09 February 2009

Thoughts from Septuagesima's Epistle

"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Cor. 9:25-27)

Our Lord calls for bodily discipline and self-control. It seems to me that this falls into a variety of areas:

* Food - he calls for us to be disciplined in our use of the good gifts, the tasty treats, He sets before us in creation. Lent is coming in a few short weeks, providing a great time to work on this not as individuals, but as a community of faith. My suggestion is to observe the Lenten fast by 1) simplifying your food (if you will, more hamburger less filet mignon); 2) eating moderately every time you eat (consciously avoid pigging out); John Cassian wisely observed that the Father's had only one rule of fasting: "stop eating before you are full"; 3) plan to regularly skip meals and use the time saved for reading, prayer, or service. A discipline I've adopted in my own life that I've come to treasure is that I don't eat outside of mealtime, save for an apple in the middle of the afternoon. I treat each Sunday, though, as a little feast and allow snacks on that day.

* Drink - by which I mean alcohol. Again, moderation is the key. Drunkenness is never fitting for the child of God, but people differ significantly on how much alcohol they can consume before they cross that line. The discipline I try to follow is no more than one alcoholic drink per day - almost invariably a glass of wine. Sundays I allow myself a bit more, as with the food. I am not suggesting that as what any given reader of the blog ought to do, but just to provide an example.

* Sex - which is the real taming of the beast. The discipline to which the Lord summons us there means that sex is reserved pure and simply for marital intercourse and that there are no exceptions - within or without marriage. Gentlemen, you know what that means. I've written before that the problem with porn is not porn per se, but the behavior that accompanies it and if that behavior is changed, the problem with porn doesn't even exist.

* Exercise - I'll quote my good friend, Todd Wilken: "The old Adam hates cardio." Does he ever! But pushing the body into subjection is, as the Apostle said, "useful for this life."

* Tongue - hey, it's part of the body. I'm talking about talking, especially about grumbling about and criticizing the folks around us. We need a fast on that. I wonder what would happen if we promised that we'd not open our mouth to speak to our spouse, child, co-worker, whatever in harshness or judgment before we opened our mouth to speak to God about them in prayer? I think we'd have a bit more silence, and I think that would be a good thing.

These five areas supply most Christians, especially Christian men, with plenty of trouble. But in the great power of the Christ who lives within us, by whom we "can do all things through Him who strengthens me" even these areas of bodily indulgence can be disciplined and brought under control. And that discipline is, I would argue, pure freedom. And if you've managed by Christ's power to overcome in one or more of these areas, you know exactly what I mean when I say that it is not and can never be a source of pride - it's perfectly clear WHO gave the power and the strength, and who alone supplies it every day. And the warning of the Apostle is always apt: Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall. The "way of escape" that St. Paul mentions is given a few verses later: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread we break, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" He enters us to forgive us when we fall and to give us the strength to do what is impossible by human effort alone - for He alone can change our desires.

Hope the thoughts are of some help as you prepare to enter Holy Lent and give thought to how you will observe this time of bodily and spiritual training, "for the present form of this world is passing away."

12 comments:

Pr. Lehmann said...

As I was reading that Epistle in the Divine Service yesterday, many of your thoughts struck me.

I think I need to preach that text some year. There's a lot there worth preaching on.

It takes a lot for me to say that because the very idea of preaching the Epistle scares me.

William Weedon said...

As well it should... ;)

William Weedon said...

Say, speaking of wine, I've finally abandoned my boxed stuff. Trader Joe's made me a believer in the Two-buck Chuck (actually, Three-buck Chuck). I brought home a case the last time I was over there and have been enjoying it a great deal.

Chris Jones said...

Good thoughts, Father.

Three-Buck Chuck is a staple in our house. Incidentally, the "Two-Buck" moniker originated at Trader Joe's stores in California, where it really is two dollars. In the Midwest and here on the East Coast, it's three dollars to account for the cost of shipping the wine from California.

The quality and variety of wines available in California is one of the very few things I miss after moving from there to New England.

William Weedon said...

Chris,

Thanks. Say, which are your favorites of the Chuck varieties?

edie said...

Pastor Weedon,
As a recovering evangelical enjoying the wonderful teachings of the Lutheran church, I have pondered over this post for a good while this evening. I've loved your teaching on Issues and have become a regular reader of your blog. I guess it seems to come a across with a bit of the same mixture of law and gospel that we were grew accustomed to in the past. The sort of 'try harder' mentality that always kept me despairing. Maybe you could clarify it up a bit for me. I certainly agree that I should do all those things...but seem to never be able to....at least not to the level I'd like. I have an agnostic friend who is much more disciplined in some areas than me and he obviously does it without the aid of the Spirit. That said, I have been thinking about lenten discipline and certainly would love to make strides in the areas you mention. Thanks for all the time you give toward 'feeding the flock'.
In the blessed name of Christ,
Steve Wadsworth

William Weedon said...

Steve,

Thanks for the kind words. I think the substantial difference between a Lutheran concern for discipline and what you experienced in Evangelical circles is this:

The holiness into which you seek to grow has already been given to you, whole and entire! It's yours in Jesus Christ, the gift of His righteousness fully bequeathed you in Baptism, and constantly renewed in you by absolution and the Holy Eucharist. Through these wonderful gifts, we get to GROW in the apprehension of that which is already our own, learning to live more and more from it, more and more from union with Christ and less and less from the old self.

So it is not that holiness grows in you; it is that you grow in holiness! Getting used to whom God has made you to be in His Son.

There's real effort here, of course, but the effort is working at resting in Him who works all things through us. I don't overcome sin by my willpower (ha!), but by the strength of Him who has united HImself to me.

Does that help at all? I'd appreciate your feedback and thoughts.

Omar said...

There's real effort here, of course, but the effort is working at resting in Him who works all things through us. I don't overcome sin by my willpower (ha!), but by the strength of Him who has united Himself to me.

As I was studying Lutheranism and contemplating my experiences in evangelicalism, this understanding was one of the principal drives behind my decision to become a Lutheran.

I read Luther in Context by David C. Steinmetz and I was particularly struck by these word in the essay about Lutheran sacramentology:

God gives himself to us in baptism, in preaching and in the eucharist whether or not we greet his gift with faith...Both the gift of God's presence and the human receptive faculty are effects of a goodness which envelopes and anticipates us. We are invited to join something already underway,...[my emphasis]

At that time in my life, these words seemed extremely foreign, but ever so delightful.
Now, to rest in Him is truly essential and for the knowledge thereof I am most grateful.

Pax

Lutheran Lucciola said...

Thank you for talking about this, in the comments, too. Sometimes I get confused by the "should do, shouldn't do" thing with being Lutheran also. Although I have no experience with evangelicalism.

And what the heck I'll just say it on here too. Porn is not a problem for just men anymore.

edie said...

thanks for the feedback pr weedon and omar....it was helpful and comforting
steve

bajaye said...

In the Orthodox Church, where we regularly hear confessions, the Internet has really become the new frontier of temptation and idolatry. Porn, of course, is the primary lure, affecting not only men but, as mentioned above, women and even children (including an increasingly disturbing number of pre-teens). But it’s not just porn. The Internet through its impersonal nature has also become a playground for personal attacks, bearing false witness, covetousness (and its corresponding broken relationships) and adulation of any number of false gods. The problem is huge and is spreading with the speed and ferocity of a wildfire.

Perhaps, as none of our communities are spared, this may become at least an area of ecumenical input. I suspect that in the long run we’re all going to be in need each other’s Christian insights in confronting the challenge.

Brian

William Weedon said...

Amen, Fr. Brian, and yet it exists for the sake of the Church, for the fostering of that koinonia which alone is saving: that with the Blessed Trinity. It's as unsound as the fallen world, and yet through it much good can also be experienced. My craziest moment on it? Setting up the computer with the iChat open on the keyboard and singing Christmas carols with a group of teens here in Hamel joining with my daughter and her friends then in Seward Nebraska. It brought us together in a wonderful and fun way to share something we really treasure (making music together).