).” (Alan Richardson, An Introduction to the Theology of the New Testament, p.367)

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The Curmudgeon Speaks – The Table of Duties, Not Rights

tableofduties

In one of the great educational tools that has every been written, the Small Catechism of Martin Luther, I searched for a Table of Rights and I could not find one.  I found a table of duties, or things that I owe to others.

So we have raised several generations of children that are immersed in rights.  They have a right to education and some believe that it should be free even through college.  They have the right to not have to walk to school where they have the right to a breakfast and they have  a right to a dinner and maybe even an evening meal.  They have a right to free contraception whether their parents want them to have it or not.  I don’t have the time to talk about all the rights they have including graduating even if they never learned anything.

If you think that I am overstating the case you better start looking around.  In almost every major issue that I have been involved with, which I cannot discuss here because we have a “right” to privacy, those involved claimed a “right” to be happy.  The fact that what made them happy made others miserable was not a part of their calculation.  If the truth be known they couldn’t care less about anyone else.  I can see some of you parents reading this saying that I am just a curmudgeon and reiterating how much you hate the “in my day language”, but, in my day my parents told me that there was “nothing, anywhere, that guarantees anyone happiness”.  From the Word of God I learned that happiness means knowing the depth and nature of God’s love for us and our absolute inability to do anything to earn life and salvation and peace.  I learned very early that God’s idea of happiness and my own are totally different.  Happiness is when I despair of myself and my achievements and trust only in Christ.

The closest word we have in the New Testament for “happy” is translated as “blessed”.  We have so messed up both of these words with our concept of rights that we have messed up many lives as a consequence.  If you don’t believe me try this – read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and substitute the word “Happy” for blessed and tell me if you think it is sane.  Who in their right mind wants to be poor in spirit, or meek, or hungry and thirsty for righteousness?  Who in their right mind wants to mourn, or make peace?  Watch what passes for entertainment and ask who wants to be pure?  And who wants to be persecuted?

The beatitudes are not delineating certain “virtues” and assigning to them condign rewards; He is promising and giving to those who have nothing and need everything, that which answers their every need. He is pointing men to the present fact and the future hope of God acting for men and for their salvation. The Kingdom is there for the poor; the universal and absolute future reign of God projects into the present and beatifies the beggar even now. It is a present reality in the person of Jesus.” (Franzmann, “Follow Me”   Concordia Publishing House 1982)  The blessedness of which Jesus speaks goes to the beggardly poor in spirit who rely for everything from God and it goes against the grain of this world.

Their is a reason that the world has surrounded us with the notion of rights and we are going to investigate that because it has much to do with mercy and mission and, believe it or not, witness.   In the meantime for you parents that think I am being mean, I am waiting for the day when your thirty something child moves into your basement because they have a right to be happy.  I will rise up and called you “blessed”.

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The Center of Their Lives. The Curmudgeon Speaks Again part 2.

Helicopter parent 1Some made us the center of their lives.  That means they trained us and shaped us and gave us a world view and set examples.  My parents made my brother and I the center of their lives but they brought us up to believe that we had responsibilities, not rights.  In their silly world a job, and an education, were not rights.  They were responsibilities.  I was responsible to get an education so that I could get a job and care for myself and those around me.

If you notice that is exactly opposite of what we are taught today by the so called transformational politicians.  Bernie Sanders came out and said that we have the right to a free education, free health care etc, “because we are human beings”.  We also supposedly have the “right” to life but he conveniently forgets that.  This may have been the most telling statement in this silly season of politics because it brings us to the philosophy behind the world in which we live and the precarious position of faith.

My demanding of rights has the same value and weight as yours.  In a world made up of rights and the demands for them without responsibility, a major step is taken to destroy the Gospel and the influence of the “orthodox church” by creating a society based on rights.  When I say orthodox I mean that one that unabashedly preaches the full Gospel and not  some watered down culturally defined Gospel.  The orthodox, confessing church says, “We have the truth because we have Jesus who is the truth.  We have the way because we have Jesus who is the way and we have the life because we have Jesus and He is the life.”  That is something that the “rulers of this world” cannot abide.

Jesus defines the issue between the Kingdoms of the world and their rulers and the folks who belong to His Kingdom in Matthew 20 -Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Imagine a world in which everyone served each other.  A world in which each individual cares for other individuals more than for him/her self.  That world would have no need for governments and that is what the kingdoms of this world cannot abide.  This is the realm of Leviathan.  More later –

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The Center of Their Lives. The Curmudgeon Speaks Again.

helicopter parent 2

The curmudgeon has not been on the blog for awhile but this political season has been such rich mining for stupidity treasures  that he can’t help himself.

There was one statement made in this crazy political season that I found to be profound and sad at the same time.  It is an inconvenient truth that has been twisted by the politics of “rights”.  It was spoken by Marco Rubio who I admired but believed could not be elected.  People are wary of young Senators being elected President without experience, achievement or record.  We tend to do it at certain intervals and it usually turns out badly.  Warren Harding, John Kennedy and Barack Obama were sitting Senators elected President.   Harding is well known as a genuine failure.  As Camelot fades into history even the greatest Kennedy image protectors have a hard time with the facts of that history.  Remembered for getting us out of a mess that he created is wonderful drama, and getting us into a mess that would ultimately be blamed on others is great politics, but horrible public policy.  The Obama legacy is being written and like the invisible fingers writing on the wall it is “weighed in the balance and found wanting”.  Anyway, Marco Rubio said –

“We are descendants of someone who made our future the center of their lives.”

Good stuff that.

That ought to be a course in every college, free or not.  It ought to be the subject of tweets and twits and on the front of every I pad and smart phone and tablet.  As I get older I spend more time thinking about my parents and my relationship with them.  They were not helicopter parents.  They could  not be.  We didn’t have phones until I was in high school.  I took a public bus to kindergarten in San Diego Ca.  Imagine that today.  My brother and I were left to play alone for hours at a time without any structure of organized “play dates”.  I baby sat my infant brother while my Mom delivered Navy uniforms that she ironed, something that would be considered endangerment today.  My favorite toy was a big rubber band that Dad brought home from work that I would shoot around the house.

Yet we not only survived.  We thrived.  My Dad taught us to read – voraciously.  I was considered to have some kind of problem in the early grades because my teachers thought I could not read.  They later discovered to their chagrin that while they were going through “Fun with Dick and Jane” I was reading the children’s encyclopedia that used to be delivered in installments to the grocery store.  I was taught to be polite so I didn’t tell the teachers I thought they were stupid, which I did.  I learned my first lessons about Public School Education very early, and that is that if you really want to learn something, get your own library or go and visit one.  If you find a teacher that actually cares about education get everything that you can our of them as soon as possible.  Spend as much time questioning the text book as reading it.  When a text book mentions something actually look up what it mentions.  For instance, I was taught that the Emancipation Proclamation “freed the slaves”, I actually read what the document says and I was stunned.  So was my teacher who didn’t believe what I told him at first.  (Look it up and actually read what it says and read some of the reactions to it.)

My parents supported me to test, and try, and be curious.  It was very early on that I learned that many of the things I was being taught were not true, or at least I was not getting the full story.

I and my brother were the center of their lives.  They did everything they could for us and yet they showed in word and deed that there are things higher than us.  My Dad taught me the value of work and concern for others.  He taught me stewardship and  the importance of the church.  He came out of a Norwegian Pietist background, but he taught me a respect for the office of the Pastor derived from Pastors delivery of the Word and Sacraments.

My Father also taught me that according to the Declaration of Independence I had rights but according to his reading of the Bible I had mostly responsibilities.  Fear, love, and trust for God and love for the neighbor are not abrogated by the Cross; they are intensified.  Therein lies another blog about how even this good gift- having someone who makes us the center of their lives can be a huge detriment, both to us and others.

 

 

 

 

 

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