Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I have been feasting upon the Word since I left the office this early evening.  God is most merciful to us to give such wretched sinners an utterly precious, holy, and unending gift!

I had 45 minutes of nothing to do between work and Vespers and debated stopping by the house to nuzzle Sam and chirp at Madeleine or just venture on over to the church.  I chose the latter.  The new pastor's wife no longer bats an eyelash when I show up early; in fact, she expects me to arrive a fair amount of time ahead of my confession/absolution appointments.  So, today, when I rang the bell, she came to let me in and headed straight to the sanctuary to turn on the lights for me.

After another day of very low heart rates, I was quite tired, so I lay down in the pew and spent that time reading aloud from my Greek New Testament.  Starting again at verse 1, I managed to read until verse 26 in the first chapter of the Gospel of John.  There were three words I had to abandon, having never figured out how they might sound.  Not once did I come across one of the twelve verbs I know.  I do believe I should have been able to get much further along, but I was glad for the opportunity to practice.  While pronouncing, I paused from time to time to wonder about the fact that I was reading the Living Word even though I did not comprehend it.  The Truth was being spoken, proclaimed (I know that verb) in His house.  Was that not the better way to pass the time?

Pastor E's sermon was altogether too brief, once more.  I could at least have wished he spoke it twice, for it was bold and full of such sweet, sweet Gospel.  He preached on Psalm 44, a psalm of anguish that brings solace.  What I found interesting, again, was how he used the prayer segment of Vespers (as he did in Compline) to pray for the church and for our world, carefully, deliberately, taking his time and modeling being still before God.  One of the most glorious parts of the service was singing the entire Psalm.  A wee part of me, part way through the 26 verses, suddenly wondered if, a few years from now, when he gets to Psalm 119, we would also sing through that from beginning to end.

Oh, I could wish there was a prayer group which I could attend that gathered together to pray the Psalter!  As much as I cherish praying the Psalter myself, having the words of my heart given to me to speak to God, I truly do revel in the opportunity to pray the Psalter with others.

Alas, but I digressed.

I came home to lie down on the couch, huffing and puffing just walking from the car.  I am not sure why I am so low the past few days, but it does make me even more fatigued.  After pondering the lesson on absolution Walther gave me last night, I turned on the tape player to continue listening to the Reverend Doctor Kenneth Korby's continuing education course on private confession/absolution that Papa Dore passed on to me.  I was feasting on that treasure before I left for my trip and have somehow forgotten about the tapes since I returned.  Two hours later, I  forced myself to turn off the tape player because I could stay up all night listening to him and taking notes.  I wish I could have met him.  SIGH.  He is most fierce and speaks with such certitude that I found myself uplifted and hopeful even as he was bewailing the plight of the LCMS and her abandonment of private confession/absolution.

But still hankering for more instruction (I am an admitted glutton), I opened Forde for another taste of Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, for I have not ceased to ponder the whole notion of the theology of the cross since opening this book.  For example, just a short while ago, my beloved Bettina commented that she doesn't understand why she has had so many blessings and I such struggles.  What popped into my mind...and my mouth...was that confessional Lutherans would have us reversed.  I am the one who has had a blessed life because I am the one who has born the cross most heavily.  I spoke the words before I truly realized what I was doing.  Ever since then, I have been thinking about their truth, even if I wish heartily to lay down a few crosses these days.

These thoughts have been bound by another observation by the blogger who has offered to read to me.  I am still working on a nickname for her, for I have barely begun to know her.  In my mind, however, I call her Manna, because she offered to bring me the Word and that will be coming from above (Canada).  However, I am not sure that would fit and I really do prefer old fashioned names or ones that denote a calling.

Manna has pointed out, oh so gently, that I have an embarrassment of riches where pastoral care is concerned, that I have had access to more than many have.  And--this makes my heart ache--she has never had a pastor talk about, teach, or offer private confession/absolution, even though many of them avail themselves of father confessors. 

I long for her to experience the joy that is the Word of forgiveness being spoken over her, while (preferably, in my book) the cross is traced upon her forehead.  I want her to know the Great Exchange, whereby her sins are taken away from her and replaced with Words of comfort just for her.  Holy absolution is so tangible, so gloriously concrete.  When the assaults and accusations of the devil seem stronger than our faith, we can point to that moment in time and say, "Aha, but I was forgiven. I am forgiven. And I will be forgiven.  Get lost, satan!"  To me, holy absolution fits with what Luther teaches about baptism and the Lord's Supper...that God gives us something we can grasp physically so that our soul can grasp the faith given to us.

So, Forde?

Tonight, I covered two theses:

Theses 3:  Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be moral sins.

Theses 4:  Although the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.

In his initial discussion of these contrasted theses, he has a line that leapt off the page to me:  It is, of course, highly offensive to have the best of our works under the law judged to be deadly sins. (32)  It is not merely the worse of our works the Law condemns, but even the best, even our Mother Theresa works fall short, are a fetid, noisome miasma wafting in the nostrils of our Creator.  There is no sweet aroma, no beautiful fragrance arising from our work, our hearts, our lives...apart from Christ.

A radical reversal in our seeing takes place when we encounter the one who "had no form or comeliness that we should desire him," the one from whom we "hid our face," who "was despised and we esteemed him not."  Especially to be noted in this proof are the many instances that have to do with seeing or not seeing, appearances and reality, discovering, acknowledging, finding, and making accurate judgments about ourselves.  There is a fundamental difference in the way reality is perceived.  The theologian of glory judges by appearances and so classifies works as good or bad.  But that really means that such theologians see through the works to an eternal standard by which they are evaluated.  Everyone will no doubt admit that the works are not perfect.  Nevertheless, it will be insisted that there is, as the saying goes, "good in them."  As such they are taken to be more or less pale or defective copies of the transcendent perfect  good and so can be trusted at meritorious--at least in a limited sense.  This means that what is bad or unattractive in them is disregarded.  It is not to be credited to God's account.  Evil, to this way of looking at the matter, is "non-being."  The intellect, Luther will say later, simply cannot see it.  This is what is means to say that the theologian of glory does not look at it but "sees through it."  Thus the works remain all the while "human works" no matter how much they are assisted by grace.  Whatever good there is must be credited to the human account. (34-35)

What stings in here is the mention of appearance.  I grew up in a household where appearance has priority above all else.  Try as I might, I often struggle with forming snap impressions upon sight, rather than take the time to see past the outward appearance to the heart God created within or to better understand the situation.  It is part of my social struggle as well, knowing how little I fit in, how awkward I can be and how that comes across.  And then there are things like my long hair, which has finally been growing back in small tufts and stays more or less attached to my head.  Right now, it is past the middle of my back, and yet I still have no desire to cut it.  I know how I wear my hair is very old-fashioned, and my weekend braids make me look more 23 than 43.  I could go on how I would be a great candidate at times for an ambush makeover, only I do not want one.  However, I do wish that my appearance were difference.

In this, I am only talking about physical appearances, but there are far more of them.  The appearance of integrity.  The appearance of impropriety.  Is not appearance just plain king in our society?  So, his words smote my heart a bit.  For I do tend to small ways...but judge nonetheless.  And I worry about my appearance and lack of social grace far more than I ever should.  I wonder, then, how much of this colors that fall-back position of works-righteousness I find myself grasping once more, even when the sight of it shames and wearies me.

Theologians of the cross, however, cannot see through the "unattractive" and apparently evil works of God.  They cannot see through such works because they have been "gotten at" by suffering and the cross (thesis 20, below).  They see God working exactly through the horror of the cross.  God's hidden and alien working in the cross is such that it reflects back on us and exposes our own lives.  Thus the works do not become the occasion of pride, but rather humility and despair.  We are led therefore not to credit our own account but to judge ourselves and to confess. The human works that once seemed attractive and good now have no form or beauty and are the cause of sorrow and despair.  If we see clearly, if we are able to "say what a thing is," we should be able to judge ourselves so that we do not come under the judgment of God. (35)

Well, I have certainly been in despair and great sorrow over my sins!  In reading this, I believe I still struggle with the theology of glory and fall short in the theology of the cross. is the cross that draws me, pulls at me. It is the cross for which I hunger, the sweet sweet Gospel of Christ crucified and all that means.  It is the cross where I stake my life.

In a sense, I understand less of both theologies, yet I understand more. 

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

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