Issues Etc., keeping to a persistent theme, has been featuring a series of interviews on the subject of abortion, specifically on the moral facts (yes, I mean that) of abortion and on ways to argue about (i.e. against) abortion. They are excellent and well worth listening to.
It has bothered me for some time that, in contrast to many of their US counterparts, European Christians tend in general to be incredibly impassive when it comes to abortion. Whether because of a misconceived privatisation of morality or mere lethargy, the pro-life movement in this country (UK) and seemingly elsewhere in Western Europe, a pretty well kept secret. I hold myself as a textbook example of a Christian to whom abortion is an abhorrent crime and sin, yet do very little about it in practice.
My thinking on this was sharpened a notch listening to Melvin Bragg and guests discuss the life and thinking of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau, often credited with the articulation of the concept of civil disobedience, made the crucial observation that to be opposed to something creates an obligation to oppose it. It’s no good just deploring it in the privacy of one’s home.
So throw away your WWJD bracelet and replace it with WWYD (what will YOU do?). Luther in the Freedom of the Christian reminds us that while God doesn’t require our services, our neighbour does. The more defenceless the neighbour, the greater the need, as in the Good Samaritan. And who is more defenceless than the unborn?
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
It has been heartening to see the way the Eighth Commandment has been applied to Barack Obama’s little stumble over the oath of office. One commentator on the BBC‘s Today Programme even suggested that it was his oratorical genius that led to the mistake.
I can’t help wondering what the reaction had been if it had been Obama’s predecessor. Does the Eighth Commandment apply to all, or only to polished orators?
Next Sunday is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. The readings in the three-year lectionary, Series B are 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (the calling of Samuel), 1 Cor 6:12-20 (flee from sexual immorality) and John 1:43-51 (the calling of Philip and Nathanael). Which got my blood boiling.
Here’s a preview of part of the sermon I’m writing for this Sunday. I’m so narked that I’m letting off some steam here. Perhaps I’ll sound more measured in the pulpit as a result.
I am told that there is a Lutheran professor of theology who tells his students that unless a seminarian or pastor thinks he can preach a better sermon than the one he is listening to, he has no business to be in the ministry. No doubt he is exaggerating to make a point—at least I hope so. I do wonder, however, how many seminarians or pastors have looked up the readings for a given Sunday and thought that they would have been able to come up with a better lectionary than the one in front of them. Arguably, this Sunday’s lessons are a case in point.
Normally, the lectionary is constructed along these lines: the Gospel text is chosen according to the time of the church year so that, for example, on Christmas morning the Gospel will focus on the incarnation of the Son of God. Then the Old Testament reading is selected to complement the Gospel, so that on Christmas morning you might have an Old Testament prophecy of the coming of the Christ. Finally, the Epistle reading is added. Sometimes, the Epistle is also related to the theme of the Sunday; at other times, the Epistle readings over a period of consecutive Sundays take the congregation right through a whole book, regardless of the themes of those Sundays.
Now, given this principle, let me ask you: What Old Testament passage came to mind when you listened to Jesus’ words at the end of today’s Gospel: “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Let me give you a clue: it has something to do with an epiphany or appearance of God to a person, involving angels of God ascending and descending.
That’s right: Jacob’s ladder. Not the calling of Samuel. After all, we are in Epiphany season, which focuses on the epiphany, manifestation of the Son of God among us. Important a theme as the calling of disciples is—and today’s Gospel does teach us about that, too—within the church year there is a proper time and place for that. John’s point in recording the calling of Philip and Nathanael was not to tell us about disciples or discipleship. He wrote what he wrote in order to tell us about Jesus, about who Jesus is.
Not only that, but it turns out that the three-year lectionary favoured by the publishers of the Lutheran Service Book has not managed to include Jacob’s ladder at all, in three years’ worth of OT readings.
The phrase “praying the Catechism” is at least as old as Luther’s writings on the subject. I don’t know if the following contribution to the subject is original, but I haven’t come across it before.
The Catechism (in the narrower sense: The Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer) can be prayed very simply and very quickly by praying the Lord’s Prayer. Conversely, the Lord’s Prayer is merely a summary of the Catechism – and thus can form the basis of an extended prayer life.
The Lord’s Prayer is simply the rest of the Catechism in prayer form. Let me demonstrate:
1st petition: Our Father who art in heaven
1st commandment: I am the Lord your God
2nd pet: Hallowed be Thy name
2nd comm: Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God
3rd pet: Thy kingdom come
3rd comm: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy
4th pet: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
4th-10th comm: Love your neighbour as yourself
5th pet: Give us this day our daily bread
1st article: I believe in God … the maker of heaven & earth
6th pet: And forgive us our trespasses…
2nd art: And in Jesus Christ … was crucified, died … and rose again
7th pet: And lead us not into temptation but deliver…
3rd art: And in the Holy Spirit
This becomes even clearer when we read the Commandments and the Creed through the lense of the Small Catechism.
In Spain the best upper sets do it,
Lithuanians and Letts do it,
Let’s do it, let’s start a blog.
The Dutch in old Amsterdam do it,
Not to mention the Finns,
Folks in Siam do it,
Think of Siamese twins.
Some Argentines without means do it,
People say in Boston even beans do it,
Let’s do it, let’s start a blog.