Canon Press now has Peter Leithart’s “Wise Words” available in audio format. Turns out that it’s my voice on the CDs. And you can take a little listen here.
Archives For January 2007
I started writing about my son fairly quickly after he was born. I’ve relayed a number of stories, anecdotes, and descriptions of his ways and words over the months and years. But my daughter is a glory. My son is a soldier, a warrior, a hero, an artist, a storyteller, and an athlete. My daughter is a sunset, a waterfall, a solar eclipse, a hurricane, and a fierce ocean. She is a lovely yet utterly terrifying person to me.
She is fierce and farseeing. She believes her knees are too easy, too rudimentary. She began doing pushups several weeks ago. At five and a half months, she pushes up on to her hands and feet, holding her head up. She holds this posture for several moments before deciding which direction to take. And she dives forward, arms out, face up, eyes open. Actually, she knows about her knees, and occasionally she resorts to them, but she has seen the world, and she knows that people use their feet. She will not be held back.
She is skeptical of attention, and I applaud her wisdom. Even when it is I who is seeking to bestow her with kindness, her approval is not easily won. Some would call it coy, but I prefer to call it cunning. She does not smile for just anyone. And when she does, her face is in motion, turning, spinning like the mystery that she is. She smirks at cameras with a knowing glance. She is not melancholy; I’ve seen her full blown smiles. It is grace and nobility.
She is aware. Her eyes are quick and sharp, assessing situations diligently. She loves her brother. Her mother and father goo and coo almost obsessively, and her brother shows up and casually says hi to her, and she breaks into laughter. She uses her hands proficiently, always pushing, pulling objects to her mouth. The universe is her table, the world her eucharist.
There’s something pejorative in the term “dramatic” as though there was something overdone, over-the-top, or else insincere. But nobility understands the centrality of the theatrical in all of life, learning to play the part of the hero, studying lines and gesture for the greatest effect, for the glory of the Audience. There’s something of the dramatic in her personality, something aware and unaware of the playfulness of life. There is no room for half-heartedness in these few years between birth and death; there is no time for a cowardly moderation. She can be subtle, content to sit and watch. She can be fierce in her disagreement with the arrangements and pour her wrath out in fury.
This is the woman I have now known for almost six months. God willing, there will be many decades of her story, with many children and grandchildren following in her wake. So here’s to you, Felicity: May your wine be mixed with wisdom and may your children and grandchildren be pillars in the palaces of righteousness.
Christians agree with Muslims that the goal of all of life (including politics) is theocracy. We agree that if God is Lord of our hearts, he must also be Lord of our state. Furthermore, we have always understood our goal and mission, as stated in the Great Commission, as the gospel of Jesus filling the earth. Our fundamental disagreement with Islam is over which God is Lord. Where Islam claims that Allah is God and Muhammad is his prophet, Christians insist that the Trinity is the one God of the universe, and that he has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. He has been given the name above every name, and it is to him that all things in heaven and on earth must bow (cf. Phil. 2:9-11).
This gives some Christians the “willies” when they remember some of the atrocities of the crusades and other “Christian” states carried out in the name of Christ. But the opposite and far worse error is the assumption that there is some realm that Jesus is not King of. Christians have for too long lived and thought like functional atheists when it comes to politics. The failure of the medieval Church, the crusades, et al was not that they believed Jesus was Lord of the state. The problem was that they came to believe that the weapon of the state (the sword) was to be preferred to the weapon of the Church (the Word of God). The Christian faith declares that God overthrew the powers of sin and darkness in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More powerful than any two-edged sword is the Word of God, the same Word that created the worlds from nothing, the same Word that called Jesus back from the dead. The medieval Church, instead of understanding that self-sacrificing love is the way to glory and dominion, stooped to the rocks and sticks of military coercion. The irony is that in fighting Islam, we stooped to the tactics of Islam.
I just finished a week intensive course on Islam last week at Erskine. It was an excellent class both as an overview of the history of the second most influential religion in the world and as an introduction to Islamic theology and culture.
By some estimates, Islam is the fastest growing religion in America. It is also estimated that of American converts, women make up 65-75%. Indicative of this trend is the fact that Dr. Ingrid Mattson is the president of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim umbrella organization in North America. This marketing stunt, a disgrace to most orthodox Muslims throughout the world, flies in North America and aids their proselytizing of ignorant, abandoned, and abused American women, looking and longing for protection and love.
But you know that these scads of female converts are not being told the truth. When asked what might annul a Muslim man’s prayers, Muhammad answered that there were three things that might annul his prayers. First, if a donkey walked in front of him, second, if a dog walked in front of him, and third, if a woman walked in front of him. This is one of the reasons why to this day, women pray behind the men during prayers. When it was suggested that Muhammad demeaned women with his statement, making them equal to dogs and donkeys, he replied by stating that women are worth only half as much as men because of their feeble minds. Elsewhere, after having a vision of hell, Muhammad commented that hell was mostly filled with women. Adding insult to injury, Muhammad is well known to have had at least 13 “wives” and many other concubines. His favorite wife was a 6 year old girl. But being a gentleman, the Prophet waited until she was 9 to consummate the marriage. And of course it is no surprise that the Qur’an explicitly allows, and even encourages, Muslim men to beat their wives if they are suspected of unfaithfulness.
But the list goes on. There is of course a facade of morality and modesty in the Muslim world, but the allowances for “temporary” marriage are poorly disguised houses of prostitution, not to mention the allowance of polygamy and easy divorce affected by the ever merciful three-fold declaration of “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.”
One episode records the Prophet seeing his nephew’s daughter-in-law in less than her usual apparel. Apparently his nephew saw the keen glances the Prophet was giving his wife and offered to divorce her for him. The Prophet, being the upright man he was, of course refused. But arriving home that night, he received a vision which ordered him (quite against his will) to take his nephew’s offer and to marry his wife. Tales multiply of Muhammad’s exploitation of women, and the legacy of the Muslim slave trade pushes the details from disgusting to horrific.
The total number of persons enslaved by Muslims is some 4 or 5 times the number enslaved by Westerners (not to excuse their faults in the least), and where the mortality rate of the western slave trade was something like 1 in 10, the Muslim slave trade sent in the neighborhood of 4 in 5 to the grave, marching them across such harrowing terrains as the Sahara Desert. And of the (by some estimates) 180 million slaves taken by Muslims through 14 centuries of aggressive slave trade activities, most were women sold as concubines. It was the usual practice to kill any children born to these slave concubines, and all male slaves were castrated.
Of course there are and have been “decent” Muslims and ignorant Muslims and liberal Muslims who would never dream of these sorts of atrocious schemes or practices and would readily denounce various abuses in the history of their faith. And well and good; and they need to renounce their nominal paganism and come to the truth in Christ. But there is a deep deception being promulgated particularly in this nation, largely motivated (I believe) by the billions of dollars being pumped into our nation’s universities and various charitable organizations, all payoff money for the continuation of Islamic slavery (“submission”) through lies and deceit.
Wine on the Third Day
We have seen today that on the “third day” on the day of resurrection, Jesus acts as a bridegroom, bringing the wine of the new covenant to Israel. But in fact, as James Jordan points out, the third day has always been associated with bread and wine. It was on the third day of creation that God created wheat and grapes. In the first creation it was on the third day that God gave bread and wine to the world. And likewise, it is in the new creation that God gives bread and wine to the world in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This means that bread and wine (and the Eucharist in particular) should be associated with resurrection life. And this is exactly what we find Jesus saying just a few chapters later in John: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (6:51-54) By the power and working of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection life of Jesus is communicated to us in the bread and the wine. But notice what this life is for: he gives us his life for the life of the world. You cannot eat this resurrection life and not become a life giving agent. So come now and feast upon life, and be strengthened to manifest that life to world.
Second Sunday in Epiphany: Exploring our Worship III: John 2:1-11
Opening Prayer: Almighty God, you have come into the world in Jesus Christ to save the world and fill it with your endless glory. We draw near to you now covered with the blood of Jesus; cut us up with the sword of your Word. Arrange us on the altar, consume us by the power of your Spirit, and so transform us into living sacrifices that we are pleasing and acceptable in your sight. For we pray with faith, knowing that you are a consuming fire, through Jesus Christ the righteous, and Amen!
We have considered worship as sacrifice, and last week we explored worship as the fierce order of God’s army, his warring hosts. One of the other most important images of worship in Scripture is the wedding/wedding feast. Epiphany or Theophany is the celebration of God’s revelation to us in Christ, God revealed in human flesh. Our gospel lesson today is particularly concerned with the first sign of that revelation of the glory of God: the miracle at a wedding in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine.
The Glory of the Bridegroom
This first sign that Jesus does is no incidental reference. John has already introduced Jesus as the Word made flesh who reveals the glory as the only begotten of the Father (1:14). When John finishes this episode with the explanation that this was the first sign that Jesus did to manifest his glory (2:11), we cannot forget that this is the glory of the Father. The fact that it is the first sign must also indicate its priority, indicating something primary about Christ’s mission. God comes into the world as a man, and after being baptized, the first thing he does is go to a wedding and turn water into wine. First, notice that Jesus is standing in for the bridegroom. The master of the feast calls for the bridegroom and praises him for setting out this “good wine” not knowing where the wine had come from (2:9). Jesus reveals God to us as the bridegroom come for a bride, come to give the good wine for a wedding feast.
Resurrection and New Creation
Secondly, notice that John labels this event as occurring on the “third day” (2:1). Given the gospel story and John’s tendency to pack meaning into texts, we cannot ignore this reference to Jesus’ mission. Here, Mary “mistakes” Jesus as the bridegroom, but we know that at the end of this gospel, Jesus will rise on the third day be “mistaken” by another Mary for a gardener. Again, remembering what will take place later, we see that this “third day” occurs just a few days after being hailed the “lamb of God,” a clear foreshadowing of Passover, death, and resurrection. On the third day, there will be wine for Israel (cf. Is. 25:6). But this “third day” reference also comes in a line of other time references. John opens famously with the phrase “in the beginning” and begins expounding Jesus as the “light of the world” followed by several references to “days” (1:29, 35, 43). Depending on how one does the math we might see this miracle on the “third day” as actually occurring on the sixth or first day of the week from the “beginning.” This creation week motif is unmistakable. Jesus manifests God as the Creator God, come to remake his people, to turn their water into wine.
Wine of Purification
Not only has God come in Jesus as the bridegroom and the creator, he comes as a new Moses-like teacher. He fills the water pots used for Jewish purification with wedding wine. The purification rites of the Old Covenant were a reminder of the Exodus: they passed through water before coming to God (at Sinai) and the land of grapes/ wine (Canaan). The old Jewish purification rites are being transformed in this new creation; as God came as a bridegroom and married Israel at Sinai, so God is come again in Jesus to marry his people. This new marriage (or remarriage) will have a new purification rite, one that involves the drinking of wine. The Old Covenant water is growing up into the New Covenant wine. Both the wedding/bridegroom theme and the wine point to the idea of maturity. In Jesus, God’s people are growing up (Gal. 4:2ff); wine is a symbol of maturity as an aged drink. And a wedding is one of the steps in maturity, the beginning of a new household. In Jesus, God is coming to his people for their graduation to adulthood; he’s coming to marry them, to renew covenant with them, to purify them with wine.
Conclusions & Applications
Worship is like a wedding. We are gathered here, week after week, to renew our wedding vows with our husband. Corporately we are the Bride of Christ, and he calls us out of the world to renew our marriage covenant. This is one of the reasons why our service is dialogical. Throughout the service there are spoken responses between the minister and the congregation. We see this pattern in the covenant at Sinai, and we still have this in our own weddings where vows and promises are made between the husband and wife. But a wedding is also a fitting description of the proper decorum of worship. Our worship is wedding-like in its solemnity and joy. It is not solemn like a funeral; it is solemn like a wedding, like graduation. It is full of deep joy. Our bridegroom still brings wine to the feast.
In this sense, worship is covenant renewal. We considered the theme of sacrifice a few weeks ago and noticed that our worship follows the order of sacrifices outlined in Leviticus 9. We also pointed out the pattern there is resident in the act of creation and in the Eucharist. But that pattern is also plainly seen in making covenants: Call, Rehearsal of separation, instructions, fellowship/meal, blessing/commission (e.g. Abram, Sinai & Israel, David). We see that this is the same pattern we saw before in creation, the sacrifices, and the Eucharist. And our worship follows the same pattern.
We are in some ways exactly like the bridegroom at Cana who was praised by the master of the Feast. Our offertory is offering up (somewhat sheepishly) what we did not make ourselves. Our bridegroom gives us gifts to give to him and for the world.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Final Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that you have invited us (and the world) into your life and fellowship. We confess that we have attempted to horde this life and have believed that eternal life was found in fat theology books and thinking certain thoughts. But your life was manifest and gave joy to a wedding feast; your life was manifest and gave health to broken bones and hope to the broken hearted. Give us that life; and put to death our death. As we greet one another in the Peace, enable us to do it as images of your Triune love. And we ask that our peace and fellowship would be for the world.
Cling to the Light
We worship the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In God’s infinite kindness and goodness, He created the heavens and the earth and placed humanity over all to rule and fill and glorify it. But beyond merely being an enormous building project, the world was created to join the eternal fellowship of God. Creation was meant to join the symphony of God’s own glory and love. Adam and his descendents were supposed to have seen the world as an endless treasury of possibilities, all means to fellowship with the Trinity. But because of the Fall, sin has entered the world, and this means that various aspects of all of creation have been twisted and distorted. This means that as you come to worship there are some things that you must bring and there are others things that you may not bring. You are all given the choice of Cain and Able before God. You must bring the best of your labors and not settle for anything less. You must bring joy and gratitude and thanksgiving; you may not bring bitterness, anger, or pride. You must bring your voice and your hands and your ears; but you may not bring words of death, hands of violence, or ears of presumption. You are new creations in Christ Jesus, and as God divided light from darkness on the first day long ago, God speaks again, anew, and calls you to cling to the light and let all the darkness go. Put down your anger, put down your lust, put down your fear and uncertainty. Put away from yourselves harsh words and bitter thoughts. The Triune God has called you out of darkness now and in this moment; do not cling to the shadows; come into the light.
Our worship always culminates in this meal, and with David we confess that God has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies. And this is the gospel: yes you must obey, you must be faithful, you must sing, you must eat and fellowship with one another. But at the center of it all, in the middle of the battlefield, God invites us to sit down and eat. This reminds me of Tolkien’s hobbits who so often were concerned about when they would stop for their various meals; there is something fundamentally Christian in that picture. We are just little people in a gigantic world full of all kinds of dangers and evils. But we are with the King; the King is with us. And while we sit down and eat in the midst of the battle, our King is laying our enemies low. He fights on our behalf. So as you take up this bread and wine today do so in faith, hobbit faith. Eat the bread and see the godless fleeing to the hills; drink this wine and see giants and dragons and wicked politicians cowering before our warrior King. Eat and drink for God is giving us the Kingdom, and of its increase there shall be no end.