Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 28, “The Confirmation Instruction”

Chapter 28, “The Confirmation Instruction” (pp. 188-190)

The pastor prepares confirmands with instruction on the Small Catechism. On p.188 he observes a Missouri Synod constitutional statement requiring that confirmands be able to recite the catechism “verbatim” and that they understand it sufficiently for self-examination. The suggested class time is a hundred hours, including such instruction and memorization of hymns. Based on Luke 2:41-42 Walther says children should normally not be confirmed until they are nearly thirteen years of age (p. 188). The most common dates for confirmation are Palm Sunday or the first Sunday after Easter. Walther suggests avoiding festival days such as Pentecost as the confirmation can detract from the importance of the holiday.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 27, “The Institution of Confirmation”

Chapter 27, “The Institution of Confirmation” (pp. 184-187)

Walther views confirmation as a blessing which should be preserved or reintroduced. In early times children and adults were confirmed after baptism. They received an anointing with oil and a laying on of the bishop’s hands. Through history it became separated from baptism, finally becoming a sacrament in the Roman church. In the Lutheran usage it is a time before first communion when young people can publicly affirm their faith. The rite has sometimes been more prominent than at other times. Walther endorses it as a good and profitable activity.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 26, “The Case of Desertion and Divorce”

Chapter 26, “The Case of Desertion and Divorce” (pp. 177-184)

Walther talks about the instance of an unbelieving spouse departing from a marriage. In such a case of abandonment without repentance, the civil authorities should grant a divorce. Walther reads 1 Corinthians 7:15 and Romans 7:1-3 as giving permission for the innocent party to marry again. Though there is only one reason to procure a divorce, infidelity, the person abandoned has in effect been divorced by the other party (pp. 177-178). On the other hand, “Malicious desertion does not occur if the one leaving is absent because of his profession or with the consent of the other” (p. 178).

How long of a desertion constitutes a genuine release from marriage? On p. 180 we read that this should be left to the civil judge who will dissolve the marriage. Walther also advises on p. 180 that in cases of anger or abuse a separation may be warranted to protect both parties and allow for reconciliation rather than an immediate divorce.

Walther adds clearly on p. 181 that imprisonment is not desertion.

Divorce due to adultery requires that the adultery be proven. Suspicion is inadequate. Walther also is consistent with other historical interpreter in refusing divorce due to adultery if the couple has been reconciled for a time after the adultery is made known.

On p. 182 Walther asserts that illness does not negate a marriage, rather creating an opportunity for loving service.

In instances where people have entered into marriages which are not approved by the Bible but are not incestuous Walther says the church should allow the marriage to continue rather than try to dissolve it (p. 184).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 25, “The Case of Adultery and Divorce”

Chapter 25, “The Case of Adultery and Divorce” (pp. 174-176)

Walther does observe that while the minister can marry people he does not have authority to grant a divorce. In case of infidelity the innocent party has a duty to forgive a repentant spouse. If there is no repentance the situation may lead to divorce and the innocent party may eventually seek marriage. Yet the pastor’s main goal when dealing with marital conflicts is to help the couple deal with those conflicts and have a happy marriage.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 24, “The Wedding Ceremony”

Chapter 24, “The Wedding Ceremony” (pp. 171-173)

When a marriage ceremony takes place in a church we should expect the ceremony would be in accord with the local congregational customs of the ceremony. It may be solemnized elsewhere as a civil ceremony. It is most normal for the pastor of the bride’s parish to perform the wedding. Weddings are regularly treated as public events, though not necessarily at the customary church service times. It is not considered good form to marry during Advent or Lent as the two penitential seasons of the Church.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 23, “The Public Announcement of a Wedding”

Chapter 23, “The Public Announcement of a Wedding” (pp.169-170)

The custom of a public announcement of a wedding is positive. Walther considers that it allows public examination in case of reasons to refuse the marriage. It also allows the congregation to pray for the couple. Normally the announcement (publishing the banns) happens three Sundays in a row. In case of objection, the objection must be resolved before the couple may marry. Normally the banns were not published on Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost, though they could be on the second of each of those seasons.

Walther advises (p. 170) that the pastor warn against marriages between Lutherans and those who might turn the family away from the faith.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 22, “The Persons to be Married: Previous Marriages”

Chapter 22, “The Persons to be Married: Previous Marriages” (pp. 160-168)

It is important that a pastor determine whether those asking to marry are already married or in a legally binding engagement. Walther discusses the conditions in which an engagement would not be binding. Included are parental refusal, infidelity, and insanity, drunkenness, and criminality. Biblical betrothal is “as binding as a completed marriage” (p. 161). Walther cites from Gen. 29:21, Matt. 1:18-20, Deut. 22:22-23, and Hos. 4:13. He denies that the consummation constitutes marriage. “Rather the effective cause of marriage is a mutual consent” (p. 161). The work of the pastor and the ceremony is to make that consent public in a formal way before witnesses.

Citing Gerhard, on p. 162 Walther gives some reasons for a betrothal to be dissolved, observing they are more lenient than reasons to dissolve a marriage. Those living as man and wife while engaged are, due to the serious nature of the betrothal, not committing fornication but are acting deceitfully and are subject to church discipline. It is not an example of chastity.

Walther follows Gerhard on pp. 164-165 in discouraging marriage between an orthodox believer and one who is weak or unbelieving. He considers that a marriage between people of different religions is prohibited. In a case of the conversion of a polygamist all but the first wife should be dismissed. In cases of death of a spouse, it is best not to remarry too quickly due to an appearance of having changed affections earlier. In the case of divorce Walther advises (p. 167) that the guilty party should not be allowed to remarry quickly, especially if the innocent remains unmarried.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 21, “The Persons to be Married: Forbidden Degrees”

Chapter 21, “The Persons to be Married: Forbidden Degrees” (pp. 157-159)

The Bible speaks in several places about how a couple to be married may be related. In “Lev. 18:1-30; 20:10-23; Deut. 27:20-23” there are specifics. People of close relation are not to marry. Walther observes that the marriages of people closely related are a matter of lack of special regard accorded to those who deserve honor. There may be marriage permitted by civil law but not by Church law. Specifically, the case Walther considers common, is marrying to the sister of a deceased wife, which Leviticus 18 prohibits but which has, at times, been practiced frequently

Friday, December 19, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 20, “The Persons to be Married: Civil Laws”

Chapter 20, “The Persons to be Married: Civil Laws” pp. 155-156

Walther reminds us that laws of marriage vary from state to state. A pastor must be familiar with the laws of his state. He gives multiple examples of difference. For instance, some states require a certain marriage license, some do not, different jurisdictions require different types of notice, etc.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 19, “The Wedding and Marriage”

Chapter 19, “The Wedding and Marriage” pp. 152-154

The pastor’s duty in a wedding is to consecrate a marriage which is not forbidden by civil or divine law, to carry it out correctly, and to guard against later dissolution of the marriage. Luther viewed marriage primarily as a civil matter. Yet since marriage involves people with consciences it does have a relation to the Church.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 18, “The Persons to Be Communed”

Chapter 18, “The Persons to Be Communed” pp. 146-151

Walther reminds us that there are four basic qualifications to come for communion. [Those] “1. who have already been baptized; 2. who are able to examine themselves; 3. about whom it cannot be proven that they are non-Christians or erring believers and who would therefore receive the Sacrament unworthily; and finally, 4. in whom no reason is found that they first need to be reconciled or to make restitution” (p. 146).

On p. 147 Walther observes that people may need to show their understanding in different ways. The example of one who cannot speak is used to illustrate. The person should be able to demonstrate a desire but need not be able to explain in the same terms as the general public. Walther also advises that the pastor is not making an exhaustive survey of the communicants’ doctrine but merely being satisfied that he is a Christian. The example given on p. 148 is that of Judas, who received the Supper. Yet he goes on to say the communicant must confess the true presence of Jesus’ body received by all communicants. It seems then there is a little variation - be certain but accepting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Walther, 1906. Chapter 17, “The Administration of Holy Communion”

Chapter 17, “The Administration of Holy Communion” pp. 130-145

Here Walther discusses the consecration, distribution, and reception of the bread and wine. First he considers it a matter of adiaphoron what kind of bread is used, so long as it is made with water and grain, as well as how the wine is prepared, whether red or white, pure or mixed. Bread and wine must be used and not substituted for. It is neither necessary nor forbidden to break the bread apart publicly.

The Words of Institution and distribution are critical as Jesus commands his people to do as He did. On p. 132 Walther cites Gerhard’s insistence that there is a genuine change in consecration so that Jesus is bodily present.

Beginning on p. 134 Walther discusses administration of the Supper by a lay person. Because there cannot be a necessity, as there is in baptism or absolution, lay administration is not positive. While such lay administration is not viewed as correct, all Lutherans confess it is valid (p. 135).

On p. 139 Walther asserts that where the real bodily presence of Jesus is denied there is no Sacrament, only bread and wine, regardless of the words used.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kleinig, 2008. Chapter 5, “Hidden Holiness”

Chapter 5, “Hidden Holiness” pp. 271-287

“Our spiritual life is a hidden journey with the risen Lord Jesus. As we travel with Him, we receive everything from Him. We share in His divine life as the Son of God the Father; we stand in His shoes and identify ourselves with Him. With Him we travel on a holy way in which He makes and keep (sic) us holy” (p. 271). This holy pathway, Kleinig says, is in our life of holiness found “in the Divine Service and our daily devotions” (p. 273). The way we go along this journey is incidental. It is not our journey. The path is “the way by which the triune God comes from heaven to earth to join us in our journey from birth to death and admit us to heaven even as we are here on earth” (p. 276). As we share with Christ in this journey, taking in God’s Word, we are cleansed and become partakers of a holy vocation. We live out the grace of God in our world and serve as his instruments of redemptive love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Kleinig, 2008. Chapter 4, “The Hidden Battle”

Chapter 4, “The Hidden Battle”  pp. 218-270

In chapter 4 Kleinig turns his attention to spiritual warfare. Since prayer is a spiritual work we can expect spiritual opposition when we pray. This battle requires a level head. “Satan promotes a reckless kind of spiritual intoxication with the offer of heady experience, mind-blowing ecstasy, and disembodied spiritual highflying. We therefore need to remain ‘sober’ so as not to confuse spiritual darkness with light and lose our sense of spiritual reality (1 Thess. 5:8; 2 tim. 4:5; 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8)” (p. 220). It is our tendency to look for vivid and dynamic, public battles. Kleinig discusses the idea that true spiritual warfare in light of Romans 5:10 must “begin with Paul’s teaching that we were all, without exception, God’s enemies” (p. 222). The battle lines are confusing and the war is one we cannot actually fight. The battle “is won by retaining and using what we have received from God, faith in Christ and the good conscience that comes through faith in Christ” (p. 226). Satan’s attack, says Kleinig (p. 230) is against the Church and against individual consciences. Jesus fights back with his forgiving blood shed for us (p. 231) and his word (p. 232). At the same time, attacks against our consciences and trust toward God try to distract us from the truth. Kleinig continues with examples of how Jesus guards his people who are under attack in the Gospel records. He is the mighty one who is known by Satan as the victor.

On p. 244 Kleinig begins to discuss resisting spiritual attacks. He compares our lives to a compost heap which attracts rats. If there were nothing attractive the enemy would not care. Jesus fights off our enemy by cleaning the garbage from our lives. He does this by his own work, as we faithfully believe he can bring us forgiveness and life. We resist the devil by trusting Jesus’ resistance.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kleinig, 2008. Chapter 3, “The Mystery of Prayer”

Chapter 3, “The Mystery of Prayer” pp. 151-217

Christians are called by the Lord to be people of prayer. Yet we fail in prayer. Maybe we need to try harder, maybe we need special empowerment. Yet we fall short over and over again. Kleinig’s answer to this frustration follows.  “I now no longer regard prayer as an obligation, a duty that I must fulfill, but as something that is given to me, something that I receive from the triune God. The main thing in prayer is a trustful, receptive heart that takes in what God has to offer” (pp. 152-153). Kleinig compares us to friends of an ancient king. We know the plans and will of God through the Bible. In prayer, we ask the Lord to work according to his will in the situations we think he should change (p. 155). Why do we fail in prayer? “Christ lets us fail when we pray by ourselves so that we rely on His intercession for us” (p. 157). “Jesus taught that God-pleasing prayer depended entirely on Him rather than the person at prayer” (p. 162). How do we identify this God-pleasing prayer? Kleinig tells us it is prompted yb the words Jesus gave us. As we pray, we pray what God has already spoken (p. 173). We learn to pray as we attend church regularly and practice in communal prayer, which was historically the normal way to pray (p. 179). As we pray together we realize the depth of our dependence on Jesus (p. 182). We are also able to turn our needs over to God, knowing He is the one who gives all the gifts (p. 200).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Kleinig, 2008. Chapter 2, “The Mystery of Meditation”

Chapter 2, “The Mystery of Meditation” pp. 87-150

In 1 Kings 3, Solomon asks God for wisdom. God gives him a heart to hear, which results in great wisdom. This is consistent with the classic view of Christian meditation, which emphasizes listening and considering God’s Word. Kleinig details a decline in this practice, then a renewal of interest, which unfortunately sent many to Eastern and New Age forms of meditation and prayer (p. 89).

Kleinig suggests that spontaneous meditation often takes the form of daydreaming or worrying (p. 90). “Meditation is, if I may hazard a definition, a relaxed form of concentration; we dwell on something, so that it, in turn, affects us in some way” (p. 92). Meditation is, then, almost the opposite of a process. It is something that happens.

How is this different in Christian meditation? “The key is not how we meditate, but on what we meditate” (p. 95). “Christian meditation focuses on Christ and His Word. It starts with Jesus and ends with him” (p. 96). Kleinig continues to explain in some detail how various people, including Jesus, meditate on God’s Word and are shaped by that Word. This is how we are fed spiritually (p. 104). On pp. 107-111, Kleinig considers that the Holy Spirit is our guide as we meditate on Scripture. What outcome do we expect? We expect a fruitful spiritual harvest (p. 114). Kleinig spends the rest of the chapter illustrating how God’s Word can speak to us at any and every time of the day, all the more as we meditate eagerly on it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kleinig, 2008. Chapter 1, “The Mystery of Christ”

Chapter 1, “The Mystery of Christ” pp. 27-86

Begging in antiquity was always despised. Yet Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by affirming those who are spiritually destitute (p. 28). “This countercultural beatitude sums up the whole of Christian spirituality. It contradicts popular religion and common piety. Popular piety presupposes our unrealized spiritual potential” (p. 29). Jesus says we do not have any spiritual potential. It is only in Jesus that we take on an exalted status and may approach God the Father. Kleinig then views our growth in Christ as a moving away from trust in ourselves and toward trust in Jesus (p. 33). This, Kleinig says, is contrary to the piety seen often in Christians, which frequently resembles that of the Pharisees. “Their problem was that they put their own brand on their acts of piety; they claimed their achievements for themselves rather than for God” (p. 37). On the contrary, Scripture calls us to trust Christ’s work for us. This is no one-size-fits-all faith, but just as we are different so Jesus engages us differently (p. 44). As Jesus engages us through Word and Spirit we learn to breathe, so to speak, receiving and being nourished by what he gives us (p. 46). Kleinig ties this work to our conscience, which is fed by God’s Word. “Our conscience functions properly only when it is governed by faith in God’s Word and when it attends both to the voice of the Lw and the voice of the Gospel” (p. 53). We need both the check of the Law and the freedom of the Gospel.

Beginning on p. 56 Kleinig begins describing the Christian life in terms of a mystery. It is not a secret, but something revealed. Yet it remains a mystery because it is rather hidden no matter how much we know. Jesus, in fact, is that revealed mystery, the one in whom we hope. It is the mystery of his life and death which brings us life. Jesus, in fact, is the one who presents us beggars to the Father. In response to that, Christians act as God’s messengers of grace to the world (pp. 63ff). Yet even in that act, Kleinig sees spirituality as receptive, comparing it with the Sabbath rest (p. 70). To conclude the chapter, Kleinig turns to daily prayer on p. 71, drawing from Old Testament roots of worship which contiue into the New Testament context. In daily devotion and prayer we continue to live in Christ, being nourished by his grace.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Kleinig's Grace Upon Grace - Introduction

Kleinig, John W. Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008.

“Introduction: Receptive Spirituality” pp. 7-26

Kleinig’s thesis is that we receive our spirituality from others. We never create it for ourselves, in a vacuum. “We do not invent spirituality for ourselves; we do not cobble it together to suit our desire for personal fulfillment. Its power does not depend on us or on our performance. Rather, we receive our spiritual life from others and are drawn into it, just as we are initiated into family life and marriage” (pp. 8-9). Specifically, all our life of worship, according to 1 Corinthians 4:7-8, is something we receive. On p. 13 Kleinig ties this idea to Luther’s concept of “the interplay between three forces as we pray, meditate and are tempted: the Holy Spirit, God’s Word, and Satan.” Kleinig continues describing this process for several pages. Luther “does not envisage the spiritual life as a process of self-development, but as a process of reception from the triune God” (p. 16). What is the means of our receptivity? Not our internal impressions or even an illumination of the Holy Spirit, but God’s Word itself (p. 17). Because of this view, Luther sees meditation as a very verbal thing, based on God’s read Word from outside ourselves. As this life goes on we are changed and find many opportunities to evaluate what Christ is doing in us. Though Satan would attempt to undo us, we are driven again into God’s Word.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Peterson, 1987. Chapter 9, “Practicing Spiritual Direction”

Chapter 9, “Practicing Spiritual Direction” (Loc. 1697-1910)

It is easy for a pastor to do a poor job of spiritual direction. Peterson illustrates this by looking at five pastors who attempted to help George Fox, as recorded in his journals. The first made Fox’s concerns a subject for theological debate rather than an opportunity for care and help. Though the theology can be interesting a person is not a case study. The second pastor gave some folk wisdom but failed to reach to the root issues. Fox was a consumer of his remedies. Because they didn’t work for him the pastor rejected Fox. The third pastor had a good reputation but could not hold up to the inquiry Fox had. He proved empty and unable to help in the times of deep trouble. The fourth pastor was concerned that Fox should be theologically orthodox. If his theology were right he would be entirely fine. Yet he could not deal with divergence between doctrine and behavior. The fifth pastor was an activist - medicine as actions, seeking cure by being busy. Yet spiritual health is not in doing but in being.

What are Peterson’s positive reactions? Practicing wonder in God’s world (Loc. 1786) is a start. The pastor should also realize his own ignorance (Loc. 1803). Then it is possible to help others in their walk, knowing that we seek God together.

Final Observations:

In this book Peterson calls pastors to focus on the main point of their work - being used by God in Scripture and prayer to change lives. His analysis is solid. The ideas presented could use more fleshing out, but he presents many interesting ideas which can be built upon.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Peterson, 1987. Chapter 8, "Getting a Spiritual Director"

Chapter 8, “Getting a Spiritual Director” (Loc. 1572-1697)

Physicians look for other physicians to care for them. Pastors also need other pastors to engage in spiritual care. For many generations it was always expected that a pastor would have someone engaged in care for him. This is no longer the case. Peterson sees this as a great matter of concern. “We find pastors who don’t pray, pastors who don’t grow in faith, pastors who can’t tell the difference between culture and the Christ, pastors who chase fads, pastors who are cynical and shopworn, pastors who know less about prayer after twenty years of praying than they did on the day of their ordination, pastors with arrogant, outsized egos puffed up by years of hot-air flattery from well-meaning parishoners…” (Loc. 1581).

Though pastors speak authoritatively they have a primary identity as a dervant of Christ. This is a difficult life.

Peterson observes that we actually learn and grow best when we have a teacher providing examples and accountability. As with his example of playing a musical instrument, so also with a life of prayer. We go astray when we have an attitude of dependence only on Jesus with no other human relationship. The spiritual director helps us see our condition clearly, bears burdens with us, and enables us to trust more freely in Christ.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Peterson, 1987. Chapter 7, "Being a Spiritual Director"

Chapter 7, “Being a Spiritual Director” (Loc. 1415-1572)

Peterson begins this chapter reminding that “the Scriptures and our best pastoral traditions train us [to]...notice the small, persevere in the commonplace, appreciate the obscure” (Loc. 1415). The Christian life consists largely of dealing with everyday and common issues. “Spiritual direction is the aspect of ministry that explores and develops this absorbing and devout attentiveness” (Loc. 1419). As Peterson describes it, spiritual direction is little more than helping people live their lives while looking at their surroundings biblically. He gives an example (Loc. 1451) in which one of his elders helped him look beyond some more obvious issues to an underlying attitude which needed care.

Many pastors seem to practice this spiritual care only rarely, being made too busy with other items which Peterson would say are less important. Yet he observes that this attentiveness to detail is never taught in seminaries.

Peterson closes by observing that receiving good spiritual direction from others enables our growth as Christians. It is not to be neglected.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Peterson, 1987. Chapter 6, "Gaza Notes"

Chapter 6, “Gaza Notes” (Loc. 1229)

Peterson observes from the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian the work of pastoral care. The two have little in common but the Ethiopian is seeking truth. Philip is God’s messenger of the truth - all Scripture points to Jesus. Philip’s work begins in Acts 8:30 with the subtle difference between reading and understanding. Philip is then called (Loc. 1240) not only to explain but to guide the Ethiopian. Is Philip willing to go on a journey? The true pastor is.

Peterson’s conclusion is that “Reading Scripture is not, it would seem, an autonomous activity” (Loc. 1260). The conversation includes the human writer, Jesus, and any people present.

This kind of interactive reading of Scripture brings us into an encounter with the living God. It is not just another thing t do. “But the very frequency of pastoral reading in Scripture mitigates its radical strangeness in our consciousness, the crisis conditions that are provoked in us whenever we enter its pages” (Loc. 1283). Peterson cautions against allowing the Scripture to become commonplace.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Peterson, 1987. Chapter 5, "Contemplating Exegesis"

Chapter 5, “Contemplative Exegesis” (Loc. 1033)

“Scriptural exegesis is surgical work: cutting through layers of history, culture, and grammar; laying bare the skeletal syntax and grammatical muscle; excising mistakes that were introduced inadvertently in the  transmission of the text; repairing misunderstandings that have crept into interpretations across the centuries; observing the incredible and fascinating complexity of the organism as the hidden parts are exposed to view” Loc. 1037). Peterson goes on to say that the tools available to us are superior to those held by previous generations. Yet often in our zeal to dissect Scripture we allow it to die on the operating table. We fail to contemplate the God revealed in Scripture.

Because words communicate real meaning to the inward, invisible man, it is very important that we attend to the meaning of those words. At Loc. 1081 Peterson asserts that we must avoid letting the Scriptures be a knowledge-base, or a textbook. Rather, they are the living God’s words of life. This view in religion is a radical departure from the other religions of antiquity, which were based on ceremonial actions (Loc. 1107).

Not only do we receive God’s Word as a spoken word, we also receive it in the way it was communicated. This means we are sensitive to the genre found in Scripture. Peterson observes (Loc. 1165ff) that all stories have similarities - a beginning, a catastrophe, a plan for salvation, and an ending. Within the story we also find motion, characters, and varied levels of significance. This is the case with all stories, including Scripture. It is the job of the exegete to contemplate and communicate this story.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy New Year

It's a long voyage indeed. Today I get to wish everyone a happy new year. Yep, November 30. The body of Christ has long observed the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day as the start of the year.  Andrew, the first apostle to be called by Jesus, the one who found and brought his brother Simon, has his day today. And today, being Sunday, we start the new year. It's a time of new beginnings. It's a time to look again to the Lord, asking him to come with his forgiveness and grace.

How do we start the year? Is it a big party? Actually, that's another counter-cultural factor of the Church. We begin the year with a period of repentance. The season of Advent is a time for preparation to welcome the Christ who is to come. We look to his second coming but we also look to the celebration of his first coming, in a manger, in humble circumstances. And as we look to the coming of Christ we humble ourselves. We sing songs which are subdued. It's a time of fasting. It's a time for repentance. It's a time to look forward to Christ, the redeemer of the world, whose coming we will recognize on December 25.

Happy new year! It's time to start out the day slowly and carefully, knowing that everything will be cooking for real pretty soon.

By the way, people often ask about the tradition of Advent candles and wreaths. For what it's worth, that's a pretty new custom, dating back into the 1800s. There are four candles around the perimeter. One is often rose colored, while the others are usually blue or purple. There may or may not be a white candle in the middle. On the first Sunday of Advent light the one which is toward the front. Work around clockwise, one candle at a time. On Christmas, light the white candle if there is one. Different commentators have assigned different significances to the individual candles or different themes to the different weeks. It's up for grabs. A fun thing but by no means with a long history or any definitive traditions.

The Advent candles or an Advent calendar do give us a good structure for taking on something new or rededicating ourselves to something old, maybe a brief family Bible reading, singing a song, or having an extra time of prayer for some situation in the world.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Peterson, 1987. Chapter 4, "Turning Eyes into Ears"

Chapter 4, “Turning Eyes into Ears” (Loc. 836)

Peterson begins this chapter by observing that the Scripture is given to use not so we can analyze it but so we can hear from God. “But it is just this quality of zestful passion to listen to Scripture that diminishes, even to the point of disappearance, in the course of pastoral work” (Loc. 840). Listening and reading are very different activities. Listening is entering into dialog of some sort. God calls us to listen.

Peterson suggests (Loc. 868) that printing has had the side effect of decreasing our zeal for God’s Word. It is not common and easy to find, which may make it hard to “hear.”

Likewise (Loc. 898), the interactive personal task of learning has often been replaced by the more passive reception of schooling. If we have become passive in pursuit of truth we will not receive that truth.

Finally, Peterson thinks (Loc. 937) that we have gone astray by becoming consumers and customers rather than creators. The pastor is called to hear God’s Word, to seek it out, and to shepherd God’s flock. This is counter to much of modern culture. It is something we will do well to recover.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Peterson, 1987. Chapter 3, "Prayer Time"

Chapter 3, “Prayer Time” (Loc. 620)

Peterson expresses surprise at the number of things people would ask a pastor to do, especially considering that religious concerns seem less important to many people than they were in prior generations. Yet Peterson observes, “among the considerable demands on my time not one demanded that I practice a life of prayer” (Loc. 630). Yet Peterson insists this life of prayer, practicing how to respond to God’s Word, is heart and center of ministry.

Peterson ties this concept (Loc. 662) to the need for a sabbath, a day of rest. While we tend to think of night as the end, the biblical concept of a day starts with night, a time of expectancy. We look forward to God’s overarching plan and move in and out of his activities in our pattern of work and rest. The Sabbath then is the large time of rest, ordained by God.

The sabbath then is “Uncluttered time and space to distance ourselves from the frenzy of our own activities so we can see what God has been and is doing” (Loc. 727). Keeping this time and space is God’s command, allowing us to see him. Yet Peterson says we have a great desire to simply work harder. This is finally depending on ourselves rather than on God.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Peterson, 1987. Chapter 2, "Praying by the Book"

Chapter 2, “Praying by the Book” (Loc. 421)

Prayer plunges us into vivid communication with the living God. It also sets us apart from and sometimes into opposition with our community. So why are our prayers weak? Prayer “has been uprooted from the soil of the word of God” (Loc. 433). We realize that “prayer is never the first word; it is always the second word. God has the first word. Prayer is answering speech; it is not primarily ‘address’ but ‘response’ (Loc. 446). Therefore, when we begin an event with prayer, we need to confess its character as an answer to God’s Word.

Where do we learn to pray, to answer God? We go to the Psalms. Through all history they have been the prayer book for God’s people. Peterson discusses the division of Psalms into five books with divisions before Psalm 42, 73, 90, and 107. In location 534 Peterson suggests the books have a relationship to the Pentateuch, each section answering the themes of one book. However, when we look for the specific themes we are disappointed. God’s communication with us is complex, as are the many types of answers we find in the Psalms.

Peterson develops an idea that the Torah walks us from birth to maturity and that during each stage we respond through the prayers of the Psalter. When we are thus equipped we are ready with prayers empowered by God.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Peterson, 1987. Chapter 1, "Greek Stories and Hebrew Prayers"

Peterson, Eugene. Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987. Kindle Edition.

In his lengthy introduction Peterson lays out the idea that a geometric shape is determined by its angles. The three angles he sees as most important in shaping the pastoral life are prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction. Those are the pastor’s indispensable elements.

Chapter 1, "Greek Stories and Hebrew Prayers” (Loc. 200).

Sometimes in the midst of chaos a pastor seems to be non-essential. Peterson compares it to “putting plastic flowers in people’s drab lives” (Loc. 209). On the contrary, pastors are called to minister in Word and Sacrament, something which may seem irrelevant at times and does not fit into our framework of sense. Yet throughout history communities have always set aside pastors to minister in word and sacrament.

What is essential in all this? If we hold to a life of prayer it will keep “Pastoral work true to itself centered in word and sacrament” (Loc. 254).

Peterson uses the ancient Greeks as an illustration of reality. The gods were selfish and capricious yet the Greeks sought knowledge and wisdom. The work of the pastor is in large part preparing people to live and die in a fallen world. Peterson affirms (Loc. 318) that in the 19th century prayer was “pushed out of the action” as enlightenment values overcame the Church. When biblical history was recast as a sort of mythic narrative, free from the power of God, the vivid life of prayer declined as well. The solution is to return the Psalms and the life of prayer to the center of Christian community life.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chapter 5, “The Pastoral Work of Community-Building: Esther”

Chapter 5, “The Pastoral Work of Community-Building: Esther” (Loc. 1837-2296)

“All pastoral work takes place in the setting of the church, the community of faith. The pastor is never a private chaplain to individuals; the pastor is never an impersonal speaker to crowds; the pastor is set in community and given the task of building that community” (loc. 1841). Peterson says this is viewed as good until our community notices we are building a community of faith, not what they might desire. There are so many secular substitutes for a community of faith that it is easy to be misunderstood (Loc. 1853). Yet the community is central to a biblical idea of God’s people. “There are no Robinson Crusoe traditions in the biblical narratives” (Loc. 1875).

Peterson draws our attention to “Esther because it presents the issue of the nature and function of God’s people in stark and simple terms; survival versus annihilation” (Loc. 1914(. The people around Esther were largely hostile. At best they were indifferent. How do God’s people live in community? In Esther they do, celebrating the victory of their people over the enemy. Our concern is that we have this joyful celebration in its right context. “Joy, separated from its roots in God and pursued apart from the community of faith, becomes mere sensation” (Loc. 1940).

There is little known about the Jews in their captivity in Babylon. We know that the people in Susa tended toward syncretism (Loc. 1988). This was not Judaism at its best. Our congregations are not perfect Christianity. All remain due to God’s grace (Loc. 2000). The size of the congregation is not its security but the Lord is (Loc. 2052).

Peterson diagnoses the problem. We prefer the active leadership of King Saul to the quiet faith of Mordecai. “The importance of Mordecai for the pastor derives from his style of leadership, a style that exemplifies the way of the servant” (Loc. 2179). Though he is the leader who protects all the Jews from destruction and who has been faithful to the pagan king, he does not seek honor or prestige.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Chapter 4, “The Pastoral Work of Nay-Saying: Ecclesiastes”

Chapter 4, “The Pastoral Work of Nay-Saying: Ecclesiastes” (Loc. 1428-1836)

The work of the pastor, as a visible individual, is often highly symbolic in people’s eyes, of the work of God. People want something from God and they expect the pastor to deliver it. There is, however, a drawback. “We work on a street teeming with competition. Every kind of religious leadership is offered to persons who want ‘god’” (Loc. 1450). Peterson suggests that people’s desires lie essentially in two directions, that they want miracles as they want answers (Loc. 1458). Amid the various demands, Ecclesiastes warns us what we must avoid (Loc. 1468). The dating and authorship are unclear. It is, however, clear that the preacher is in a time when religion and its wisdom are seen as delivering a life which is very fulfilling. We can discern that religious life was not entirely victorious. The author brings out the theme of enjoyment repeatedly (Loc. 1522) as if it is lacking in practice. The solution the preacher gives is the “yes” of the Gospel, not any other positive message (loc. 1536). as a result, when there is a message which tries to use God to gain our wants, the pastor’s response is “no” (Loc. 1565).

Peterson observes the pastoral function of the wisdom literature (Loc. 1592ff), noting that it is intended to focus worshipers in their everyday world. Contrary to this, the people found unsatisfying platitudes (Loc. 1640). Counter to this, God has revealed himself in Scripture which can be examined and held up to investigation (Loc. 1644). That knowledge and wisdom, though, needs to be kept in its context. It may not be divorced from God or it becomes mumbo-jumbo. “The only way to keep knowledge from becoming separated from relationship with God is to return to the confessional base of worship” (loc. 1662). Here we confess the God who works miracles at the same time that we learn to live in him whether he works those miracles or not. The true worship of God may well not be showy but will always be in consonance with God’s covenant (Loc. 1752). This is what creates vitality in worship.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chapter 3, “The Pastoral Work of Pain - Sharing: Lamentations”

Chapter 3, “The Pastoral Work of Pain - Sharing: Lamentations” (Loc. 1088-1428)

“Among other things pastoral work is a decision to deal . . . with suffering” (Loc. 1092).  The Bible likewise shows God entering into our suffering. The book of Lamentations helps us see that suffering. The book of Lamentations helps us see that world of suffering which God enters. The book of Lamentations was traditionally read publicly on the Ninth of Ab, a fast remembering the Babylonian Captivity” (Loc. 1120). Lamentations is a highly structured book. “The laments are all composed on an alphabetic structure as acrostics. The five laments constitute, in company with Psalm 119, the most elaborate acrostic composition in the Bible” (Loc. 1130). Peterson traces some of the patterns of emotional movement found in the different portions of Lamentations. In the repetition of Lamentations Peterson sees that we return to consider our troubles even as we see they have an end. The pastor can help in healing. “the simple act of making an appointment to return to listen again to the tale of tragedy or sorrow or whatever begins to put boundaries around it” (Loc. 1181). Peterson further points out that the content of our lamentation is concrete. It is linked to actual happenings, not simply to feelings. Suffering has a root “in a locatable place and at a datable time” (Loc. 1196).

Peterson next moves to the concept of anger. “If, at one level, Lamentations is an immersion in human suffering, at another level it is an encounter with God’s anger” (Loc. 1243). Seeing suffering in a context which includes a personal God who can be angered also allows us to conceive of a God who can forgive. Here the person enduring trials can find comfort. Peterson observes that this leads to dignity, as opposed to the shame which other humanist traditions bring (Loc. 1315). Peterson is very critical of clinical pastoral training as it reduces the pastor to the servant of the medical model. It is through pastoral care that the hurting person can receive healing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Chapter 2, “The Pastoral Work of Story-Making: Ruth”

Chapter 2, “The Pastoral Work of Story-Making: Ruth” (Loc. 683-1087)

Peterson views the pastor’s move from chancel to narthex as very difficult. In the chancel everything was ordered, neat and tidy. In the narthex he runs into the challenges of life (Loc. 697). “Ruth is a particularly useful book for the narthex, for the story is placed in ‘the times the judges judged,’ a notoriously disordered age” (Loc. 719). It is not who Ruth is or who the people of Israel are which makes them important. It is what God has done and declared (Loc. 746). Israel was aware of this aspect of life, which spurred them to write history. “This historical consciousness of Israel, made frm the stuff of election and covenant, has been thoroughly discussed by biblical scholars and does not need further elaboration here” (Loc. 772). Yet Ruh was historically read at Pentecost, a time when the people would be reminded by their own work of God’s work gathering a people.

Peterson finds it important that Ruth is in essence a short story, not a didactic text - as with real life, we get to interpret the story. Peterson elaborates on this at some length, then ties the idea to the give and take found in pastoral counseling and visitation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chapter 1, “The Pastoral Work of Prayer-Directing: Song of Songs”

Peterson, Eugene. Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980 Kindle Edition.

Chapter 1, “The Pastoral Work of Prayer-Directing: Song of Songs” (Loc. 233-682)

Peterson discusses the interaction of sexuality and prayer, both of which have a great deal to do with how we manage intimacy. “Much of pastoral work has to do with nurturing intimacy, that is, developing relationships in which love is successfully expressed and received - shared” (Loc. 239). All relationships can be seen with both horizontal (person to person) and vertical (person to God) dynamics. All our lives are dynamics of the earthly and the heavenly.

Beginning at Loc. 264 Peterson discusses salvation as the rescue of God from slavery to sin and evil. By this rescue, God puts people into their relationships, both with him and one another.  Passover was the time that Israel celebrated their salvation (Loc. 281). At Passover the Song of Songs is traditionally read. Peterson suggests this is to remind Israel of the personal intimacy of their salvation (Loc. 290).

At Loc. 330 Peterson explores Adam and the Fall as a model for our failure to live in covenant with God, a condition usually referred to as adultery or other unfaithfulness. Song of Songs (Loc. 340) is special in that it portrays the positive union rather than looking in negative terms. The connection finally is that of a covenant (Loc. 410) in which God’s love is the truest love there is.

This covenantal view of love reaches into the deepest interior relationships which we can have. Peterson extrapolates that this covenantal knowing is related to the frequent naming of God and His people. In Loc. 469 he applies this to pastoral work, indicating that knowing the people by name is one of the most important things a pastor does.

Peterson concludes the chapter by walking through the Song and applying the different situations to our longing, desires, and responses to hurts.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Chapter 4, “Ministry by a Lonely Minister” pp. 81-96

Chapter 4, “Ministry by a Lonely Minister” pp. 81-96

In this chapter Nouwen explores the idea of “both the wounded minister and the healing minister” (p. 82). It is this minister, who operates out of a place of his own weakness, who brings the strength of God to our world.

Nouwen first (p. 83) discusses the weakness in loneliness, something which ministers know very well and which troubled people often fight. Nouwen redefines the issue. “The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift” (p. 84). This is a gift because it makes us look beyond ourselves.

Nouwen goes on to discuss the professional loneliness, in which the minister is minimally tolerated even though he has God’s words of life and hope. Yet it is exactly this pain and alienation which empowers a minister to associate with the pain of others.

nouwen now turns (p. 87) to the minister as a healer. The minister can see “the depth of the human condition which all men share” (p. 88). The wounded minister is able to hve the compassion and grace to be a witness to hurting people. This healing is shown in making purposeful space for the other to open up. it then shows itself to be a very friendly space. In this space, the guest can find healing and care.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chapter 3, “Ministry to a Hopeless Man” pp. 47-80

Chapter 3, “Ministry to a Hopeless Man” pp. 47-80

Nouwen observes that in all walks of life people lead others. In the simplest form, leadership may be a one-on-one encounter. These simple interactions may be key to understanding more complex relationships.

Nouwen builds a case study involving a patient and a chaplain. The patient is frightened and essentially shuts down conversation. The patient is scared of the impersonal, technological surroundings in the hospital. He was fearful of death but the chaplain did not perceive this. The patient has nothing good waiting for his recovery so does not really know what to desire, not to mention how to express his desires.

We think about these conditions, as does Nouwen on p. 62. “What could or should John have done for Mr. Harrison? But this question is really not fair. For the condition of Mr. Harrison was not immediately clear and comprehensible.” Possibly the theology student could have recognized the impersonal surroundings and given a personal response. This moving forward to make oneself known and knowable is an important step in ministry, especially in a largely impersonal world. The Christian can promise to be present, whether in life or in death. This is a great comfort. We minister through showing “first, personal concern, which asks one man to give his life for his fellow man; second, a deep-rooted faith in the value and meaning of life, even when the days look dark; and third, an outgoing hope which always looks for tomorrow, even beyond the moment of death” (p. 71).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chapter 2, ‘Ministry for a Rootless Generation” pp. 26-46

Chapter 2, ‘Ministry for a Rootless Generation” pp. 26-46

Nouwen asks two questions in this chapter. “First, how do the men and women of tomorrow look today? And second, how can we lead them to where they can redeem their people?” (p. 26). Nouwen characterizes this generation of young people in three important ways. he sees them as being “the inward generation, the generation without fathers, and the convulsive generation” (p. 27).

As an inward generation he sees our youth as giving priority to personal matters, often being withdrawn. Rather than looking to outside authority our young people tend to be militantly individual. Nouwen suggests that a ministry which is sensitive can transform the inward focus from one of selfishness to one of a focus on “the reality of the unseen” (p. 29).

As a generation without fathers young people are suspicious of any claims to authority. Having seen the adult world fail young people wish to avoid taking any examples. Unfortunately this can lead to a dependence on peer examples which lack experience.

As a convulsive generation young people who see few real opportunities in their lives attempt to do something to create change. There is hope for real change but the vision is fragmented.

“When we look for the implications of our prognosis for the Christian ministry of the future, it appears as though three roles ask for special attention: (1) the leader as an articulator of inner events; (2) the leader as man of compassion; (3) the leader as contemplative critic” (p. 36).

  1. The minister as the articulator of inner events
The contemplative and other inwardly-focused people often find they need a guide, someone or something outside of themselves upon whom to depend. This personal mentoring is not a work many ministers are accustomed to. The minister needs to find ways of articulating the inner life for others.

  1. Compassion
Nouwen compares compassion with authority, finding that compassion can “become the core and even the nature of authority” (p. 40). We take the compassion of God to our world. This is coupled with professionalism. It sets the Christian minister apart from other professionals.

  1. The minister as contemplative man
As Nouwen considers it, the contemplative person is able to interact with a fast-paced world and keep up with it. yet he is thoughtful about the interactions. This is revolutionary in its own right as it cuts to the heart of difficult issues.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Blog on a brief vacation

I'm going to put this blog on a brief vacation. I've got a number of posts written with my hand-held ball-point word processor but am needing to take care of a few other details of life for a week or two. Will return soon.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Nouwen, 1972. Chapter 1, “Ministry in a Dislocated World”

Chapter 1, “Ministry in a Dislocated World” pp. 1-25

Nouwen tells of a young man named Peter who seems adrift and disconnected. He is not moored to past, future, or family. This, Nouwen says, may describe the condition of many modern people. We find a purpose statement on p. 5. “In this chapter I would like to arrive at a deeper understanding of our human predicament as it becomes visible through the many men and women who experience life as Peter does. And I hope to discover in the midst of our present ferment new ways to liberation and freedom.” So Nouwen divides the chapter into nuclear man’s predicament and liberation.

The nuclear man realizes that the same forces which bring progress may also bring destruction. Psychohistorian Robert Jay Lifton characterizes nuclear man “by (1) a historical dislocation, (2) a fragmented ideology, and (3) a search for immortality” (p. 7).

The nuclear man easily sees destruction on the immediate horizon. It is therefore difficult for him to look to the future rather than the end. This is different from previous generations. “Most Christian preaching is still based on the presupposition that man sees himself as meaningfully integrated with a history in which God came to us in the past, is living under us in the present, and will come to liberate us in the future” (p. 9). With the historical breakdown the message seen is very disconnected.

Nuclear man “has shifted from the fixed and total forms of an ideology to more fluid ideological fragments” (p. 10). These more fluid boundaries allow people to hold self-contradictory ideas at the same time. “Nuclear man no longer believes in anything that is always and everywhere true and valid” (p. 11). Being confronted with the exclusive claims of Christ creates confusion and skepticism.

Nouwen, with Lifton, suggests that man has an innate desire for immortality but finds the ephemeral nature of many pursuits lacking. They are not connected to life and history.

How does nuclear man seek freedom from this prison? Nouwen suggests that he attempts his escape through mysticism or revolution (p. 15).

There is an interest among nuclear men in mind-altering drugs, meditation, and other measures intended to reach a spiritual liberation. This liberation may be seen as stepping away from one’s own unreality into a reality that cannot be grasped.

As we consider the other way, the revolutionary one, the focus shifts. “Here man becomes aware that the choice is no longer between his world or a better world, but between no world or a new world” (p. 17). The nuclear man is thus provoked to activism, hoping to create some sort of ideal world, or at least prevent the world from collapse.

Nouwen suggests that “in Jesus the mystical and the revolutionary ways are not opposites, but two sides of the same human mode of experiential transcendence” (p. 19). It is in the union of the spiritual and physical found in Christ that we are able to connect with history and our world.