Archive for April, 2011
It is inevitable that various faults and mistakes will occur in the community of believers, so we should not get angry if we bite our own tongue, punch ourselves in the eye, kick ourselves or bang our head against a wall. This is when we should think in this way: “So, this is a member of your body, your brother, your neighbour: what are you going to do about it? He did it by accident and not for fun – it was not meant maliciously. Or else it happened out of weakness or ignorance. The blow has landed, and it hurts, but does this mean that you are going to throw away an entire limb? This is a tiny spark. If you spit on it, it will go out! Do not do this, otherwise the Devil will come with his poisonous breath or will work through spiteful tongues to make a fire out of the spark, which will then prove impossible to put out. And then there will be all this discord and hatred with you possibility of reconciliation and the whole community will suffer as a result.” The Devil is indeed a spirit of this kind, never giving up and never leaving us alone. The only solution for us is constantly to keep fighting him off.
Luther, in Luther Brevier: Worte fuer jeden Tag, Wartburg Verlag 2007, p. 128 (for April 21)
The sign hanging over the door of a medieval cobbler read: “We Dye to Live.” The message wasn’t complicated: “We dye leather to make a living.”
Change a vowel, add a consonant, and you have a sign that could hang over the door of any Christian church, medieval or otherwise: “We Died to Live.” And this message also isn’t complicated, says St. Paul in Galatians 2:19, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” We have been so stricken and smitten by the law of God that we are left in despair—poor miserable creatures without hope of saving ourselves.
This must be a timely death, reminds C.S. Lewis: “We must die before we die.” Once we take our last breath, it is too late—there is no further chance. Thankfully, for all of us associated with this blog, it wasn’t too late. We died to the law in our baptisms, when, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, even as we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were “baptized into His death” (6:3) and “our old self was crucified with Him” (6:5).
“Crucified with Him” takes on special meaning this week as we follow our Lord Jesus to cross and tomb—even one small part of that “crucified” too huge for us to take upon ourselves. I still have the crown of thorns dropped off at the parsonage at my first parish by Mrs. Kamm, made, she said, from the “Judas vine” growing on a fence outside their house. The crown is ugly and exudes pain even to look at, much less to wear. It has had a place in my office or study ever since, a reminder of a death I might have died.
One thing about that crown of thorns—it is obviously several sizes too big, like everything else that Christ bore and suffered during Holy Week nearly 20 centuries ago. His crown, cross, burden, forsakenness, tomb—all are many sizes too big for us. But not for Him, who took upon Himself our death so that we might be able to say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
What a helpful thought for the week before us. It places us with Christ as we make our way through its passion history. I remember reading a story from a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book when I was a child, The Shape of Illusion. The crux of the story was a painting of a scene from the passion of Christ which caused viewers to see their spitting images in the angry crowd that was frothing and screaming “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Needless to say, this changed the viewers’ lives, which made for an interesting story.
Paul goes one better. He enables us to see ourselves, not in the crowd where we might well belong, but in Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). Except that this is no illusion. We know from Paul how this happened for real: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Our lives have been changed immeasurably, for the lives we now live in this flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us.
May this week be truly meaningful and a blessing to each of us. It is about our Savior, crucified and resurrected, but it is also about us: “We Died to Live.”
Dr. James Baneck, president of the LCMS North Dakota District, requests your help. As you know, parts of North Dakota are affected by ravaging flood waters. Although it is late in the week, would you please consider putting the following insert in your bulletins this week or next?
During this Holy Week, LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison reflects on the crucifixion as a reminder that, as Jesus trekked to the cross, His suffering was for the forgiveness of all our sins and the sins of the world. Knowing this, we can be confident that, even when difficulties come in our own lives, the Lord controls all things.
Currently under development through the Office of the President of the Synod, the Koinonia Project is basically intended to draw the members of our Synod closer together in our confession of God’s Word. Just that statement alone begs the question – why is the Koinonia Project needed? What are the issues? What’s the real problem?
Some would say, “If only ‘they’ would behave themselves as Christians,” (whoever “they” are!), “our problems would be solved.” Or, “the real problem is those pastors who…” and you can fill in the blank with whatever you think is the malady. Indeed, the Task Force on Synodical Harmony (whose report you can access at www.lcms.org/koinoniaproject) has identified a number of issues, both behavioral and theological. Everyone, it seems, will have their list of reasons why our Synod experiences conflict in our life together. In the Koinonia Project concept paper, also at www.lcms.org/koinoniaproject, we list a few of the obvious theological issues, not to be exhaustive but simply illustrative.
The point is, most people can identify at least some of the problem. Of course, it is also true that how each person (including myself!) evaluates the issues and conflicts will be colored by his or her political biases and expectations. No one should be surprised by this. It’s been part of our life together for a long time. In fact, this phenomenon is one of the clearest examples of the need for an effort like the Koinonia Project. It’s also the source of some misconceptions about the project.
For example, we’ve heard it said: “The Koinonia Project is just a smokescreen for a new purge of the Synod.” “Harrison and Mueller are writing off 15-20% of the Synod.” “This really shouldn’t be difficult – if only ‘they’ would…” “I heard that Koinonia will force people to conform…” “I’m afraid Koinonia will be hijacked by [here insert the group you are afraid of].” “What’s going to happen if we can’t agree?” Perhaps you’ve heard other things as well.
Please read carefully the concept paper and watch the Koinonia Project web site as the project expands and is refined. And please pray for us as we seek to develop and implement the process. There are many possible pitfalls – some listed above and many others we haven’t even thought of. The Koinonia Project is not going to be easy – in fact, it may be the most difficult thing we have ever done together as a Synod, more difficult than any of us imagine. Koinonia will not be quick – we are looking at this as a decade long effort. The Koinonia Project cannot work by coercion but only by attraction to draw people into theological discussion under the Word of God. We will not “paper over” differences, but will seek to deal with them honestly, plainly, clearly from the Word of God and our Lutheran confessions. It also means we will have to be patient with one another and with the process. No one is being written off. Every member of the Synod is welcome. It’s just something we have to do, together. This will take time, but we believe it will be worth it!
We do understand that right now we’ve only been talking in general terms about the project. How it actually works is yet to be demonstrated. Our prayer is that several pilot groups will be active before the Fall of 2011, and that many more will be developed over the next couple of years. Please keep the effort in your prayers and consider your own participation as the project grows. Only God can provide His blessing of koinonia, of life together, and He provides His blessings through His Word. As St. Paul writes, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship (koinonia) of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:9-10 ESV).
Remember the goal (from the concept paper): “All of us constantly need the daily change of heart God works through repentance and faith. The problem belongs to all of us. None of us is exempt. We are each, every last one of us, called to examine our actions and attitudes toward one another so that we confess our sins, trust God’s promise and speak forgiveness to one another. But again, it is absolutely essential that our theological issues are addressed by a thorough process under the Word of God where we come to clear agreement on 1) the points at issue, 2) what we confess together, 3) what we reject and 4) what we will therefore do together, on the basis of Scripture and our confessions. This effort to do so we have chosen to call ‘The Koinonia Project’ because we pray God will build and strengthen our unity in the Word of God and our fellowship, our ‘koinonia’ together.”
+Herbert C. Mueller
First Vice President