“Amen” as the great word of worship

From Narrative Commentary to the Divine Service by John Pless:

It is only through the forgiveness of sins that we enter into the life of heaven. To confess your sins is to speak the truth about your life. This truth you learn from the Word of God and He, through the Holy Spirit, teaches you to say what He says (same/say). God seeks that truth in the heart and on the lips. To confess your sin is to same/say “Amen” to God’s just verdict that you have sinned against Him and so deserve only death and hell.

The truth of your sinfulness is answered by the truth of God’s forgiveness for the sake of the suffering and death of His Son. From the lips of a man “called and ordained” as a servant of the Word, your ears hear God Himself speaking absolution, that is, the forgiveness of sins. To that forgiveness, faith says “Amen,” to this verdict of God, “Amen” is the great word of worship; it indicates that the gift has been received.

via Grace Lutheran Church – Pastor’s Letter – November 2009.

Loving austerity

You’ve got to hand it to the Brits, as Anne Applebaum explains:

“Vicious cuts.” “Savage cuts.” “Swingeing cuts.” The language that the British use to describe their new government’s spending reduction policy is apocalyptic in the extreme. The ministers in charge of the country’s finances are known as “axe-wielders” who will be “hacking” away at the national budget. Articles about the nation’s finances are filled with talk of blood, knives and amputation.

And the British love it. Not only is “austerity” being touted as the solution to Britain’s economic woes, it is also being described as the answer to the country’s moral failings. On Oct. 20, the government will announce $128 billion worth of spending cuts, and many seem positively excited about it. . . For these voters, the very idea of instant gratification is anathema, in theory if not in practice. And they elected this government because they’ve convinced themselves that they’ve had enough of it.

Austerity, by contrast, has a deep appeal. Austerity is what made Britain great. Austerity is what won the war. It cannot be an accident that several British television channels are running programs this year with titles such as “Spirit of 1940,” all dedicated to the 70th anniversary of that “remarkable year” of rationing, air raid sirens and hardship. One series, “Ration Book Britain” is even devoted to that era’s parsimonious cooking. “With bacon, eggs and sugar rationed, wartime cooks had to be jolly resourceful,” explains an advertisement for the show. Its host promises to “re-create the recipes that kept the country fighting fit.”

Sometimes the depth of the Anglo-American cultural divide reveals itself in unexpected ways, and this is one of those moments: No cooking show featuring corned beef hash and powdered eggs would stand a chance in the United States. Perhaps for similar reasons, nobody is talking about “austerity” in the United States either. On the contrary, Republicans are still gunning for tax cuts, and Democrats are still advocating higher spending. Almost nobody — not Paul Krugman, not Newt Gingrich — talks enthusiastically about budget cuts. Instead, our politicians use euphemisms about “eliminating waste” or “making government more efficient,” as if no one had ever thought of doing that before.

Despite the deep shock the United States supposedly experienced during the banking crisis of 2008 and the resulting recession, we are, in other words, still far from Clegg’s “long-termism.” Hardly anyone in America is talking about cuts in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, for example, the biggest budgetary items (even though “private” pensions now look a lot safer, even when taking stock market fluctuations into account, than those who will depend entirely on a bankrupt federal budget 20 years hence). In Britain, by contrast, everything is on the table: pensions, housing benefits, disability payments, tax breaks.

Politics explain some of this difference, but I reckon history explains more of it. The last period of real national hardship Americans might remember is the 1930s, too long ago for almost everyone alive today. But rationing in Britain lasted well into the 1950s, long enough to color the childhoods of many politicians now in power. Nostalgic Brits, longing to re-create their country’s finest hour, remember postwar scrimping and saving. Nostalgic Americans in search of their own country’s finest hour remember postwar abundance, the long consumer boom — and, yes, a time when even instant gratification wasn’t fast enough.

via Anne Applebaum – For the U.S., Britain’s austerity is a foreign concept.

The conventional wisdom is that politicians dare not ask Americans to make sacrifices of any kind.  Do you think Americans could come to love austerity?

Physics and the Uncaused First Cause

Christian physicist Frank Tipler, via Stephen Hawking, offers an update on St. Thomas Aquinas:

In 1966, Stephen Hawking published his first — completely valid — proof for the existence of God. Over the next seven years, he followed this with even more powerful valid theorems proving God’s existence.

So how did Hawking, who successfully proved God’s existence, remain an atheist? Simple. He simply denied that the assumptions he used in his proofs were true. As a matter of logic, if the assumptions in a proof are not true, then the conclusions need not be true. What assumptions did the young Hawking make? He assumed that the laws of physics, mainly Einstein’s theory of gravity, were true. In the summary of his early research, namely his book The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, Hawking wrote:  “It seems to be a good principle that the prediction of [God] by a physical theory indicates that the theory has broken down, i.e. it no longer provides a correct description of observations.”

Hawking then began working on quantum gravity, in hopes that God would be at last eliminated from the equations. Alas, it was not to be: God was even more prominent — and unavoidable — in quantum gravity than in Einstein’s theory of gravity. In his latest book, The Grand Design, Hawking has pinned his hope of eliminating God on M-theory, a theory with no experimental support whatsoever, hence not a theory of physics at all. Nor has it been proven that M-theory is mathematically consistent. Nor has it been proven that God has been eliminated from M-theory. There are disquieting signs (for Hawking and company) that He is also unavoidable in M-theory, as He is in Einstein’s gravity, and in quantum gravity. . . .

The alert reader will have noticed that in the above quote, Hawking did not actually use the word “God.” But this is what he really meant. To see this, let us recall just what the word “God” means.

Consider the opening words of the (original) Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the omnipotent Father, Maker of all things visible and invisible.” These words give the basic definition of “God” used by Christians and Jews: God is the Cause of everything, but He Himself has no cause. God is the Uncaused First Cause. In his Second Way, Thomas Aquinas proves the existence of the Uncaused First (efficient) Cause, and Aquinas concludes, “to which all give the name ‘God’ (quam omnes Deum nominant).”

So now let us return to the theorems of the young Hawking. By following the history of the universe back into time — in other words, by following the causes of the current universe back into time — Hawking proved that all of these causes had a common cause; a common cause that did not itself have a cause. This common cause was an Uncaused Cause that was beyond the control of the laws of physics, beyond the control of any possible laws of physics. Rather, the entire universe began at this Uncaused First Cause.

In exactly the same way that Aquinas used the word “create,” we can say that the Uncaused First Cause, whose existence was proven decades ago by Hawking, “created” the universe.

Hawking called this Uncaused First Cause a “singularity.”

But given the properties of this “singularity,” it is God.

via Pajamas Media » Proving the Existence of God.

Teaching worship

Last Sunday our Pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite, did something he does once a year or so: He teaches us the significance and why-we-do-what-we-do in the liturgy. He uses an adaptation of The Narrative Commentary on the Divine Service by Prof. John Pless, who gave permission to post it on the church website and to thus make it available to others. (You can find the version we used here as a .pdf file. You can also find it online here.)

The way it worked was that an elder read the commentary before each part, and then we did it. One would expect this to be intrusive, but it really wasn’t. I learned a lot. I would recommend that Lutheran pastors make use of this resource so that their parishioners know what they are doing and develop an appreciation for the richness of liturgical worship. Non-Lutherans too would benefit from knowing this stuff. It would disabuse them of the notion that liturgical worship is “just Catholic” and would show them just how Biblical and evangelical the historic worship of the church really is.

For our edification and discussion, I’m going to post portions of it over the next few days. Here, for example, is the opening, setting forth succinctly the Lutheran theology of worship:

The high and holy worship of God is faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Such faith is created and sustained by God’s Service to us. In the Divine Service, the Lord comes to us in His Word and Sacrament to bless and enliven us with His gifts. This Service is not something we do for God, but His service to us to be received in faith. The “liturgy” is God’s work. He gives, we receive.

Here is the significance of the Invocation (“In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”):

From God’s Word, we know that wherever God puts His Name, there He is to bless. In the Old Testament, the Temple was the place where God graciously caused His Name to be present.

God has put His Name-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on you in Holy Baptism. The Divine Service begins “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Every Divine Service is for the hallowing of the Lord’s Name, which the Small Catechism reminds us is done “When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and we as the children of God, also lead a holy life according to it.”

Koran burning update

Well, the Florida preacher who threatened to burn the Koran decided not to.  But some other people took his idea and ran with it.  Iranian television has been broadcasting this information throughout the Muslim world.  Rioting has erupted.  Christian schools and churches are being attacked.  The death toll so far:  15.

Notice how burning the Koran, far from striking back at the jihadists, is actually playing right into their hands.

Iranian-backed TV broadcasts US Koran desecrations, inflames deadly Kashmir riots; 15 dead.

Preachers and singers fighting for wireless mics

The Federal Communication Commission is planning to release more broadcast channels, but the prospect of improved cell phone reception and WiFi on steroids has provoked opposition from preachers, singers, and others dependent on wireless mics:

Two decades ago, the FCC released similar airwaves to the public, but no one thought doing so would have much impact for consumers. They were wrong: That band of short-range radio waves spawned baby monitors, garage-door openers and thousands of WiFi hot spots at Starbucks, New York’s Times Square and homes across the nation.

Now, the FCC is betting that another batch of unlicensed and better-quality airwaves will enable engineers to turn those frequencies into WiFi networks on steroids. The airwaves would connect longer distances and penetrate through concrete walls – allowing for stronger connections.

For a start, the regulatory move, generally supported by all five commissioners, could help alleviate pressure on overburdened mobile networks that have frustrated some smartphone users who deal with dropped calls and slow Web connections. . . .

Details of the proposed regulatory order haven’t been disclosed, and the move faces some opposition from broadcasters, Broadway performers and ministers. Those critics, who have filed suit against the FCC to prevent the release of white spaces, say users of that spectrum could interfere with television channels and would throw off wireless microphones that operate on those frequencies. . . .

Genachowski’s proposal would reserve two television channels in each local market for wireless microphones. News and sports broadcasters, church ministers and singer Dolly Parton have argued to the FCC that they need some spectrum reserved for their wireless microphones.

via FCC considers release of unused TV channels.

Is this referring to those Garth-Brooks flesh colored mics (pronounced “mikes”) that  hook around the ear and have that long bendable piece of plastic that sticks out in front of your mouth?  I hate those!  I’ve had to wear them when speaking, and I hate them!  And, for some reason, I don’t like  to see other people wearing them!  Or does this relate also to those battery-powered mics that you clip onto your tie or shirt, putting the main unit in your pocket with the antenna hanging out?  I don’t mind those so much.  But maybe squeezing out the bandwith of wireless microphones would be a boon to both church and culture.

Dolly, you know I’m a big fan, but you and your fellow singers do too much dancin’, putting on too big of a show.  Just stand in front of a microphone on a stand, preferably with a bulbous top, like Patsy Cline did and just sing.

Preachers, preach from the pulpit rather than roaming around.  The reason we have pulpits is that it’s easier for the congregation to see you.  It also provides a place for your manuscript or your notes.  Please use a manuscript or notes.  Those wireless mics make it possible for you to stalk around and even go into the congregation, which turns  your sermon into something your are rambling off the top of your head.  Please don’t go into the congregation.

I suppose the leaders of liturgical worship like wireless microphones with all of the turning and moving they have to do outside of the altar.  OK.  But can’t we rig mics at the altar and around the chancel?  What did ministers do before electronic speakers were invented?  I believe that was the original purpose of chanting, to enable the voice to carry farther.

At any rate, I think we should sacrifice wireless mics on the altar of better cell phone reception and wireless internet access.


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