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A Response to Wayne M. Martin’s “The Judgment of Adam” and the Symbolism of the Snake

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A Response to Wayne M. Martin’s “The Judgment of Adam.”

By Dr. Peter D.S. Krey

A Preface addressed to Prof. Martin:

Thank you for leading me to your article, “The Judgment of Adam[1] after I responded to your study of “Hegel’s Bad Infinity.” Your thorough analysis of Lucas Cranach’s “Adam and Eve” painting in this study helped me see that there is a whole literacy involved in “reading” a painting that I did not know about. Lucas Cranach seemed to be presenting Luther’s theology through the medium of paint. The painting you analyzed was his Courtault picture of Adam and Eve of 1526.[2] In it all the layers of the interpretation of the snake 1) as the bronze serpent lifted onto a pole by Moses and 2) here painted on the tree with Adam and Eve and 3) as the snake that Cranach used for his signature can be reflected upon. Using the snake in his signature, Cranach following Martin Luther’s lead, probably wanted to imply that his painting like images and art per se were not evil, but just good or evil depending on their use or abuse, – the latter case if worshiped.[3] Islam strictly avoids all images. More relevantly for this study, at the time of the Reformation iconoclasm was in full swing, where Zwingli and Calvin white-washed the walls of their churches and proscribed not only art, but even music, both of which Luther championed.

When I first read the Genesis Lectures about how Luther called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a church, it seemed bazaar to me. Now I realize that it was under trees that the ancients worshiped and they even sometimes worshiped the trees themselves – was it Boniface (or Winfrid?) who chopped down the sacred Oak tree of Thor? He did it to destroy a false ultimate. And in the book of Genesis, God appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre.[4] That these trees are mentioned with the theophany seems significant. They may also have been a place of worship.

According to Cranach’s painting and of course the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, shame and consciousness were awakened in humanity there so like a lion, we could no longer cruelly eat the warm meat of an animal that had not yet even died. While nature is red in tooth and claw, we received a conscience and we could feel shame. We could do right and wrong. We became aware that there was such a thing as good and evil. The Garden of Eden story can be related to evolution in the sense that we became human by dint of God, the consciousness of the universe, raising us up.

I also thank you for getting to the basis of Luther’s anthropology by declaring that we are in a helpless estate – Luther calls it being passive before God. Finding ourselves quite a way “east of Eden” and then when we are completely honest, we have to admit that we face evil choices whichever way we turn unless the Holy Spirit helps us live out of a new birth and a new strength from God’s consciousness on high. Perhaps the latter could be opposed to what you call our ontological self-consciousness: Adam knowing himself just enough to recognize Eve as his mate, but not yet really having human consciousness and conscience?

To admit that we face evil choices whichever way we turn, I’m thinking about our negative legacy here in the USA: the genocide of the Native Americans that continues in the reservations; the hangover from slavery and colonialism, where so much of our high standard of living has been at the expense of the oppressed. We never gave the slaves forty acres and a mule and have attempted to short change them at every turn for the unfair advantage of us Whites ever since, now as we realize we are in a new version of a Jim Crow era. Where is our protest against these injustices?

Thank you so much for writing that study and getting me to read it.

Part II: Now I am taking one more step in thinking about the symbolism that Wayne Martin discovers in Cranach’s painting:

Through his painting Lucas Cranach is superimposing the later story of Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness[5] upon the snake in the sacred tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Paradise of the Garden of Eden. The former serpent, perhaps like a scapegoat absorbed all the evil venom of the people bitten by snakes, allowing them to be saved; the latter snake beguiles Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, making her become conscious and ashamed of being naked.

The symbolism of the snake or serpent has so many phenomenological layers, because one can take the next step into the New Testament as well: because Jesus also refers to his crucifixion with the same symbol: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”[6] And thus the Lenten prayer:

Who by the tree of the cross gave salvation to all humankind, so that where death arose, life might rise up again, and that he (the snake) that once overcame by a tree, might also by a tree (the cross) be overcome, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Now we will not go even further and relate the serpent, Tiamat, the nature god of the sea, the personified ocean, representing chaos or Tohu va Bohu in Hebrew. Nor will we delve into the ubiquitous medical symbol, where two snakes are depicted climbing up a pole. Nor will we relate how a stick can be used to render a snake more harmless or the strange fact that poisonous snakes are milked of their venom to be used in vaccinations against snake bite.)

Lucas Cranach himself additionally, uses a winged snake with a crown, also looking like the primordial dragon, for his painting signatures. In this 1526 Courtault painting of Adam and Eve, he places his signature right onto the trunk of the sacred tree of the knowledge of good and evil.[7]

As already mentioned, Luther believed that that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the place of worship in the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve’s eating the forbidden fruit brought about the Fall of creation. Perhaps we could identify the cross of Jesus Christ as the Tree of Life, which brings about our human ascent and that of all creation, so that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. We may not be able to experience the feature presentation here on earth, but we can get the previews of coming attractions. We can go in reverse as well and say the same about hell.

Painting as an art deals with pictures and images and can be enhanced into sculpture so that churches are filled with statues and paintings. In Cranach and Luther’s time an iconoclastic movement was in full swing. Image makers had become image breakers. Zwingli in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva emptied their churches of all the images and paintings, white-washing the walls of their churches. They did not even permit music, except perhaps, for intoning a psalm. On the other hand, Luther argued that Moses lifted up that bronze serpent in the wilderness, so an image was not good or evil per se, it all depended on its use or abuse. Thus to worship an image makes a person guilty of having a false ultimate and being idolatrous, but when someone like Cranach expresses Luther’s theology in paint, so that people can “read” his painting, then it represents no abuse, but a perfectly appropriate use of art. Wayne Martin asserts the latter conviction to be the most likely reason Cranach, Luther’s close friend, used the winged snake as his signature.

From the cross of Christ, absorbing all the sin of the world and becoming the scapegoat for the forgiveness of all our sin and evil, Christ was like that serpent raised up on the pole by Moses in the desert; and like that serpent in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, people trying to be like God, made all things ambiguous, now vulnerable and at the mercy of their use or abuse, able to be used for good or evil. But in the eating of the forbidden fruit consciousness was won as conscience, so that Adam and Eve realized that they were naked and became ashamed; but they became aware as well that they would one day die. After Eve eats the apple, the animals on her side of the painting also awake and the lion gets ready to pounce on the doe and take that poor creature out of Paradise. Thus consciousness was won, but Paradise was lost. They experienced how the earth also could be cursed and not yield its fruit, even with hard labor and the sweat of their brows. But Christ transformed that curse into a blessing on the tree of the cross, when he was lifted up like that serpent in the wilderness, drawing all of humankind heavenward too God:

“For when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”[8]

These are some of the symbolic layers of interpretation:

  1. Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to save the snake-bitten people
  2. Christ describing his crucifixion by means of the Moses story
  3. Luther seeing Moses’ action as an affirmation of painting, sculpture, music and all the arts, because images are not evil per se, but good or evil in their use or abuse. Images cannot be done without in thought, language, and culture.
  4. Cranach superimposing the Moses story upon the story of the Fall. He depicts the sacred tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden as a snake on a pole once more, where consciousness and conscience are gained but paradise is lost.
  5. Cranach uses the image of a snake in his own painting signatures, even placing that signature on the trunk of the sacred tree affirming his vocation as an artist. But, of course, when culture represents the worship of elite secular people, it is an abuse of art. When art expresses the human condition before God, places a mirror before people, in which they can see themselves in, (like the deer in the painting seeing its reflection in the pond from which it drinks) generating consciousness and conscience for good and evil, right and wrong. Art can even be the painting the Gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified showing the way of salvation.


[1] Should you want to read Wayne M. Martin’s Study of Cranach’s painting, click on “Judgment of Adam”

[2] To view and study Cranach’s painting of Adam and Eve with a detail feature tool for the purposes of comparison, click on “Adam and Eve”: by Lucas Cranach

[3] Pope Gregory I (590-604) noted that “the illiterate could contemplate in the lines of a picture what they could not learn by means of the written word.” In a sense, Wayne Martin contemplates Cranach’s painting and in its lines reads Luther’s theology.

[4] Gen 18:1.

[5] Numbers 21:4-9.

[6] John 3:15.

[7] See a detail of his signature with the tool provided: Cranach’s signature

[8] John 12:32.


Blogging my thoughts further: “Seeing in the Light of God”

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A citation that I remembered today came from Theodor W. Adorno. It relates to being completely oblivious to thought and consciousness when the physicist deals with space-time. It is just like Plato, whose form of forms was invisible, because it was intellect. To translate Adorno: “Where science is dogmatically made into objectivity, [it is as if] it had not gone completely through a subject.”[1] Michael Polanyi refers to this failure of science as the “cult of objectivity.” In a similar way, Leibnitz had to remind John Locke, who opposed innate ideas, “Nothing that is in the intellect was not first in the senses, except the intellect itself.”[2] What has to be remembered is that in the very recent discovery of inflation and the ripples marking the gravity waves, is the concomitant expansion of thought or intellect, knowledge.

On the Sunday before last, the subject entailed Jesus healing the beggar, the man born blind, found in the Gospel of John, chapter 9. Calling Christ the light of the World reminds very much of the Face of God shining upon us, the invisible sun of intellect, Plato’s form of forms, the source of goodness, truth, and beauty. Another way to speak about it comes from Psalm 36:9: “For with you is the fountain of life and in your light we see light.” The light in which we see light, Plato would call the intellect and others might call it consciousness. For the Hebrew tradition it would also have to include faith, trust, and compassion. Because God became flesh in Jesus Christ, because God became a human being in Jesus Christ, he is the “Son of Man” and the Son of God. That makes it tempting to change “Son” to Plato’s “Sun” and identify Jesus as the source of goodness, truth, and beauty in the Greek Philosophical tradition and the shining Face of God, bringing favor and blessing and growth in the Hebrew tradition.

The Preacher that Sunday, Monique Ortiz, made the point that Jesus was almost stoned and then thrown out of the temple. It is in that condition that he sees the man blind from birth, an invisible beggar, who because he was always there, no one could see, until Jesus saw him there in the light of healing and compassion.

So the light in which we see light is not merely reason the way Immanuel Kant would have it. His ideal was the fully rational person. The affect also has to be involved, thus in my treatment of Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals in Kant and Luther in my website, you will see that I added “the fully mature person” as well. Graphically I illustrated Kant’s conception with a sphere. (The ascent up to the top axis is into Spirit and Freedom, the descent into the depths below is into necessity and nature.)

So in the light in which we see light, we are not only able to distinguish goodness, truth, and beauty, but those nouns become verbs. From Jesus the Truth, love and compassion flow out of him for this beggar representing all of humanity that is blind from birth and healing him so that he becomes a seer, like the prophets of old, and I believe that he also received physical sight as well. But as the chapter progresses his vision improves. He sees Jesus first as a good man, then as a prophet, then as the Son of Man, and finally as the Messiah of God.

This reminds me of the light of the eyes article Your Eye is the Lamp of your Body that I posted and to which my son, Mark responded. Like Kantian knowledge our sight is actively healing the world with trust, love, and compassion, affective components that have to fulfill the intellect, in the way Jesus proclaimed it.

The way the light of Jesus’ compassion heals the blind beggar, the man blind from birth, that creative love and compassion also makes us come into existence. The beggar standing there invisible to people must have felt like he didn’t exist. We sometimes feel as if we did not exist. The compassionate eyes of Jesus see us into existence, because we are contemplating the light of life, thought, and love, nouns that become verbs in the continuous creation of God.

We used to speak of active listening. Those who have ears to hear let them hear and faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17) and morning by morning God awakens my ear so I hear like an apprentice (Isaiah 50:4b). But all the senses have to become active rather than passive: sight and touch as well. Thomas Aquinas had all the senses come together internally into the common sense, an invisible hand, by which intellectual things could be grasped. Origen believed that spiritual senses intensified into higher sensations, spiritual sensations, to which the physical senses could not hold a candle.

Spiritual seeing is difficult to describe. A fellow seminarian, Dave Zimmer, saw a drunken man walking, no stumbling down the sidewalk, clinging and holding on from one parking meter to the next so that he would not fall down. David said, “See that fellow? He has never learned to walk.” Later I also thought, as an alcoholic, he has also not been able to give up the bottle, the way every baby has to learn to do. This is the kind of seeing that represents the spiritual sense of sight, but also filled with the compassion that brings healing.

We see with our minds – with our intellect and we see with our hearts – with compassion. That Sunday Monique Ortiz talked of sing the homeless in the streets of San Francisco with the eyes of the soul.

At the end of chapter 9, Jesus closes by reproaching the religious authorities in a Socratic way. Because you say that you can see, even though you are blind, your guilt remains with you. If they had confessed that they too were blind from birth and they too needed eyes that see and ears that hear and a heart full of compassion (participating in the light in which we see light and walking by the Light of the World and continuing the creation with Jesus) then they would have no sin. But because they said that they could see, their sin remained.

When a person said that they knew something, Socrates would begin questioning him. After some probing questions a person would soon come to the limits of their knowledge and become confronted with the great unknown. (The more we know the more we know we don’t know. The less we know the more we think we know.) When so confronted and so unwilling to face their ignorance, some left Socrates in a huff quite offended, while Socrates’ disciples laughed at the person’s ignorance. If the person confessed his ignorance, Socrates would put his arm around him and say, “Let’s try to learn more together. The unexamined life is not worth living.”

So because the religious authorities said that they could see, they were blind. Had they confessed their ignorance, that is, their lack of compassion, confessed that they could not see, then the Light of the World would have dawned within them.


[1]Wo Wissenschaft dogmatisch zu einer Objektivität gemacht wird, die nicht durch das Subjekt hindurch gegangen sein soll…” Theodor W. Adorno, Aufsätze zur Gesellschaftstheorie und Methodologie, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970), p. 190.

[2] William F. Lawhead, The Voyage of Discovery, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning, 2002), p. 259.

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April 9, 2014 at 12:21 am

How beautiful are the feet! in Romans and Isaiah: An Exegetical Note

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An Exegetical Note: “How beautiful are the feet!”

Rom 10: 15: As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

In Martin Luther’s words:  Even though one can interpret “feet” literally in the sense that the coming of the preachers of good things is eagerly awaited by those who are in anguish of sin and an evil conscience, they signify more correctly their very words or the sound and the syllables or the pronunciation of their words and preachings.” From his Lectures on Romans.[1]

Luther moves from literal feet to “feet” as the “very words or the sound and the syllables or the pronunciation of their words.” It is but a small step to understand “feet” as actual feet or meters of poetry. Perhaps because the regular beat of the syllables of language can be derived from regular steps, or the regular strokes of an oar, or the galloping hooves of a horse, for example, the feet that poetic lines are divided into may also be derived from feet taking steps in time. So it would be possible to interpret Romans “How beautiful is the cadence of the language, how beautiful is the poetry of those who preach the good news.” I thought that Luther’s interpretation went into that direction. But then I thought – what about the Greek and the Hebrew? Could they also refer to the cadence in language rather than the physical feet of the herald? For that matter, I don’t know what the word in German for a foot in a poetic line would be.[2] But in Greek, Rom 10:15 has horaioi hoi podes ωραιοι οι πόδες  (an aspirant should be above the omega and omicron, so that it begins with “h.”) Now there may be a word for the “feet” of poetry in Aristotle’s Poetics.

In the Hebrew, St. Paul is quoting Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” There the Hebrew words reads ragele mevash-sher “beautiful feet.” (In the Hebrew the noun comes first and the adjective thereafter.) Again I would not be able to know what the words for “poetic feet” in Hebrew might be. But in both cases the feet are those that could step in time to the rhythm and cadence of beautiful poetic language. So when we preach, the Holy Spirit lifts the cadence of our words into beautiful language, indeed, into poetry.

[1] Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans, edited by William Pauck, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1961), p. 300.

[2] Online I saw how pentameter can be called Fűnffűssler. That means the word for “foot” can also be used in German Poetik.

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August 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Existential Rapture (continued) August 18, 2013

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Existential Rapture (continued) August 18, 2013

My lecture of March 6th reviews Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” but here I want to think about what I call the existential rapture once more. The reason that I associate it with Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” and with the ascending and descending angels, is because Luther finishes his most popular pamphlet associating them:

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.”[1]

As you see Luther somehow associates the ascending and descending angels from the opened heavens with the ascent of believers in faith and their descent in love. Somehow I associate increasing angel power in a person through a higher ascent with the angels for their lower descent increasing our love and service.[2]

Why do I use the word “rapture”? It is a uncomfortable word for Lutherans, but it is firstly, because I think we should think more in terms of the Holy Spirit; but secondly, the Latin word Luther uses for the ascent is raptus, from which we get the word “rapture.”

Figure 1: The Existential Rapture diagrammed in a Chart;


And if you read his “Freedom of a Christian” you will see how the contents of the chart are all there, and even more, because I left out the bottom circle, “becoming the first born,” and note, as a daughter no less as high a status as a firstborn son).

The growth, development, maturing, or promotions from one stage to the next come from the tension of opposites: completely sovereign by faith versus completely enslaved by love and other tensions, like simultaneously being sinners and saints, the rapture and the groaning, those sighs too deep for words in the Spirit, and many more tensions.

If you look at the chart, the bottom line is significant, we are not just talking about a concepts, although thinking can follow the same development,[3] but the growth and maturity of a person. While in Jacob’s ladder Luther relates the ascending and descending angels to the person of Christ and the tension of the opposite natures, human and divine, in the one person of Christ. The two poles are not allowed to separate, nor can a unity without these tensions work.[4]

So often I have been speaking about growing and maturing into the full stature of Christ. I thought I would go back to the scriptural source for this aspiration. Surprisingly, ascension and descent and another hierarchy are right in that passage!

Look at Ephesians 4:7-13:

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift, therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high, he made captivity itself captive; he gave gifts to his people.” When it says “He ascended” what does it mean but that he had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens so that he might fill all things. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

What an interesting passage. (I wonder if the whole of Ephesians would throw more light on our subject.) The same person is ascending and descending and each holy office, apostle, prophet, etc., is higher or lower. In “Christian Freedom” Luther did not use apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but first born, nobility of the spirit, priests, Christs and up into God. I believe he did so, because his focus was to declare the priesthood of all believers, so that laypeople have holy vocations very much like apostles, prophets, etc.

Listen to the sociologist, Talcott Parsons, who writes in The Evolution of Societies:

…the form of stratification within the medieval church, the differentiation between the laity and members of the religious orders, lost it legitimation in Protestantism. On the level of a way of life, all callings had the same religious status, the highest religious merit could be attained in secular callings. [He is citing Max Weber.] This attitude included marriage – Luther himself left the monastery[5] and married a former nun, symbolizing the change. This change in relations between the church and secular society has often been interpreted as a loss of religious rigor in favor of worldly indulgence. I consider this view a misinterpretation, for the Reformation was a movement to upgrade secular society to the highest religious level. Every man was obliged to behave like a monk [I add every woman as a nun] in religious devotion, although not in his [or her] daily life, that is, he/she was to be guided by religious considerations. A turn in the process which dated from early phases of Christianity, was to permeate all things of this world with religious values and to create a [human] city in the image of God.[6]

The stages in Ephesians are holy ones that are not yet completely “churchified.” The ecclesiastical ones of the Catholic Church go through a real change, for Luther does not only say that all believers are priests, but he maintained that coming out of baptism, every believer became more than a priest, bishop, and even a pope and that in your secular calling when you permeated it with Christian values of grace, faith, hope, and love.

Interestingly enough secularism is a child of the Christian religion and in Talcott Parson’s description, it can be more: the social expression of Christianity in our time. In Medieval and Early Modern history, the church distinguished between secular and regular clergy. A regular clergy person like a monk never had to do with the laity, while those who dealt with the laity in congregations were called secular priests. So our congregation and the expression of its ministry as it shaped the community would be considered the secular. Perhaps the term “secularism” could be used for those in society, who do not want Christian values nor that their society express and become shaped by them. And because only spiritual persuasion as opposed to coercion was the ideal that Luther’s Reformation strove for, a secular neutral area for Christianity was necessary to accept or reject the faith. We need the freedom to make a choice, but also the freedom of the context in which to make it in. That context is provided by the Christian secular.

The following is an example of the secular expressed at a very high level of religious values. I know a pastor’s son who will not go to church, who is a musician, and who has opened up two vegan restaurants with a partner and only hires musicians, giving them a livelihood and allowing them to use the restaurants as the base from which to go on tours and do their gigs. They make sure their music is non-commercial, they still make phonograph records instead of using computer CD’s and all his help call him Dad. In many ways I could show how he illustrates taking these restaurants to the highest religious level. Let me just include one: the tip jar is not only for the waiters to the neglect of those in the kitchen in back and those who buss the tables. The jar is equally shared by all. And they all have to work at converting carnivorous Southerners not only into vegetarians, but even vegans!

From the Ephesians passage, seeing that our becoming Christs continues the incarnation, in which the angels, according to Luther are descending and ascending from God in heaven to the humble birth of a baby here below, we too grow into the measure of the full stature of Christ that God gives us the grace to attain. It says,

“He ascended” what does it mean but that he had descended into the lower parts of the earth? [Christ] who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens so that he might fill all things.

So in the growth of ourselves as persons, in continuing the incarnation by the grace of God, we have a deep self and an extended social self. In terms of the deep self, how low can you go? Or in the words of the BeeGees song, “How deep is your love?” In thinking of our deep self just let me remind you of the iceberg metaphor. Like a grapefruit, there is so much more to us, than meets the eye. We have to delve far below the surface of life and become the deep selves that help our whole community rise, like those two vegan restaurants.

In the extended social self, we really can have a boat-load of people in us when Christ’s descending and ascending becomes all in all. The church is not a house, but all the members who live in your hearts inside you, when you say, come into my heart Lord Jesus there’s room in my heart for you. And that goes for your community and your neighbors on your street as well.

We become far more aware of ourselves under the surface when we become deep listeners, active listeners. We have to listen the Gospel and not only preach it. When we listen and hear what people are saying, really hearing who they are, with all their cries for help, and all jubilation in having this gift of life, then we can also descend and ascend with the angels in the existential rapture that Luther describes, becoming promoted from only taking care of ourselves, to supporting a family, to becoming a pillar of our community or even the mayor, or like our wonderful Governor Jerry Brown, or like President Obama, or our wonderful First Lady, Michelle, and even John Kerry, who is trying to make peace  between the nations. We need to pray for them and we need to ask God for the gifts of grace to follow after becoming Christs for our neighbors.

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

[2] Also see the metaphor of the magnitude of stars and the brightness of the shining saints in the previous lecture.

[3] Hegel’s dialectics, for example place the thesis into tension with its antithesis bringing about a synthesis. This is the logic of life and thought of growth and development. Paul Recoeur makes the Hegelian dialectic more comprehensive by using the terms “orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.” Sometimes he uses “displacement” for “disorientation.” I first learned of Recoeur’s terms from Walter Brueggemann’s classification of the Psalms: in “Psalms and the Life of Faith,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 17(1980), 3-32.

Another interesting association in the development of thought can be found in Gerard Caspary, Politics and Exegesis: Origen and the Two Swords, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) pp. 109-24. Caspary worked with non-lineal, internal, symbolic, monastic thought that preceded Scholasticism. The tension between polar symbols brought out deep meanings. For a Biblical example: “Your eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, then your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is unhealthy, then your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Mat 6:22-23.) See an interesting diagram illustrating the symbols of light and darkness, good and evil that Prof. Caspary presented in class:

Figure 2


[4] Heinz Cohut in his Self-Psychology places two poles in the mystery of the self, one for mirroring and one for merging with the “tension arc” for action emerging from them. See Ernest Wolf, Treating the Self: Elements of Clinical Self Psychology, (New York: The Guilford Prss, 1988), p. 50.

[5] Parsons is not well informed here, because he never left the Black Cloister, but just stopped getting the tonsure of a monk and being a monk. All the other monks left the cloister, while he and Katie married in it and boarded students and religious and other refugees. The table talks came from the students taking notes for every word he said.

[6] Talcott Parsons, The Evolution of Societies, Jackson Toby, ed., (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977),pp. 132-33.

Written by peterkrey

August 19, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Angels ascending and descending and how Jacob’s dream came true on the Shepherd Hills of Bethlehem, A Mini-Lecture, August 11, 2013

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Jacob’s Ladder and Luther on the Incarnation August 11, 2013

Angels ascending and descending and how Jacob’s dream came true on the Shepherd Hills of Bethlehem

                                 By Pr. Peter D.S. Krey, Ph.D.

I thought I would read what Luther had to say about the way Jacob’s dream came true in the angels appearing to the shepherds at the nativity of Christ, as they watched over their flocks by night.[1] So I read Luther’s Christ-messe Postil. (A Postil contains long commentary-like sermons that are design to help preachers with their sermons). The lecture you have printed out comes mostly from that section of Luther’s Genesis Lectures, where he interpreted Jacob’s Ladder (Gen 28:10—22).[2] It is this interpretation that Philip and I included in our book Luther’s Spirituality. In this mini-lecture, Luther’s interpretation of the angels ascending and descending before the shepherds in Bethlehem will predominate.

Notice that in Jacob’s dream, God is leaning on the ladder and speaking with Jacob, making the divine promises once again. The angel of the Lord, probably Gabriel, approaches the shepherds, but now God is not leaning on the ladder, but lying there in the manger, having just been born of Mary, and then because these are “things into which the angels long to look,”[3] the angels cannot marvel enough and adore this lowly infant at the breasts of Mary and ascend into heaven, where they “continually see the face of Jesus’ Father in Heaven.”[4] Ascending and descending over and over again, the way Jesus says, “Amen. Amen, I tell you, you will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”[5] So we can talk of our ascending from the depths to the heights of humanity, but for the incarnation the angels are ascending and descending between heaven and earth, between God and humanity here in the union of the one person, the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Now here are some of Luther’s words, which I translated from the German of Luther’s Postil for the Christmas story in Luke, which we read on Christmas Eve:

The deeper we can pull Christ down into our nature and flesh, the more comforting it is for us.[6]

I once read in Luther that we cannot delve deeply enough into the flesh, meaning that we cannot become human enough.[7]

How could God [more greatly] show his goodness, than by steeping himself so deeply into our flesh and blood, so that he does not disrespect nor reject the secret of our [human] nature, but in this place (the birth of the baby Jesus from Mary) gives it the very highest honor. Adam and Eve brought it to the very lowest degree of shamefulness, but now from this point on, [human nature] becomes godly, honest, and pure, which all people had made most ungodly, most shameful, and most unclean.[8]

What is completely invisible on earth, what is given absolutely no attention, no standing, gets the highest regard or recognition in heaven, where the joy of the angels spills and overflows upon the shepherds. How under-impressive [for God] is the birth of a child to a prince or princess compared to the impressive celebration [of the angels] at the birth of this complete nobody in the eyes of this world.[9]

Luther has in mind the coram Deo versus the coram hominibus / mundo distinction: the one forum before the eyes of God, the other forum in the eyes of our secular society.

See with what superlative honor God respects those, whom people reject and take pleasure in rejecting. Then you see where God’s eyes look; they look only into the depths and humiliation, as it is written, ‘God sits above the Cherubim and looks into the depths or the abyss.[10]

Sometimes we refer to the highest human nature as high society or the high life, and the lowest human nature as low life. But

The angels could not find any princes or any of the high and mighty of the earth, [but appeared] to uneducated laypeople, the very lowliest people on earth.[11]

The late Bob Smith, a New Testament professor compared the shepherds to today’s used-car salesmen.

Shouldn’t the angels have graced the high priest, the intelligentsia of Jerusalem, who would know how to say a lot about God and angels? But it was the poor shepherds, who received such abundant grace and honor from heaven and who on earth were considered to be nothing. How utterly God rejects the highfalutin, but we horse around and rampage for nothing so much as joining them up there. And so we never receive the honor of heaven. Ever and again we step out of God’s sight, away from the face of God, so that God can no longer see us, because we don’t want to be seen in the depths, which is the only place that God looks.[12]

God’s word is like a fire that warms our hearts.[13] And the nature of God’s Word is that it teaches us to recognize God and God’s works, and it points to the fact that this life is nothing. Because the way God does not live according to this life and does not have property, possessions, honor, and the power of this life in time, God does not regard them either, and doesn’t speak of them, but teaches only a game that is played against them, played opposite them, working also contrary to our minds; God looks to the places that the world turns away from, teaches what it flees, picks up what it leaves there, and although we become disgruntled and suffer by the way God works, because we do not wish to surrender our property and possessions, our honor and life, so that’s the only way it can be. God won’t change; we won’t be able to direct him. He will direct us.[14]

Angels ascend and descend in the space between the lowest and the highest regard of human beings, while the lowest are lifted to the highest and the highest are humbled to be the lowest; the poor are made rich and the rich a sent empty away. There is a space coram hominibus or Mundo and the space coram Deo between which the angels ascend and descend celebrating the wonder of God’s Incarnation.

The angels are ascending and descending always away up in heaven beholding the face of God and now unable to marvel enough while adoring God in Christ, feeding at the breasts of his mother Mary, under all the demons and every creature residing on earth. Christ subjects the angels to himself, Luther says,

not because of his human nature, but because of the wonderful conjunction and union established out of the two contrary and unjoinable natures in one person. This, therefore, is the article by which the whole world, reason, and Satan are offended.[15]

This tension of opposites, I will argue also brings about the tension that produces growth and maturity in the ascent of faith and the descent of falling in love of what I call the existential rapture.

[1] Luke 2:8.

[2] For the previous mini-lecture given in a Mid-Week Lenten Series see:

[3] 1 Peter 1:12. Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), from p. 177.

[4] Mat 18:10.

[5] John 1:51.

[6] Martin Luther, Ausgewählte Werke, 3rd Edition, H. H. Borcherdt and Georg Merz, eds., Supplemental Series, Vol. 4, (München: Chr. Kaeser Verlag, 1960),  Page 116.

[7] I’ve never been able to find the citation again whenever I look into Otto Clemen, Luthers Werke: Erster Band, (Berlin: Verlag von Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1929) where I thought I read it. Perhaps this is the very citation I was thinking of, just with my extrapolating that we are in Christ and cannot get into the flesh deeply enough.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. This is a paraphrase reducing the number of Luther’s words.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., pp. 116-17.

[13] Cf. Jer 23:29. I conflated two sentences in this one.

[14] Ibid., p. 117.

[15] Philip and Peter Krey, pages 178-79.

Written by peterkrey

August 12, 2013 at 11:41 am

A New Pastor is the Way to Go: Encouragement for a Church in an Interim

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Devotions for Our Redeemers Lutheran Church Council April 11, 2013

A New Pastor is the Way to Go

The text I chose for tonight comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 10:1-17. It is quite difficult and I will try to open it up for you. My brother Philip and I are writing a commentary on Romans so I have been working with this text a great deal. I chose it mostly because it shows how necessary a pastor who proclaims the Word of God, the Gospel is and the way you are about to choose your pastor for this congregation:

10 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”[a] But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”[b] (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’”[c] (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”[d] that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[e] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[f]

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[g]

16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[h] 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.    New International Version (NIV)

Like those who rejected Jesus, we dare not be self-righteous or try to be righteous by thinking that the law is the way of salvation. Christ is the objective, the end for which the law existed, the New Human Being. Now the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount describe those who have received Christ and know that Jesus Christ is the way to salvation and through our faith in him, we also can fulfill the law, but in terms of the Gospel. Thus it is “no longer an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but if someone sins against you seven times or seventy times seven times, we forgive and overcome evil with good. The extravagant love that Christ taught us fulfills the law and what’s more, like a cup overflowing.

The emphasis on the righteousness of the law is upon us and our effort, while the righteousness of faith places the emphasis on God in Christ, the one who made the promise and can keep it, and whom we believe and trust until it comes true. We have to find a way through the wilderness of this world where there is no way. If we go by our efforts and our human strength and wisdom we will fail. But if we rely on the Maker of Heaven and Earth, God the Father of our Lord and Savior, then the right Hand of God will accomplish what is completely impossible for us.

The Word of God that is near us and in our hearts is: “Christ died and is risen.” In my website, I tried to say it with flowers. Nora received a wonderful bouquet of roses that I photographed with my smart phone again and again until they wilted and we had to throw them in the trash bin. In the reversal of the resurrection, my first photo was of them in the trash bin and then all the way to their first day as lovely roses in full splendor. “The roses a-rose!” You say, “No way!” and really for us there is no way. But when the Right Hand of God acts, then like for the children of Israel facing the Red Sea and Jesus on the cross, God makes a way where there is no way. That goes for this congregation and its growing and experiencing a renewal again, as well as whatever you are facing with impossible issues in your life. “It would take a miracle!” you say. Yes, indeed, it would and God performs them every day.

So we don’t have to go all the way up into heaven, nor descend down into the abyss of Hell. Christ already has and Christ crucified and resurrected is in our hearts and we exist in him and we believe that he is risen from the dead and that we too will rise in him. Our Redeemer’s is the wonderful place where we call upon the name of the Lord so that we are saved.

This church is incredibly precious and a resource above all resources, a divine capital that puts money as capital to shame. The fountain of life is dispensed freely for those who believe and receive the promises of God. The issue here is Jew versus Gentile. For us it is European descent versus Latino, Asian, African Descent Americans, etc. – all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved and through Christ we have become brothers and sisters. No one of us deserve anything, we all receive this gift by grace.

But how can people call on this life-saver, if they have not believed in him and how can they believe if they have not heard the wonderful news? That is where your new pastor comes in, but also yourselves, who have this word in your heart and tell others this wonderful news with your lips. You are choosing one to publicly proclaim the Word, who is Jesus Christ in this place! How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news! I was washing feet on Maundy Thursday and I can tell you many of us do not have beautiful feet. You would hate to see mine! Luther thought words had to have feet or how could they travel from ear to ear and get there all at once and at the same time? From that I thought, poetry is measured by feet so how beautiful the poetry of those who proclaim the resurrection of Christ! Karl Barth leaves out the word “beautiful” and says how timely Christ comes to rescue us. Christ comes right in time! But through all the trials and all the rejection and all the troubles of this world, the beautiful feet of Christ find God’s way to us, right to our hearts, and we will not die, but live and continue as a Church, like a city on a hill, proclaiming that Christ died on the cross, but Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Pastor Peter Krey

When the Church Converts the Nations, Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5th, 2013

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Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5th 2013

Acts 16:9-15 Psalm 67 Revelations 21:10, 22-22:5 John 14: 23-29

When the Church Converts the Nations

I’ll again use the prayer of the day to organize my sermon:

Bountiful God, you gather your people into your realm, and you promise us food from the tree of life. Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit we may love one another and the world you have made.

What does the prayer say? You gather the nations of the world into your kingdom. The food from the tree of life that you promise us is grace filling us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You nourish us with your word in order to awaken the life of our minds, so that we receive the mind of Jesus and become filled with your love.

We are sent to gather the people of this world back into the realm of the love and light of God. Whenever the Risen Lord appeared to his disciples, it was for the sake of sending them: for Mary Magdalene: to tell the other disciples that he was ascending to his Father and our Father; to the women who had come to his tomb, to tell them and Peter to meet him in Galilee; to all the disciples at the end of Matthew: go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; to go to Damascus and await instructions there, that in the case of Paul, who would become the missionary to the Gentiles, the one sent to gather the Gentiles into the realm of God’s love and light.

“Mission” merely means “sending,” and missio Dei means the mission of God. Think of the word “missile.” When I was a student teacher, kids would shoot missiles, that is, spitballs up at me in front of the class, and I was so uptight, I couldn’t even see them. Seriously, we send missiles with nuclear warheads or scud missiles, in the case of the Palestinians that now can be shot down. We have to be missiles that God send to others with heads filled with the Word of God and hearts full of love for one another and for this world that God has made. Perhaps a better comparative word would have been a “missal” as used in the Catholic Church containing their liturgy and prayers for their mass. The other missile is fired between the nations of this world to threaten each other with death, while the missiles that God sends are people with hearts full of love and who with the Holy Spirit spread the abundant life that God intended for us. How do we convince people to follow Christ, who invites us into God’s wonderful realm, not with threats of death but with promises of abundant life? The church stands on these promises of God and is based on spreading life, love, and hope as opposed to the nations that seem to be causing more and more death. To convert the nations is the Church’s mission and if only they would diminish and the church could go into high gear and spread the realm of God and continue to invite more and more people into it!

With the Holy Spirit our mission could bring about the peace that Jesus tells his disciples about. It is not the peace that the world gives, “Let not your hearts be troubled, do not let them be afraid.” Jesus is speaking in the time of the Pax Romana, which means, the peace that Rome brought to the world. In the words of Tacitus, “They create a wasteland; they make a desolation of a place, and call it peace.”

St. Paul was on that mission, which is still ours today, if only our Church would become revived and awaken to its mission today. In Paul’s dream he saw a Macedonian, up there in northern Greece, where Alexander the Great came from, calling for the missionaries to come and help them. Their itinerary is then described as they immediately go there to proclaim the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who reigns by ushering in the real peace of God, as opposed to someone like Alexander who killed, plundered, and conquered countries and called that an empire. Meanwhile, St. Paul, Silas and Timothy went to Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia, like sheep in the midst of wolves to gather and win people for Christ. They carried no sword, had no armor, no chariots, and armies, but the Word of the Lord, the Good News of Jesus, the lamb of God, and the Holy Spirit that let them point to the tree of life, the nourishment of the word, and the love of one another and of God’s world that Christ brings.

They were people of the way, the way of life that Jesus taught. Jesus’ followers were not yet called Christians. And they went to a place outside the gate of the city by the river, where they supposed it to be a place of prayer and sat down and talked to the women gathered there. (What prevents you and me from doing the same thing? Perhaps in a Laundromat or on a playground with other mothers; there we could also invite people into God’s realm of peace and love.) It was in that place where Lydia listened to them. The name Lydia means the noble, beautiful one. She is described as a worshiper of God, meaning that she believed in one God like the Jews, but she did not follow all the Jewish laws, because she was Greek. She not only worshiped one God, but she was also a business woman, a dealer in purple cloth. Purple is the favorite color for the royal robes of the nobility in the West, while the Arabs prefer white. Nobles and aristocrats may have been her customers. It says that “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” And she and her household were baptized making her the first convert to Christ in Europe. After their baptism she urged Paul, Timothy, and Silas to come and stay at her home. “And she prevailed upon us.” They report.

This may well have become the house-church to which Paul sent his letter to the Philippians. It took Lydia, a woman, who had become a business woman, a dealer in purple cloth, in a very patriarchal Roman colony, to understand and take full commitment to becoming a follower of Jesus on the way to peace.

When we keep God’s Word in our heads and in our hearts, then the Father and the Son will also make their home with us. How about that for a promise! St. Paul’s missionary entourage entered the home of Lydia, but with them went the Holy Spirit to remind them all of everything Jesus had taught them. The Holy Spirit helps us keep God’s Word.

How can our mission make the church overtake the nation in significance and lead the nations on the way of peace once again? Whenever religions start conflict and make war, whether Christian, Moslem, Hindu, whatever, it is usually because they want the kind of political power to “Lord it over others” in the way of the nations. That kind of power gives us the edge to gain the upper hand and attain wealth, where following the lamb, we lose it. We can love our country, but we need to see that our country also has to become converted to the Lord Christ.

We really don’t know how that will come about yet. The Church has failed miserably in leading the nations on the way to peace. My father was attending seminary in Germany when he was drafted into World War I and he became head of a machine gun company of eleven men. Machine guns were large and heavy in those days and had to be dismantled and reassembled in a new position in battle by a company of men. They were all indoctrinated to say how honored they’d be to give up their lives for the Kaiser and their fatherland. My father told his soldiers, it would be much more honorable to make it off these battle fields and out of the war alive. Soldiers died like flies in the carnage of World War I. It was the industrialization of death. The Germans called the British troops the Tommy. He would be firing his machine gun and the Tommy would be lying out on the battle field wounded and he heard them scream out the name, Jesus, as they lay dying. My father said, “I am a follower of Jesus and so is the Tommy and here I am killing fellow Christians just because I am German and they are British!”

What is wrong with this picture? Our Christianity takes a completely second place to our nationality? The mission of Jesus’ love and peace needs to turn that around, even if we do not yet know how.

Then the vision in the Book of Revelation will come true! Jerusalem will come down out of heaven from God. Brian Stoffregen in his online commentary asks people to substitute their own city for Jerusalem: South San Francisco will come down out of heaven from God. Berkeley will come down out of heaven from God. (You can name your city.)  Jerusalem will come down out of heaven from God and the glory of the Lord will be its light and the Lamb of God will be the lamp shining to give it light. Nations will walk in the light of the Lamb and the kings of the world will bring their glory into the realm of God, the realm of peace, into which Christ gathers us.

And there will be a river flowing through the midst of that city, whose waters make glad the city of God, because in it will flow the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And the tree of life will stand on either side of the river, producing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree will heal the nations from the way of death, conflict, violence, and war to the peace that comes from God that will not in any way trouble us, the way what the world calls peace does.

In our Sierra Pacific synod assembly yesterday, Pr. Susan Briehl, who led our bible study, interpreted this 21st chapter of the Revelation of John. The tree of life stands here at the very end of the bible the way it stands at the very beginning as well, along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It stood in the midst of the Garden of Eden and in the holy city of Jerusalem. She went from one tree to another in the stories of the bible, the trees becoming the forest of the scripture. Not only, however, did a tree stand in the very beginning and at the very end, but also in the middle of scripture: the tree of the cross upon which our Savior died for us. So the tree of life stands in the very center of scripture as well: Jesus himself is our tree of life. And through Jesus we too become trees of righteousness “planted by the rivers of water whose leaves do not wither and who bring forth our fruit in due season.” Would that this holy forest might spread through our world!

And God will provide us with light, the light in which we see light, because when we don’t know the way of peace, the sun, moon, and stars may shine but we still walk in darkness. We may have eyes with 20/20 vision, but we are still blind. We still remain the takers of life, rather than givers, those that bring the life of Christ and him crucified, whose life is stronger than death, and who provides us with the love for each other and the love of the world that God made which will transfigure this world and the people and nations in it into the Kingdom of God, the beloved community, in which the light of Christ will shine brighter than the sun. Amen.

Written by peterkrey

May 5, 2013 at 11:19 pm