10 October 2019

What Is Most Sure

Dr. Nagel preaching the 20th anniversary of my ordination -
Quite a surprise arranged by then vicar, now Pastor Charles
There was no one like him. I had heard rumor of him before I ever met the great man. Kathy Weidmann told us of this wondrously eccentric and delightful Dean of the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University. I got to know daughter-in-law Mollie who worked at Bronxville while I was there. And yet nothing but nothing prepared me for the first class in Systematics (or as he would have preferred to call Dogmatics) with him. It was Systems II, Christology. His great love.

He rushed into the room a tad late and we were waiting for the usual handing out of syllabus and such. All the boring stuff that attends the first day of class. Seminary, I must confess, had largely been a huge yawn up to that point. But how everything changed in an instant!

“The Large Catechism says that it is the faith of the heart that makes both God and idol. So boys, let’s make some God. Tell me what you know about Him.”

We were more than a bit startled. Ever so painfully, like extracting teeth, he pulled information from us about God. We were used to professors talking, not asking! At last the usual attributes were scattered across the board. Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Eternal and so on. And then he said the oddest thing: “You really haven’t told me anything about God, but about what you’re not and what you’d like to be.” And then someone raised their hand and said: “Oh, and He’s sinless.”

“Sinless” said he. “You want a God who is sinless. Well, you don’t get one. You get a God who is full of sin. All the world’s sin. All yours. All mine.” And then, though, it wasn’t time for the class to end, he packed up his bag and just walked out. And we were left wondering. In awe at a God who would do such a thing. Take all our sin into Himself. 

This is the God that Dr. Nagel never ceased inviting us to know and trust and love. The Crucified Lord Jesus. Everything else “wobbles” in one of Dr. Nagel’s famous, well, we called Nagelisms. What wobbles has reference in yourself. What holds is Jesus. His promise. His gifts. His death for you. His life for you. 

And because he would never have you be in doubt of His gifts and so all wobbly, the joy of the Sacraments. Most sure, His name. Put on you. Making you His. Marking you as His forever. His body and blood put into you. Binding you to Him in joy and forgiveness. 

How we shall miss you, our dear Dr. Nagel! But how your teaching, so faithfully and shockingly and uncompromisingly giving us Jesus, shall endure. I’m reading right now Chemnitz’ Two Natures in Christ, and unbidden to mind came your words this very morning. As Chemnitz cites Luther laboring to clarify the scholastic’s distinction between the abstract and the concrete terms, I thought how simply you once nailed this point: “In Christ, you can say things about God and about man that are nonsense outside of Christ. If any word is in Christ, it is a new creation!” Thank you, dear Teacher for it all. Thank you, heavenly Father, for raising up such a servant of Your Word and for the joys that his teaching continues to bring to Your Church!

1 comment:

John De Young said...

Thank you, Bill for your memories. My favorite Prof. Friend and Theologian.