Bayern, USA, Deutschland

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Why Does God Allow Natural Disasters?

After seeing the images on TV, and perhaps experiencing the storm yourself, you wonder: “Why did this hurricane devastate the lives of so many people in New Jersey, New York City, and thousands of towns up and down the East Coast?” God’s people have asked such questions since the book of Genesis. We find Job pondering why bad things have happened to a righteous man. Others ask Jesus why some kinsmen were killed when a building fell upon them. 

Natural disasters are part and parcel of our fallen world. In a perfect world, there would be no floods, tornados or tsunamis. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Rather, we live in a world that has been contorted and knocked off kilter by sin − our sin. God cursed the ground on account of Adam. Thorns and thistles will now grow and make our stewardship of the earth much more difficult. Paul talks about creation groaning under the weight of God’s curse. 

So when we wonder why did God allow this hurricane to happen, we discover from Holy Scripture that natural disasters happen because we are sinful people who live in a world that has been cursed by God on account of our sins. 

Does this mean God is punishing us for some unrepented sin? Is He punishing our nation for national sins that we, as a nation, are guilty of? Only insofar as we live on a world whose nature has been cursed by God as a result of our sinfulness. Hurricanes are just one way, among many, that this cursed earth unleashes because of the curse placed upon it. 

Does this mean God is indifferent or uncaring? Certainly not! We should realize that God has protected us from any number of natural disasters throughout the years. When was the last time an asteroid slammed into the earth and extinguished 4 or 5 billion human beings? When was the last time the earth was soaked with flood waters so that only eight people survived? God watches over us and protects us many, many times. 

It’s just this more recent incident when God seems to have taken a break from rescuing His creation. Or has He? Consider what God is doing in the aftermath of this hurricane. He is working through individuals, organizations and State governments to send help, money and supplies. God’s people are praying for the lives and rescue of those unaccounted. 

God is working through men and women to help ease the awful suffering. God is showing His love for the world by working through the actions of the world to offer assistance. 

You see, God can be found where there’s trouble. God is there with the nurse giving help to one injured in the hurricane. God is with the pilot who flies a cargo plane with needed supplies. God is with those who search for the unaccounted. 

God is found in the midst of our greatest heartache and despair. Rather than seeing a hurricane as the angry and contorted face of God, we should instead look at the true God revealed in Christ. For when we see Christ contorted and suffering on the cross, we see God’s friendly heart, a heart so enamored with His people and His creation that He is willing to give up His only Son to redeem us from all our sins. And Paul tells us that God’s redemption in Christ will one day remove the curse imposed upon creation. 

Christ our Lord intervened in a disaster hundreds of times worse than the recent Hurricane Sandy. Our Savior went to the cross, suffered and gave up His own life to save us from our sins. The Christ hanging on the cross reveals the heart of God and the great love He has for us. And when we realize how much God loves us and that Christ is where our greatest need is that needs fixing, then we realize that our Christian faith points the way to where Christ needs to be now: in boroughs and with people who have suffered greatly. And where Christ is, there we will be. Perhaps merely in spirit and prayers. Or in the sending of support. Or offering other help. Each time you give an encouraging word to your neighbors, bring them a cup of coffee, offer them some respite from the sufferings of the hurricane’s aftermath, the hands and words of Jesus are working and speaking through you. These are Divine words of love and support. God has given us an opportunity to do acts of charity and mercy for our neighbors, and for each other in the household of God. And reminding people that God loves us through Christ and that not even a hurricane can alter God’s good disposition upon us through Christ our Lord and Savior.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Gnostic Christianity

Who exactly were the Gnostic Christians, and what did they believe? You would be hard pressed to go into your local bookstore, iBooks or Kindle and find books on Gnostic Christianity. There just is not a raving passion for studying it. Only a handful of scholars keep the dream alive of Gnostic Christianity.

There is some discussion among scholars as to the position of Gnostic Christians in the early Church. Some, like Profs. Karen King and Elaine Pagels of Harvard and Princeton, respectively, put the Gnostics squarely in the Christian fold. Others, like Prof. James Voelz of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, postulate that they should not even rightly be called Christians. It is true that Gnostic philosophy had infiltrated some corners of the Church throughout the mid-1st and early 2nd centuries (the Apostles Paul and John deal with this Gnostic influence in some of their New Testament writings), but these Gnostic groups were never part of the mainstream Church in terms of numbers, leadership or influence. This may be in part because the apostles  effectively checked their influence with their authority and teaching. 

Gnosticism comes from the Greek word γνωσις (knowledge), and it is a philosophy that held two key ideals: 1. matter is evil and the spirit is good, and 2. God is infinitely divorced from the world. Gnosticism, therefore, fit easily within the framework of Greek philosophy and thought in the first and second centuries. These ideals, however, are both unbiblical. 

Prof. James Voelz of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis believes Gnosticism is a merging of Platonism, Persian, Judaism and Christianity ideas. He also sees similarities between Gnosticism’s secret-saving knowledge and its modern offshoots in Masonic Lodges and Mormonism. He rightly identifies Gnosticism not as a Christian heresy but as an completely different religion. 

The Gnostic Christians believed Christians could and should receive a special knowledge to advance up the ladder of spirituality and salvation. This knowledge was something other and different from what was written in the books of the New Testament.  This belief separated them from the rank and file Christians. In this sense, the Gnostic Christians were a type of Christian Masonic Lodge where one moved up the ladder by obtaining the secret knowledge known to those in the community who had received it directly from Jesus or by someone higher up than they in the community. It is easy to see why the early Church and her theologians fought against these Gnostic Christians, for they added to the accepted Scriptures. This is the history of all the sects and heresies: they add documents to the Bible that are put on par with, or above, Holy Scripture. As such, the Gnostic Christians had separated themselves from all the other churches by adding to the accepted canon of Scripture. In part, this is why the early Church began to put together an authoritative list of what books were Holy Scripture, and which were not. In 397, the Council of Carthage established the authorized canonical list to be the 27 books in what we currently have in the New Testament. Earlier theologians and bishops had lists (as early as 170), all of which basically agreed with the accepted list compiled in 397. None of their individual lists included any sort of Gnostic Christian writings. By the way, these canonical lists were based on the witness to the antiquity and apostolicity of the various canonical books, rather than decreeing that the canon contained certain books. Furthermore, the Gnostic Gospels were merely a collection of Jesus' sayings, wisdom and knowledge. They rarely mention or quote the Old Testament. There are no miracles in them, and they did not focus on Jesus' death and resurrection for the salvation of the world. Prof. King's papyrus fragment seems to fall into this type of literature. The Gnostic Christian texts were never seriously entertained by many Christians as legitimate representations of the faith. Although some, like Pagels and King believe and teach otherwise. 

The Gnostics tried to merge their philosophy with Christianity. Where Judaism and Christianity emphasize the role of faith alone in salvation and the salvation of both body and soul, Gnostics taught that the soul’s salvation depended on the individual possessing quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and of magic formulas. Gnosticism fundamentally rejected the Old Testament, its theology about the goodness of creation and especially the idea that all the nations would be blessed through Abraham and his faith. We see the beginnings of this clash between Judeo-Christian theology and classic Greek philosophy already in the Apostle Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. In chapter 15 where he discusses the resurrection, Paul is dealing with the Gnostic aversion that the body would be resurrected and reunited with the soul. The Greeks only believed in an eternal soul that sheds off the body at death. They didn’t care about a resurrection, because being rid of the corrupt body freed the pure soul. In Greek thought, a resurrection would be a step back, for the body imprisoned the soul and death released the soul. Paul teaches in this letter that Christianity is anchored in Christ’s resurrection, and our own. Gnostic Christians found this, the central teaching of the Christian faith, to be distasteful. 
There is no strong evidence to suggest that the Gnostic Christians vied with the orthodox from the beginning. The earliest discovered Gnostic Christian document is the Gospel of Thomas which appears about 130. This is well after the New Testament books were already recognized as authoritative and widely circulated, read and accepted as Scripture. 

The Gospel of Thomas draws on most of these New Testament documents and adds some new ideas about Jesus and faith. All other major Gnostic Christian texts—like the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Gospel of Mary, and so on—are clearly written in the second and third centuries. This is well after the Christian Scriptures are collected and accepted as a canon of texts. These canonical lists were used to evaluate other Christian writings in light of those that were apostolic. Among the second-century lists of authoritative Scriptures, the Gnostic texts are never listed—not even by the unorthodox, Gnostic-leaning Marcion in 140. There was never a time when a wide selection of books, including Gnostic ones, were widely deemed acceptable in the Church. 

In light of the fact that Gnosticism clashed with several important aspects of the Old and New Testaments, Gnostic „Christians“ don’t deserve to even be regarded as a legitimate development of the Christian faith, and therefore don’t fall into the category of Christian sects, but as a completely new religion that is antithetical to Christianity. And yet, Profs. King and Pagels argue that they are a viable and important part in the life of the early Church. Prof. King even shies away from labeling the Gnostic Christians as heretics or even Gnostic. While studying Gnostic "Christianity" might be beneficial for learning about life in general in the 2nd and 3rd centuries in the Middle East, we are not going to learn anything about the early Church since the Gnostics were not a recognized part of the believers. No amount of essays, books and presentations by Profs. King and Pagels is going to change the course of history. It is not about the victors writing the history, but about Gnostic Christianity being a dog that simply won't hunt. The Church rejected the Gnostics. They survived for a few centuries as eccentrics here and there, but in the end their ideals and philosophy simply did not carry and win the debate or the day. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Where has all the Good Scholarship Gone?

Papyrus fragment: front. Karen L. King 2012

A couple of weeks ago, Prof. Karen King of Harvard Divinity School made a presentation in Rome on a papyrus fragment that made the sensational claim: Jesus said: "my wife". Prof. King breathlessly named this papyrus the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife." Here is a link to her draft essay

Modern scholarship seems to be on the decline. Here's why

First, a 3rd or 4th century Coptic Gnostic Christian papyrus fragment that is the size of a business card containing thirty words in eight fragmented lines is touted as the greatest find in Christian antiquity in the last several years. Seriously? The papyrus looks like it has gone through a paper shredder. It has absolutely NO context. We are being told that it reveals earth-shattering revelations about early Christianity. Hardly. 

Good scholarship avoids sensationalism and trite soundbites (the mainstream news media gave us both). Prof. King did not help matters by giving the fragment the exhilarating name of the "Gospel of Jesus' Wife". The Smithsonian Channel was ready to air a special on King and this papyrus this past Sunday (September 30). The Smithsonian Channel has postponed their special. However, you can read an article on the papyrus in the Smithsonian Magazine

Other scholars (and the Vatican) have raised concerns about this papyrus. The Vatican seems to have denounced it as a forgery. I think the Vatican has responded with a knee-jerk reaction. Further tests are welcomed. I do not doubt Prof. King and the tests that have already been conducted. Hopefully, after another round of tests are finished the Smithsonian Channel will air their special. I look forward to seeing more about this papyrus. I do not think it should, or will, have an impact in the Church. I am sure, however, that some fringe groups with specific agendas in the Church will make some hay from this papyrus. 

Second, there is no context for this papyrus. Prof. King has said that it is a fragment of an unknown Coptic Gnostic Christian text. It contains nothing earth-shattering. It reads like the average Gnostic Christian texts we already have, in particular the "Gospel of Thomas". True, Prof. King notes that this is the first document we have where Jesus says "my wife". Okay, fine, but this phrase appears in a fragment of disconnected phrases. This phrase is nothing extraordinary, for it is something I would expect to find in Gnostic Christianity given their views on Jesus, women and sexuality. Besides Dan Brown beat this horse to death with his DaVinci Code novel. 

Third, too often modern scholarship makes grandiose claims. I understand that part of this may be the desire to publish one's findings or add to the prestige of one's academic institution. This papyrus will probably be Prof. King's one shot at 15 minutes of fame, and I can't blame her for taking the bull by the horns. Early Christianity and Gnostic Christianity are, after all, here specialty. Sound scholarship, however, involves plenty of research (often tedious and dull), extensive testing, peer critiques and criticism. I think Prof. King has done her best to uphold good scholarship. Others on both sides of the issue have not labored as intensely on this papyrus. I do, however, think Prof. King has made some eager grandiose claims that have exacerbated the emotional claims of others, both pro and con regarding this papyrus. 

Prof. King (and her fellow Gnostic Christianity scholar, Elaine Pagels) would have us believe that the Gnostic Christians represent a purer and more authentic version of Christianity. The early Church, her bishops and theologians quickly and rightly challenged the claims of the Gnostic Christians. Furthermore, contrary to King's and Pagel's assertion, Gnostic Christianity was not a numerous movement, and it was not popular among the average Christians. Gnostic Christianity is simply a dog that won't hunt.  It did not vie for supremacy against the Church.

Fourth, too many Christians seem to be intimidated by scholarship. This ought not be the case. The Church and Christianity have traditionally encouraged scholarship. I look forward to passionate debate on this papyrus, Gnostic Christianity and the other topics such debate naturally brings into the fray. The Church has nothing to fear in quality scholarship and discussions. 

If this papyrus is proved to be authentic, then it still does not legitimize the claims made by. Prof. King. Authenticity does not guarantee reliability and truth. Historic, creedal Christianity has withstood struggles and adversities for two millennia. If it were not for The few Gnostic Christian scholars like Profs. King and Pagels, Gnostic Christianity would be forgotten and ignored by both the Church and the world. 

The collapse of sound scholarship goes hand in hand with the decline of traditional liberal arts education. Sound scholarship, with its rigorous debates from both sides of the issue, is sorely needed in this post-postmodern world with its instantaneous news and sensational claims. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Whither the Liberal Arts?

Joseph Epstein has a thought-provoking article in The Weekly Standard about the liberal arts education in America. You can read the entire article here. See also Two Handed Warriors

Here's an excerpt: “Traditional liberal arts is the study of Western literature, philosophy and history, with science, mathematics and languages playing a substantial, though less central role; sometimes the social sciences: psychology, sociology and political science are included. For the ancient Greeks, the liberal arts were the subjects thought necessary for a free man to study. If he is to remain free, then he must acquire knowledge of the best thought of the past which will cultivate in him the intellectual depth and critical spirit required to live in an informed and reasonable way in the present" (Joseph Epstein 23 „Who Killed the Liberal Arts? And why we should care” The Weekly Standard 17. September 2012). 

I graduated from a liberal arts university in 1991, and I have to concur with Epstein's thesis: the liberal arts are dying in the American university. O to be sure, when I was at university you could still study and earn a classical, traditional liberal arts degree (mine was in Classical Greek and Theology), but there were many classes offered that were fundamentally not in the vein of classical liberal arts. I took some of them (partly because that was all that remained for me to take in my super-major B.A. in Theology). One class was on Liberation theology, another class had a very feminist approach to it and still another on Native American religions. There were some others that have faded from my collegiate memory. 

I learned a lot from these classes. I disagreed with much that was taught. Nevertheless, a degree in Gender Studies or Native American religions is not a liberal arts education or degree. I believe that a well-rounded university should offer such classes and degrees, but let us not pretend that they are a liberal arts education nor on par with such. 

Epstein further argues that a good liberal arts education should focus on the texts. Your textbooks should not be about the text being studied but the actual text itself. Overall, I found this lacking in my liberal arts education. In fact, looking back, the classes I enjoyed the most were those few classes that actually only used the text as our only textbook. My senior year I took a Classical Greek course on the play Medea. Our only textbook was the text of Medea, in Classical Greek. Our class consisted of our prof and four students. We read and discussed the play. It was a great class that I still think fondly on 20 years later. My little book of Medea (complete with my hand-written notes in the margins) still adorns a prominent place on my living room bookshelf. 

This focus on the text is a bulwark we have inherited from Medieval humanism, the Renaissance and the Reformation. Medieval university education revolved around the liberal arts education that consisted of seven areas of study: the trivium and the quadrivium. The three sciences were the hallmark of university education, with theology as the queen of the sciences. Trivium means "three ways; place where three roads meet". It is the lower group of the liberal arts. The trivium used Latin and focused on dialectics (philosophy, logic, metaphysics and ethics) and Aristotle. Quadrivium means "crossroads; place where the four roads meet". It is the higher group of the liberal arts. At the university, one’s Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree was issued after completing the trivium (this could be done in about two years or less). One then could obtain a Master of Arts degree (M.A.) by studying the quadrivium. The master’s degree was the terminus in the liberal arts education. The pinnacle of university education was the doctorate in one of the three sciences. 

A classical humanistic education is almost as defunct as the liberal arts. The trivium focused on these three studies: rhetoric (speaking and writing effectively), dialectics (philosophy, logic, metaphysics and ethics) and grammar. The quadrivium focused on these four studies: geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy. The doctorate focused one one of these three sciences: theology, law or medicine. In the 14th century, European universities (starting in Italy) began stressing humanism over the traditional scholasticism that reigned supreme from 1100-1500. Scholasticism placed a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference, and to resolve contradictions. Humanism took a completely different approach, one that focused on ideals from Classical Greek philosophy and education, and as such it originally centered on Greek and Latin classics but soon influenced concepts of freedom, religion, history, science, etc. Humanism was (and is) concerned with the source text and the original languages, and this helped further ideals like the Textus Receptus (the received text). 

I am a supporter of classical humanistic and liberal arts education. To be sure, it is not a course of study for everyone, nor should it. For those, however, who desire and pursue a liberal arts degree at college and university, I strongly advocate the traditional topics of study emphasized by the Medieval universities. In terms of education, a liberal arts degree forms a well-rounded person. In my own education, I was unable to take much in the areas of music or astronomy. I was, however, able to focus more on languages (German, Koine and Classical Greek, French and Hebrew). I picked up some Latin after my B.A. as I delved into a Masters degree. I am by no means fluent in these languages, although German and Greek are my strengths. For those seeking a liberal arts degree, I would encourage at least two semesters of a Romance language, particularly French, Spanish or Italian. You can pick up others at your own leisure. 

You see, the strength of a liberal arts degree is not mastery in any one field of study. Rather, the focus is on learning how to study, think, critique and formulate reasoned arguments. One’s education should never end, for our life should be one of constant study. A liberal arts education gives you the confidence to tackle subjects and topics. To really grasp the text you need to read and re-read the originals over and over again. 

Twenty years after my liberal arts B.A. I find myself learning new things in topics I could not focus on in my university years. I read more science and political science. I have delved into music (both playing music and writing it). I start and stop in keeping up my language proficiency. The best thing is: it is not a chore. I don't do it for a grade or another degree. I do so out of joy and with no stress as I advance the foundation I obtained with a liberal arts degree. In the twelfth century, Bernard of Chartres said: “We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size”. This is why we should care about education, in general, and the traditional liberal arts degree, in particular.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What comes after Postmodernism?

That is a question I have pondered for about twenty years. The seeds for Postmodern thought were laid in the late nineteenth century and cultivated by Nietzche an those who followed his philosophical thought. As a cultural phenomena, however, Postmodernism did not enter the mainstream until the 1950s via the arts and in the 1960s through music. I remember a Devo song entitled "Post Post Modern Man" that was released in 1990. Devo was a pioneer in New Wave music in the 1970s. They were perhaps the first band to utilize the synthesizer in their music. Devo was ahead of the curve once again when it came to asking what comes after Postmodern thought. 

Some of Postmodernism more well-known tenets were "spiritual, not religious" and no established truth that holds for everyone. To a degree, these concepts are still around in Western culture, and probably will always be in some form or fashion. Even in Postmodernism's heyday, Modernism still managed to exert influence as a philosophy. Postmodernism, however, seems to have expended its energy and is now coasting slowly to irrelevance. First, the "spiritual, not religious" idea is not some new concept dreamed up by Postmodernism. This idea has been around from time immemorial. What has happened is that the pendulum has begun to swing back in the other direction. People have realized that being spiritual at the expense of being religious really offers an empty sack that is not satisfying in their lives. People are orderly creatures who desire structure and discipline. Generic spiritualism fails to ultimately deliver this order. In a like manner, the idea that truth is relative has been shown to be less than satisfying. An orderly civilization just cannot exist or function without an established set of rules, laws and truths that apply to everyone and are upheld by everyone. 

So if Postmodernism is spent, what shall replace it as the reigning philosophy? This question has been debated for several years now. Some argue for Scientific (Critical) Realism, Pseudo-modernism or Metamodernism. In many ways, Scientific Realism is just a rebranded Modernism with absolute truth challenging Postmodernism relative truth. Pseudo-modernism derives from the instant access the Internet offers as regards to knowledge, information and communication. Alan Kirby argues that this ultimately leads to a triteness and a shallowness that is exemplified in Reality TV. Metamodernism is a term coined by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van der Akker that argues for a third way beyond the competing Modern and Postmodern philosophies. There is a fourth possibility, what I call, for lack of a better term, Post-postmodernism. There is a real reaction to the blandness of Postmodernism and the triteness of Reality TV that upholds such concepts as specificity, values and authenticity. 

It is too early to tell which of these competing philosophies will become the dominant viewpoint among people. Perhaps it will be a strange mixture of the four, which would in some ways be so Postmodern in its synergy. Personally, I hope the Post-postmodern philosophy wins the day as it offers the best strain of thought that reacts to the limitations of Postmodernism. A healthy dose of Scientific Realism would be nice in the Post-postmodern mix, too. We shall have to wait and see what the philosophical future holds. 

Until then, enjoy a little Devo: Post Post Modern Man

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Learning from Löhe. John 16,5-15

The following is the opening paragraph to Löhe's sermon on Cantate Sunday (The 4. Sunday after Easter):

1. This Gospel also moves us beyond the night when the Lord was betrayed, and we hear in it that the Lord as He announced His departure to the disciples, and interprets its blessed fruits. These words sounded in the ears of the disciples as an announcement of His sufferings and His death. What they did not understand and took from it only the conscience awareness of an impending separation, it could also be in that nothing but the un-loving message to recognize the separation that they had avoided at all happy. Therefore, they are the words of Jesus, sad and remain so, He may now just talking about the beginning of His departure, by His suffering, He may or blessed by the target and tell the end of it. They're like mourning people who were sitting not the eternal happiness of their dead, but only the separation and the loss of their own eye. Just as the disciples did not even ask: "Where are you going?" But their heart was full of sorrow, since they could not get over the one thought. "You go away from us, You forsake Your people" Of course, one can sympathize with their sadness, for it represents what they feel, the light before God: we cannot behave in such a selfishness manner and should rid ourselves of such sadness that Jesus' announcement evokes.

The Book of Common Prayer, 1662

My copy of the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer, 1662 arrived via UPS today. It is a lot smaller than I thought, about half the size of my Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, 1979. When opening the package, I was thinking: "Will I need a magnifying glass to read this?" It was with much joy and surprise that the little red book has very readable print! It is listed as a 9 point Lexicon No. 1A (Enschede FF) font script that I had never heard of before, but it is comparable to a 12 font Garamond or Times New Roman script. All this for $15 dollars from Cokesbury of all places. I commend Cokesbury for the expedited shipping as I placed this order online this past Monday (four days ago).

Not that I needed this edition of The Book of Common Prayer. I already have the 1549 and 1662 editions via free .pdf files. There is something, however, to actually holding a book in your hands. An iPad comes close to this, but an iPad is still not the same as reading a real text book with all its attending texture for the fingers and the scent of the paper. My copy of the American Lutheran Church's A Service Book and Hymnal has a very unique paper smell that brings back childhood memories to this day, and I have had this hymnal for about ten years.

I actually like the copy of TBoCP I received today. It about a square inch smaller than my SELK and Bavarian Lutheran hymnals (both of which fit comfortably in one's hands) and this copy of TBoCP also fits well in my hands. For some reason, American hymnals are larger and more cumbersome to hold. The European textbook style lends itself to a more nature fit in the hands.

So, I am an avid collector of hymnals (mostly Lutheran), and the Book of Common Prayer ranks up there with the King James Bible as a masterpiece of English literature. The Anglicans produce very regal liturgies and hymns, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is a welcome addition to my library.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Some thoughts ...

Now that I have completed and posted the sermons in my Henric Schartau project, here are some cuurent thoughts on different subjects: 1. SyFy continues its downward spiral in stupidity. On Monday "Eureka" returns for its final season. The show is officially cancelled, probably due to the fact that SyFy refuses to give the series' cast deserved salary increases. SyFy promised us BSG: Blood and Chrome. The pilot is done, but the series is cancelled. At some future date SyFy will eventually show the pilot. The series is scheduled to continue as webisodes. Yeah, thanks SyFy for that. I doubt I will tune in for those. I guess we'll keep getting professional wrestling, horrible B movies on the weekends and cheap, idiotic "reality" shows. We deserve better than this drivel, SyFy. 2. Currently, my Mass Effect experience is complete. I completed ME3 two weeks ago. I am not thrilled with the ending, but am happy with my synergy choice that was consistent with my Paragon John Shepard. I await some quality DLCs, and am enjoying ME3's multiplayer adventures. I am still mad that I could not have Miranda Lawson as part of my crew and squad. So I used the classic crewmates Garrus, Tali and Liara on many missions. That brought some great continuity with my ME 1-3 adventures. Bioware, the dialogue with the crew was simply awesome, especially Garrus. Thank you! The Kinect playability is very good, too. 3. I finished my short Medieval fantasy novel a few months ago. It needs more polishing, but the core is complete. I have some other ideas running around for that novel and some of its characters.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Matthew 1,21. New Year's Day. Henric Schartau

Matthew 1,21
New Year’s Day 
Henric Schartau (1757-1825) 
(49) II. 
New Year’s Day Sermon. 
You shall call His Name Jesus; for it is He who shall save His people from their sins. 
1. This is the commandment which Joseph of Nazareth received from an angel concerning the name of the Son which should be born of the virgin Mary. The words are recorded by Matthew (1,21). 
2. The name Jesus means a Savior. Mary’s Son should be a Savior, and therefore He should receive this Name. He should save, not only provide postponement of the punishment for sins, nor alleviate the anguish for sins, but He should save His people. 
3. It was to His people that this salvation should be granted. When we learn that Jesus should be a sSavior from sins, we are also enabled to understand what sort of a people it was that He should save, namely, a people of sinners. But where is there a people without sins? It was, then, the whole human race which constituted this people. For this reason Jesus is not called the son of fAbraham, Isaac or Jacob, but the Son of Man. He came to save the human race in general. 
4. The Savior should grant salvation from the very greatest want and distress, for He should save His (50) people from their sins, from the transgressions of God’s law, from God’s wrath and from the perdition of the soul. He should grant a perfect salvation, so that the punishment for sins should be remitted, the sinful desires be overcome and the very seat of corruption be eventually uprooted, for He should be a Savior from sins. 
5. Mark this, O sinner, that this benefaction consists in salvation from sins. Jesus is not a Savior unto sin. He has not in His redemption given us license to sin. Nor is He a Savior in sin, remitting the punishment, but leaving a person in the bonds of sin. No, He is a Savior from sins, to the end that the sins will be abandoned when forgiven, and that the conquering power of Jesus’ resurrection will overcome the sinful desires, when the comforting power of His suffering and atonement will overcome the pangs of conscience, for Jesus is a Savior from sins. 
6. I propose to develop this matter still further and to point out the comfort which is obtainable in the Savior’s Name, but let us first pray that even on this occasion He may be unto us a Savior, so that the Word of God which will be spoken may work unto salvation, so that the bondservants of sin may desire Him unto deliverance and flee to Him for refuge, and that by Him they may be granted eternal salvation. To this end let us unite in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, etc.” 
( 51) Proposition. 
Our Comfort in the Name of the Savior. 
1. The comfort obtainable in the Name of Jesus, the Savior.
2. How this comfort can be obtained. 
First Part. 
7. We are here to speak of the comfort that can be obtained in the Name of Jesus, the Savior. 
8. The comfort lies principally in the reference of the evangelist to the fact that this Name had been given to our Savior by the angel, who announced to Mary that she should give birth to a Son, for then was also announced that Jesus should possess such attributes as would enable Him to be a Savior from sins, according to the interpretation of His Name given to Joseph and set forth in our introduction. When Gabriel the angel announced to Mary that she should give birth to a Son, whom she should call Jesus, he also said: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give unto Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His reign there will be no end.” A man like this could be all that we have heard in the introduction, a Savior from sins. 
9. Jesus is a Savior from the want and distress of sin, and we have the comforting assurance that He has come to save sinners.
10. Jesus is a Savior from the debts of sin. Our debts can now be forgiven, for Jesus has taken them upon (52) Himself and has paid them all. By His circumcision Jesus subjected Himself to the entire Law, not only the Decalogue, but to all the enactments in the Pentateuch. The pain Jesus then suffered was a beginning of all the suffering which He should endure as a punishment for sins. A sinner can therefore be delivered from his sins, however many they may be, for Jesus has paid for them all, being “the propitiation for our sins and for the whole world.” A sinner can be delivered from his sins,however great they may be, yes, if they were red as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, for “the blood of Jesus, shed for you, cleanses from all sin.” Yes, in Gethsemane the burden of sin weighed Jesus down with His face to the ground, and on the cross it wrung from His heart a bitter cry; but the burden of the sins of the world, though grievously heavy, was borne by the Lamb of God, and cast away, when He arose in glory from His tomb. 
11. Jesus is a Savior from the threats and condemnation of the law and from the anguish thereby caused in the conscience. The Word of God threatens with anguish every soul that works evil. This anguish must be felt in the soul, either in eternity by those who will be condemned, or in this life at the time of spiritual awakening. It was from this anguish for sins that Jesus wrought redemption, when He delivered us from the curse of the law. When Jesus permitted Himself to be circumcised, He subjected Himself to the law, as the Apostle Paul expresses it: “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” The threats of the law were fulfilled, when Jesus suffered the punishment for sins, and thereby He redeemed us (53) from the curse of the law. When a person is made free from the curse, by virtue of the redemption in Christ, he is also delivered from the anguish caused by the curse of the law. Jesus has fulfilled all the requirements of the law. If we have our share in the Savior who has fulfilled the law, we need not fear, though condemnation is pronounced upon all who have not fulfilled the law. 
12. Jesus is a Savior from the power of sin. He proved victorious in His temptations, and so we need not be subject to sin. We, too, can continually be victorious, until the power of sin shall be entirely overcome in death. In His circumcision Jesus began to assume the obligations pertaining to His mediatorial office, and in His baptism He assumed them entirely. Thereupon followed His temptations. As the Second Adam Jesus advanced to be tempted by the devil, and He was victorious, where the first Adam fell. Jesus stood in our stead and was victorious on our behalf. He purchased for us power unto victory over all temptations to sin. No man need be a bondservant of sin. The Son of God can make you free indeed.He “gave Himself for us, so that He might redeem us from all iniquity.” No one need permit himself to be overcome by the devil, for Jesus has “brought him to nought,” and God can “deliver us from the power of darkness.” No one need be subdued by the world, for Jesus has “overcome the world,” and He can “deliver us out of this present evil world.” The most deeply rooted sins must yield to the power of His grace. The most violent temptations can be resisted by a redeemed soul. The most cunning deices to lead a believer astray are frustrated (54) by Jesus, who protects His own, turns their simplicity into wisdom and their earnestness into an unconquerable power unto victory. 
13. Jesus is a Savior even from earthly want and distress, for these are results of sin. 
14. Physical distress follows upon sin. As soon as Adam had fallen into sin, such distress was announced. The ground was cursed. It became less fertile, necessitating hard labor and anxiety: “In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” The Lord has not been please to remove all earthly difficulties. He has left hardship as a chastisement unto repentance for those who are not converted and as a trial for the believers. 
15. Nevertheless, in as much as Jesus has wrought salvation from the punishment for sins and, hence, also from all real injury, He saves His own from much earthly distress, and many a time, in the midst of their suffering, He saves them from the worst part of all physical distress, namely, sickening worry, and enables them to heed the apostolic injunction: “Do not be anxious about anything,.” He strengthens their arms of faith so that they are enabled to “cast their anxiety upon Him.” During all their tribulations, Jesus grants unto each and every one of His believers the same experience as Jacob had and of which he bore testimony, saying: “The angel which has redeemed me from all evil.” 
16. Eventually, He saves them in a blessed death from all manner of evil. Then their tears are wiped away, never to flow any more. “neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pay, any more.” “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and He will save me unto His heavenly reign.” 
(55) Second Part. 
17. We are here to show how this comfort in the Name of Jesus, the Savior, can be obtained. 
18. Circumcision was a ceremony to be performed, not only in the case of Jesus, but in the case of every one who should belong to the people of God. Every one who should have a part in the Messianic redemption should be circumcised, as Jesus the Messiah was circumcised. Concerning this circumcision Paul teaches that it does not consist in any external ceremony, but “circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit.” This is accompanied with a painful change, quite as keen as that caused by the “circumcision, which is outward in the flesh.” So long as this change exists in the soul, it is as real a mark that the person thus transformed belongs to the spiritual Israel or the people of God, as the outward circumcision in the flesh was a mark of fellowship with the children of Israel or God’s people of old. 
19. A person obtains comfort in the Name of Jesus, if he submits to the pain of the spiritual circumcision, which belongs to repentance. The infant boys in ancient Israel were adopted into the old covenant of grace without any expressed consent on their part, just as the children of the New Testament are adopted into the same covenant of grace, without any assent on their part being required. But if a person of more mature age desired to be adopted into the commonwealth of Israel, he had to submit to the pain caused by circumcision, just as Abraham himself had to, before he could become the ancestor of the woman’s Seed, which had been promised, destined to bruise the serpent’s head, (56) and in which all the nations of the earth should be blessed. A similar condition appertains to each and every one who would become a partaker of the blessing which Jesus the Savior has purchased. One must submit to the spiritual circumcision which takes place in conversion, when the Word of God like a “two-edged sword pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow.” Indeed, a man cannot himself work repentance for sins and thus bring about his conversion. He must not, however, evade nor disdainfully oppose and thrust away the sword of the law, when the Holy Spirit would thereby sever the bands of sin which hold him a captive to the evil one. Nor dare he endeavor, with amusements and human comforts, to heal the wounds, which result when the Holy Spirit tries to crush his stony heart with the hammer of the law. When a person does not cease using the Word, though he perceives how it disturbs and worries his mind, the Holy Spirit leads everything to the end so that the  sorrow for sin shall, without causing any injury, is sufficient for God’s purpose. 
20. The Holy Spirt enables a person thus prepared by the word to receive comfort in the Name of Jesus and to accept Him as a personal Savior,. This acceptance is made by faith, for John the Evangelist teaches that “Jesus gave the right to become children of God to them who believe on His Name.” It is the character and nature of true faith to accept Jesus as a Savior from sins which are painfully perceived. This faith begins rather as a longing, poured out in prayer≤ than as a certainty expressing itself in praise. Nevertheless, the certainty is there, and by virtue thereof a person ( 57) looks for comfort noy yet received, and expects it confidently, with humble submission to God’s pleasure, saying with the Prophet Micah: “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He plead my cause.” Even as the sinner did not, during his spiritual awakening, dare to flee from the chastising arm of the Almighty; so neither does he now venture to thrust back the hand of God which offers comfort in the Name of the Savior, promising forgiveness in His atonement and eternal life in His redemption. 
21. With such a faith follows a continuing change in a person’s spiritual condition, which becomes a constant evidence that he belongs to the people of God and that he has a part in the salvation which Jesus has purchased, and hence he also finds abiding comfort in the Name of the Savior. 
22. In the first place, this change brings the comforting assurance that one is saved, saved from all sins, saved from the wrath of God, saved from the curse of hell, saved from the power of Satan and that one shall be saved in the midst of all temptations, saved from want and distress, saved in death unto eternal life. 
23. In the second place, this change in conscience also brings a change in one’s mind and heart, so that one becomes like a child, without the opposition of any misinterpretations, evasions or contradictions, laying bare one’s inner life to the eyes of the omniscient God, to receive the impressions of the reminders and corrections of the Holy Spirit, to the end that He might thereby “guide me with HIs counsel and afterward receive me to glory.” 
(58) Application. 
24. Jesus is such a Savior,m and He grants such comfort, as has here been set forth. No doubt, you are anxious to receive the comfort, and I do not begrudge you the good fortune, for it is indeed not easy to be a sinner without a Savior. It will not suffice, however, to entertain this comfort in your thoughts, if God has not put it into your heart, for then, perchance, you might lack it in times of adversity and, worst of all, in the time of death, when you need it the most. If you wish to avoid such a calamity, get better acquainted with Jesus, for He will teach you to know yourself as lost and to know Him as a Savior. Call on Him, and He will answer you; seek refuge in Him, and He will receive you. 
25. If you have learned to know how wretched, corrupted, lost and condemned you are, then there is help for you in Jesus, for He is a Savior for precisely such as you. He has been pleased to bear such a Name as has reference to sins, from which He should save His people, in order that you might know and understand that sinners and their Savior belong together. He has already saved you from blindness and carelessness. It is for your Savior’s sake that the Holy Spirit has opened the eyes of your understanding and quickened your slumbering conscience from the stupor of false security. Your Savior has begun the good work in your heart and will continue it, if you abide in His Word and use it with diligence and care. 
26. If you have already enjoyed His blessing, so that you are free from your anxiety for sin and from the fear of hell, then you truly belong to the people of (59) God, the spiritual Israel, the congregation of saints. Then there shall also appear in you arks of the spiritual circumcision. If Jesus has become your Savior form the debts of sin, He has also become the Savior from their power. If He has delivered you from your anxiety, you must also let HIm deliver you from your former habits in sin, unto the glory of God. As He has begun to rule in your conscience over the fear of death, so He will also prove prevailing in your life over everything contradictory to the Word of God and enable you to escape from it. The devil may indeed lead you into error and thereby make you like a stranger before God, but unexpected token of mercy will soon restore the former confidence. By the experience of God’s mighty help, your hear will take courage at the approach of every distress incident of this present life. Like David, meeting Goliath, you are going to be able to say: “Your servant smote both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like as one of them. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.” The Lord has delivered you from the lion and the bear, from the devil and from sin. The cares of life cannot be greater than one of the spiritual foes whom you have already conquered. Through Jesus you will be able to conquer everything, for He has conquered it all. 
27. Lord Jesus, You were pleased to become the Savior of Your congregation when, by suffering and death, You did establish it upon Yourself as a Rock of Salvation. Be a Savior unto us still, so that the gates of hell may not prevail against Your Church, whether by force or deceit. grant us Your grace, lest in peaceful days we may leisurely slumber, or in days of persecution yield to the enemy. Guard us against every deceitful enlightenment, and against false zeal. Be a Savior to our King also, and save him from manifest and secret dangers. Be a Savior to our country and help us from the ravages of war and from the domination of foreign nations. Be a Savior to our city; protect us from misfortunes and save us from all distress, for Your Name is Jesus. Be our Jesus also and grant us Your grace. 
28. Amen, Lord Jesus, Amen.