Monday, March 30, 2009

Laetare: Rejoice in What it is!

Now and again a word or even a phrase hits me right between two firing neurons and literally explodes with excitement and heavenly light. Such occurred on Laetare of this year, the Fourth Sunday in Lent–which was March 22.

The Old Testament reading included Exodus 16:15, “When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.’”

In Hebrew the word for the question asked is "manna," What is it? It’s a double entendre. The question names the thing asked about: Manna? Manna. It’s sort of an Hebraic Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” Still, it’s by God’s giving that the question is asked and answered in the first place, so it is God’s happy joke on us.

Manna, is very similar to another question with which we are familiar, Luther’s Was ist das? (What is this?) of his Small Catechism. And this is where it all gets exciting.

After walking around in that huge vast desert the Children of Israel were hungry. So God fed them His way. He sent them bread from heaven. It sustained them in their temporal life, but not eternally. For that another Bread from heaven was needed. Jesus would speak of that later during His ministry on earth (Jn 6:49-58).

As God’s New Israel (He 8:8), the baptized wander in a desert no less vast and huge, no less fraught with dangers and enemies than our forefathers in faith did. They are just as hungry. God feeds them again with His heavenly food. Luther’s catechetical question makes the connection for us. God’s Word comes to us as heavenly bread; we ask,What is this? The answer is a confession according to His Word. Daily bread given; daily bread received. All this in preparation for the Greater Bread to be given and received in the gift of His Son who gives His own Flesh and Blood for us to eat and drink in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins.

Was ist das?, What is this? It is Christ, come down from heaven.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fireproof: Water on Hotspots

A comment to my blog post, Fireproof, caused me to view Fireproof again. I like to be accurate, but try as I might, sometimes I do fail. This time I did. I got the quote wrong. In my original post I wrote:

And that’s the biggest error of the movie. At the “final breaking point” for the character played by Cameron, his father is leading him to realize that he has not kept God’s Law. The Law is being proclaimed in all its severity. “How can I go on loving someone who keeps rejecting me?” Cameron asks. His father is now standing near a cross, built near a lakeside trail. It is then Cameron realizes there is a connection between Christ and his marriage. His father fills in the gap, and does so beautifully while proclaiming the Gospel in all its sweetness, “God doesn’t love you because you are lovable, but because He loves you. He loves you because His Son died for you.” Then it all comes crashing down as the Gospel is ripped away and everything is left in utter despair, “But son, you’ve got to decide…” followed by a litany of what must be done to be acceptable or to let Jesus in. Shoulda known. Wasn’t it daddy who first told his son, “Well, you haven’t opened the door very much to let Jesus in, either.”

The quote I got wrong is, “But son, you’ve got to decide…” What Caleb’s father actually says is, “The cross was offensive to me until I came to it.” For that I do apologize. I do so dislike inaccuracy in my work, and I appreciate my attention being called to it.

However, that doesn’t undo what I have written about the movie; in fact, it further supports it. The scene is a powerful one. John Holt, Caleb’s father, gets the message of Law and Grace right, only to snatch Caleb from the comfort of Grace and then to toss him into the jaws of the Law and leave him back in it. I suppose the statement would be alright in and of itself if left in isolation and if it were the only one like it. We sometimes talk in that casual way. But Caleb's friend Mike at the station house exacerbates the situation when he says, “Before I gave my life to the Lord... When I gave my life to God...” All of this is Law-talk. It is speaking of what we do, not of what God has done and is dong for us in Christ. If it is our response to Him that completes conversion in some way, then how can it be said that it was all Christ’s work of salvation that saves us. Wouldn’t it be more accurate, if we are responsible to give our lives to God, to say that some of our salvation rests on us, as a part of our responsibility? In that case, wouldn’t that mean that Jesus is only a partial Savior, and we are co-Savior with Him?

Even young children can understand this, and they do because they have parents. They didn’t ask their parents to be their parents. Their mothers and fathers are theirs because they did something that caused the conception of their children. The children didn’t one day say, “I give my life to you. You are my father. You are my mother.” If my children had ever spoken to me that way I’d have taken them to the bedroom for a long sit-down.

Paul says we are at enmity with God, and cannot be subject to Him ( Ro 8:7). But this is good news, too. Jesus came for sinners, not the righteous, who have no need of Him (Mt 9:13). John Holt spoke rightly when he said the cross is offensive to those who reject not only Christ’s Grace, but also God’s Law. So how does this get reversed? How do us God-haters become those who desire to keep His Law? Something has to happen in a person in order for the cross to no longer be offensive, and that “something” needs to be delivered. That’s where God’s Grace comes in. Grace is what God has done and does through Christ. But what good is it for you if it is not given to you? How can it be effective in your life if it is not yours to apprehend? It is a simple concept: If we by nature are unable to turn to Christ (as Paul says), then Christ’s gifts must be delivered to us.

Children also understand the wonderful habit parents have of giving gifts. Parents will break the bankroll on birthdays and at Christmas for their children, then wrap the gifts and hide them until that special day arrives. The children know the gifts are coming. Is it enough for the parents to tell the little darlings, “We bought you gifts. Here are the receipts. We wrapped them up. We even have pictures of them–see?” Hardly! The gifts need to be delivered. The need to go from the hand of the giver to the receiver.

Christ has instituted the means whereby this happens with His Gifts for the Church through the Holy Spirit. Faith, once delivered, is not sustained in a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum, and once found, a host of that which is not of the Faith rushes in. Jesus sent His apostles out with the instruction, “He who hears you hears Me,” (Lk 10:16). This authority is reinforced after His resurrection when He tells His apostles that they are to forgive sins in His name, even withholding forgiveness from the unrepentant (Jn 20:23). Christ’s institution of Baptism for all nations, (Mt 28:19), goes hand-in-hand with “teaching all that He command” and His promise “lo I am with you, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). In Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22, and 1Co 11 Christ locates Himself in the bread and wine. “This is my Body... this is My Blood.” With these words Christ has located Himself. He is wherever His baptizing and teaching, His Absolution, and His Holy Supper are going on. These are the things of the Church, for this is how the church knows where Christ is for them. It is by these Means the Holy Spirit is delivering God the Father’s gifts of Grace through and for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. This is how the church is created and sustained.

Caleb is left alone at the outdoor cross after his confrontation with his father. We see much of that in the movie: Caleb alone in the bedroom struggling and praying, Caleb alone with the computer, etc. Granted, not everything can be presented in this film, and perhaps the makers didn’t want to offend by presenting a church setting that might make it seem to lean toward one particular denomination. Choices have to be made. I get that. So the focus was on the marital issues. Still, marriage cannot be separated from its institution in Christ especially when a Christian organization wants to make a film on how to fireproof a marriage. A marriage cannot be fireproofed without water, and lots of it. And by “water” I mean the water of Baptism–through the daily living in it. We see and hear a lot about Jesus in Fireproof, but He is never delivered to anyone. The Gifts are purchased, wrapped, and hidden in a closet somewhere, waiting to be given. Not only did the characters in the film only receive (word) pictures of them, they also spoke as if they could give their lives to their own Heavenly Father–as if they had something to do with their own salvation!

This grates on me, for it is Law disguised as Grace. So it is for this reason I will continue to throw Kleenex boxes at the movie, and advise any right-minded pastor to not expose his congregation to the teachings in The Love Dare. Some have argued that it is good to use because it depicts the situations in marriages so well. That it does, as I have already written. Therein lies the entrapment. Fireproof is well-done, and does depict life as we know it. For that reason one is pulled in before even realizing it. And for that reason the false doctrine in it is even more dangerous. C. F. W. Walther advised his hearers:

Lastly, he [Paul] writes to the Galatian congregation, after errorists had found their way into them, in chap. 5:7–9: “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” He means to say that a single false teaching vitiates the entire body of the Christian doctrine, even as a little poison dropped into pure water produces a deadly potion.1

Now as long as we are in the correction mode, There are two more things that need correcting–this time from the post Fireproof Reprise (I have to tell you, my memory is unreliable! That’s why I love my books.) I had complained that Caleb did not confess his sins. Wrong! Caleb did confess his sins to his wife, and she forgave him. In the blog post I can see I was thinking more of Holy Absolution. The forgiveness from his wife was a good scene–and necessary. Also, the song with the lyrics “waiting for Jesus” doesn’t occur while Caleb is on the trail, but later. There is less of that sort of thought when one knows where to find Him according to where He has promised He will be with His forgiveness of sins: in the water of Baptism, the preaching and teaching of His Word, His Absolution, and His Holy Supper.

There you are. Here I am. My Old Adam may be drowned daily and much, but he floats just as daily and much. I am a sinner. Thank God in Christ for Jesus!

1 Walther, C. F. W., Dau, W. H. T., & Eckhardt, E. (2000, c1929, c1986). The proper distinction between law and gospel : 39 evening lectures. Forward by Jaroslav Pelikan. Includes index. (electronic ed.) (350). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.