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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Of the Word, Blessing, and Prayer

I really enjoyed the article by Fr. John Berg in the latest print issue. He brings up a topic that has been bandied about here before: the nature and function of the Word.

I think Fr. Berg's WELS colleagues were right that a sermon doesn't do an infant (whether in or ex utero) any good. Or rather, I should say, I think that it does an infant as much good as a sermon spoken in Polish does for me. Maybe it does some hidden good I'm not aware of and can't see evidence for - but I'd just be guessing at that. It would be pious speculation to say that a sermon does do an infant any good: take it or leave it, but don't hang your hat there.

But they would be wrong to say that since a sermon doesn't do an infant any good that therefore the Word doesn't do an infant any good. "Sermon" does not exhaust the category of "the Word." If a sermon, a rational discourse, cannot pierce the uteran walls, then some other Word can - and even the Word, in the narrow sense, is not the only thing that has God's promise.

This is where I agree vociferously with Fr. Berg that God has not left us in the dark concerning the unbaptized children of Christians - as the unfortunate wording of the WELS Q&A indicated (I propose starting an ecumenical alliance that would discourage denominational websites from offering Q&A. I'm sure Lutherans of all stripes as well as Baptists, Romanists, etc. would all join up.).

A blessing spoken from God's Word delivers - it pierces the uteran walls in Fr. Berg's memorable image. A blessing spoken by the pastor over the child in the womb at the communion rail is effective and has God's promise. "The Lord bless you and keep" can be spoken to me in Polish and be effective. I don't have to understand, or even know, that someone is speaking God's blessing on me to be blessed. It is truly the external Word. And that external Word has the promise of God. So Mary's greeting - undoubtedly the Herbrew blessing "Shalom" - pierces the uteran wall and blesses the infant.

Further, there is the promise of God's Word to hear our prayers - so even if we can't exactly place prayer in the narrow category of "the Word" we must admit that God's Word attaches promises to it. Interestingly, when he wishes to offer comfort to women who have miscarried, this is where Luther points. He doesn't talk about the child in the womb hearing sermons, or even receiving blessings - he talks about Christians praying for the child and God's desire and promise to hear those prayers favorably.


PS: The other piece of pious speculation from Fr. Berg I was taken with the first time I heard him speak of it last year at Octoberfest: Why do we assume that Lazarus, having been raised by the Lord, died again? Why not assume that he walks still among us - waiting for the day when the rest of us will catch up to him. I like that pious speculation quite a lot.
Pr. H. R.12 Comments