Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fr. Charles McClean: Lent III Vespers Sermon

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Immanuel Church
Lent 2011

We continue this evening with our meditations on the Catechism and the Passion. Last week we considered the Creed and saw how we know the Maker of all things to be our good and gracious Father only through Jesus’ passion. For as Saint Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ,” the thorn-crowned face of Christ whose risen body still bears the marks of the nails and spear, the certain tokens of His love.

Our theme this evening is the Lord’s Prayer and the Passion, the Our Father in the light of Jesus’ suffering and death.

Now it’s true that God is the Father of every human being in the sense that He made us each and every one, as the Catechism teaches us to say, “I believe that God has made me.” But we have lost the right to call Him “Father.” For beginning with the Fall of Adam we have all turned our backs on Him, rebelled against Him. C.S. Lewis put this in a memorable way: “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down His arms.” And that is true of you, of me, of all whose nature is now thoroughly corrupted: not only turned away from God but actively turned against Him. We are, as we say in the Catechism, “lost and condemned creatures,” in need of a Savior - and a Savior we have been given! In the beautiful words of John Henry Newman:

O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.

All four Gospels tell us of Jesus’ praying: Jesus’ whole ministry in fact arises from prayer and is sustained by prayer, His unbroken union with the heavenly Father, but only Saint Matthew and Saint Mark have recorded the Lord’s Prayer in their Gospels, Saint Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount. But Saint Luke introduces the prayer with the following words: Jesus “was praying in a certain place, and when He ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray.’” The sight of Jesus’ praying awakens in the disciples the desire to learn from Him how to pray, they want to be drawn into His praying. And so the prayer He then teaches His disciples to pray is much more than a set form of prayer; it aims to form us, to conform us to the inner attitude of Jesus, the mind of Christ. And nowhere do we see the mind of Christ more clearly than in His holy passion and death. For “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, “Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and in Jesus’ passion God’s Name is kept holy, His kingdom - His gentle rule of mercy - comes, and His will is perfectly done on earth as it is in heaven. As we sing:

No work is left undone
Of all the Father willed;
His toil, His sorrows, one by one,
The Scriptures have fulfilled.

“Give us this day our daily bread,“ we pray. Jesus provides more than daily bread in the sense of “all that supports this body and life.” For in His passion is fulfilled the word He spoke after the feeding of the five thousand, “And the bread that I will give is My flesh which I will give for the life of the world.” And so in His passion that flesh is scourged and crucified, put to death and buried, but then on the third day raised from the dead so that the body once given into death now becomes for His people the living Bread from Heaven until His coming again.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Himself sinless, Jesus cannot ask forgiveness for Himself but prays for all us mortal sinners and goes on loving to the end, “sincerely forgiving and gladly doing good to those who sin against” Him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“And lead us not into temptation.” Fully human as we are, tempted in every way as we are yet without sin, He resists every temptation, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, “O my Father, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done,” and on the cross resisting the temptation to despair, dies with those words of complete trust on His lips, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.”

“But deliver us from evil.” The wages of sin is death and so, as our Substitute, as the Lamb of God who bears all sin, He endures death for us; but because He is Himself the sinless Son of God, death had no claim on Him, death could not hold Him, and death itself is dead, the Last Enemy conquered - so that “when our last hour is come” He will “graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.”

And so we see that every petition is not only commanded by Jesus but also fulfilled by Him who is Himself the fulfillment of all God’s promises, the great “Amen!” to all our longing. As Saint Paul writes to the Church at Corinth: “For the Son of God, whom we preached among you was not Yes and No; but in Him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their ‘Yes‘ in Him. That is why we utter the “Amen” through Him to the glory of God.”

The martyred third century Bishop of Carthage, Saint Cyprian said, “When we pray the Our Father, we are praying to God with words given by God” - and we might add, with words not only given by God but in fact lived by the God-Man. And so, when we pray these words our Savior taught us, our hearts and minds are thereby being conformed to His. For the prayer He taught His disciples to pray is not only a prayer to be prayed but also a way of entering into His very life, shaping our lives as we pray in harmony with Him, “with all boldness and confidence,” as those who through Holy Baptism have been made the children of God, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, His Father our Father, His prayer our prayer, prayed in union with all who are His.

“Help us,” dear Savior, “this and every day to live more nearly as we pray.” Amen.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fr. Charles McClean: Annunciation 2011

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Immanuel Church

Every year on December 25th all Christendom kneels at the manger bed of Jesus and there both contemplates and adores the great mystery of the incarnation: of God in the flesh and blood, the humanity that is yours and mine. But it was not in the stable at Bethlehem that God became Man; no, it was in that humble home in the obscure little village of Nazareth. There a lowly Jewish maiden, betrothed to a carpenter named Joseph, received from the heavenly messenger the astonishing news that she had been chosen by God to give birth to a Child, and not just any child, but a Child who will be both her Son and also the Son of God, theSavior of the world. Greatly troubled at this news, greatly puzzled and wondering how such a thing could possibly be, Marynevertheless gives her assent to the angel’s message: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And with her assent “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This is the moment in time, the fullness of time, the God-appointed moment in time, when the timeless One out of pure love for His fallen human creatures enters into time so that we creatures of time might become citizens of that kingdom which has no end. This is the actual moment of the incarnation. And the words of the familiar Christmas carol, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,” apply not only to Jesus’ birth but also to His conception, the very beginning of His human life in lowly Mary’s womb.

God the Father sends the heavenly messenger to Mary, God the Holy Spirit overshadows her just as He overshadowed the face of the deep at the very beginning of all things, and God the Son becomes Man. And then for nine months, as Mary goes out her daily life, doing the housework, preparing food and doing the dishes, eating and sleeping, chatting with her friends and neighbors, this lowly Jewish maiden literally carries God incarnate in her body. She in fact becomes in the truest sense the very temple of God, the place of His dwelling in the world.

No wonder the heavenly messenger and later Mary’s cousin Elizabeth acclaimed her “blessed among women.” And if we, in one our hymns, in the exuberant language of poetry and love, acclaim her as “higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim,” we do so acclaim her because not even the holy angels, not even the cherubim and seraphim, have been that intimately involved in the life of the Holy Trinity.

Whois conceived in Mary’s womb? God is conceived in Mary’s womb. Who is born of Mary? God is born of Mary. Who then isMary? Mary is the Mother of God - not in the sense that she is the source of her Son’s godhead which He has from God the Father, but in the sense that she truly is the Mother of the One Person who is both Man and God. And this of course is thesettled doctrine of our Evangelical Lutheran Church which in the Formula of Concord solemnly confesses her faith in these words: “We believe, teach, and confess that Mary conceived and bore not only a plain, ordinary, mere man but the veritable Son of God:for this reason she is rightly called and truly is the Mother of God.” And Dr. Luther says: “It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God.”

Responding to the heavenly messenger Mary says, “Let it be to me according to your word!” In one sense these words areuniquely hers who out of all the women have ever lived or will ever live was chosen by God to be the Mother of Him who is both God and Savior of the world. But in another sense these words can and should be on the lips of all who like Mary have found in Jesus their Savior and their Lord. “Let it be to me according to your word” - that word of pardon and life spoken to each one of us in Holy Baptism and ever renewed in Holy Absolution, the word grounded in Jesus who is Himself the Word of God, made flesh this day in Mary’s womb and nailed to the cross in fulfillment of the Scriptures.

And so in the Epistle for this day the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, knowing that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin,” hears the promised Savior speaking in the 40th Psalm: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body you prepared for Me…Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God,” and then adds, “By that will we have been sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” the body conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Mary, the body offered once for all on the altar of the cross, the body we now receive at this altar. For the same Lord God and Savior who made Himself little and lowly in blessed Mary’s womb comes again this evening in the little bread, the little wine of the Sacrament, which are mysteriously yet truly the same body and blood He took this day from her, which hung on the cross, the Body now risen from the dead and worshipped by angels and archangels, by blessed Mary and all the company of heaven.

In Mary‘s home in Nazareth, in the manger at Bethlehem, and at the altar:

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still
The dear Christ enters in.


Fr. Charles McClean: Lent II Vespers Sermon

The following is another of Fr. Charles's excellent sermons, this one from midweek Vespers. Whenever I tell him how much I have appreciated his words, he cheerfully responds, "may God use it!" May God use it for you, as well, Dear Reader.
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Immanuel Church
Lent 2011

We continue this evening with our meditations on the Catechism and our Lord’s Passion. Last week we considered the Ten Commandments and saw how in His sufferings (as in His whole life) the Lord Jesus fulfilled the Law of God perfectly, which is to say that He lived a life of perfect obedience. As our Substitute, as our Representative, as the Second Adam He did what we children of the First Adam could not do; and as the sinless Lamb of God takes on Himself the sins of the world - so completely that Saint Paul can say that He was made “to be sin.” All He did and suffered He did and suffered for us. And all He did and suffered is ours through simple trust in Him, in His sure promise: the promise given in Baptism and Absolution andsealed with His truly present Body and Blood in the Sacrament.

Our theme this evening is the Passion and the Creed.

The Creed begins by confessing our faith in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. At first glance this would seem to be the simplest part of the Creed. For although damaged by the Fall, human reason still has a dim awareness that there is a God and that this God is the Maker of all that is. But can we on the basis of fallen reason alone know that the Maker of all things is in fact our good and gracious Father?

Well, no one can deny that creation does in fact suggest that the mysterious Origin of all that is is truly good and gracious: the breathtaking beauty of creation in all its astonishing variety and splendor, the unimaginable vastness of the universe of which we seem to learn more and more with every passing year; and then there is the way in which the whole creation seems to be there forus, for our nourishment, for our life, for our delight. Yes, as we consider the creation there does seem to be ample evidence that the Maker of all things is a good and gracious Father, so much so that we might well join that early eighteenth century philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in saying that this is indeed “the best of all possible worlds.” But Leibniz had been dead many years when on All Saints Day, 1755, the Lisbon earthquake and tsunami placed all of that in question. Nearly half of Lisbon’s hundred thousand residents perished on that terrible day. The epicenter of the earthquake seems to have been about one hundred twenty miles south of Cape Saint Vincent in southern Portugal, but shockwaves from the earthquake were felt as far away as Finland. Tsunamis touched not only the coast of north Africa, but also the coast of Cornwall in England and Galway in western Ireland, and even across the Atlantic Ocean in Martinique and Barbados. And in the wake of this terrible catastrophe the easy optimism of what was called the Age of Reason, the cool light of the so-called “Enlightenment,” came to an abrupt end. The Lisbon earthquake in fact marked a sharp separation between a basically optimistic belief in the essential goodness of God and His creation to afundamental questioning of the nature of God and reality; and many came to the terrible conclusion that since God is all-powerful He must be capricious - and all of this then fed a rapidly developing atheism.

I scarcely need add that the past few weeks have made it easier for us people of the early twenty-first century to understand the state of mind of the people of the late eighteenth century. For the fact of the matter is that the witness of creation is far from clear: so much does suggest a Maker who is a good and gracious Father, but then there is the undeniable presence in the world ofrandom events that make no sense, of meaningless suffering on a staggering scale, of so much unchecked cruelty and monstrous evil.

And it is cruelty and evil that we see outside the gates of Jerusalem, at Golgotha, at the Place of a Skull, where Jesus suffers and dies. Here we see nothing beautiful, nothing that could be called good. Here we see only shame and disgrace and unspeakable suffering, human beings at their worst, taunting One who has already been driven to the limits of endurance by scourging and then nailed to the rough wood of a Roman cross. Here if anywhere - as far as can be seen - is apparently more evidence that “if God is God He is not good, and if God is good He is not God” - utterly indifferent to the pitiful plight of His human creatures. This is all that can be seen. And there have been many down through the ages, and there still are today, who see in the pitiful sufferings of Jesus of Nazareth only more evidence for their atheism, their inability to conceive of a Maker who might be a good and gracious Father.

Well, we learned to say in the Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel [and] enlightened me.” On the night before He suffered the Lord Jesus said to His disciples in the upper room: “The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” The New Testament Scriptures in general and the four Gospels in particular are the fulfillment of this promise. For there the Holy Spirit reveals the true meaning of what to the eyes of the body and to human thought can only be a meaningless and terrible miscarriage of justice, evidence of the unimaginable depths of the evil in us all. In the Scriptures, and through the preaching of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit shows us that this terrible scene of cruelty and evil is in fact the perfect revelation of the Father’s love. For, as Saint Paul says, “It is the God who said, ’Let light shine out darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” the thorn-crowned face of Jesus Christ - for in that thorn-crowned face we most clearly see the face of God. And as Saint John never ceases to remind us in his Gospel and especially in His account of Jesus’ passion, the glory of God is His love and His love is His glory: the crucifixion of Jesus His glorification because there we most truly see the loveof the heavenly Father in His crucified Son - “very God of very God,” as we say in the Creed. Or, as we shall sing in the closing hymn:

Crown Him the Lord of love!
Behold His hands and side,
Rich wounds yet visible above
In beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends His wondering eye
At mysteries so bright.

In perfect love to the Father and in perfect love for all us fallen children of Adam, Christ the Second Adam suffered so that we might not remain lost and condemned creatures but enfolded by pure mercy now, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment. And because the Lord Jesus so suffered and triumphed over death and the grave we also know that the whole creation, which now mysteriously shares in the Fall and groans as in the pangs of childbirth, will in the end, as Saint Paul says, “be set free from the bondage of decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

Yes, the bare evidence of creation can never bring certainty that the Maker of all things is our good and gracious Father. For we know the Maker of all things to be our good and gracious Father only through the sufferings of His beloved Son; and we only know the Son through the witness of the Holy Spirit, who shows us the suffering Son through whom alone we now by faith see the Father, who does all this “only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me for all which it is my duty to thank and praise serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true!”


Friday, March 25, 2011

Gregory Thaumaturgus on the Annunciation of Our Lord

The following is excerpted from a homily of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea (Gregory Thaumaturgus) on the Annunciation:

"Most of the holy fathers and patriarchs and prophets desired to see Him with their own eyes, but did not. Some of them by visions beheld Him in type, and darkly; others, again, were privileged to hear the divine voice through the medium of the cloud and were favored with the vision of holy angels. But only to Mary the pure virgin did the archangel Gabriel manifest himself in brilliant light, bringing her the glad address, 'Hail, you who are highly favored!' And thus she received the Word, and soon, in time, through the bodies natural processes, she gave birth to the dear Pearl. Come, then, you, too, dearly beloved, and let us chant the melody that has been taught us by the inspired harp of David and say, 'Arise, O Lord, into your rest, You, and the ark of Your sanctuary.' For the holy Virgin is truly an ark, made with gold both within and without, who has received the whole treasury of the Holy of Holies. 'Arise, O Lord into your rest.' Arise, O Lord, out of the bosom of the Father, in order that You may raise up the fallen race of the first man....Mary laid in a manger Him who sits above the cherubim and is praised by myriads of angels. In the manger set apart for irrational animals, the Word of God lay, in order that He might impart to men, who are really irrational by free choice, the true reason and understanding. In the manger from which cattle eat was laid the heavenly Bread, in order that He might provide men who live like the beasts of the earth with spiritual food. Nor was there even room for Him in the inn. He found no place, who by His word established heaven and earth; 'for though He was rich, for our sakes he became poor' and chose extreme humiliation on behalf of the salvation of our nature, in His inherent goodness toward us. He who fulfilled the whole administration of unutterable mysteries of God's work in heaven in the bosom of the Father, and in the cave lay in the arms of the mother, reposed in the manger. Angelic choirs surrounded Him, singing of glory in heaven and of peace upon earth. In heaven he was seated at the right hand of the Father; and in the manger He rested, as it were, upon the cherubim. Truly, even there was His cherubic throne; there was His royal seat. Holy of the holy, and alone glorious upon the earth, and holier than the holy, was the manger where Christ our God rested. To Him be glory, honor, and power, together with the Father undefiled and the altogether holy and quickening Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of the ages. Amen."

I love the Eucharistic imagery highlighted here: "In the manger from which cattle eat was laid the heavenly Bread, in order that He might provide men who live like the beasts of the earth with spiritual food."

As has been well said before by the Fathers, Luther, and others, the whole Gospel is in these words: "Take, eat. This is my body, given for you for the forgiveness of sins."

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Almighty God, who didst will that agreeably to the angel's message Thy Son become incarnate of the Virgin Mary, mercifully grant that our sinful conception may be cleansed  by His immaculate conception; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

What's that you say? I say "incredible"...

I'd love to see a discussion in the comments about what this song means. I don't know for sure, but it seems like the song and the video were conceived of as a single project. I heard the song for the first time when I watched the video for the first time, and the two are inextricably linked in my head.

This is currently my favorite music video. Truly a work of art.

"I Say Fever" is the second track off of Ramona Fall's 2009 album, Intuit. The whole album is worth checking out, especially "Russia" and "The Darkest Day."

Before she met me she took herself to wait five years
After I met her, her teacher said "Best wait five years."
I ask my neighbors, they said it's wise to wait five years.

I say "Fever."

I told a friend how I'm feeling and this made her sad
'Cause she fears that no man will ever desire her so bad.
How dare I feel this and do naught but sit on my hands.

I say "Fever."

Hold my heart like a hot potato,
push the clock for an hour later.
This is just code to decipher;
found my ploughman, chased the piper.

That ended up.
That's all now.
These are the ones who talk.
Never a lick--needs her to kiss him.

The first five years go by and we are no longer here.
I blame myself for not taking steps to draw her near.
I try to decide what to do now based on love not fear.

I say "Fever."

(Four years.)


HT: Laura Howd