Thursday, July 26, 2007

James, Apostle

Yesterday was the feast day for the Apostle James. James, and his brother John, abandoned their father's fishing boat and went with Jesus to fish for men. These sons of Zebedee are also referred to as the "Sons of Thunder". They had a tendency to speak before they thought and seemed to continually miss the point of Jesus' ministry. They wanted to sit next to Christ on the throne, they were present at the Transfiguration and were there throughout the Passion week events.

James is considered the first martyr of the early Church. He was executed by Herod Agrippa I about 15 years after Jesus died.

References to James are found in:
Matthew 10:2, 17:1-13
Mark 1:16-20, 3:17, 10:35-41, 14:32-42
Luke 5:1-10; 6:14, 8:51, 9:28, 54
Acts 1:13, 12:2

James is a role model for us because he reminds us that Christ's work and love is never about the "end" or what glory we can have for ourselves. The saving work of Christ in us spurs us to love our neighbors in the world. Like most of the disciples, James did not always understand what Christ was talking about or doing. Following the resurrection, however, he could not be stopped from spreading the gospel.

Through our baptisms we die to sin and are raised to new life in Christ. Daily we are to remember this action, done to us, for us and through us and ask the Holy Spirit to move us, like James, in action for the good of God's beloved creation.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

And it was still hot

My favorite children's book is Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. If you are not familiar with the tale, it's about a little boy whose mother sends him to his room one evening. His imagination runs away with him and he ends up in the land of the wild things. Once he convinces the wild things of his powers, they make him king. Though he loves it, he misses home and he wants to be where someone loves him best of all. So he ends up back in his own room. "There he finds his dinner waiting for him. And it was still hot."

I always think this is a very grace-filled ending. Ultimately, we all want to be where we are loved best of all. The location of that love is always and only within the heart of God. We can feel that in our life experiences that create that sharp gasp of surprise at the awesomeness of the moment. No matter how far we wander or what we think we deserve, God is always with us. And God's grace, when we are able to recognize it, is always hot.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Luther said, "Popes can err..."

Many people were surprised, or maybe not, last week when Pope Benedict XVI declared that non-Roman Catholic Churches are outside the true faith. This affirmation of older, more traditional RCC teaching has not been reaffirmed in church-wide commentary really since Vatican II in the 1960s. In addition, many church bodies, including the Lutheran World Federation, had felt progress was being made in ecumenical relationships with Rome.

The document is an attempt to clarify some matters of RCC faith that may have seemed murky to some for the past forty years.

Some highlights include:

Why do the texts of the Council and those of the Magisterium since the Council not use the title of "Church" with regard to those Christian Communities born out of the Reformation of the sixteenth century?

Response: According to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense.

Why was the expression "subsists in" adopted instead of the simple word "is"?

Response: The use of this expression, which indicates the full identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, does not change the doctrine on the Church. Rather, it comes from and brings out more clearly the fact that there are "numerous elements of sanctification and of truth" which are found outside her structure, but which "as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity".

"It follows that these separated churches and Communities, though we believe they suffer from defects, are deprived neither of significance nor importance in the mystery of salvation. In fact the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as instruments of salvation, whose value derives from that fullness of grace and of truth which has been entrusted to the Catholic Church".

In very technical language, the document basically explains the Roman Catholic Church understands itself to be the closest and truest expression, on Earth, to what Christ intended for the church.

You can read ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's response here.

I believe the reiteration of Roman Catholic beliefs in this manner is saddening, given the state of the world today. When divisions in the church are emphasized, the ultimate price is paid by the Gospel message we are supposed to spread. What kind of story can we tell about Amazing Grace when we cannot yield it to one another in fellowship in Christ. Though the Vatican document acknowledges the work of Christ in other Christian communities, it implies that such communities are ultimately in great error because of their continuation in separation from the Church at Rome.

As a person who has spent much time answering questions by non-Christians about the Christian church and faith, it is difficult and sometimes frustrating to spend much of a conversation answering questions about the differences between denominations rather than talking about Christ's action in the world.

Speaking of, that may be the most difficult part of the document to swallow. The Eucharist is a mystery! We do not know how what happens happens, but Christ has promised his presence in that meal and when he throws a party, he always shows up! We should rejoice in the expansive opportunities the gift of faith allows us in encountering Christ, rather than wonder if we are really in a church where such events occur.

By the way, when we say the Apostle's Creed we state, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints..." This doesn't mean we're sneaking a heretical belief into the Lutheran service every Sunday or secretly we wish we were back in Rome. It's actually a blatant statement of our belief in the universal nature of Christ's Church and work in the world. Little "c" catholic means universal. Big "C" Catholic refers to the church in Rome. All three Creeds are ancient ecumenical creeds, embracing the teaching of the apostles and early Church fathers (and mothers!) about the Trinity, the Church and the World. Ironically, when we say that creed, we join our voices with all those saints each Sunday who say the same words ...all those people believing in Christ- the one True Head of the Church.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

In the beginning

It's the middle of my second week of internship. The first week was a little disjointed (no pun intended) due to my broken thumb and the Independence Day holiday. My first Sunday went well and I felt very welcomed into the Gloria Dei family. The second week is busier, but that's good because it helps me feel more settled in and attached to the church.

I have started this blog as a way to make public some of my feelings and experiences along this journey and to share with you some of my meditations. I may not be able to post daily, but I will generally try to share a poem, hymn, inspirational writing or Scripture verse that I have been contemplating.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus' name

(Chorus) On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

This hymn has become very significant to me in the past year. The explanation of the First Commandment ("You shall have no other gods.") in the Small Catechism says, "We are to fear, love and trust God above all things." This means love of God should be first in our hearts.

This is very difficult and, happily, God knows we are not really always able to live up to that standard and we are forgiven. Knowing that, we remember that God always loves us first. That notion should make us feel joyous, not guilty.

There are times, though, when the events of life are so overwhelming, nothing can be brought to mind except our feelings about the immediate circumstances. In those times, God's love comes to us in ways we might not be able to see at the time, but we will recognize later.

Christ's love for us is the rock we can cling to in the sinking sand. It comes to us with hope in our sacraments and in our daily lives.

In these first few weeks, the hospitality of Gloria Dei has been a solid rock for me, showing the love of Christ in this place.