Tradition & Betrayal

Pastor Douthwaite gave a great sermon on Sunday, on Mark 7:1-13, in which Jesus chastizes the Pharisees for replacing God’s  word with the “traditions of men.”  The whole thing is very much worth reading, but I would like to focus on a curious fact that he brought out:  the Greek word translated as “tradition” is also the word translated as “betrayal.”  The verb form is paradidomi, meaning, literally handed down (as in a tradition) or handed over (as in a betrayal).  Pastor Douthwaite then plunged us into a fascinating word study, ringing the changes on all of those senses in a Law & Gospel kind of way.

He began by citing traditions we have (turkey on Thanksgiving, wedding customs), which can end up displacing the true meaning of what the traditions are supposed to be about (Turkey Day as opposed to giving thanks to God; white dresses and the bride’s perfect day as opposed to marriage as the one flesh union between a man and a woman that is an image of Christ and the Church):

Those are examples of when tradition becomes betrayal. And I put it like that because in the Bible, in the Greek of the New Testament, tradition and betrayal are the same word – paradidomi – which means to hand down or to hand over. When something is handed down (paradidomi-ed) from one generation to the next, it is a tradition. When Jesus is handed over (paradidomi-ed) by Judas, it is betrayal. And so traditions – all those things I mentioned before – are good, as long as they do not become betrayals; as long as they do not betray their original meaning and purpose. . . .

You see, because you and me are as we are – sinful and unclean – therefore, the wonderful thing God will do is Jesus. He is (literally) the tradition of God. For He was handed down (paradidomi-ed) to us, the Father handed down His Son to us, that He be handed over (paradidomi-ed) into death for us – death on the cross for our sins – that raised from the dead (for us), we who once walked in darkness (or inside-out and upside-down, as Isaiah also puts it) now live a new life in His light. Living not because of what we do, but because of what our Lord does for us. For you.

Living by what He does for you in Holy Baptism, where Jesus’ cross becomes your cross; where Jesus joins you to Himself and raises you with Himself from the death of sin to a new life in Him. In that water you were born from above to a new life with a new Father and a new heart and a new Spirit. In that water all your sins, all your betrayals, were washed away – the old is gone, behold the new has come. That’s what your Lord hands down and hands over (paradidomis) to you there.

And living by what He does for you in Holy Communion, where Jesus – on the night when He was paradidomi-ed (betrayed) – before He was paradidomi-ed first handed over (paradidomi-ed) His Body and Blood to His disciples and said: keep doing this, keep eating and drinking this, keep remembering and receiving this, for the forgiveness of your sins. That the new life and faith only your Lord can give be fed and strengthened by the food only your Lord can give. 

And living by what He does for you when you hear the Word of God – the Gospel of all that Jesus, the wonderful one, has done for you – whether it’s in the sermon or in the words of absolution or in the consolation of a fellow Christian, it is the voice of Jesus you hear, that is being handed over (paradidomi-ed) to you. Not advice, but good news. Not instruction, but the very Word of the Lord that opens the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, that changes hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, and which has done all that for you.

That why St. Paul calls Jesus the good and perfect bridegroom who came to hand over (paradidomi) His life for His dirty, sinful bride, that she – that you and me – may be dirty and sinful no more. It’s all about what He has done, that we may be. It’s all about His cross, His death and resurrection, that we who are born dead in sin may rise with Him. It’s all about His love that we may love. It’s all about His washing that we may be clean. It’s all about His tradition that we may be traditioned; that we receive what He has come to hand down and hand over to us.

And then, having received all that, there is a new tradition, and we begin to see others, those around us – our husbands and wives, our families, our friends and neighbors – as those our Lord has handed over to us, that we not withhold or “Corban” them, but hand down to them, what we ourselves have received. For that’s what tradition is all about, isn’t it? Handing down to others what has been handed down to us. And so the care and love and forgiveness and mercy and word we have received doesn’t stop with us, but is traditioned, paradidomi-ed, handed down. That’s good tradition, right tradition, godly tradition.

And – to turn Jesus’ words around just a bit – and many such things you do. Yes, you. As a Christian. A sinner-saint, forgiven and new. Not perfectly, to be sure. Always repenting and receiving forgiveness. But in Christ, made new. In Christ, handing yourself over – traditioning yourself – for others. That they too may receive what you have received. For that is the tradition we have received from Him.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 13 Sermon.

Spike Lee on fatherhood & the black church

Filmmaker Spike Lee has a new movie out, Red Hook Summer, about a middle-class black teenager from Atlanta who spends the summer with his grandfather, a no-nonsense preacher in poverty-stricken Brooklyn.  Both comedy and social commentary ensue.  The movie sounds quite good and very pro-church.  In an interview with Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, Lee himself does some preaching:

TWP: Bishop Enoch fulminates against a number of ills that plague the black community — from violence to coarsening pop culture to gentrification. In one pivotal conversation, he and Sister Sharon (Heather Alicia Simms) speak candidly about the pressures on African American parents trying to bring kids up, often alone. Those sequences felt like very personal statements from Spike Lee.

SL: Three out of four African American families are headed by a single mom. That’s 75 percent. And I will put my left hand on 10 Bibles and my right hand to God and say that’s the main correlation to the highest drop-out rate and the highest prison rate, and it manifests itself ultimately with these young brothers killing each other with this insane pathological genocide that’s happening, whether it’s in D.C., New Orleans, Brooklyn, Chicago. It all comes back the fact that — and I’m not trying to demonize these single moms, they’re doing the best they can, working two or three jobs to keep it together. But these young boys, and young women, with no father in their lives, how can that not affect their relationship with black men? It’s the domino effect.

I feel for these single moms and I feel for the children of single moms because they’re crying out for help and they need their daddy and Daddy ain’t around. Daddy ain’t been around. So where are these daddies? A lot of these guys are locked up or just out on the street. It’s not a good look, okay? All I’m saying. It’s not a good look.

via Spike Lee talks about ‘Red Hook Summer’ – The Washington Post.

A security guard fulfills his vocation

Joe Carter, who used to work for the Family Research Center, looks at the security guard who stopped the gunman after getting a bullet in the arm, in light of the doctrine of vocation:

The key-card was required to get into the building and to operate the elevator, a security precaution added years earlier when protestors chained themselves together in the lobby. But when I forgot my key—and I was always forgetting my key—he never complained. He never uttered a sarcastic remark or had a passive-aggressive sigh to remind me of my absent-mindedness. He’d just leave the guard-desk and quietly help me out.

I suspect Leo Johnson exhibited the same stoic friendliness today, when a young man in his late 20s—who said he was an intern at Family Research Council—asked to be let in the building. Once inside, the man pulled a gun and fired several shots, hitting Leo in the arm. According to news reports, Leo and others wrestled the man to the ground, disarmed him, and waited for police.

From the latest reports I’ve heard, Leo is in the hospital and in stable condition. While he has been grievously harmed, had he not acted swiftly and courageously, some of my friends at FRC might have lost their lives. “The security guard here is a hero, as far as I’m concerned,” said Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, “He did his job. The person never made it past the front.” Leo is indeed a hero—because he did much more than his job.

When I worked at FRC (2006-2008) I would have happily swapped jobs with almost any other employee—except for Leo. Having manned many a guard post while in the military, I couldn’t imagine having to do such a boring, repetitive, often-thankless job. Leo never complained, though, and never became a clock-punching rent-a-cop. He was frequently awarded for being a loyal and dedicated employee and was admired by everyone. Yet the certificates and “Employee of the Month” plaques were modest tributes to his true character, which few people fully recognized until today.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality.” Today, at the point of highest reality, when a dull desk job called for the vocation of a hero, Leo showed he had the form of every virtue. He was willing to lay down his life to protect those he served.

via The FRC Shooting and the Vocation of a Hero | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog.

Is the President our national pastor?

No, the president is most emphatically NOT a national pastor, such an understanding betraying a deadly confusion of God’s Two Kingdoms and completely distorting the nature of the pastoral office.  But the normally circumspect Christianity Today has two articles that say, yes, the president kind of is a national pastor.

See Owen Strachan,“Our American President: The ‘Almost Pastor’ of an ‘Almost Chosen’ Land” and  Judd Birdsall, “Is the President America’s Pastor in Chief?“.  A sample from the latter:

Ironically, the curious American integration of piety and the presidency largely stems from our separation of church and state. Without an established religion led by an archbishop, ecumenical patriarch, or grand mufti, the President acts, for better or worse, as the nation’s senior religious figure.

Cambridge University professor Andrew Preston makes this point in his massive, 815-page work Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy: “There is no official hierarchy in the American civil religion, but as the nation’s head of state as well as its chief executive … the president has acted as its de facto pope.”

What exactly are the President’s papal duties? Preston explains: “Since George Washington, the president has been the interpreter of rites, symbols, and meanings of the civil religion, with some—particularly Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman—significantly recasting it under the pressure of war.”

Obama’s and Romney’s faith-infused interpretations of the Aurora shooting are case in point, and the most recent chapter in the long history of the presidential pastorate. Both politicians denounced the killing as “evil,” and both turned to the Bible for meaning, solace, and hope.

In his public statement after meeting with victims’ families in Aurora, Obama quoted the famous eschatological promise found in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Focusing on the here and now, Romney encouraged his audience to “mourn with those who mourn,” a reference to Romans 12:15. In poignant remarks packed with Christian language, Romney expressed his prayer that “the grieving will know the nearness of God” and “the comfort of a living God.” Citing the apostle Paul by name, Romney quoted from 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, “blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble.”

Many commentators applauded Romney for sounding “presidential.” Especially in times of tribulation, Americans expect their President to be their pastor—not in any formal sense as a leader of a church but in the general sense as a provider of spiritual care and theological perspective for the nation.

The president as our archbishop, since we’re not allowed to have a state church?  Our pope?  A provider of our spiritual care?  These writers, of course, are speaking by way of analogy.  The workings of the “civil religion,” not to be confused (though it often is) with Christianity, though I’m not sure these articles finish that point.  They describe how the presidency functions and how the public responds, not how things should be.  But still. . . .

What is wrong with this picture?

HT:  Paul McCain

A soldier’s vocation

Browsing on the LCMS website and looking for something else, I came across this interview with Gen. John W. Vessey, whose distinguished military career including not only combat in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, but serving as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Reagan.  He reflects very perceptively on the doctrine of vocation and gives some interesting stories of practicing the Christian faith in the military.  It turns out, the interview is from the latest Lutheran Witness.  A sampling:

LW: How does your Lutheran faith play a role in your courageous work, both when you were in active duty as well as now in retirement?

GV: I’ve been a lifelong Lutheran, and for that I am thankful. Martin Luther once wrote a pamphlet called Whether Soldiers Too Can Be Saved. I really took that to heart. Article 16 of the Augsburg Confession–which among other things says that Christians may serve in just wars–well, one can certainly take comfort in that too. Christ goes with us wherever we are. The Lutheran Confessions are blessings to us and make us stronger and help us understand the Word of God even more. . . .

LW: How can we, as Lutherans, properly view military service in light of caring for our neighbor and protecting him in his body?

GV: It first starts with Article 16 of the Augsburg Confession: It is not only right to serve but it is a duty for Christians to serve the civil community. As Luther pointed out, we live in the two kingdoms: the kingdom of God on the right and the civil on the left. We are God’s representatives in both places, but we are also fallible and sinful beings in both places, so we need to carry God’s Word with us as we do His work in the community. Being a soldier is not only okay but is even required by civil authorities for the safety of citizens.

For the young people today, I encourage them to consider a bit of service to the nation, whether it is teaching in schools or in the Armed Forces or what have you. It is an important thing, and you can take your Christian beliefs to that service, making both the service and yourself stronger.

LW: Most of us go through our lives in an occupation that does not require us to make life-altering or life-taking decisions in defense of country or self. How does the Christian soldier deal with the inner conflict that may accompany such an occupation?

GV: Prayer.

LW: In the military, is there a struggle of having to compromise or follow orders that burden the conscience?

GV: There are certain things you just don’t compromise on. According to our Lutheran Confessions, we are to obey the orders of civil authorities–until we are ordered to sin. Then God is in charge.

I never allowed my Christian beliefs to be a secret. I sometimes went out of my way to be sure they weren’t a secret! When traveling to places that were enemies to the U.S., I knew that they would bug our living facilities. So I’d do my daily devotions and prayers under the bug so they could hear loud and clear where my beliefs lie. That led to a number of interesting conversations later in life. At one point during my six years of diplomatic work, I was working with former Soviet Union folks. One day I met with the former Chief Historian of the Soviet Armed Forces and he asked to speak to me privately, so we went out in the hall together. He told me that he knew I was a Christian and he wanted to tell me that he himself had been baptized just the day before.

via 10 Minutes With . . . – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Knowing you’re being bugged, so reading the Bible and praying out loud to witness to the spy!  Brilliant!

Lucas Cranach, cover story

The cover of Books & Culture, the Christian culture journal, features Lucas Cranach, and the cover story by Daniel Siedell is a review of a new book on the artist and patron of this blog.  The book is called The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation by the important Reformation scholar Stephen Ozment.  It breaks new ground in asserting the importance of Cranach and his art for Luther and for the Reformation.  A major emphasis is how Cranach embodied and communicated Luther’s doctrine of vocation.  I’m not quite finished reading Ozment’s book, but I plan to post on it for its own sake.   Here is an excerpt from the Books & Culture piece:

Far from being compromised or constricted, Cranach flourished in and through his relationship with Luther, in large part because both the artist and the theologian shared converging interests and concerns, which, upon their meeting, made their relationship especially rich and productive, both personally and professionally.

This relationship developed only after Cranach decided to move his workshop into Wittenberg. Growing weary of the tedious demands of the court and a lack of challenging painting commissions (not to mention inconsistent remuneration), Cranach moved into the bustling university town, renovating several buildings for his home and workshop. He soon became a leading figure in city politics and one of the largest owners of real estate in town. A savvy businessman and entrepreneur, Cranach owned Wittenberg’s only pharmacy and operated the most powerful printing press in the region, a press which would publish Luther’s German translation of the New Testament, completed while he was in exile in Wartburg, and would generate the pamphlets and other printed materials that spread the ideas of the Reformation. Cranach was also a skilled statesman, traveling to the Netherlands on a diplomatic mission on behalf of Frederick the Wise. Far from being seduced by Luther, then, it was Cranach’s robust and expansive public life and his wisdom in statecraft that served the younger, less politically astute Luther, ultimately winning him the protection and patronage he needed from Frederick.

Although Cranach shared Luther’s anti-humanist and anti-Renaissance “Augustinian” view of the sinfulness and weakness of humanity, the convergence between the two men was less doctrinal than it was social, in what Ozment calls the “second phase” of the Reformation. This social phase focused on the recovery of the spiritual integrity of all aspects of domestic family life, from rearing children to marital sexuality. The home had been subjected to excessive and burdensome interference from Rome, creating legalistic burdens for laity and the clergy that were impossible to follow, the crushing nature of which resulted in licentious behavior that undermined the integrity of the family. Luther’s emphasis on justification as a “passive righteousness,” which he would develop in his lectures on Galatians in 1531, was already worked out socially and culturally, liberating the laity and the clergy to enjoy a robust family life, including an intimate sexual relationship within the institution of marriage. Ozment shows how Cranach and Luther both were fulfilled by their families, embracing fully and boldly the creational blessings of marital and familial life. Luther’s famously earthy language about marital sexuality is echoed in Cranach’s beautifully seductive women, whose enchantment was part of the created order and whose sexuality could be celebrated as a divine blessing. “By excising the external girth of the High Renaissance woman,” Ozment writes, “he set free her inner mirth. The result was more engrossing than the direct touching of skin and flesh.” Cranach and Luther’s relationship was further deepened through their families, as they served as godparents to each other’s children. . . .

Ozment’s Cranach embodies a proto-Lutheran approach to culture and vocation. Apparently unconcerned with the burden of demonstrating or achieving his salvation through his work, Cranach was freed to use and enjoy his God-given talents as a painter, politician, businessman, and advisor. He is also a historical example of what James Davison Hunter has called, in To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), “faithful presence.” The Serpent and the Lamb makes the convincing case that without Cranach’s faithful presence, the Lutheran Reformation would not have possessed the scope that it had.

I might just add that this vocational view of family life, including the affirmation of sexuality in marriage, is what we explore in our own latest book Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood.