Wednesday, August 4, 2010

FW: The Beautiful Burden of the Church’s History

The editor (Rev. Paul J Cain of Sheridan, Wyoming) would like to remind our readers that the Cyberbrethren blog and great materials from CPH come from the similarly-named Rev. Paul Timothy McCain of St. Louis…


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Posted on: Wednesday, August 04, 2010 4:02 AM
Author: Paul T. McCain
Subject: The Beautiful Burden of the Church's History


As I walked out of the St. Louis History Museum a few years ago, I did a double take as I noticed two intriguing words carved in a large stone set in the pavement: beauty and burden. I stopped to look more closely and read this interesting quote from noted St. Louis author Eddy L. Harris:

The past is beauty. It is also burden. It is where we go, many of us, to remind ourselves who we are and even sometimes to find out.

The Church's history is a beautiful burden. To regard it as such is to embrace simultaneously a realistic and grateful regard for it. To respect the past as a teacher is to recognize the blessings God has given to so many faithful men and women down through the ages. To idolize the past is to do a disservice both to ourselves and to those who have gone before. To ignore the past is to place ourselves, and our future, at great risk. Moving forward into the future while regarding the past to be irrelevant is the greatest danger. To do so is like driving down a dark road on a moonless, cloudy night with no headlights.

There is something about our culture that takes perverse pride in neglecting the past. It is often the case that our culture regards anything "modern" or "contemporary" as automatically worthy of more attention and more trustworthy than long-held truths. This is certainly not a biblical attitude. Scripture makes it clear that we are to remain rooted and anchored in the historic revelation of God in Christ Jesus and in the Word of the Lord, which endures forever.

"Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it" (2 Timothy 3:14 ESV). Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, St. Paul said to St. Timothy. Elsewhere he wrote, "Teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1 ESV). We are to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3 ESV).

As I reflected on the museum inscription, I was reminded of something G. K. Chesterton once said:

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. . . . Tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. (Orthodoxy [Westport, CT: Greenwod Press, 1974], p. 85)

What about us Lutherans who, by God's grace alone, remain committed to the truths of Holy Scripture and to the confession of this truth that is contained in the Book of Concord? How do we regard the past? We do well to embrace the beautiful burden of our past, to let it remind us who we are and help us to find out when we forget or are tempted to run after the latest fad or trend.

We do not embrace the past in an unthinking and uncritical manner. Neither do we scurry about as some churches do these days, throwing overboard virtually every discernible doctrine or practice anchored in the historic confession of the Church through the ages.

Among many people in our culture is a deep hunger and longing and searching for truth. This hunger for authentic spiritual truth is to them like a distant melody that they can barely make out, but for us who have been brought into the truth of Christ, it is a glorious symphony. The search for peace and genuine certainty in an age of chaos is to many like peering far out at the deep, dark expanse of the horizon and seeing small, flickering pinpoints of light. For those who are in Christ, the light of His truth fills our lives with a warm and eternally satisfying radiance from His eternal Word and life-giving Sacraments. May God stir up in us renewed zeal for spreading the light of Christ and bringing many, many more to hear the wonderful symphony of the Gospel of Christ, truly, the splendor of truth.

Perhaps in many ways the burden of the past is a result of its great beauty, a beauty that when contemplated and meditated on reduces us once again to repentance as we recognize our many sins and failings. But then we are moved to thankful praise to the One who has called us out of sin and death's darkness into the life and light of His salvation. For so many people today, the past is a burden that presses down on them, forcing them to ask those questions that come to all people in the moments of quiet and stillness, in the moments when they are unable to stuff their ears and cover their eyes with the transient sounds and images of a culture rushing always headlong toward new pleasures, new sensations, new emptiness. In their quiet moments, so many find themselves all alone with the haunting voice of grief or guilt that pierces their dreams at night and their thoughts during the day. Pilate's question echoes to this day: "What is truth?"

It is precisely for the sake of Christ's mission that we joyfully take up the beautiful burden of the past and reflect together on those who have labored and gone before us. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV).

As the Church rejoices and celebrates our Lord's resurrection victory, we are embraced by, and in turn we embrace, the beauty and burden of the One who has gone before us. He bids you to take your cross and follow Him. He lays the yoke of discipleship on you because of the burden of your sin that He bore. He has gifted you with the light and easy burden of grace, mercy, and salvation, purchased by His body and blood sacrificed for you on the cross, the very body and blood He gives to you in His Holy Supper. Forgiveness, life, and salvation are yours.

May you have great joy in your Lord's Easter triumph. When the burdens, stresses, and strains of your duties and responsibilities weigh heavily, when the shadow of a sin remembered and guilt felt appears as a dark shadow on your heart and in your mind, then hold even more closely to the forgiving love of Him who loves you more than His life itself. He gives you, again and again, the peace that truly passes all human understanding. May the Lord bless your ministry!

Cordially in Christ,

Rev. Paul T. McCain Concordia Publishing House

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