16 May 2013

Semper Virgo, Clauso Utero and the Womb of the Church

I wrote a paper some years ago for a pastor's conference entitled: "Semper Virgo, Clauso Utero and the Womb of the Church." Some pastors were a bit suspect of it. Some even were a bit threatened, I think; after all, their entire ministries they'd taught, "Why, of COURSE Christ had natural brothers and sisters." They had assumed we DON'T confess the Semper Virgo (much less the Clauso Utero!) and suddenly, my paper put that in question. By the end of it, I think I had succeeded, if not in convincing, at least in casting these articles in a Gospel light. It's not about Mary or virginity but about CHRIST and His Gospel. One pastor even said, "If this is so much about the Gospel - as it seems from your paper - why AREN'T we teaching it?" I thought that was an excellent question.

Anyway, for anyone interested, here is a link to my paper from a few years back.


07 May 2013

Saved Again - in Matins

I’m mindful how easy it is for me to lose my mind; well, beyond just the senility that often comes with age. I mean, losing my mindfulness; going through the motions in an empty, thoughtless, distracted sort of way. You know, when you’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer in Matins with the School kids or at home with your own kids and then immediately after saying “Amen,” you start with “Our Father” all over!

Maybe something like that has happened to you. Maybe not. It’s a shame that I must admit that I can all too easily mouth off words before God without even paying attention to them! That’s not what our Lord is teaching when He commands us to pray. Rather, as our children beseech their dear earthly parents for the things they desperately want or desperately think they need, so our Father in heaven wants us coming before Him not simply mumbling words even we don’t care to hear, but in and through them learning to truly grab hold of our heavenly Father’s ears as His dear children. We have a wonderful privilege, after all. Who else can climb into the lap of the God of all creation and be confident of being heard but those who have been given His Name in baptism, who are called by the Gospel and enlightened with His Gifts working a true and genuine faith in His Mercy for Christ’s sake?

Today in chapel, I explained prayer to the children, since this is the week of Rogate Sunday, rogate being the plural command, “Pray, y’all!” Did I mention I live in Mississippi? After having talked to them about the genuine praying they do when begging Mom and Dad to go to the movies or McDonald’s or Disney World, I said that God sincerely wants to hear their eager and heartfelt prayers in Jesus’ Name. The words He gives form our lips, but He also wants them to form our hearts and minds; to have their way with us, not just vocally but all the way through. That’s why Luther said the Lord’s Prayer is so easy to speak but harder to actually pray!

Prayer is a school, of sorts, and today in Matins was no different for me. My mind wandered, but as is often the case, there are moments when the Lord brings me back. Suddenly I am aware of what I am praying and why! There are a couple of moments in the prayer service called Matins that do this for me. I call them my Sgt. Phil Esterhaus moments, but since most of you probably don’t remember that character from the groundbreaking ‘80’s television series, Hill Street Blues, I also call them my Bilbo Baggins moments, since at least I hope that Peter Jackson has made Tolkien’s characters and world familiar with most modern readers.

In Hill Street Blues, the character of Sgt. Esterhaus, played by Michael Conrad, used to say right before sending “the troops” out to their street patrols, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” A good reminder to anyone walking or driving a beat! And if an 80’s cop show is too far removed for you, Frodo Baggins quotes an old saying of his uncle Bilbo’s to Sam in the movie, The Lord of the Rings. I don’t have the book here in my study at church (I know, heresy!), but I believe it’s somewhere in chapter three of that book. Anyway, Frodo says to Sam, quoting Bilbo, It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Indeed!

There are multiple points, really, where Matins “wakes me up.” These include the opening versicles’ “make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord” from Psalm 51. You don’t pray that way unless “the streets” are dangerous! I also am minded of this in the Te Deum’s “when You had overcome the sharpness of death.” I think of the wages of sin and my own death one day, but also of the countless daggers, spears and sword points the devil has aimed against us every moment, as Luther says in the Large Catechism. But today, as I drifted off somewhere other than where my mouth was, it was the following that brought me back . . .

“We therefore pray You to help Your servants, whom You have redeemed with Your precious blood. Make them to be numbered with your saints in glory everlasting.”

Why do we pray that? Because if HE doesn’t make it so it shall not be done, and we are constantly beset by our enemies who don’t want it to be so; the world, the devil and our own sinful flesh, which do not want us to hallow God’s Name or let His kingdom come.

My daily distractions are often interrupted also by the Te Deum’s “O Lord, save Your people and bless Your heritage. Govern them and lift them up forever.” I can’t tell you how many of God’s dear ones entrusted to my care come flooding to my mind when these words, coming out of my mouth and the children’s, strike my ears and rouse me from my daydream. The dear parents who struggle so against this world’s pressures, wanting to be faithful and getting – like me – too often distracted. The children, facing so much, needing more of what Christ has for them, not less. Precious and beloved members of my congregation whom I haven’t seen in awhile. Those dealing with illnesses, difficulties, family and marital issues, personal wars which God would so love to help them with. Myself and my wife and family. Those who stand firmly in the glad receiving of the Word of Truth, and those I can see perhaps drifting away from it.

You know about your life flashing before your eyes in an instant? Often, that’s what happens to me in Matins, as I suddenly am grabbed by the reality of that for which the Church is praying. By the end of Matins, I am usually back from whatever mental trip I have taken and praying the Collect for Grace with something approximating sincerity. “Defend us . . . with Your mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin” (Didn’t we just pray that? Oh, yeah, it was in the Te Deum! Thanks to repetition, even guys like me EVENTUALLY get it!) . . . “Neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by your governance, may be righteous in your sight; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord . . .”

As Bilbo said, “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door” each day. “If you don’t keep your feet” – or your wits about you – your heart and mind clinging to the Word of Christ’s Truth, in particular His precious and saving Gospel – “there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to!” So, Luther tells us that if we could see how many are the armaments that Satan aims against us and the ones we love, we’d be eager to go the Sacrament, where the Liturgy teaches us to pray and pay attention and live from the Table Christ has set for us in the presence of our enemies.

I am still learning to pray and believe. I am like Frodo and the liturgy of the King, whether in prayer offices or the Mass, or simply in my daily devotions with the Word, well, the King’s liturgy is like the Tolkien character, Strider/Aragorn, who in The Fellowship of the Ring asks Frodo: “Are you frightened?” Frodo says, “Yes,” to which Aragorn replies: “Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”

In the services we pray I am reminded of who hunts us, but more so, of the befriending of the Rightful King and the Table-guests He has made us. By Him Who died and rose and now gives us the right to appear before His throne of Grace in His Name, calling on our Dear Father like the co-heirs and dear children we are, we are bold – not just to ask for the help we need, but to live, confident that we have it in the One Who has given us His Son, and that Son Who - seated now at the right hand of the Father - has given us His Spirit and His Name! That means a lot! Sometimes, God even wakes me from my walking, talking, rote prayer-slumber to make sure I believe it. Then, fully armored and knowing He will be the One to make it so, we go forth with His Benediction thinking: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.” Because it’s dangerous business, but He is in the business of bringing us safely through - as well as making sure our prayers are heard and ever-so pleasing to Him, not because we're as attentive as we should be, but because He is when we aren't, and has given us His Son!

Pastor Rick Sawyer + Good Shepherd + Brandon, MS