Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is "Pogo" a Comic after God's Own Heart?

In Walt Kelly's immortal comic strip, "Pogo," the anguished thought is famously expressed ...  by the ever cigar chompin' Albert the Alligator, perhaps; but maybe by the ever-intrepid, skiff-commanding possum with a pole, I don't recall ...  "We has met the enemy, and he is us."

Such memories, tattered and uncertain as they may be, are prompted uneasily from the words of the blessed (and insightful) Psalmist:

For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul; they have not set God before them. (Ps 54:3; AV)

If Christ is the "me" and the "animus," Who is speaking here ... and I believe He is ... then are we modern Lutherans ... pledging a loyalty to the Confessions with our lips, perhaps, but not as often with our heart-perfused postures and behaviors before the Holy Presence of God our Maker ... strangers?  Or, God help us, are we ... in the attempts to mollify the "seekers" ...  our Lord's oppressors?  Are we causing God no little dishonor and grief?

The very first instinct of fallen mankind is not to repent, but to go defensive and stubbornly hide from God's Presence.  Adam, sirdar of sand and dust, did not express any sorrow about his failure, observe; but he did praise God ... albeit in a half-hearted and grudging kind of way.  He did confess the first Article of the Apostle's Creed.  After all, Scripture intones, quite clearly, that Adam acknowledged Eve, that marvel of material, as given to him by God.  That's praise of a sorts.  Of course, Adam ... caught in his own miserable mischief ... didn't go on to manly allow that this lovely if erring piece of creation was the flesh of his flesh, and the bone of his bones.  He didn't say, "She's in open rebellion, but as the head of this little unit, I'm the real stinker here."   Hell, no.  Not at the time of crisis (i.e., an opportunity for an ego-shattering and soul-searing bit of private confession).  Caught with the pants down, and the fig leaves sewn, Adam did find the time to be creatively blaming, to use the little gray brain cells to strike up the twisted praise band, and to attempt to deflect the Judge's attention away from his sin (and ours; we were in his loins, just waiting to burst forth and wallow in the mud, in the fullness of time) by some fancy-footwork:  "Look, okay, this looks bad, I know.  But it's a complicated situation, Lord.  So don't focus on me.  Take my wife.  Please. [The editing Dean wistfully interjects:  "If you thought Henny Youngman's joke is old, you probably had no idea, until now, as to just HOW old it is."]  And on even further reflection, Your ways are messed up; your venture into orthopedic surgery was NOT a success; and now that I've seen this woman that You gave me in action, I'm thinking seriously that the giraffe is man's best friend.  Can we start over?"    The implications from this Adamic hem-hawing are inescapable for today.   As actor Robert ("Dr. Welby") Young once generically prescribed in another of his lives on TV, "father knows best."   So we the children of Adam also unconsciously wish, with all our perspiration in the course of our entertaining worship riffs, that the holy God would just go away and stay put; let us rake in the lost, by our cleverness and our Madison Avenue sales-pitches and our descending projection screens and our lattes ... by our bait-and-switch tactics, in other words.  And if the Hound of Heaven won't heel and behave,  perhaps He can be sung mightily into heaven, stuck gloriously and conveniently in a celestial box.    But not hanging there in our sanctuary, naked on a cross, before our very offended eyes!  Oh, no.  We won't have it, or at least our family-friendly stores won't.  So lissen up now, Jesus, as if You didn't have the chance, once before, when Peter himself sharply warned You about that crazy death-talk of  Yours:   "Come down from that cross, if you are the Christ; separate yourself from that disreputable and ugly and shameful thing ... and THEN we'll believe.  But if You won't do it, trust that we'll do it with our theology of clean living and sweet smells, all on our own.  And as You go about thanking us for the rescue, through the means of preaching Us Merited or a Worked Holiness, can You cosmetically airbrush those disturbing marks on Your hands, feet and side?  That stuff makes us feel bad, like we're (gasp) responsible, and like reprobates with filthy rags for righteousness.  How do You expect us to hit the high "C" of praise, when You're looking imperfect like flayed meat, and our precious self-esteem is  brought low by those bruises?  First principles demand, you see, that a deity worthy of us closet narcissists must be Sovereign, Sovereign, Sovereign ... well, okay, maybe just Sovereign ... and bestowing riches on our work ethic and our decisions ... and not some kind of  beaten Worm, hooked on a piece of timber." 

What I am necessarily saying, too, is that the very first instinct of fallen mankind is to flee from the Presence of God (Gen 3:8).  The fleeing (or the failure to "set God before [us]") is diagnostic of a core refusal to repent, you see.   Fleeing from God, and impenitence, are all one and the same.  Yet the whole point of Divine worship is this:  to truly meet with Jesus (and the blessed Church of Augustana insists on the reality of such meeting), and to receive the gifts He graciously and mercifully bestows on us ... for the forgiveness of sins.  Once His priceless Son was sacrificed for all, to sin's and Satan's crushing end, God didn't and doesn't NEED any further sacrifices (i.e., further torture) for our merit, "bloodless" though they may be described by the philosophers of Dame Reason;  and He certainly doesn't NEED pumped-up, sweaty but bloodless "sacrifices" by us,  for our good feelings ("I'm OK, You're OK ... But I Throw My Arms Up Higher then You Because I'm More Pneumatically-Gifted.").

Yet modern Lutherans, far too often, through deeds which call their 16th century fathers liars, eschew the sacramental and mysterious Presence of Christ every Sunday and on festival days.  All too often they fail to behave Apostolically towards the Presence, and consider it "Romanist" to bow towards the Presence from whence comes our Salvation  (cf. Rev 1:16 for an example of Apostolic behavior; we may as well practice  the Pauline, Scriptural bending of the knee, now, to the Lord's true Presence ... as the whole world will be doing so when He comes in glory to judge it).

But God's will is this:  our nail-scarred Salvation comes to us in the mask of "simple" means, of God's eternal and Living Word spoken through the mouths of ordained and chosen men, and of a Meal far more than mere wheat and wine.   He does not come from antics borrowed from the hysterical royal priesthood of Ba'al, those inclined to believe that God may be snoring, or on a far trip basking in heavenly luxury.  So that we have to go tripping into ecstasy, dude, in order to find Him.  That "far trip" flummery is for the Calvinists, and the arthritic crypto-Calvinists amongst the Lutheran community ... who, by their demeanor and very behavior ...  "do not set God before them."

But you, oh Christian of the ancient faith, set God's Altar before you with reverence, and commune intimately with your living Savior-God.

Oh,  one other thing.

Mind your Table manners, and your Scriptures ... the narratives written for  our example.  The believing Father Abraham of Mamre, as well as St. John of Patmos, knows best when it comes to proper etiquette before God. 

Don't forget to bow (Gen 18:2).                      

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