Advent 2 B

An angry Melanchthon and Luther describing John the Baptist's preaching as making them sinners. All that and we get to be reminded that we're going to wither and fade. Is this good news? Maybe, because we get some of that conversation, too!

And the yearly TheoThorough about the pink candle, which isn't pink.

Isaiah 40:1-11

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
-- Isaiah 40:6-7

Verses 6 and 7 are quoted n Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.180ish, sorry, this in one of the heavily edited sections). Melanchthon is working through scriptural passages that show we cannot stand before God's judgment, and these two verses are one of those examples.

The last half of verse 6 is quoted a little later in the Apology, in Article 23: The Marriage of Priests (AP 23.70) where Melanchthon goes off on those who claim that celibacy is required for all priests and how they will be accountable to God for all the unjust cruelty that has resulted. Have you ever wondered if Melanchthon got angry? Read this paragraph where he ends by telling those in authority that they are like grass, with with the constancy of a field flower.

See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
-- Isaiah 40:10

Verse 10 is cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 5: Law and Gospel (SD 5.23) as a way of unpacking what it means that Abraham's seed, David's son will restore the kingdom. For the Reformers after Luther's death, this is an example of good news in the Hebrew scriptures.

2 Peter 3:8-15a

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 
-- 2 Peter 3:9

Verse 9 is cited four times in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election. First, it is quoted (SD 11.28) to show along with several other passages that God wants everyone to hear the proclamation of the gospel. Then, it is cited (SD 11.32) as an example of God's grace. Next, it is quoted (SD 11.81) as part of the argument showing that God does not want anyone to sin and is not the cause of sin, since God wants all to repent. Finally, it is cited through editorial insert (SD 11.84) to answer the question of why Pharaoh had a hardened heart. It was not God's desire.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God... John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
-- Mark 1:1, 4

Verses 1 and 4 are quoted in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 5: Law and Gospel (SD 5.4) as an example of the word "gospel" being used in the Bible to refer to the fullness of the proclamation in both God's law and God's grace. This rests within the larger conversation of what the word "gospel" means both in the Bible and in Luther's writing. After Luther's death, there was some confusion. They decided that the word "gospel" can be primarily used in one of two ways. First, "gospel" might mean, like it does here, the full teaching about God's will as made known to us in Jesus, which includes law and good news. This is the general use of gospel. Second, "gospel" might mean quite particularly the proclamation of God's forgiveness of our sins, being entirely free of law. This is the strict use of gospel.

... the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight...’”
-- Mark 1:3

Verse 3 is cited in a footnote to Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 3: Concerning Repentance (SA 3.3.4, n. 90) showing that John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus. John makes the paths for Jesus straight by preaching "to convict them all and turn them into sinners, so that they would know how they stood before God and would recognize themselves as lost people" (SA 3.3.4). Did you catch that? John's preaching turned people into sinners.

TheoThru

There is a point in being reminded that one of the roles of preaching the gospel in the general sense is to turn people into sinners so that when they hear the gospel in the strict sense they will experience it as good news. There is deep wisdom here. Until we admit we are sinners, why do we need to hear about God's forgiveness of our sin? Until we admit we are sick, why would we seek out a doctor? Unless we admit there is a problem, why would we try and change?

But we cannot just leave people wallowing in their own sinfulness. Proclaiming only God's law to turn people into sinners and then leave them there is in no way gospel. This is the balance of proclaiming the good new of God in Christ to all people through word and deed: helping people to see their own sin and also announcing God's forgiveness as gospel for them in their sin.

But there are still some questions to ponder with these readings:

  • Is our own mortality good news or bad news?
  • Do reminders of our mortality help us see our sin or shut us down in fear?
  • When helping people see their need for forgiveness, how do we keep the universal nature of the gospel prominent for both we who are procaliming and those who will recieve?

I probably should have posted this last week, but here's the reminder:

TheoThorough: The Pink Candle

First off, liturgically speaking, it's not pink, it's rose. We'll get into why that matters in a bit.

Second, I know that local tradition is unlikely to change. What this TheoTorough seeks to achieve is being informed about different traditions and ways of using the Advent Wreath to mark our time until Christmas. In this way, you will have some understanding of why your congregation is "breaking the rules." (What I'm describing is general and ecumenical liturgical practices, not rules. But if you feel the need to let out your anti-authoritarian streak, feel free to think of them as rules.)

The Three Ways

There are three general practices regarding the lighting of the rose candle: light it on the Third Sunday of Advent, light it on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and don't have a rose candle. 

If your Advent Wreath does not have a rose candle, good on ya'. Too much congregational concern, if not outright unrest, has been caused by the rose candle. Good job in avoiding all of it!

So why is it rose and not pink? Simply, pink is not a liturgical color. Rose is.

So what does this tell us about the rose candle? Quite a bit, actually.

There's Something About Mary

Rose is the liturgical color for Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. Therefore, the rose candle is lit on the Sunday of Advent when we remember Mary with the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55]. This, however, is where the confusion arises. The Revised Common Lectionary recognizes all three major ways of using the Magnificat during the Sundays of Advent, each during a different cycle of the lectionary. I have to take them a bit out of order for it to make sense.

Cycle A

Cycle A recognizes the tradition of not having a rose candle nor using the Magnificat. You read that right. Cycle A, which uses readings from Matthew, looks to Jospeh rather than Mary. This cycle doesn't have a place for doing the Magnificat in the primary texts of Advent.

The Magnificat is offered up for Advent 3 A as an alternate psalm for those who want the Magnificat during Advent (or those who have a rose candle). If you have a rose candle, light it on the Third Sunday of Advent during Cycle A.

Cycle C

Cycle C recognizes the tradition of using the Magnificat for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The primary psalm offered up is the Magnificat, but if read as part of the gospel reading, which is possible, there is an alternative psalm given.

Advent 3 C does not have any primary or alternate readings of the Magnificat.

With the Lucan focus, the build up to Mary on the Sunday before Christmas shapes all of the Advent readings. So during Cycle C, the rose candle is lit on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Cycle B

Cycle B is confused. Or the year of options, however you want to think about it. I guess it makes some sense, what with the Advent readings coming from Mark, Luke, and John, thus lacking any kind of consistency or even a single author's narrative idea.

For Cycle B, the Magnificat may be used on either the Third or Fourth Sunday of Advent. Yup, either one. Advent 3 B has the Magnificat as the alternate psalm while Advent 4 B has the Magnificat as the primary psalm. The preference seems to be for the Fourth Sunday. Either way, the rose candle is lit on either the Third or Four Sunday of Advent.

Informed Decision-Making

If you don't have a rose candle, you can actually select the readings so that the Magnificat is never encountered during the Sundays of Advent. I don't know that I recommend this, but it is possible.

If you do have a rose candle, light it on the Sunday of Advent when you do the Magnificat. If the congregation's practice is lighting it on Advent 3, that can be easily accommodated in all of the cycles. If the congregation's practice is lighting it on Advent 4, then Cycle A is not your friend. If the congregation doesn't have or remember a practice, hopefully this TheoThorough will help in making a decision. (Remember that not having a rose candle is an option!)

Advent 1 B

Some simple insights this week, but still central to the work of the Church.

Isaiah 64:1-9

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
--Isaiah 64:8

Verse 8 comes up twice in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration. The first citation is in Article 1: Original Sin (SD 1.34) this verse is called out with several others to show that in scripture there is a distinction between human nature, which is good and created by God, and original sin, which corrupts and infests human nature but is not part of it. This verse reminds us that we are made good, even very good.

The second citation is in Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.24) as one of several biblical passages cited through editorial insertion to remind us that without the Spirit, there is nothing we can do to effect a conversion.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
--1 Corinthians 1:8

Verse 8 is cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.32) as a reminder with several other passages that show how God will not give up on those who will be saved. Through God's grace, we are given strength in this life.

God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
-- 1 Corinthians 1:9

Verse 9 is cited in a footnote to The Large Catechism, Part 2: The Creed, The Third Article (LC 2.52, n. 156) as a way of explaining Luther's phrase of being made a "co-partner" in the community of saints. Luther's translation of this letter apparently has some marginalia for this verse: "you are co-heirs and co-associates of all Christ's blessings." There is a quality of God's call into the Church that makes the Church something like a co-op.

TheoThru

Wake up! You were made good!

Of course this call is to those who find themselves experiencing God's absence and judgment, not those who would reply, "Of course I'm good." In a culture where 72% of Americans believe in heaven but only 63% believe in God (according to the 2014 Pew Research Religious Landscape Study), we have two groups who hear the same message the wrong way. Those who most need to hear that God made them good are those who are most likely to beat themselves up or allow others to degrade them for not being perfect. They will have problems accepting that God's grace is a gift for them. Those who most need to hear that they are not perfect have a given that they are good. They will have problems accepting that they need God's grace. 

It is imperative that Christians not believe or teach that human nature is sinful. Human nature, which is good, has been corrupted by sin, but is not in itself sinful. We are called to lift up this truth so that those who know they are sick can see that God created them healthy and so that those who think they are well can see that they are sick. 

  • Who are you preaching to, those who know they are sick or those who think they are well? Or some of both?
  • How will you help each of those groups wake up to the fullness of God's love for them and others?

Christ the King Sunday A

Intro

Ephesians 1:15-23

Verse 15 and following is cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.12) as one of the proper uses of the teaching on election--to encourage godliness. This shapes how we think, preach, and teach about election while also giving us a plumb line for assessing such preaching and teaching. (I'm looking at you, the Left Behind series!)

 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints...
-- Ephesians 1:17-18

Verses 17 and 18 are cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.15) as an example of Paul's prayers for God's aid in understanding God's Word.

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
-- Ephesians 1:20-21

Verses 20 and 21 are twice cited through editorial insert in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 8: Person of Christ. The first citation (SD 8.12) is point seven of the agreements on the person of Christ. The seventh point affirms Jesus' full humanity, which is elevated through the personal union of the human and divine in Jesus. These verses are cited as a way to show this idea is present in the Bible. The second citation (SD 8.51) expounds on this same thought. I would commend a quick reading of SD 8.49-52 for a quick refresher on the two natures of Christ and what that means for human nature.

And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
-- Ephesians 1:22-23

Verses 22 and 23 are quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles 7 and 8: The Church (AP 7/8.5) to lift up one of the ways in which the Church is not simply another volunteer organization. We are called and governed by the Spirit as the body of Christ.

Verse 22 by itself is cited in a footnote to Smalcald Articles, Part 2, Article 4 (SA 2.4.1, n. 52) along with a few other verses to show that Jesus is the head of the Church, not the pope.

Verse 22 is also cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 8: Person of Christ (SD 8.55) along with many other New Testament passages to show that Jesus' divine authority and power are imparted to his human nature because of the unique union of divine and human in Jesus.

Matthew 25:31-46

...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me...
-- Matthew 25:35

Verse 35 is partly quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4: Justification (AP 4.370ish) as an argument that works earn salvation. Melanchthon reframes this verse to say that faith will naturally produce these good works rather than reading this passage as establishing a legal contract for salvation based on works.

Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...
-- Matthew 25:41

Verse 41 is cited in a footnote to The Large Catechism, Part 3: The Lord's Prayer, The Third Petition (LC 3.65) in case people wonder why Luther wrote about the devil having angels. The reason is because Jesus talked about the devil having angels. This part of The Large Catechism reminds us that Christians will be opposed by the devil and those who have been seduced by the devil. The statement is quite strong:

Therefore we who would be Christians must surely expect to have the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies and must expect that they will inflict every possible misfortune and grief upon us.
-- The Large Catechism, Part 3, Line 65
...for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
-- Matthew 25:42-43

Verses 42 and 43 are quoted in The Large Catechism, Part 1: The Ten Commandments, The Fifth Commandment (LC 1.191, citation in n. 97) to show how Luther expands the direct implications of this commandment beyond killing someone with your own hands. Apathy and ignoring the plight of others may also lead us into killing through inaction

TheoThru

There is something unique about being the Church and it starts with the unique way in which divinity and humanity are connected in Jesus. Our good works spring forth from faith just as God's will was accomplished in Jesus' presence during his earthly ministry--spontaneously. Our only hope is in the one being who takes all of human nature into himself as he is exalted by God, making our nature part of who God is. The Spirit, who calls, gathers, enlightens, makes holy, and keeps the Church does so in Jesus as the Spirit of Jesus, imparting to us Jesus' righteousness and faith--the faith that yields good fruit.

  • Reflect on the hymn Oh Christ, What Can it Mean for Us.