Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reading the Apocrypha

Ask any person what the difference between a "Roman Catholic" Bible and a "Protestant" Bible is and they'll likely tell you that a RC Bible has "extra books" (or they'll stare blankly at you like you just asked about the Law of Cosines). But what about a "Lutheran" Bible? While Lutherans don't consider the Apocrypha to be on the same level as the rest of the Old Testament, the reformers certainly held these books in higher regard than most Lutherans today. When Luther translated the Bible into German, he included the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments. In fact, every Bible published by CPH in German until we switched to English after WWI contained the Apocrypha.

Martin Chemnitz described an Old Testament Apocrypha, containing the books most people think of as the extra "Roman Catholic" books, and a New Testament Apocrypha, containing the books whose inclusion in the canon of the New Testament was debatable (2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation). We read the NT apocryphal books, so why not the OT ones? Maybe they're not authoritative like the Pentateuch, but they're still good reading. As long as they are in concert with the agreed-upon books of sacred Scriptures, we can learn from them. But we don't allow them to make any new teachings that we cannot find in the rest of the Scriptures. The same is true of the "apocryphal" books of the New Testament. We can't find teachings in them that are out of harmony with the rest of the Scriptures.

The Daily Lectionary I use (derived from the same one in LSB plus an additional reading from Lutheran Confessions or the Apocrypha) is going through 1 Maccabees right now. This is from today's reading:

"And thus consider ye throughout all ages, that none that put their trust in him shall be overcome. Fear not then the words of a sinful man: for his glory shall be dung and worms. To day he shall be lifted up and to morrow he shall not be found, because he is returned into his dust, and his thought is come to nothing. Wherefore, ye my sons, be valiant and shew yourselves men in the behalf of the law; for by it shall ye obtain glory." (1 Maccabees 2:61-64)

Good stuff.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pentecost Tuesday

This is the Old Testament reading for Pentecost Tuesday.

"For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted;
the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever,
a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks;
until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
And it will hail when the forest falls down,
and the city will be utterly laid low.
Happy are you who sow beside all waters,
who let the feet of the ox and the donkey range free." -Isaiah 39:14-20

Well, Pentecost Tuesday at about 3:15, the forests fell indeed. A huge oak tree in the corner of my back yard toppled in the wind. While it displaced the corner of my new fence, took out some power lines, and snapped off the fire hydrant, it didn't fall on any people, buildings, or anything of any value. That's particularly miraculous considering the line of cars along the street (into which the the tree fell)picking kids up from school at exactly that time. Thanks be to God.

I came back froma hospital visit at about 5:00 to see the street closed by police cars, city workers with a backhoe, and an Ameren truck. Little did I realize they were attending to my tree. The high school kids getting into their cars at 3:15 report quite a spectacle.

So, nothing a little hard work can't take care of. But we are going to miss having a shaded back yard...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Mothers’ day is not a holiday in the Church Year. It has no readings assigned to it, and it doesn’t cause a change in the colors of the paraments. As an American, second-Sunday-in-May observance, Mother’s Day first came about in the 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation written by Julia Ward Howe as an attempt for mothers (particularly those of soldiers) to unite on a day to oppose war. The first observance of Mother’s Day was organized by Anna Jarvis in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908. By 1914, the observance had spread across the country so popularly that President Woodrow Wilson declared the day a national holiday on which to fly the flag to honor mothers whose sons had died in war. Just nine years later, Mother’s Day would be so commercialized that Jarvis would protest that it had left it’s intended purpose.

But the American Mother’s Day does have its roots in an ecclesiastical tradition. The fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare, was known as Mothering Sunday. On that day, young people returned to their home congregation and so were reunited with their mothers for the day. On this day, Christians were also reminded of their Holy Mother, the Church.

Even though Mother’s Day is particularly overshadowed on the church’s calendar this year by Pentecost (one of the highest feast days in the year), it is still good for Christians to remember their mothers and to give thanks to God for them.

For all of our faux-egalitarianism in America, we still have two separate holidays: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It is proper that we have two days instead of one combined “Parents’ Day” because mothers and fathers are distinctly different. Neither is more important than the other, but they do play different roles in raising a child.

Particularly in teaching the faith to the next generation, mothers play an invaluable role. But this is not always an easy task. In fact, for any mother who has watched with heartbreak as her child has departed from the faith in which he was raised, this can be the most difficult job in the world.

Monica was such a mother. She raised her son in the Christian faith, but he soon departed from it. Her son, well-educated and a successful scholar, was drawn to a life of hedonism, indulging in pagan intellectualism, living with his mistress, and joining a false religion. Monica pleaded with her son to repent and return to the Church. With many tears and ceaseless prayers, she interceded for her son. One priest told Monica, “Surely the son of these tears cannot perish.” And he did not.

Monica’s son Augustine repented, was catechized, and baptized into the Christian Church at the Easter Vigil in 387, A.D. Shortly thereafter, he was made a bishop of the church in Hippo in North Africa. Today. St. Augustine is regarded by scholars as the preeminent Church Father in the Western church.

Mothers, yours is a holy work: teaching the faith to your children. In fact, there is no more holy work in the world that a person may aspire to do. If you have wayward children, take heart. Learn from St. Monica not to give up praying for them or calling them back to the faith. Happy Mother’s Day.