Friday, October 15, 2010

Things on my mind...

Jeremiah 20:9
Then I said, "I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name."
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not.

Job 32:17-22
I also will answer my part,
I too will declare my opinion.
For I am full of words;
The spirit within me compels me.
Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent;
It is ready to burst like new wineskins.
I will speak, that I may find relief;
I must open my lips and answer.
Let me not, I pray, show partiality to anyone;
Nor let me flatter any man.
For I do not know how to flatter,
Else my Maker would soon take me away.

Proverbs 4:25-27
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
And your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.

1 Timothy 1:15
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Ecclesiastes 7:15-24
I have seen everything in my days of vanity:
There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness,
And there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness.
Do not be overly righteous,
Nor be overly wise:
Why should you destroy yourself?
Do not be overly wicked,
Nor be foolish:
Why should you die before your time?
It is good that you grasp this,
And also not remove your hand from the other;
For he who fears God will escape them all.
Wisdom strengthens the wise
More than ten rulers of the city.
For there is not a just man on earth who does good
And does not sin.
Also do not take to heart everything people say,
Lest you hear your servant cursing you.
For many times, also, your own heart has known
That even you have cursed others.
All this I have proved by wisdom.
I said, “I will be wise”;
But it was far from me.
As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep,
Who can find it out?

Psalm 28
A Psalm of David.
To You I will cry, O LORD my Rock:
  Do not be silent to me,
  Lest, if You are silent to me,
  I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my supplications
  When I cry to You,
  When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.
Do not take me away with the wicked
  And with the workers of iniquity,
  Who speak peace to their neighbors,
  But evil is in their hearts.
Give them according to their deeds,
  And according to the wickedness of their endeavors;
  Give them according to the work of their hands;
  Render to them what they deserve.
Because they do not regard the works of the LORD,
  Nor the operation of His hands,
  He shall destroy them
  And not build them up.
Blessed be the LORD,
  Because He has heard the voice of my supplications!
The LORD is my strength and my shield;
  My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
  Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
  And with my song I will praise Him.
The LORD is their strength,
  And He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
Save Your people,
  And bless Your inheritance;
  Shepherd them also,
  And bear them up forever.

Monday, October 11, 2010


When I was a Lutheran, we did not pursue holiness; we received it passively. On the dogmatic level we believed we grew in holiness, but on the practical level - especially in seminary - pursuing it with activity was seriously frowned upon. Sermons about love were complained about, unless they were about how Christ loves us. If a professor spoke about growing in holiness, most of us squirmed in our chairs fearing the breath of Progressive Sanctification (which separates the holiness Christ accomplishes in a person from the good works a person does), or Pietism.
A wonderful Orthodox analysis of Pietism:

When I look back on my time as a Lutheran minister, I think this was the one element that was truly missing from my preaching and teaching - holiness - and I am sorry for its absence. I think I subconsciously was trying to get to it, since it is so plain in the Scriptures (and Dr. Martin Luther - the "model" for Lutheran preaching - had no fear of it). Yet I did not reach it in my preaching. This is mostly because I did not know it personally.

Now that I am Orthodox, do I know it personally. Yes for sure, and no not yet. No not yet, because I am a sinner. Yes for sure, because coming to grips with my conversion has allowed me to see where holiness lies: "One is holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. Amen." The Liturgy teaches me, not just at this point, but in its multitude of prayers, songs, rites, and gifts. The liturgical life of the Church - which is not made up by committees, but something each Bishop, Priest, ... down to layman must submit to as to his or her spiritual father and guide - this liturgical life constantly lifts up mankind in his sinfulness to be brought near to God that he may become something more. That something more is the whole measure of the fullness of Christ through the unity of the faith (Eph 4:13).

For some time I did not know what was different. Then I realized it, something I did not realize before my conversion. No one was trying to get me to take refuge in the fact that God accepts me. In Orthodoxy of course God accepts you. But isn't that why Christ died, to save me from God's wrath - which means to get God to accept me again, if I just believe? In Orthodoxy Christ doesn't have to get God to accept me, but rather me to accept God. What does God want that I should accept?
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me [St. John 17:20-23].
God wants me to want everything He is and is about, because we are made to be His image and likeness, to live in Him and He in us. So faith's first job is to bring you into union with God, and this removes all cause for wrath. In Orthodoxy we are made partaker's of Christ's holiness, if we are willing to change (repentance) and live in Him (faith) in the unity of the Holy Spirit (the Church).

At first I didn't know how to exist in the Church. I didn't know how to exist without that Doctrine that told me to measure my relationship with God based on a faith-makes-me-okay-with-God-so-it's-all-okay-now-phew crutch. I had been taught that once God's anger toward me is resolved in Christ, the "work" was done, and salvation was in the bag (more specifically in the ear or in the mouth) - just don't stop believing the message (and to make sure we'll tell it to you again and again). Communion was a tangible proof of God's lack of wrath (forgiveness in this sense) and from that the reward of union with Christ.

What is different in Orthodoxy is that no one is trying to give you an indulgence against God's wrath (Protestant forensic justification), because the Incarnation and Pascha were for you and I - not God. They were to change you and I, not God. Nothing has changed with God: He loves all, judges fairly, rewards the righteous, punishes the wicked (for correction and/or limitation of sin), shows mercy to the merciful, and desires that all be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.

Everything in Orthodoxy gets to the heart of the matter. Sin caused an ontological and existential corruption in man without changing him into something other than man - a reduced man. Salvation is an ontological and existential renewal of man that makes man fully man again in the fullness that God intended for him. If sin is an ontological and existential problem, then the cross addresses that problem by purifying sins by the blood of Christ, and this purification (i.e. expiation) causes the propitiation that Lutheran theology is so hung up about.

After not knowing how to live in the Orthodox Church, I moved on to being absolutely frightened. For the first time in my life I began to grasp personally, existentially the Prophet Isaiah's fear at seeing the Lord (Isaiah 6) and the fearful mercy of the burning coal touching his lips, or Hebrews 12:29 where God is described as a consuming fire. I was drawing near to God without that indulgence that made my relationship with God a passive and neutralized one. I was drawing near to God with the knowledge that He wants to change me, if I am willing. I know by now it's self-condemnation to run from God, so there is left but the trial by fire: to become the burning bush or one of Ahaziah's 50 soldiers.

God calls us to be partakers of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10), and through His promises partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He calls us to approach and prepare like a man (Job 40:7), though not from a whirlwind but from the mercy of His Church, through the Incarnation of His Son. Deep down, in Holy Orthodoxy, a person comes to a small measure of what each of the prophets faced when they were called by God. We come to know why Isaiah cried out and received a burning coal, why righteous Job called himself vile but was restored, why Ezekiel fell on his face but was set on his feet by the Spirit, why St. Peter fell to his knees and begged Christ to go away from him but Christ made him a fisher of men. God comes to each person, and there is no indulgence to neutralize or diffuse His coming. Rather, each of us must come to appear unshielded before God, and from there to learn to cry out for His mercy like the thief on the cross and the Canaanite woman.

The call to partake of God's holiness requires a fundamentally deeper belief in God's mercy and faithfulness than anything I ever found outside of Orthodoxy. Perhaps this is because in Orthodoxy you do not rest on the indulgence of a forensic justification, but in nakedness of soul you can only rest on God as He is before you from His Church - in His Gospel, His Prophetic and Apostolic preaching, His Liturgy, His Sacraments (all 7), His entire way of life that you get to live in and that takes up residence in you (for the Kingdom of God is within you - St. Luke 17:21). God does the saving by Christ on the cross and by Christ in you now. It is salvation in actuality, not simply legality.

I have moved on from being frightened to being thankful. God has treated me better than I have deserved. I am a train-wreck that He is carefully and beautifully healing. And He does this for all who will draw near in faith.
Perhaps all this is why I love reading the writings of ascetics so much. If you haven't read any yourself, ask me for a recommendation.

I could never preach this as a Lutheran minister. I had never known it. I had never seen it. I had never conceived of it. But, by God's Grace, today is different. May it be so now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.