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The Transparent Jesus is a Window to Heaven, Maundy Thursday, March 28th 2013

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Maundy Thursday, March 28th 2013

Exodus 12: 1-4, [5-10] 11-14 Psalm 116: 1-2, 12-19  1 Corinthians 11:23-26 John 13:1-17, 31b-35

The Transparent Jesus is a Window to Heaven

The lessons tonight show how the new covenant in Jesus blood is couched in the old covenant of the Passover in Exodus. Christ is lifting up the cup of salvation, knowing that he is becoming the Passover lamb, whose blood was being shed for us so that we might receive forgiveness of sins and learn to love and serve one another in the wonderful new order, the Beloved Community that Jesus launched into the world.

In the old covenant the people are eating the Passover lamb hurriedly and painting some of its blood onto their doorposts so the angel of death passes over their house. The unjust oppressors of the Egyptian empire would lose the firstborn of all their children and even of their animals on that horrible night of retribution.

It is the Passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples in the upper room. But Jesus has taken the Passover out of the law and way into the gospel. Sure, the Egyptians were getting their come-up-ance, because they were such cruel oppressors. God had to rescue his people from slavery and lead them into the Promised Land, give them good laws, and a new order by which to live. But Jesus showed his disciples the kind of love that fulfills the new order of the old covenant. No longer was it an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but if your brother or sister sins against you – how many times must we forgive? Not seven, but seventy-times-seven times. This extravagant forgiveness!

Not that we Christians have not continually deserted, denied, and betrayed Jesus, but Jesus loved his disciples to the end and knowing that he had come from God and was returning to God, he washed the feet of his disciples like a slave would do. He did not lord it over others in the way of the kings of this world, but was among them as one who served. He not only served, but loved his disciples in a completely selfless and forgiving way. He did not skip over Judas, who would betray him, but served him as well cleansing him in this foot-washing. And Judas could have received forgiveness just like Peter and all the disciples that deserted Jesus, if he only would have repented and received it.

We serve a Savior who went all the way to the cross without a mumbling word loving and forgiving those who deserted, denied, and betrayed him; as well later, those who, condemned, crucified, and nailed him there like a piece of wood onto the cross. “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.”

Jesus was giving us a window through which to look into heaven to see how good and loving God really is and how this Son of Heaven shows us the way to peace, so that all our lives could be lived in the promises of God, which God fulfills for us, if we follow Jesus in this way of life.

So Jesus does not only show us how our country can experience a Passover from a culture of violence to a more humane order, but also how any two or three people who are gathered in his name can have a holy communion, in which we also receive the strength to love and forgive each other in the real presence of Jesus Christ.

Each of us follows Jesus descending into his humility, service, suffering, and love, but all together we ascend into not only the Promised Land, but the promises that God will keep for our lives. Eye has not seen, nor ear heard the wonderful things God has prepared for those who love Him and are called to his purpose.

The suffering we do in the descent is really worth it. It all adds to the music of our witness. It brings a wonderful new quality into our relationships that we notice in the Gospel of John, where women are championed, and children are lifted up and no egos get in the way. Life changes from prose into poetry. Our feelings become radiant rhapsodies that delight in what God is doing among us.

Girded with towel and wash basin, we will cleanse the feet of all to direct our feet on the way of peace. Not a peace that is empty and negative like nothing, one that just obeys the law, but much more. We will be more than conquerors of our environmental problems, bullies will no longer scapegoat victims. We will overcome war and fight them no more; we will heal dreadful diseases of the body and mind that decimate humankind; we will lift up women so that they are not violated and hurt any more; lift up children so they know they are loved and cherished and our lives will be centered around keeping them safe. We will lift them up into God’s promises as well.

What else fulfills the vision that Eye has not seen, nor ear heard the wonderful things God has prepared? We need to put our imaginations into high gear!

Do you notice how Jesus is not just sacrificing a lamb and thinking that such a scapegoat can change our lives? He not only cleanses our feet to direct them on the pathway of justice and peace, he cleansed the temple, confronting evil head on. His love seeks justice, overcomes sin, and the forces of violence and death themselves. Christ shows us the love that overcomes the fear of death and death itself, showing us and giving us victory.

Jesus was well aware that he was now going to die. He knew it was the last supper. In the Garden of Gethsemane he had to get through all that grief of giving up his life for us. But then when the time came, and the spear pierced his side, we all received the new birth from the water and the blood gushing out of his side. Yes, he died and indeed, John witnessed the water and blood flowing from his riven side.  Amen.

Written by peterkrey

March 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Midweek Lenten Liturgy for Theological Therapy, March 20, 2013

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Midweek Lenten Service

Themes in the Life and Thought of Luther

March 20, 2013 at 7:00pm

Gathering after having Soup Together

Taisé or Special Music

Greeting

A Prayer of Martin Luther, Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymnal, page 87

“Out of the Depths I Cry to You” ELW # 600

Psalm 32: the Psychoanalytic Psalm

Bible Verse: Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved by faith, and this is not of your own doing; it is a gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

The Message:

“Luther’s In Depth Theology is Good Theological Therapy.”

Discussion and sharing

Luther’s Evening Prayer:

I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously protected me today. I ask you to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously to protect me tonight. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine. Let your holy angel be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.

 

Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in Heaven,

hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come, your will be done,

on earth as in Heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

As we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power,

and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

 

Blessing: The grace of our Lord Christ Jesus, the love of God and the Holy Spirit’s fellowship, be with us all, be with us all. Amen. Amen.

In German: Die Gnade unsers Herrn Jesus Christus und die Liebe Gottes und die Gemeinschaft des Heil’gen Geistes, sei mit uns allen, mit uns allen. Amen. Amen.

Written by peterkrey

March 21, 2013 at 11:15 am

Posted in Luther, Psychology, Theology

Luther’s In Depth Theology is Good Theological Therapy, Midweek Lenten Message: March 20, 2013

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Midweek Lenten Message: March 20, 2013

Luther’s In Depth Theology is Good Theological Therapy.

I’ve always believed that Luther’s theology was good therapy for someone with mental distress. Paul Tillich translated Luther’s justification by grace into modern language: God’s acceptance of those who are unacceptable, making them acceptable. In his book “The Theology of Pastoral Care,” he writes,

“The power which makes acceptance possible is the resource of all pastoral care. It must be effective in [the person] who helps and it must become effective in [the person]] who is helped….This means that both the pastor and the counselee…are under the power of something that transcends both of them. One can call this power the new creature or the New Being. The pastoral counselor can be of help only if [she or] he is grasped by this power.”[1]

Thus Luther’s justification by grace is really basic to all therapy.

One time in an inner-city conference, some mentally challenged persons pleaded with us pastors not to give the secular psychiatric community the last word over them. When looking at the many places where Jesus heals the demon possessed, which was the psychological personality theory of that day, how can we Christians shirk the responsibility for the care of these souls and not delve into the spiritual roots of their distress? Luther [certainly] encourages us to care about those who suffer in this way. In mental disturbances we have, in the words of Luther,

the misfortunes that assail… even our very mind, which after all is the main target of all evils and the one trysting place of sorrow and every evil.[2]

I believe that Luther with an immense capacity for empathy with the mentally distressed, also has a theological version of the unconscious.

God shelters us from knowing and feeling all the evils that are inside us, even our innermost evils. One symptom of evil is nothing in comparison to a thousand evils hidden from us by God.

“Although these evils are deeply hidden, they bear fruit that is clearly seen.”[3]

On the blessing side of the consolations, Luther says,

“To have faith is to have the Word and truth of God’s

self, the Maker of all. If all these blessings in their fullness were revealed to the soul, it would in a moment break free of the body, because of its exceeding abundance of sweet pleasure”[4] and “Since this life of ours cannot bear to have [the fullness of these blessings] revealed, God mercifully keeps them hidden from us….”[5]

Of course, to become more psychologically healthy, it is important that more and more of the unconscious become conscious. We fear only what we did not integrate.

In the lecture I gave at Gettysburg, I compared Self Psychology with Luther’s In Depth Theology. Heinz Kohut, who developed Self Psychology, noticed that Freud’s psychoanalysis no longer worked with many people who were suffering from mental distress today. In Freud’s society families became too tight and children were over involved with their parents. In today’s society many families have empty relationships and there is under-involvement of children with their parents. Thus personality structures have to be built from scratch and issues lie deeper in Narcissistic disorders.

In a metaphor, Kohut and Wolf describe the self as having two poles one for mirroring and one for merging and a tension arc of action around them. Luther always argues that we have to be justified by grace so that from a new self we do good works. Self Psychology also argues that the structure of the self has to be repaired and a weak enfeebled self needs to become a strong and rigorous, organized self. Self Psychology also separates the healing needed for the self from action, like St. Paul and Luther separate justification from works. Mirroring refers to reflecting one another:  all the transactions characterizing the mother–child relationship, including not only the reflections of grandiosity, but also constancy, nurturance, a general empathy and respect.”[6] Believers mirror Christ. Merging takes place “with an idealized, omnipotent, self-object,”[7] using the terms of Self Psychology and in Luther’s words, when bridegroom, Christ marries the believer’s soul, thus becoming merged into one. The merging and mirroring of Self Psychology are right in Luther’s theology. What these psychologists call the nuclear self, Luther calls the inmost self and his theology aptly shows how it is healed in justification.

I believe that a theological therapy can encompass the internal deep self and extended, social self, where the super-ego, the ego, and the id of psychoanalysis leave out the relational aspect of reality that is so necessary for healing.

Theologically these ego states can be replaced by Luther’s account of the four forums, (Let me just be crass, because the plural of the Latin word forum should be fora.) But the forums are the places where we relate with each other. Luther describes four:

The forum before God, before ourselves, before others, and before the world (in Latin coram deo, coram meipso, coram hominibus, et coram mundo).

One time struggling with self-knowledge I also came to the awareness that I was not only the person I thought I was, that I also had to take into account how other people saw me and that what I thought of myself or how they might want to define me, didn’t matter if it was not how God defined and created me. Thus I already touched on three forums and for me only a person’s image in the world is missing.

In the coram-relations, “The truth of our very being experiences the encounter of our becoming known [by God, by ourselves, by others, and by the world].”[8] The four coram-relations, before God, before oneself, before others, and one’s image in the world, [again] transcend and have a wider scope than ego-states like the superego, the ego, and the id, which are only intra-psychic. The coram-relations would be analogous to them, however, for Luther’s in-depth theology. Each coram-relation places the person in a forum of existence and evaluation, the forums ranging from the internal into the external.

The Latin preposition “coram” means “before” but most often used in the biblical Hebrew, it is derived from “being before the face of,” “existing in the eyes of,” “in the sight of,” either God, oneself, others, or the world.

Gerhard Ebeling has an important chapter in his book, Luther, an Introduction to his Thought,[9] explaining these coram-relations as the heart of how Luther’s theology opens directly into life-experience. Coram deo is one’s existence in the eyes of God. How one is seen by God, how one lives before the face of God. Ebeling has a whole rhapsody of insights about what goes on in the face. If God’s eyes go down, we know God disapproves of us and that constitutes our conscience. Is our conscience defined only by how others look at us? We can save face, lose face, fall on our face; someone can even turn his or her face away, that is, turn his or her back on us. These four coram-relations take place in forums. They are not mutually exclusive relations, because the person is in all of them at one and the same time simultaneously. Sometimes one has to turn one’s back on others, coram hominibus, to set one’s face toward God, coram-deo. But to live coram deo is to respond to the needs of others, coram hominbus. For some people the coram-hominibus is determinative because of peer pressure, keeping up with the Jones. We let others define our existence. In this respect, those living in the eyes of God have an advantage. Importantly we also exist in our own eyes, coram meipso. For some of us this forum is very weak and our self-definition derives almost completely from our living in the eyes of others. Bismark is said to have had a strong coram-meipso-self. Perhaps, when he introduced universal health coverage back in the 1800’s and unemployment insurance or perhaps other legislation, the parliament would go off into a tirade of noisy protest. He would take out the newspaper and read it until the raucous was over and then continue with his speech.

Interestingly enough, we do not see and know ourselves the way God does. We are naked in the eyes of God, because God sees the heart. Self-knowledge follows after God’s knowledge of us, takes real time, and is very difficult to attain. Hence we learn to know ourselves fully, even as [by God] we have [already] been fully known (1 Cor. 13:12).[10] I submit that these coram-relationships, these, forums because of their spiritual and relational character, hold real promise for Luther’s in-depth theology and therapy.

Now if you become aware of these coram-relations, then you will find them very helpful and easily thought in your everyday experience.

Let me conclude with Luther’s Anfectungen and recovery because that is why Luther had an in depth theology, from my point of view. Anfectungen are episodes of spiritual conflict that attacked him and disabled him sometimes for months at a time. Now from my lecture:

Luther himself plummeted into the depths when he felt crushed in his spiritual conflict (Anfechtung) between Satan and Christ. Gerhard Ebeling spends 82 pages analyzing this Anfechtung from many different angles. Here’s a very brief account: this spiritual conflict lasted from the middle of 1527 until deep into 1528,[11] by far the worst of his life (365 and 409). The plague was rampaging in Wittenberg (starting late in July and climaxing early in November), but Luther refused to leave the souls who were sick and dying, who depended on his care, even when the Elector commanded him to flee to Jena with the rest of the faculty [of the university]. Luther felt left alone because all the students fled as well, except that Bugenhagen and his family moved in with them (378). Imagine an empty Wittenberg University, like a ghastly gospel! Luther needed the company and support of his friends and students. His and Katie’s home, the Black Cloister, where he gave all his table talks, became a hospital filled with the dying. The wife of the mayor, Tilo Dene, died almost in his arms.[12] George Rörer’s wife, Hanna, had a miscarriage and died soon afterwards (378).  The sack of Rome took place May 6th but Luther writes about it July 13th.  Then on August 16, 1527 Luther received the news that Leonhard Kaiser, a promising graduate freshly out of Wittenberg was burned at the stake in Passau for his evangelical faith (390). “Why was he, Luther, himself not worthy of martyrdom?” was Luther’s excruciating question to God (393) just before he went unconscious. “Why was I not worthy to shed my blood” was also the first thing he said after awakening (393). When Agricola sent his disturbed wife, Else, to join the Luthers for a change of atmosphere, Luther wrote that her sickness was more spiritual than physical (374). Else and Katie, too, argued that the Word of God did not concern them directly, but really the men who protected them (402). In a half joking tone, Luther said that they should know that precisely they also were addressed, when the Gospel was preached (402).

On July 6th 1527 the Anfechtung started by his life-strength draining out of him and [as already said] his going unconscious (366, 372-373). Being held in the arms of Katie and his friends, he thought he would die. It seemed like Luther slipped down into the unsheltered abyss, where for weeks he felt like a ping-pong ball bouncing between death and hell. His limbs and his whole body shook and he felt as if the whole Christ was gone[13] (368 and 373). He felt like a rudderless ship tossed about in the floods and waves of a storm of despair and blasphemy (368 and 407-408). He said that Satan assaulted his person because he had not been able to prevent the Gospel truth from being proclaimed (404), so Satan clobbering him with his fists. [One could say that Luther experienced a demonic spiritual ad hominum. (The ad hominum fallacy in thought attacks the person when the argument cannot be refuted.)]

Even when the plague was being overcome, late in 1527 and students were returning, Luther felt hell within. Outside the world was again healthy, inside are the devil and all his angels, (he wrote). Outside the enemies plague us and inside [as weak and few as we are] the devil is among the children of light (403). Luther asked everyone in his letters to pray for him. Not that the Anfechtung would cease, but that Christ would not leave him. But his connection to Christ was by a gossamer thread and the devil had a chain and an anchor on his leg dragging him into the abyss (371 and 408).

Luther finally recovered again late the next year, having once again received a gracious God and having had a firsthand experience of the in-depth dimension, the in-depth theology that from experience, counted on the grace of Christ, whose strength was manifest in Luther’s weakness that made the devil’s victory a defeat.[14]

With Carl Gustav Jung’s psychological approach using the theory of opposites I believe that Luther’s Anfechtung can be explained. Jung may get his theory from Luther, who took delight in placing opposites together.[15] The tension arc is so very interesting for Luther’s theology, because for him it does not only issue into the action agenda, but he places tension right into the self, the God-encountered-event-of-the-self in the union of opposites, human and divine, sovereign but slave, raptured but groaning in the spirit. We know the sinner and saint opposition best, in the formula simul iustus et peccator. Luther continually places opposites together in the “Freedom of a Christian” and he insists they are in us at one and the same time! Did you notice his putting together “confident despair” in George Spenlein’s letter in our book?[16]

This tension, which Luther brings directly into the self, is key to the dynamic growth of a person’s maturity in Christ, from human to divine. Luther enfolds believers inside his Christology. “For the Word of God comes, whenever it comes to change and renew the world,”[17] but also “the Word of God comes, whenever it comes, to change and renew the person.”

To consider Luther’s Anfechtung once more, now the opposing powers of Christ and the devil fight inside him. Carl Gustav Jung argues that the union of opposites is required for differentiation and integration of the psyche.[18] (Note that when needed, Kohut saw no problem in complementing Self Psychology with the classical psychoanalytic approach,[19] when the (Freudian) guilty self needed to be treated along with (Self Psychology’s) tragic self.)[20]  Jung’s opposites which are relevant here are the conscious and unconscious. For Jung, the directedness of the conscious mind always has an opposite countering it in the unconscious (276). When the tension increases as a result of too great [a] one-sidedness, the counter tendency breaks through into consciousness, just at the moment when it is most important to maintain the conscious direction (276).

Jung is speaking of an unconscious balance where opposition in the unconscious accompanies the direction taken in the conscious.

Thus, using this theory of opposites, I believe Luther went too far into the direction of his Christ and the Gospel in many ways without the support of his close companions and then the devil broke through from his unconscious. When Luther found a more refined integration of justification by faith, as the one who proclaimed the pure gospel precisely because he was a most wretched sinner, the integration of these opposites brought back a gracious God.

Jung says that the tendencies of the conscious and unconscious are the two factors that make up the transcendent function (279) and it manifests as a quality of conjoined opposites (298). The shuttling to and fro of arguments and affects [Luther felt like a ping pong ball, his whole self, bouncing back and forth] represents the transcendent function of opposites. The confrontation of the two opposites, Jung continues, generates a tension charged with energy and creates a living third thing – not a logical stillbirth…but a movement out of the tension between opposites, a living birth that leads to a new level of being (page 298). So long as [the opposites] are kept apart, naturally for the sake of avoiding conflict, they do not function and remain inert (298).

Christ and the devil, the opposing powers fought over Luther, until he received a new integration in a higher level of being in faith for a deeper level of service in love.

Jung seems to explain the engine of our growing and maturing into the stature of Christ. Gracious, while painful, Christ-self experiences written about and lived by Luther, bring hope, I believe, alongside secular treatment, for those who also have primary disturbances of the self. Psychiatrists are no longer unanimous about people with a psychosis being beyond the talking—cure.[21]


[1] Clinebell, Jr., Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling, p. 306-307. Page 4 in Tillich’s book.

[2] LW 42:128.

[3] LW 42:127.

[4] LW 42:147. (For the Latin text of the “Fourteen Consolations,” see WA 6, (99) 104-134.)

[5] Ibid. I substituted “God’s self” for “God himself.”

[6] From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirroring_%28psychology%29

[7] Kohut, The Restoration of the Self, page 265.

[8] Gerhard Ebeling, Luther, and Introduction to his Thought, page 225.

[9] Ibid., pages 192-209.

[10] Ebeling, Luther: an Introduction to his Thought, pages 192-209.

[11]  Ebeling, Luthers Seelsoge, page 426. The following page numbers in this section refer to this book.

[12] LW 43:115.

[13] I associate his allusion to the “whole Christ” with his passive righteousness in the experience of justification and to having Christ, in the sense of being in the power of Christ.

[14] In Luthers Seelsorge, Gerhard Ebeling analyzes this Anfechtung of Luther for 82 pages, p. 464-446.

[15] From a static kind of logic, these opposites are viewed as crass contradictions. Luther states, “What is our teaching to unbelievers than a pack of contradictions?” Ebeling, Luthers Seelsorge, page 460.

[16] Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, page 4.

[17] From Luther’s Bondage of the Will,  LW 33:52, WA 18:626.25-27, 31-32. What follows about the person I have extrapolated from this Luther citation.

[18] Joseph Campbell, ed., The Portable Jung, translated by R.F.C.Hull, (New York: Penguin Books, 1971), pages 273-300. The page numbers that follow are from this book. I thank Pr. Rod Seeger of Mill Valley, CA for making me aware of the usefulness of the integration of opposites, simul iustus et peccator in therapy.

[19] Heinz Kohut, The Restoration of the Self, page 279.

[20] Ibid., page 206.

[21] See https://peterkrey.wordpress.com/?s=rats+gnawing+ Ira Steinman, a psychiatrist, affirms that the talking cure works with people who suffer from psychoses in his book, Treating the Untreatable. I mention his work in a sermon online with the above URL.

Written by peterkrey

March 21, 2013 at 11:08 am

Jacob’s Ladder according to Luther, Midweek Lenten Message for March 13, 2013

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Midweek Lenten Message:

 March 13, 2013: Jacob’s Ladder

Just briefly, the story is in Genesis 28: 10-22 and Luther’s interpretation can be found in our Luther’s Spirituality book, page 172-184.

We remember how Jacob is in full flight from his enraged brother and takes a stone for a pillow and dreams that he sees angels ascending and descending from heaven on the rungs of a ladder and God makes a covenant with him and give him promises like that to Father Abraham. Jacob then calls the place Bethel that means, the house of God, and promises to give ten percent of all he had as an offering to God. Bethel becomes Shiloh and is the holy place of Israel until David takes the arc to Jerusalem.

Luther uses Jesus’ interpretation of Jacob’s ladder to Nathaniel and his disciples: “You will see greater things than these…very truly I tell you, you will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51) Luther sees the angels lost in wonder that God became a human being and thus they look at the baby at the breasts of Mary in the lowly manger and then ascend up to God in Heaven’s majesty, back and forth ascending and descending from the highest majesty to the lowest creature, in wonder as the Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night experienced. So the angels ascending and descending respond to the Incarnation. Luther believed in the continuous creation, that is, not six thousand years ago nor 14 and half billion years ago, because God is not finished with this world yet. Nor is God finished with you and me, because following Luther we can take another step and believe in the continuous incarnation, because through God’s grace, we can grow and mature into the full stature of Christ and become brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Luther mentions the traditions that Lucifer was a very handsome archangel and thought God would become an angel and became enraged that God became a lowly human being, human beings who are so sorry, wretched, and full of sin. Because Lucifer rebelled, he was thrown out of heaven and we have to take care not to rebel against God in his evil spirit.

Note that it always says ascending and descending and not the other way around, because you’d expect them to descend from heaven first: so heaven is not up there, but right near us and opens up so that this celebration of the angels can be seen. It is a little like Psalm 121, where it says that God will keep your departure and arrival from this time on and forever more. Thus it does not mean our birth and death, but our death as entering into heaven and our arrival there.

Luther uses many earlier commentaries to interpret the rungs of the ladder and the ladder itself. Of course, the angels don’t need one. He tells that the rungs may represent the generations leading to Christ, the patriarchs, the preachers proclaiming Christ, and let me present the existential rapture and the stages of first born, nobility, priesthood, Christhood, and up into God as another. While one commentary says that the ascent comes about in the saints through devotion and prayer, the ascent in faith and the descent in love are very near that interpretation.

Also notice back in Jesus’ words, “you will see greater things than these” and he says that his disciples will also do greater and greater things. Thus the higher the rung of faith takes us, the more angel power we have to do the spontaneous acts of kindness, compassion, mercy, and love.

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder

Every step goes higher, higher

Soldiers of the cross.

 

Finally Luther maintains that the ladder stand for the unity of the divine and the flesh, God and human being. There is the union of the Father and the Son, the union of the divinity and humanity of Christ, and the union of the Church with Christ.

Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed, Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2013 at ORLC

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St. Patrick’s Day

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2013

Isaiah 43:16-21 Psalm 126 Phil 3:4b-14 John 12:1-8

     For me it would be an honor to preach all about St. Patrick today, but because it is the fifth Sunday in Lent and Mary’s anointing of Jesus at Bethany, that to me seems the better way to go.

Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed

     True to Jesus’ words that wherever the Gospel is proclaimed the woman’s anointing of Jesus would also be told as well, the story comes up in all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But there are several versions of the story or perhaps there were several incidents, where the feet of Jesus are anointed and where an unnamed woman breaks a beautiful alabaster jar with expensive nard pouring it over Jesus’ head. In the seventh chapter of Luke it is about a sinful woman who approaches Jesus, who was invited to dinner in a Pharisee’s house and she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. (This is prodigal love!) Jesus notes how little love he was shown by the Pharisee, who is so full of rejection, and how lavish the love of this woman is, and he forgives her, a known sinner. He is not at all embarrassed by her touching, washing, and wiping his feet, even with her hair – and evidently in those days for a woman to undo her long hair was scandalous.

Now the first time I came to California was in 1969 to do clinical training in Los Angeles. The supervisor of our group of seminarians blew our minds, as we used to say, in all kinds of ways. We did hydro-psychotherapy where we were analyzed in a swimming pool, there was the James Joyce Liquid Memorial Theater, where you were supposed to get high without alcohol and drugs, and then at the end of a marathon therapy session, going from Friday night, all through Saturday and ending on time for worship, we gave each other a foot massage with oil that made our good feelings overflow. Now we Nordic types, myself included, avoid feeling that good, especially when our feeling go over the top and we lose control. But when we are in a safe place and a safe relationship, allowing such good feelings to overflow is simply wonderful. So much for foot a massage.

In most of the stories the woman with the alabaster jar pours wonderfully fragrant perfume over Jesus’ head. In John Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and in another account, also in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem, it’s in the house of Simon the Leper. (Mark 14:3-9) (Mat 26:6-13)

The most poignant account is in the seventh chapter of Luke (36-50). She is kissing Jesus’ feet, bathing them with her tears, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with the expensive perfume called nard. The Pharisee, who had invited Jesus to his house for dinner says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (7:39) He would never let her touch him.

We serve a Lord who is very courageous in affirming love and then holding that such love covers a multitude of sins. The commentaries in the account we heard this morning from John emphasize Mary’s perfect act of devotion and argue that she anoints Jesus’ feet because she is so thankful that he raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. (As an aside, some scholars argue that Lazarus was Jesus’ favorite disciple, while I still think it was John. As Jesus’ favorite disciple, it was John and not Lazarus who was at the last supper.)

In those days of course all writing and all stories were always about kings and queens and gods and goddesses. What is different about Jesus and his gospel is that it is all about ordinary people like you and me. Martha serves dinner, meaning that they were not rich, otherwise a slave would have served them. Mary lets down her hair, which probably took everyone’s breath away, and uses a perfume that costs almost a full year’s wages. (That reminds of the movie Babette’s Feast.) Remember that in those days they did not sit at a table the way we do. They laid down to eat, stretched out along a low table called a triclinium. Those are three tables in a square, leaving out the fourth table, so the servants can come in and serve the food. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper has them it at a European table, but that is not how they ate. They lay beside each other, holding themselves up by their elbows while they ate. Now it would be the job of a slave to go around and wash the guests’ feet before dinner. Walking in sandals made their feet become covered by soot and dirt and this washing made the guests feel more comfortable.

So Mary washed Jesus’ feet to show her loving and devoted discipleship to Jesus and then Jesus taking her example washes the feet of all the disciples in the last supper. You remember the scene that Peter made, not wanting Jesus to act like his slave.

The reference to the poor does not at all remove our responsibility to help them, but merely that she was doing it for Jesus’ burial.

There was a saying at the time: “The fragrance of a good perfume spreads from the bedroom to the dining room; so does a good name spread from one end of the world to the other.”[1] So when the fragrance of Mary’s perfume filled the whole house, it symbolized the words of Jesus that what she had done would be told in remembrance of her wherever the Good News would be proclaimed in the whole world, (Mark 14:9) despite the way her lavish love was rejected and in the other account, Jesus was rejected for letting that sinful woman, most likely more sinned against than sinful, touch him.

Now nowhere do I find the obvious. Many of the best hiding places are those in plain sight. Stop and consider who Jesus is. He is the Messiah, which means the anointed one. “Christ is merely the Greek word for the same thing. In Hebrew it is “Mashiach” and it is related to the word “massage.” In a few weeks our bishop will do a chrism service, where oil for anointing will be used and then pastors will take some of the oil back to their congregations.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was just anointed before he became Pope Francis and once I watched the grandeur of a majestic liturgical service in which the Archbishop of Canterbury was anointed.

And here is our wonderful Lord Jesus being anointed by ordinary women in this wonderfully loving and relational way. It stands to reason that what Mary and perhaps another woman did, will be told all over the world, because they made Jesus the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ – and you will not find another place in the Gospels where Jesus is anointed by anyone. It does say in Acts, that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit, (10:38). But that is different.

Jesus anointing fits right in with his birth in the food trough of a stable, homeless throughout his ministry, wearing a crown of thorns, and being lifted up on his throne, which was the cross. Even his anointing was protested and begrudged him when it occurred by Simon the Leper, who may have been the Pharisee as well and by Judas in the account from John.

Again, Christ is the Lord of us ordinary folks and he called ordinary people like you and me to follow him. What a wonderful Lord!

To turn to the other lessons: these acts of kindness, lavish love, extraordinary compassion, and service are the new thing that God is doing for us. Isaiah proclaims a new exodus, now not from Egypt through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land; but from the Babylonian captivity over the desert back to Jerusalem. Now what about another exodus from the old Redeemer to the new congregation with a new pastor?

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” Make a way through the wilderness where there is no way!

So this kind of love born out of our faith and learned from Jesus, Mary, the sinful woman, and from the “prodigal” Father can lead this congregation from its doldrums into a renewal. Blessed be the one who comes and brings this kind of loving service. Blessed be the new pastor whom you call and the gracious and loving service he or she can also provide. Now the coming congregation cannot be like the old one. It has to become much more diverse and the community meal is right on the way and the community garden being planned by the social action committee points in the new direction as well.

This new way of being will make you vulnerable. Jesus says he is sending us like sheep into the midst of wolves – somewhat like the women who have joined our military forces. There they have entered into an incredibly male sexist culture that abuses women. Under the complete command of men they estimate that there have been 19,000 rapes only 2,000 of which have been reported and only about 200 some odd convictions. The women have been like sheep among the male wolves, casualties of their own fellow soldiers, let alone suffering casualties from the enemy in battle.

But Jesus calls us to loving acts of service and they make us very vulnerable so Jesus says, I am sending you like sheep among the wolves. That wonderful Christ of ours, however, shows us the way.

Do not remember the former things of this congregation or consider the things of old, say in the fifties or sixties. We could read the whole Philippians passage again and it would surely speak to us. Because of Christ we consider all the previous history and glory of this church as “loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. For his sake we can suffer the loss of all things and regard them as rubbish, in order that we might gain Christ and be found in him…So we forget what lies behind and strain forward for what lies ahead. We press forward to the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (This comes from our Philippians passage.)

Following these kinds of acts of love and service, God will make a way where there is no way, because Christ is the way and Christ shows us the way.

And turning to Isaiah again: the God says, “I am about to do a new thing. Now it springs forth – can’t you see it? I will make a way through the wilderness bringing rivers into the desert and even the wild animals will honor me, because God quenches their thirst with water in the desert. God lets flow a river whose streams make glad the city of our God, to give drink to the followers of Christ, the anointed, who also anoints us, as we too are being formed by God’s hand to become Christs, a people called to enthrone God on their praises.

Mary had the same prodigal and lavish love, the same extravagant compassion we heard about last Sunday. Jesus did not have the money to buy pure nard, but he did wash his disciples’ feet and dry them with a towel.

And that is the new thing. That is the way forward. Our faith is expressed in that kind of love and service, and a hunger and thirst for justice as well.

When at home in my family of origin we were served these rich chocolate covered cream puffs with all those calories, we would say, “That will kill me; but what a way to go!” When we follow Jesus, it will kill us as well – but what a way to go! We have to find a similar way to follow Mary and the sinful woman’s example of kissing each other’s feet, washing with our tears, drying them with our hair, and anointing them. If we have short hair, how can we let our hair down? And what to do if we happen to be bald! That’s the problem with imitation. It’s the spirit that matters!

For example, in the seminary we polished everyone’s shoes instead of washing feet one time. When the homeless and outcast are served at Our Redeemer’s tables, decked out like for a wedding banquet, with the members of our church serving them; we have another example in the same spirit. One time in a big snow storm in Coney Island, I just went around helping cars that had gotten stuck in the ice and snow. In one case, a VW van was stuck right in front of my apartment building. The poor people were freezing, so I invited them into my apartment, let them use the telephone and made hot chocolate for them to warm up. That did not only bring us new members, the couple that I had helped connected me to my love and I got a wife. It’s paradoxical, you see. Those who would lose their life will save it. Those who try to save their life will lose it.

God will show us the loving actions we can perform and you will see all kinds of people gather together around the Word and sacraments finding a way to praise our wonderful Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, whose fragrance will fill the whole church. Amen.       pastor peter krey


[1] CrossMarks, Brian Stoffregen, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john12x1.htm

Written by peterkrey

March 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm

With a Father like that, he thought he died and went to Heaven. Forth Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2013 at ORLC

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Forth Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2013

Joshua 5:9-12 Psalm 32 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

With a Father like that, he thought he died and went to Heaven.

“You welcome the wayward” are the words of our prayer for today, yes, “the wayward,” and “you embrace us with your mercy. By our baptism clothe us with garments of grace,” and let me add the riff, robes of righteousness and suits of salvation; that, in order to describe the festal garment for the great banquet in Heaven given us when we repent.

By right this parable of Jesus should be called the prodigal Father, but not in the pejorative sense of the word, the way it is used for the extravagantly wasteful, prodigal son. He’s somewhat like Jackie Gleason, who said that everybody should have two fortunes: one to waste and throw away, and one to use wisely and build on. We should all be that lucky! But really we are all even more lucky, because by this lavishly loving, this extravagantly compassionate Father, Jesus is describing God. Imagine that! This is the incredible Good News that the Son of Heaven is bringing us from the Father. God is not calculating and counting the cost and looking only at the bottom line. Jesus comes to us with the Good News that his Father-God is not like that. God just loves us very much. As a character would say in Downton Abbey, “God loves us terribly much,” just that his two sons in this parable were “not very fine chaps, not at all.”

The younger son, for example, for whom it seemed that the Father was already dead, wanted his share of the inheritance. Without a word of protest, the Father voluntarily, acts as if he was already dead, and divides up the inheritance. We live as though God were dead, but really this son felt like he was dead and he wanted out of there. He wanted to get a life. So he cashes in a third of all the property, probably making his older brother take a big cut in pay, and off he goes to a foreign country and spends his whole fortune in dissolute living.

But as is so often the case, we leave a wonderful oasis to chase after a mirage and there is nothing there except self-deception. Luther talks about a greedy dog with a bone in his mouth at a stream. The dog sees his reflection and snaps at the reflection of the bone in the stream and loses both the bone in his mouth and even the reflection.

Now the prodigal son got a life all right. He spent all his money and had many friends, of course, who loved him until his money ran out. And now what to do? As a good Jewish boy he is reduced to feeding pigs as a hireling and he is so hungry that he envies the dirty and muddy pods and the slop that the pigs are eating. Wouldn’t you say, “He bottomed out”? And what kind of a community did he live in where the people did not care one bit if he lived or died. It could not have been the body of Christ.

Well, we know the little speech the Son rehearsed to be able to repent and return home to the Father. It’s his only alternative, if he does not want to die. And now observe the prodigal Father yet again. While the son is still at a distance, the Father sees him, and as old, tired, and worn as he is, he runs to him, won’t even listen to his little speech at all. “A hired hand! No way; put a ring on his finger, new sandals on his feet, get him a festal garment, and kill the fatted, because my son who was dead, behold is alive; who was lost, behold, he’s found!” And Jesus says, “Just so, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no “repentance” (15:7). And “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (15:10).

The prodigal son must have thought he died and went to heaven. He received complete forgiveness. You can see that the lavishly loving and extravagantly compassionate Father is completely person-centered. Money and property are secondary. One third of their estate was just wasted and lost by the younger son chasing after that mirage. A commentary calls him a good-for-nothing son, but he matters above all things for the Father, whose love makes somebody out of him. He had learned his lesson. He had had a bad heart and now his change of heart made him want to be home and be one with the Father, even if just as a humble hired hand.

Trouble comes over the Father again with the older son. He had worked and slaved for his Father all his life and what did he get for it? Nothing! And this son, who had spent all his money on prostitutes – whoa- where did that come from?  He gets the celebration and he has the fatted calf killed for him!

Now the older son was a hard worker, no doubt, completely decent and efficient, but where was his heart? His brother was born again and can you imagine him as a Father, instead of rejoicing – becoming enraged at the birth of his child? On the other hand, often people whose lack of morality has made them outcaste, have hearts that are yearning to be home, like a prostitute who would give her right arm to be a loving wife, a mother, and have a house full of children.

Very decent and good people often have bad hearts. American soldiers took starving Jews, who looked like skin covered skeletons, out of the concentration camps, went to the nearby farmers in the villages beside the death camps and ordered them to feed them. They refused. Only after the soldier put a gun to the farmer’s head, did he grudgingly take out food and give it to the Jew. The Iaido Sensé of my sons told us this story about his father and he would invite us all to his home for a meal of potato peals to remember what his father ate in those camps.

The older brother could have been very decent and he was surely a good worker, but his heart was yearning for the sinning that his brother was doing. He was merely trapped in his goodness. That is why the change of heart that his brother experienced merely left him angry. So the Father had to go out of the house to the older son, who now refused to enter. He didn’t get it and now he was so angry he didn’t want it either.

Have you ever seen the movie called the Ref, as in “the referee”? It’s best to watch it over Christmas, because it takes place over Christmas and destroys all the icons of Christmas, like it has a drunk Santa Claus and someone bashes a Christmas tree with a ball-bat! Dennis Leary plays the burglar, who takes a family hostage over Christmas, and Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis play the couple, who are stuck in a marriage and can’t seem to divorce. The burglar is the only one with a good heart. At one point when the Grandmother, who is really holding them all hostage with her arrogant hatred, tries to go up the stairs, the burglar tries to prevent her. He puts his revolver to her head and the family says, “Go ahead. Shoot her!” Only the burglar has enough heart and self-control not to do it. It is so funny: he’s the burglar and at heart they are murderers.

Let’s get to the prejudice and racism in the hearts of decent people. Recently Forest Whitaker, an Oskar winning actor, who played Idi Amin, was thrown against a wall and frisked by a plain clothes guard. He hadn’t taken anything and the deli owner said, “The guard was a perfectly decent man.” But that black skin automatically made a person a criminal for the guard. That didn’t mean the White guard wasn’t decent? What about the time when Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Harvard Professor, was arrested by a White Cambridge policeman, while trying to unlock his own front door. How do we good people get the arrogance of prejudice, bigotry, and racism out of our hearts for a change of heart? How do bad hearts in good people become hearts filled with lavish love and extravagant compassion?

Good hearts versus bad hearts: why do some good and decent people have bad hearts and really lost and immoral people have hearts yearning to be good? “This is of course not about you and me; only about that person hiding behind the tree,” if that jungle works. In Berlin Germany, when I was there, the elderly people were accused of hating children. “They did not!” they defended themselves. A wind storm came and was blowing the stone tiles off the roofs of their houses and they came rushing out to move their cars, running right through the children playing on the sidewalk. Not one thought how the children might be hurt by a falling tile.  They all rushed to protect their cars. Q.E.D. They did not care about the children.

When we proclaim the wonderful Gospel, the Good News, from this parable about the two sons, we have to preach about the third son and that is Jesus Christ, who never rejected his Father and never wanted him dead like the prodigal son and he is the Good Shepherd, who is filled with extravagant compassion, just like the Father. He leaves the 99 sheep in the wilderness to search and find the one that is lost.  And when he finds it, he returns with the lamb on his shoulders, rejoicing. It’s all about the third Son whose love changes our hearts and brings us home.

Just look at the second lesson! Jesus is one with the Father, with the same heart filled with extravagant and prodigal compassion. Rejoicing over one sinner who repents, Christ reconciles us with the Father and changes our hearts so they too throb with love for the lost, like that of the Father-God and his beloved Son.

It is not enough to be decent and good. Good has to be done in the Holy Spirit for it to really be good and the truth has to be spoken in love or it is not the truth. So we have to allow our goodness to be used by the Holy Spirit to save the lost.

Yes, it has to be about the third Son. The love of Christ made him become sin, who knew no sin, just to save us, we, who are lost. Just to save us sinners- and where is the best place to hide a corrupt and sinful heart – in a good and decent person. We just assume bad people have bad hearts.

Jesus knew that if he could not find the lost sheep, if he could not raise the dead people walking around as if they were alive, then he could do nothing for the other 99.

Can you even imagine what extremes the extravagant love of God drove Jesus Christ to?  He did go to hell. He became sin and descended into hell to rescue us from what we made out of this creation. Yes, and the religious people, the leading figures, who were then the scribes and the Pharisees, grumbled and said, “Look he is sitting and eating with sinners!”

But Jesus was showing them that they could repent and they too could bask in the wonderful welcome of God’s love. And their outward lives could once again match the goodness of their hearts, once they had the necessary change of heart. We who are religious dare not be self-righteous, but always be ready to carry out a life-saving mission and throw a welcome-back party for repentant sinners.

We have to allow our hearts to melt together rejoicing with the angels before God in heaven, even when the older son suddenly realizes, that his self-righteousness is more sinful than the sorry sins of his brother, because self-righteousness is a source of sins, like that of the smug scribes and Pharisees, who are offended that Jesus is saving sinners. But there is the Father, who leaves his house in heaven and runs out to find and reason even with the older son as well, to invite him in to join the party.

So the sinners that we are, the lost people who we are, and let me also say, the prejudiced people that we are, we know that Christ is also searching for us with a heart full of love for us. And God will not leave this rescue operation until we are safely home in God’s arms once more. And repentant, in our garments of grace, our robes of righteousness, and our suits of salvation, all the angels, rejoicing before God, say, “Party on!” Amen.

Pastor Peter D.S. Krey, Ph.D.

“The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther’s best-Selling Pamphlet and the Existential Rapture, March 6, 2013, Midweek Lenten Service

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Midweek Lenten Service

Themes in the Life and Thought of Luther

March 6, 2013 at 7:00pm

“The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther’s best-Selling Pamphlet

and the Existential Rapture

Luther wrote one pamphlet after another in the movement that became the Reformation. He was the first author whose writing publications numbered in the millions especially when his New Testament came out in 1522 and when his translation of the whole Bible came out in 1534. Illiterate peasants learned how to read by reading it, while discovering that the old believing priests had never read it and did not know what was in it.

Luther never received any income from his many writings, while he kept printing presses humming in many cities and it seemed that the printers did not let his ink dry before they already took his work to their presses. They were making real money with Luther’s work. (My lecture, “Notes on a Rereading of the Freedom of a Christian” online in my website has gotten over 10,000 hits, but I have also not made any money with it.)

Other than the New Testament and the whole Bible, “The Freedom of a Christian” was Luther’s best-selling pamphlet. It came out in 38 editions in his life time. He noted that it contained the “whole sum of a Christian life.” Of the 38 editions, ten were in Latin and 22 were in German. It turns out that we only know the Latin version in the English translation, while the popular German one is shorter, more simple, spiritual, and direct, much like his Small Catechism. For example, you will find such gems such as “One who hears the word becomes like the word, pure, good, and just” and “What is the word that gives such abundant grace and how shall I use it? The answer: it is nothing but the preaching of Christ in accordance with the Gospel, spoken in such a way that you hear your God speaking to you!”[1]

Right now this version is only available in Philip and my book, Luther’s Spirituality.

Luther organizes his pamphlet into three parts:

Part One: Points 1-19: the inner person or the soul

Part Two: Points 19-24: the outer person or the body

Part Three: Points 25-30: the relation of outward persons. Part

Three undertakes describing the vision and shape that Christianity would give to a society.

Luther begins right at the beginning with the tension of opposites. And these opposites bring about growth, development, and even movements in society. What was the Reformation itself but a historical movement? Some opposites we can think about are men and women, church and state, – which are supposed to be opposites, but sometimes the church doesn’t challenge the state and the society the way it is supposed to.

Luther’s tension of opposites begins right at the start in his two contradictory statements presenting the tension between freedom and responsibility:

A Christian person is a free sovereign, above all things, subject to no one – [let me add by faith].

A Christian person is a dutiful servant in all things and subject to everyone – [let me add by love].

It is important to understand this tension of opposites and the growth and development it brings about, to later understand what I call the existential rapture.

Let me just highlight three themes that stand out in this Luther pamphlet: the one called the marvelous exchange; the second, more than just being Christians, Luther challenges us to become Christs to one another; and the third, the joyful economy.

In the marvelous exchange, Luther says that the gracious and righteous, bridegroom, Christ, and the bride, our dreadfully sinful soul, get married and become one body. In the exchange, we receive the sinless, virgin birth of Christ from his Mother Mary and he receives our sinful, human birth. We receive his immortality, while he takes on our mortality. So in exchange for our birth, we get the new birth of Christ, in exchange for our poverty, we get his riches, for our sin, we get his righteousness, in exchange for our hatred, we get his love, for our death, we get his eternal life. (Think of the way nuns wear a ring saying they are married to Christ. Luther has every believer’s soul as the bride married to Christ, the bridegroom.)

The tension of opposites again stands out, because Luther calls our soul a whore, whom the sinless and pure Christ takes as his wife, so that she becomes a wonderful woman, happy house-mother, and wife. Now not to be sexist, we could also say the whore-monger of our soul, through this exchange, becomes a wonderful man, happy house-father, and husband. You can see how Luther places extreme opposites into tension. Prof. Timothy Wengert from our Philadelphia seminary had a funny way of presenting the marvelous exchange. When as a student he married his wife, she had a beautiful new BMW and he was driving an old wreck. After their marriage, he drove the BMW and she drove the old wreck: a truly marvelous exchange.

Secondly, Luther does not only promote us into the priesthood of all believers, but into a Christhood of all believers. (I just read in this month’s Lutheran how Stephen P. Bouman up in ELCA Chicago offices now speaks of all believers being missionaries and our churches becoming centers of mission: He writes, “Every ELCA baptized missionary (each of us is one).”[2] So more than just being Christians and wondering haphazardly what that could mean for today, we are challenged to grow and mature into the full stature of Christ.

As Christs we lay down our lives for our friends. We love our enemies. We don’t project our sins on others, but take their sins upon ourselves and act as if they were really our own. That is the genuine love, which is full of forgiveness, because in our divine vicarious suffering, evil and sin are overcome by the divine power of Christ. Like in the marvelous exchange, Luther is providing another description of how our sins become forgiven.

Thirdly, Luther declares the Freedom of a Christian from the Babylonian Captivity of our Church. The third part of his pamphlet is his sociological section and in it Luther describes the internal Kingdom of Christian Freedom in terms of the circulation of grace for the common good in the joyful economy of abundance. (That’s a mouthful! It comes from my dissertation.) We have an economy of scarcity, while the giving and sharing taught us by Christ lead to a joyful economy of abundance. That is why we gather around the Table of the Lord for Holy Communion. The circulation of grace means that whatever Christ has done for us, we do for our neighbor. Christ of course suffered and died for us. Even the new selves that we become in Christ are not for ourselves but for those in need. Our righteousness is not our own but belongs to our sinful neighbor, whose sins we try to cover in order to forgive. Having died to ourselves in our baptisms, all we have, all our possessions, even our own lives now belong to God and we are now free in the Holy Spirit to share them where needed, because we have so much more and all our needs are provided for by God. So Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” actually declares the Good News that Christ leads us out of our Babylonians Captivity into the heavenly Kingdom of freedom; except, don’t forget the tension of our earthly state with all its duties and responsibilities.

Finally, the existential rapture is about our inner persons or souls, which Luther places in tension with our bodies, our external selves. This rapture is what we mean when we say in the Great Thanksgiving: “Lift up your hearts!” So what I am describing from Luther’s pamphlet is not at all like the rapture where you are lifted up and out of here, like in Hal Lindsey’s Late and Great Planet Earth. But one where we are promoted right here in our responsibilities and the contributions we make in our lives. We are being lifted up in our internal selves, spiritually, for a strengthening to undergo suffering for the sake of the love, ministry, and service that we provide for others. The saints are like the stars, who grow from being invisible to the naked eye, to sixth, fifth, fourth,  and ever greater magnitudes of brightness, from glory to glory, as St. Paul would word it in the Bible (2 Cor 12:18).

So in the tension of opposites we grow and mature from one level of maturity to another. Carl Gustav Jung, the great psychologist, talks about the tension of opposites bringing a transcendent function that overcomes our psychological problems and brings about our health. Now the ascent comes about through faith and the descent comes about through love and that’s why we speak of falling in love. Faith makes us into a king, while love makes us into a slave to the one we love. Remember the song? “If they made me a king, I’d still be a slave to you!”

According to Luther in our ascent we first receive the first-born status. That is good for me since I’m the eleventh child and you will receive it too, even if you are the baby in your family. Next in our ascent, we receive the nobility of the spirit. In our spiritual royalty we become kings and queens; today we would say mayors, governors, and presidents. At one point we could not even take care of ourselves, but we grow and provide for a family, then a congregation, perhaps, then watch over and shepherd a whole city, guide a nation, become a leader of countries in the world, just like John Kerry now that he has become the Secretary of State. Next we ascend into the priesthood. Luther saw priests as higher than nobility, because they interceded for others in prayer and God listened to them. From priesthood one ascends up into being a Christ for others and then one goes up into God. Talk about having self-esteem. If you ever feel low and down and out, just remember that! Luther maintained that coming out of baptism, every believer became more than a priest, bishop, and even a pope. [Don’t forget you have to believe this. Luther had a slogan: Glaubstu so hastu; glaubstu nit, so hastu nit!  Believe it and you have it. If you don’t believe, you won’t have this gift.)

But then we descend falling in love through all these levels until we arrive below the least of these, finding ourselves emptying the bed pan of an elderly person in a hospital, bending down to tie the shoe laces of a child. The ascent takes place to give us the strength to love and suffer and serve. Paul and Silas are in prison, beaten and bruised, chained with their feet in stocks. Ascending above themselves in faith, they started praying and singing hymns while the prisoners listened to them. Then, when the earthquake shook open all the doors, the jailer, the prison warden was about to commit suicide, Paul shouted to him not to harm himself because they were all still there and no one had tried to escape. The warden knelt trembling before them and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” and became a believer in God. He then washed their wounds, gave them food, and ate together with them. (Acts 16:16-34) This is the strength that we receive from on high.

Luther begins his pamphlet by saying that we are completely sovereign and full of freedom and completely enslaved and subject to everyone at one and the same time. He ends his pamphlet with the famous words:

Christians do not live in themselves, but in Christ and in their neighbor—in Christ through faith one ascends above oneself into God. From God one descends through love again below oneself and yet always remains in God and God’s love. As Christ says, in John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”[3]

Now that paragraph concludes the popular version of “The Freedom of a Christian” while it is buried two thirds of the way into the more intellectual Latin version of this Luther writing.


[1] This edition of “The Freedom of a Christian” is available in Philip and Peter Krey, editors,  Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), p. 268 and p. 72.

[2] Stephen P. Bouman, “Blinded by the Light: We Must Be like Paul,” The Lutheran, March 2013, Vol. 26 No. 3, p. 17.

[3] Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, page 90.

Written by peterkrey

March 6, 2013 at 11:27 pm