Creedal Christianity is Mindful
The definition of mindful is not able to keep something in mind, but that's what I mean. What's easily remembered. I went with mindful rather than the more accurate memorable' because it goes with useful' last week and hopeful' next.
What you have not in mind you have not. I know; I know. "I just need to know where to look something up." "The internet knows everything." I have at times subscribed to one or both of these maxims. And to my embarrassment several times now I've had to look something up about dismantling or assembling a firearm. Something I at one time knew and could do literally blindfolded. However, in matters of theology, the Faith, what you have not in memory, you really don't have. Two anecdotal proofs and one Scriptural actual proof follow.
There is Kate Koob. She was raised in an ALC church. In 1979, at age 32 she was one of 52 Americans, only 2 were women, held hostage in Iran for 444 days. Afterward, she credited the things she was made to memorize in confirmation as getting her through the ordeal. Circa 1978 I met the father of a coworker at San Marcos Baptist Academy. Kelly's father was an Airforce pilot who had been shot down over Vietnam and had been a POW for 7 years. He told me that when he couldn't sleep at night, which was frequent now, he and his wife lay awake memorizing Scripture. He said that he had vowed while a prisoner that he would never be without Scripture again.
I've tried to leave you the Scripture passages found in the Catechism and liturgy. For 21 years we've read together the same Passion Readings. The weakness here is that they are a harmony of the Gospels, but this is the traditional way they have been read. On Good Friday, we read John's Passion account alone. On Christmas Eve we read Lk. 2:1-20 in the King James, and on Christmas Day, Jn. 1:1-18. If pressed, I believe that we could do Page 15 liturgy, Christmas, the Passion account, and some hymns all from memory. What you don't have in mind, you don't really have in life. Mindfulness is commended and commanded in Scripture. Ps. 119:1, "Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee." Ps. 37:31, "The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide." Ps. 40:8, "I delight to do Thy will, my God; Thy Law is within my heart." Then there's Paul's great chapter on the Resurrection: "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you,By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you" (1 Cor. 15:1-2). Did you notice the if-then "Gospel"? Keep listening.
Deut. 11:18-20 is clear: "You shall therefore take these words of Mine to heart and to soul; and you shall tie them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets on your forehead. You shall also teach them to your sons, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." The Jews took from this the practice of wearing two small boxes, one on forehead and one on the forearm with passages from the Pentateuch in them. These are called phylacteries which comes from the Greek word for amulet which pagans of all times have worn in the belief that that certain objects have magical power (http://cyclopedia.lcms.org/display.asp?t1=a&word=AMULETS).
Jesus denounces the Jew's use of Scripture when He says, "You examine the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is those very Scriptures that testify about Me" (Jn. 5:39). Misuse of Scripture begins with missing Jesus, the Word made flesh, as the center and the Gospel of His holy life and guilty death for us as the point. Treating it like a Magic 8 Ball for answers by opening it at random or thinking the physical book is itself protection, is a misuse. Go to a military museum. You'll probably see a pocket NT that stopped a bullet, but plenty of less sacred objects have done the same. Thinking the pages themselves are magic culminates with King Menelik of Ethiopia. He died in in 1913. He ate a page or two of the Bible whenever he was sick or sad. "He died as a result of eating the Book of Kings in a heavy Egyptian edition" (Wonder Book, 453).
That would be funnier if I didn't see our own unuse, misuse, and abuse of Scripture in it. My own and yours. Creeds are meant to keep the right Scriptural truth in mind. So what's on your mind? This is another basic truth from C.S. Lewis seminal work Mere Christianity. What a man does when taken off guard is best evidence of what sort of man he is. "If there are any rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding" (164-5). So, what's on your mind?
Read Luther's Preface to the Catechism which the LCMS since 1991 has made into an Appendix, but that's better than the 1943 edition which didn't have it at all. Read it; Luther deplores how little Scripture is in the minds of pastor and people alike, and offers his Small Catechism to address this. He says to adopt a text of the 10 Commandments, Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and Sacraments and teach it. He says people get confused when the form is changed and don't remember what they were taught. "There should be no change, even though one may wish to improve the text" (244). I don't think any Lutheran group ever followed this part of our Confession. It's in the Book of Concord of 1580, so it is binding.
So how have you been taught by the Catechism to be mindful of tonight's dark Gethsemane? The Apostles' Creed as well as the 3 Explanations have memorable phrases which are like tiny hooks dangling from heaven to snag you. Or they could be like Florida's "Wait-A-Minute" vine and trip you up when you don't expect it. Or they could be Minerva's curse of Arachne. The maiden weaved better than the goddess and filled her web with the faults of the gods. Minerva destroyed the web and touched the maid's forehead and made her feel her guilt and shame. She couldn't endure it and hanged herself. But Minerva pitied her and let her live as a spider. Spiders are arachnids, so her descendants continue to hang.
Into dark Gethsemane we go. First, we're confronted with Peter's bravado which we know will fail; then His closest disciples sleep while Jesus wails and sweats blood in prayer. Finally comes the mob, the betrayal, the power of Jesus shown in just "I am" and, "Then all the disciples deserted Jesus and fled." Everywhere we go we see disciples behaving badly. Every which way you turn you're tripped up by seeing the sins you've committed many times. Everywhere you look hangs before you the times you promised Jesus boldly, failed to pray, did betray, and finally deserted Him. That's how the Law ought to snag, trip, and hang you, but you really don't need Creedal Christianity to do that. The Law is written in your heart. Even in those churches where Biblical truth is denied, the Law, though shadowy and dim in fallen hearts, continues to sound condemnation like a tolling bell.
What you need Creedal Christianity for is to be told what Jesus undergoes is "for us men and our salvation." He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, so God the Creator could redeem us and give us the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Unless you leave here tonight with these creedal truths ringing, echoing, resounding in your mind, you leave here a Judas. Next week he goes out an makes like Arachne and hangs himself. His is one of the few deaths that Scripture dwells on its gruesomeness. "Don't go there", says the Spirit. But, but, but, and now we're back to the if-then Gospel of earlier.
I keep trying hard to remember not to forget, but I do. I do. I can't keep in memory all that I want, should, and even could. And rises up before me the specter of that hymn verse: "When mind and thought, 0 Savior,/ Are flickering like a light/ That to and fro doth waver/ Ere 'tis extinguished quite," (TLH 597:5). What about then? What about those in memory care units? What about those whose mind is gone and where it is, is anyone's guess? What about when your soul is overwhelmed not even to the point of death but just overwhelmed?
What really counts is not what is or isn't, can or can't be on my mind. What counts is what's on God's mind. But then we have Paul's question that is also an assertion: "Who has known the mind of God?" No one says Romans 11:34. Only God knows the mind of God, but Creedal Christianity confesses the God who is also Man. The God who is the Son of the Father and our Brother. John 1:18 which we hear every Christmas says, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." "Declared Him" is exegeted Him'. It's the Greek word for taking the language of the Divine and making it human. Heb. 1:1-3 says, "In the past, God spoke to our forefathers by the prophets at many times and in many ways. In these last days, He has spoken to us by his SonThe Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact imprint of the divine nature."
The Apostles' Creed is all Gospel. It's not meant to hang our sins before us, or snag us with guilt but to put before us what God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost freely gives us. Here's Luther's summary of what the Creed would have us mind: "'Christ forgives the sins .The Father desires it, the Son has accomplished it; the Holy Spirit is the one who delivers it'" (Peters, Creed, 225). Here's a 20th century German theologian's comparing of what Creedal Christians are mindful of to what's on the mind of others: Some place God and nature on the same plane; others use cosmological proofs from this world to reach up to God. We meet God in our flesh in Second Article then go to the Third Article and find the First Article (Quest for Holiness, 133). The same God who delivers salvation to us is the one who redeemed us and created us in the first place. See? We were and are always on His mind. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Midweek Vespers 2 (20210303); Passion 2, Apostles' Creed