Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Ethics of War

As our country enters into yet another military conflict, the debate again renews on whether or not such war efforts should be pursued. President Obama indicated in his presentation to the nation that the US was was justified in exercising military force on the moral grounds of protecting the people of this nation from the brutality of its current dictator.  For the church the question has historically centered on the Just War Theory.  Scripture clearly reveals the right of government to use deadly force (Romans 13), but it stops short in defining the precise parameters of that force, especially outside the boarders of the nation itself.  One would hardly object to the need to protect the immediate safety and welfare of ones nation.  However, to what degree is any given nation obligated to protect the safety and welfare of other nations, or to protect the citizens of these nations from their own leaders?  Obama said that a massacre in Libya would have "stained the conscience of the world."  Yet, should then not any unjustified violence against the citizens of the globe likewise affect our collective conscience and spur us into an immediate military response?  Protecting my neighbor is a question that offers an obvious answer.  Such an ethic is at the basis of the second table of the Law.  However, does the second table also inform how a nation should protect the rights of its neighbors throughout the world?  Here we stand on different ground and the answers seem more illusive.  I raise the questions but admit that I don't have firm, well-reasoned answers at this point.  What do you think?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Power of Repitition

Closing night for my son's high school musical came this past Saturday.  My wife and I saw it several times and enjoyed every minute of the light-hearted play Guys and Dolls.  However, ever since then those show tunes keep popping up randomly in my mind.  Perhaps it speaks in part to the simple catchiness of the songs.Yet part of it is also due to sheer repetitiveness.  This reminds me of the broader power of repetitiveness in matters of the faith as well. Carolyn Arends in "Going Down Singing - Why We Should Remember That We Will Die," an article in the April 2011 issue of Christianity Today, tells about the efforts of retired professor Margaret Guenther to ingrain the well-known Jesus Prayer into her daily routine by repetition in preparation for the time of her death.  Guenther writes, "I hope that by imprinting [the Jesus Prayer] on my subconscious, it will be with me for the rest of my life, especially at the end, when other words will perhaps be lost to me."

In a recent visit to the local hospital I offered the Sacrament to an elderly member deeply in need of spiritual encouragement.  Due to her difficulty in hearing the usual extra devotional reading from Scripture, with its corresponding homily, was waived and we concentrated on the liturgy alone.  I did this knowing that even if she could not hear my every word, she could participate from memory.  These words of our ancient worship forms were imbedded in her heart and mind through decades of use, reinforced monthly in my shut-in visitations.  In the days ahead I will be called to minister to her in what appears to be the final days of her earthly journey, and I know that familiar words learned through a lifetime of repetition will form the foundation of my ministry to her. 

When my life nears its own earthly end, I pray that the years I have spent in the repetition of the sacred liturgy, singing hymns first sung by my distant forefathers, will also comfort my heart in preparation to the final journey to depart and be with Christ. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

R.C.H. Lenski (1864-1936)

Decades after its release, the 12 volume commentary series by R.C.H. Lenski still finds avid supporters.  When I graduated from the seminary over 20 years ago it would have been considered a standard resource for the new pastor.  For the most part his theology was acceptable, although there were some issues, especially with Romans and what would be termed "Objective Justification."  Lenski was born in 1864 and died over 71 years later, apparently of complications due, in part, to diabetes.  A graduate of Capital University, he earned a BA degree in 1885, and then graduated from the affiliated seminary two years later, a shortened term due to the great need for pastors in the Ohio Synod.  Like other well respected scholars highlighted on this blog in earlier posts, Lenski never received an earned doctorate.  He did receive, however, a Doctor of Divinity degree at some later time.  Nevertheless, he became, in his own time and much later, a recognized scholar on the New Testament.  Ordained in 1887, Lenski served as a parish pastor for at least 22 years in four different parishes, three of them in Ohio.  In 1909 he was elected president of the Western District of the Joint Synod of Ohio, a position in which he served for the next four years.  In 1911 he was then called to Capital University where he taught for the next 11 years.  Within 8 years he then became dean of the seminary.  Initially called as Professor of Languages, he offered courses over the years in exegesis, dogmatics, apologetics, and homiletics.  Lenski was a prolific author and a very self-motivated student of the scriptures.  Reviews of his commentaries still receive positive marks, as is evidenced by those left on Amazon.  As one who has used his books throughout my ministry, I am impressed by his attention to the intricacies of the original, being quite conversant with the tools of his time.  Obviously we can see where he would benefit from the scholarship in subsequent generations, yet even now many of his astute observations on the text benefit the student. 

Given the opportunity I would like to examine his work in a much more thorough fashion, especially his book on preaching, The Sermon: Its Homiletical Construction.   For those desiring more information I would recommend the article "Richard Charles Henry Lenski: The Exegetical Task," by Stephen Geiger.  Lenski is a model for the truly self-made scholar-pastor with a thorough love of God's Word in its original.  My efforts pale against his. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

President Harrison on the Tragedy in Japan

A video message from President Harrison is available on the Witness, Mercy, Life Together blog site regarding the recent tragedy in Japan and the response of the LCMS.  Information is also available on the LCMS web page, including updates from our missionaries.   From the headlines it appears that our missionaries and staff from our partner church are ok.  We give abundant thanks to God for his tremendous mercy.  However, we continue to pray for all those in need as well as those who minister to them.  The strength needed for such service will great indeed.  Kyrie Eleison

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Lost Generation?

Today I was working on delinquent letters, not a very encouraging and uplifting experience.  My church, while smaller on Sunday morning than a decade prior, still resonates with the sound of children, so calls for its demise  remain premature.  Nevertheless, tracking down the 20 and 30-somethings who have quietly drifted from the scene demoralizes you and you begin to ask yourself:  Are we losing a generation?  A question which caused me to google my frustration looking for answers.  Lo and behold I found an insightful article in Christianity Today from November 2010 entitled "The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church."  Author Drew Dyck offers a reasoned and balanced examination of the situation that is worth reading.  He does not present a 'magic bullet' to solve the problem or present a shallow hope filled with mere wishful thinking.  Knowing we ultimately have no real control on the outside culture, he encourages to take a hard long look at the world inside the church and how we deal with people there.  Truly, the old solutions of presenting more modern music and a more casual atmosphere in the sanctuary offer nothing to stem this tide.  In the end we realize we need to keep proclaiming and preaching and teaching and trust as always in the greater wisdom of God and in his gracious will.  

Remember the Church in Japan

As with our brothers and sisters in New Zealand, now our prayers turn also to those in Japan.  Recently a young man from our area was called to a position in Niigata and is scheduled to leave in about a week (his blog, for those interested in following his work this coming year, is "Mission in Japan.")  I was curious about whether our sister church in Japan was affected there, so using the internet I was able to determine that at least in this city the effect seems to be on the lighter side (as far as the earthquake is concerned.)  However, the Japan Lutheran Church also has a church in Tokyo where the damage is much greater. 

The USGS has a map indicating the intensity of the quake in the various cities of Japan.  Although the epicenter appears to be off the coast to the north-east, the greatest affect seems to be in the major metropolitan area around Tokyo and a bit south of there.  The Lutheran Church in Japan has several congregations throughout the island and I have not yet determined where all of them are in relation to the damaged areas.  This denomination is composed of 35 separate congregations, numbering 2,645 members.  Wikipedia has an article about the church and its background, as well as a list of the cities where the various congregations are located.

Hopefully more information will be available soon, especially on the condition of our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran Church in Japan.  Not only is the earthquake a great concern, but the tsunami is of equal if not greater concern.  One map indicates that the effect of the tsunami was mainly in the area of Sendai to the north-east.  There does not appear to be a congregation in the city of Sendai.

The King James Version (1611-2011)

Dr. Becker draws attention to an anniversary many of us would probably have missed in a blog article entitled "The AV at 400."  It turns out that 2011 is the quadricentential anniversary of the King James Version.  My parents came of age with the KJV, but as for me it was the RSV.  Nevertheless, the KJV has been part of my library and world, especially since I grew up with the Lutheran Hymnal in which much of the language is old Anglican/KJV.  When I read Becker's article two books in my library came to mind that had received little to no attention in years, save being moved from one shelf to another:
  • White, James R.  The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations? Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995.
  • Moynahan, Brian.  God's Bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible - A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002.
It occurred to me that the 400th anniversary of the KJV might be a great excuse to finally pull these off the shelf and give them the attention they have deserved.  White's book received endorsements from J.I. Packer and Bruce Metzger, the latter who recommended the book for anyone who is "troubled by criticisms of the English translations." It addresses an issue that was probably more prevalent back in the 90's, namely, that the KJV was the only divinely-endorsed translation, seemingly on par even with the original Greek itself.

Moynahan is a former history scholar at Cambridge and his book lays the historical foundation that leads to the KJV.  I'm thinking that this might be the book to read first (once I finish the other tome I'm reading by former President Bush.) 

The KJV remains as an historical landmark in literature, and regardless of subsequent developments in biblical studies and translations the beauty and art of its language cannot be surpassed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Civil Discourse

Fists thrust in the air in angry defiance.  Faces contorted with enraged shouting.  Noise so deafening that law enforcement is reduced to wearing earplugs.  A Lybian protest against Muammar al-Gaddafi?  Not quite.  Think Madison instead.  Regardless of the issues in debate at the moment, it is the behavior of those involved in the debate that has revealed a very ugly underside of our society.  Overall it seems that our culture is being reduced to its lowest common denominator when it comes to how we communicate.  Social network mediums such as Facebook  bring out the most surprising narcissistic tendencies in people who seem completely uninhibited about sharing every thought, even those that are vindictive, mean-spirited, and vulgar.  Of course, such behavior is hardly new.  Still, it feels as if technology has given it a boost.  Once content to vent their rage from the seeming anonymity of a car rushing through traffic, the new antagonist need only log on and spew through a keyboard in the comfort of their home. 

The debate in my state, though, has also revealed something about our devolving society that should raise more than a passing concern.  Increasingly polarized and rigidly entrenched, we fight more and more not for the basic rights of life and safety, but for our self-perceived entitlements.  Sacrifice is a word best left to the Great Depression generation and those who weathered the struggle of World War II, abroad and stateside.  We simply do not know what it means to do without and be content.  The world owes us a standard of living to which we would like to become accustomed.  Once condemned by more than one commandment, coveting has become a new virtue.  Those who disagree with us are caricatured as heartless and oblivious to basic human need.  It all appears to be the natural development, surprising at it may sound, of a society committed to the seeming ideal of relativism.  To challenge something is to challenge everyone's right to be right, which is unacceptable and unfair.  Truth is always the greatest casualty in such times, and all the more so now as the goal is to capture the sentiments of the common voter and thus tip the balance of yet another poll.

Our rhetoric betrays an embarrassing unwillingness to take responsibility.  If all politics are local, then our current debate is reduced to a smaller circle yet: the fulfillment of personal perceived need and desire.  All this, of course, does not avoid the world of the church.  We are citizens of both kingdoms and influenced by each. To insist on standards and absolutes and boundaries seems so outdated to the person of the new era.  Everyone has a right, and every right, however defined and developed, is absolute.  The world revolves around me, but I want you to think it revolves around you.  It's all in the way we spin the story and craft the image.  Still, in the end the serpent can be found there just as he was at the beginning, sewing seeds of doubt, questioning the clear Word, leading us all too willingly to rebel for our own interests.  And where does it end?  Disarray, dissension, division, and disunity.  Chaos.  And we all know where this will eventually go if left unchecked and uncontrolled. 

After a while the issues simply do not matter.  The cloud of vile anger and selfish preoccupation has obscured the original point.  If we care not for how we treat one another and how we communicate with one another, all else seems pointless.  Can we find a way to talk again without yelling?  Can we rediscover the means of disagreeing without assassinating character?  Can we debate while still holding on to respect?  We need to look long and hard at our communications and ask if we really are communicating, or merely pontificating to hear the echo of our own voice and view.  This is the greater issue.  But is anyone listening?


Saturday, March 5, 2011

What is the Purpose Behind the Pre-Lent Sundays?

In the old historic one-year series one encounters three Sundays prior to Lent that neither belong to Epiphany nor fully to Lent.  They were dispensed with when the newer lectionaries came into being, although they are retained in the 'revised' one-year series as found in LSB (I say 'revised' since a comparison with the original historic series will reveal obvious changes in the lections from one to the other.)  Having never grown up with these Sundays, and having never observed them in my over two decade ministry, I wondered what their purpose was.  Epiphany I understand, and Lent makes sense to me, but why would one need a kind of "pre-Lent" season?  It would seem according to one source I found that these Sundays are tied to the need for 40 fast days in the season.  At one point in history not all the days of the week were designated as fast days, such as Thursday and Saturday, and of course, Sunday.  With two extra days 'off the calendar,' so to speak, one needed to push the season back a bit to pick up the requisite number of fast days. 

With the concept of 'fast days' changed in the passing centuries, one wonders what function the old pre-Lent Sundays fulfill.  Lent prepares us for the Easter celebration, but does Lent itself need a time of preparation?  The Gospel for Septuagesima is from Matthew 20, the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.  In the three-year series that lection is placed in the latter part of the post-Pentecost Sundays (proper 20).   At this point Jesus has left Galilee and is moving toward Jerusalem.  Following this parable He openly predicts his suffering and death.  Naturally, this would fit a Lenten theme.  The following Sunday, Sexagesima, the Gospel is the Parable of the Sower from Luke 8.  This lection is omitted from Series C where Luke is normally used.  Since this is one of the parables recorded in each of the Gospels, it is not surprising that it would be included instead in Series A, but again in the post-Pentecost season.  It seems that the organizers of the three-year series saw these periocopes more in keeping with the second half of the church year, than in the first.  This, of course, could be a debatable point. 

So, again I come back to my original point:  What is the purpose of these three Sundays?  My sense is they had a more obvious use in former times when fasting was more prevalent, although one wonders why the season of Lent was simply not extended to include this period.  Yet is there still a use for a kind of transition period between post-Epiphany Sundays and the Sundays of Lent?  And if so, why?  Perhaps someone who knows more of the background of these Sundays might wish to offer an enlightened insight.