Archive for August 14th, 2012

O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou Bearer of the eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Lutheran Hymnal #475, and The Lutheran Service Book, #670, stanza 2

A reflection on the meaning of Mary is by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Orthodox  protopresbyter and professor (1921-1983). Some of what he writes makes a Lutheran uneasy and some of what he writes about Mary is as a Lutheran theologian could teach;  but it’s is the reflection on the image, the icon of Mary that I think is right on target:

“…from it’s earliest days Christianity never simply asked, ‘Do you believe?’  for it knew that even Christ’s betrayer and crucifiers also had believed in something, in some way. Christianity’s question was this: How do you believe? And in what?

It is right here, in attempting to answer this question so fundamental to genuine faith, that the image of the Virgin Mother almost unconsciously and involuntarily begins to grow before our spiritual eyes. Oh, this doesn’t mean that her image somehow eclipses the image of Christ, or that she is presented to Christianity as an additional object of faith set apart from Christ. Not at all, for it is from Christ and from Him alone that we receive this image as a gift, as the unfolding of all that His teaching and calling means. And so we ask ourselves, what is the strength of this image, what help does it give us?

My answer may surprise many people. What the Mother of God’s image gives us first of all is the image of a woman. Christ’s first gift to us, the first and most profound revelation of His teaching and call is given to us in the image of a woman. Why is this so important, so comforting and so redeeming? Precisely because our world has become so completely and hopelessly male, governed by pride and aggression, where all has been reduced to power and weapons of power, to production and weapons of production, to violence, to the refusal to willingly back down or make peace in anything or to keep one’s mouth shut and plunge into the silent depths of life. The image of the Virgin Mary, the Virgin Mother, stands against all of this and indicts it by her presence alone: the image of infinite humility and purity, yet filled with beauty and strength; the image of love and the victory of love.

The Virgin Mary, the All-Pure Mother demands nothing and receives everything. She pursues nothing, and possesses all. In the image of the Virgin Mary we find what has almost completely been lost in our proud, aggressive, male world: compassion, tenderheartedness, care, trust humility…She is not out to teach or prove anything, yet her presence alone, in its light and joy, takes away the anxiety of our imagined problems. It is as if we have been on  a long, weary, unsuccessful day of work and have finally come home, and once again all becomes clear and filled with that happiness beyond words which is the only true happiness. Christ said, ‘Do not be anxious…Seek first the Kingdom of God” (see Matthew 6: 33). Beholding this woman–Virgin, Mother, intercessor–we being to sense, to know not with our mind but with our heart, what it means to seek the Kingdom, to find and live by it.

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St. John 6:   26Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 

The folks wanted more of the same:  loaves.  Loaves for their bellies.  They wanted “belly preaching”, as Martin Luther called it. 

When we visit my parents in South Carolina, one of our stops is a grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, not for their food but their merchandising, like T-shirts: “I’m Big on the Pig”.  We also have their cloth Piggly Wiggly grocery bags, the saying on them is “Piggly Wiggly feeds your life.”  I beg to differ.  The Lord feeds your life.  But that’s the way the vain world thinks:  it feeds your life.  The government will feed your life.  Your work feeds your life.  Your intelligence feeds your life. All of the above are also the Lord’s: government, work, intelligence, His gifts through which He feeds your life and Jesus fed them because they were hungry.  He does that all the time. 

5The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing

 But they wanted a belly sermon and a belly preacher and this is not the meaning of the feeding of the 5,000 at the beginning of John 6. If you do this, then God will so reward you abundantly with the good life.  He gives food to the just and the unjust.  If God just gives me more and more for my amazing piety, then I will be so happy.  Fool! Your soul is required of you this night.  But such belly preaching is the daily paltry fare of the prosperity preachers. If you just have a positive thought, then God will give you 6 figure income. If you just give to my ministry, then you will be rich.  I am here to warn you:  the selling of indulgences is still quite the Ponzi scheme of the devil in our day.   Guns don’t kill, false doctrine kills. False doctrine centers everything on the self. True doctrine is centered on Jesus Christ, come down from heaven for us and for our salvation, not because we deserved Him, but need Him. The Lord satisfied  all the bodily wants of the world long before He came into the world.  He does so daily:  give us this day our daily bread.  He has, He will.  But even our daily bread is perishable. We are enticed to do so:  “…hungry for more”, says a chef on a travel show.  Or that commercial of the “most interesting man in the world who encourages us to buy their brand of beer:   “…stay thirsty my friends.”  We work for more and more and it does not satisfy.  Even if we have everything, gained the whole world, what will have been gained?  Forfeited our own soul. 

 Jesus is no belly preacher.  He came to preach the Gospel unto eternal life.  The Gospel is the proclamation of  the praise, glory and honor of God. He did not shed His blood “…to fill everyone’s paunch” (Luther).   His bread is not baked on earth. His bread, His flesh is not about getting what we want but receiving what He gives:  eternal life, salvation, the forgiveness of sins, the death of death our foe.  We can do absolutely nothing to work for this bread in order to gain it.  He just gives it.  The self-pious folks wanted to know what must they do to be doing the works of God.  Again the conditional sentences of the works-righteous belly preachers:  If I just do more, well, then, I’ll have it. 

Works-righteous belly preaching is truly inter-faith.  For instance: It’s the warp and woof of Islam: do the 5 pillars and you are good to go.  Jesus gives His bread, Himself, for the life of the world. 

A word about the word “world” which is used many times in John.  “World” in Greek is “cosmos”, as in cosmetic.  It looks good but underneath…it’s not a nice place and on purpose He stepped into flesh and blood.  

The world is bent in upon itself and it is it’s own place and can readily make a heaven out of hell and hell out of heaven.  The world eats it’s own flesh as attested in the fascination with zombies.  It eats itself up in worry.  It eats itself up in greed. It eats itself up in lust and in lust for more and more and  it is never satisfied. It has no life in and of itself.  The world thinks it is autonomous, literally it’s own law, creator, redeemer and sanctifier.  It is into this world He gave His flesh, His bread for it’s life.  His flesh shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it nor understood it.  He bore the world’s sin and is it’s Savior: yours, mine and the guy next door. 

His bread He gives. We can’t bake it, we can’t make it, we can to a point a make a life, we surely can not make eternal life. The Lord made us for eternal life with Him.  If we have trusted in Christ for this world, we are of all people most to be pitied, but Christ has risen from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15. His life, His bread is just given by Him and will be upon the Cross for the life of the world, your life, your soul. 

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