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From Luther’s Sermon on Today’s Gospel:  “For they (the wise and understanding of the world) want to attain peace of conscience through their own counsels and accomplishments and their own self-chosen ways, and they will not cease doing so until they see that their sins have been purged through satisfaction and their self-will has been satisfied, which is impossible and is only to build on sand [cf. Matt. 7:26].Therefore, no matter how much they work, labor, and speculate, they accomplish nothing else except to increase the restlessness of their souls, which is just what they are seeking to escape through all their efforts. But one cannot escape it except through knowing the Father and the Son, that is, through knowing the grace and mercy of God which is freely given to us in Christ.”

“…Christ now says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” [Matt. 11:28]; for you cannot refresh yourselves, you  cannot give yourselves rest, but I can. What  IS there left in you? Get out of yourselves and come to me. Despair of yourselves and hope in Me, just as Abraham went out from his country, his kindred, from his and his father’s house. For we ourselves are a father’s house, we ourselves are the world.  Therefore we must go out of ourselves, for we labor and are heavy-laden.”

From St. Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. AD 130-200):  “For error is plausible and bears a resemblance to the truth but requires to be disguised;  while truth is without disguise and, therefore, has been entrusted to children.”

The Formula of Concord, on the Lord’s Supper:“For Christians who are of weak faith, diffident, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the greatness and number of their sins, and think that in this their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure and the benefits of Christ, and who feel and lament their weakness of faith, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience, they are the truly worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament [and sacred feast] has been especially instituted and appointed;  as Christ says, Matt. 11:28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Also Matt. 9:12: They that be whole need not a physician, but they that be sick. Also [ 2 Cor. 12:9 ]: God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Also [ Rom. 14:1 ]: Him that is weak in the faith receive ye [ Rom 14:3 ], for God hath received him. For whosoever believeth in the Son of God, be it with a strong or with a weak faith, has eternal life [ John 3:15f. ].

And worthiness does not depend upon great or small weakness or strength of faith, but upon the merit of Christ, which the distressed father of little faith [Mark 9:24] enjoyed as well as Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith.”

James Weldon Johnson - Poems, Facts & Harlem Renaissance - Biography
James Weldon Johnson
John Rosamond Johnson - Division of Cultural Affairs - Florida ...
J. Rosamond Johnson

Intro:  It was reported this past week that the NFL commissioner has said that in addition to the singing of The National Anthem, the hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” will be performed before all the first games of the season.  The hymn is considered to be by many the “black national anthem.” The hymn is actually the anthem of the NAACP. Another song, “We Shall Overcome” could vie for the anthem of the civil rights movement.

I think that the NFL’s choice of the playing of this great hymn, alongside The National Anthem will strongly suggest White and Black national anthems, only aggravating division and schism. Should there be a ‘yellow’ national anthem, a Native American national anthem, etc. and ad nauseam? Nevertheless, I find the choice of “Lift Every Voice” curiously interesting:  Does the NFL, worldly as it is, knows it has chosen a hymn?!  This hymn is in at least two Lutheran Hymnals:  The Lutheran Service Book, #974 and The Lutheran Book of Worship, #562. 

The hymn was written by two African-Americans whose lives were in both the 19th and 20th Centuries.  The bios below are from the Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship.  You will read that Messrs. Johnson were both accomplished, to say the least.  They did this during the time of the Jim Crow laws, rampant prejudice, the building of Confederate inspired statues and the KKK.  They probably knew the pain of discrimination, and yet, in the United States, they did get ahead in the face of great, even overwhelming odds.

The NFL probably will not have all three stanzas sung which would be a shame, since the last stanza culminates the hymn’s lyric and it is unabashedly Christian.  Please note the way these two Negro brothers regarded their God and country at the end of stanza three. It is an inspiration to all Americans and Christians (the entire lyric can be read here):

God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land

Two brothers, James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson, collaborated in writing “Lift every voice and sing,” which has become the official song of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The piece was published as sheet music in 1921.

The text is by James Weldon Johnson, author, lawyer, educator, and diplomat, born in Jacksonville, Florida, on June 17, 1871. A charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, he held Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Atlanta University, and served for a time as principal of Stanton School. He was founder and editor of the Daily American, the first Negro daily in the United States. Self-educated in law, he was admitted to the Florida bar. He was appointed United States consul to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, and later to Corinto, Nicaragua. On his return to the United States he became assistant editor of the New York Age. He was a visiting professor of creative literature at Fisk University, a trustee of Atlanta University, and director of the American Fund for Public Service, and for fourteen years served as national secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) His publications include The Book of American Negro Poetry, 1922; God’s Trombones, 1927; Black Manhattan, 1930; Negro Americans, 1934; St. Peter Relates an Incident, 1935; and his autobiography, Along This Way, 1933. His translation of Enrique Grandos’ opera, Goyescas, was produced by the Metropolitan Opera Company in 1915. With his brother, J. Rosamond, he collaborated in writing a number of songs (see below). He died at Wiscasset, Maine, on June 26, 1938.

LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING. John Rosamond Johnson, composer, author, conductor, actor, and singer, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 11, 1873. At the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts, he studied with Charles Dennee, Dietrich Strong, George Whiting, Carl Riessman, and David Bispham. He also held an honorary Master of Arts degree from Atlanta University. For some time he was supervisor of music for the public schools in Jacksonville. From 1896 to 1898 he toured in vaudeville in the United States and Europe. Later he was music director of the Hammerstein Opera House in London, and in 1914, of the Music School Settlement in New York City. During World War I he was a second lieutenant in the New York National Guard. In 1901 the Johnson brothers, together with Robert Cole, signed what was apparently the first contract ever made between black songwriters and a Tin Pan Alley publisher (Joseph W. Stern and Company). J. Rosamond became a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers in 1927. The author of Rolling Along in Song, 1937, he also edited an Album of Negro Spirituals, 1940. He wrote the Broadway stage scores for Humpty Dumpty, Shoo-Fly Regimen, The Red Moon, and Mr. Load of Kole, as well as songs for Sleeping Beauty and the Beast. His Broadway appearances included Porgy and Bess, Mamba’s Daughters, and Cabin in the sky  With his brother James Weldom (see above), he wrote a number of songs including “Since You Went Away”, “The Awakening”, “Morning, Noon and Night,” “Two Eyes,” “The Maiden with the Dreamy Eyes,” and “My Castle on the Nile.”  He died November 11, 1954

We regularly see the markers on floors of public buildings to keep the “social distance” of six feet away. These are the two of the markers at the YMCA of which I am member. I was taken aback and had to take the photos above! I guess the “Y” here is still maintaining a patina of the “C” in the original letters: Christian. But can you have peace and love and distance, or more precisely at a distance? More pointedly, can you love your neighbor from “six feet away”? How about sixty feet? How about sixty miles? Six hundred miles? I just saw a former co-worker of mine, a sweet RN, at the local farm stand. We were both wearing masks and she smiled and she said, I wish we could hug, so she gave me a pantomimed hug. Yeah, I guess she showed her love from six feet away. I smiled, I appreciated it and yet I stood there like a lump, weirded out by having yet another surreal covid moment that we’ve all had.

Now the encouragement to “love your neighbor” is not exactly the Biblical commandment which is “love your neighbor as yourself“. Quite frankly, I want to love my neighbor from six feet away, better six hundred miles away. Then I may have a loving feeling here and there every now and then, but six feet or further away, I don’t have to get close in all the mess of my neighbor’s life. I can send in my donation. But when I am messed up, I need a neighbor close up, not standing at a distance but in a good sense in my face to help bear my burden. This is why the Lord’s command IS “Love your neighbor as yourself” and it becomes hard, bearing a cross; and the rewrite of the commandment to “love your neighbor” is easy and can be done with some distance and be an encouragement to social distance even more.

There is really no social distance in love, the real stuff. The closest word to the verb “love”, in the Bible is “serve”. You can’t serve too well some one in need by a wave of the hand and a broad smile or a pantomime. You are not loving your neighbor too well when you think government can do a neighbor’s deed of love. Or injured in a car accident and no one wants to touch you. The real deeds of love are epitomized in Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37. I bet the Pharisee and the Levite had all sorts of love for their neighbor. Maybe they were returning from Jerusalem after their task force to serve victims of violence on the Jericho Road. It was a despised Samaritan who got down and dirty with the half-dead Jew on the side of the road. Jesus sort of change the noun “neighbor” into a verb. I don’t think you can love at a distance.

One more thought: as a Lutheran we believe, teach and confess it is Biblical that we are saved by faith alone by grace alone known through Scripture alone on account of Christ alone. It is. We use the Latin word for “alone” and call these the “solas”. The reason the Lord did this is He has loved us up close and personal, not at a social distance but on the Cross, in His blood shed for His enemies, that is, me. Here we find out that the other solas are rooted in the Lord’s love…alone: John 3: 16. I think we should another “sola”: we love in the Lord’s love alone, sola. Not my naked, selfish love but in His self-giving love (agape) sola for me and you and not at a distance.

Prayer of the Day

Merciful and eternal God, Your holy apostles Peter and Paul received grace and strength to lay down their lives for the sake of Your Son. Strengthen us by Your Holy Spirit that we may confess Your truth and at all times be ready to lay down our lives for Him who laid down His life for us, even Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

Appointed Scripture Readings:  Acts 15: 1-21   Psalm 46   Galatians 2: 1-10   St. Matthew 16: 13-19

The festival of St. Peter and St. Paul is probably the oldest of the saints’ observances (dating from about the middle of the third century). An early tradition held that these two pillars of the New Testament Church were martyred on the same day in Rome during the persecution under Nero. In addition to this joint commemoration of their deaths, both apostles are commemorated separately: Peter on January 18 for his confession of Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:13-16) and Paul on January 25 for his conversion (Acts 9:1-19).

The New Testament tells us much about both apostles. Peter was with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry and served as a leader among the disciples. Despite his steadfast faith, Scripture also records of his failures, such as his rebuke of Jesus (Matthew 16:21—23) and his threefold denial of his Lord (Matthew 26:69-75). Following Jesus’ ascension, Peter continued as a leader in the Church (Acts 1:15; 2:M; 15:7).

Paul, a devout Jew also known as Saul, entered the scene as a persecutor the Church. Following his miraculous conversion, in which the risen Christ Himself appeared to him, Paul became a powerful preacher of the grace of God. During his three missionary journeys (Acts 13-14; 16-18; 18-21), Paul traveled throughout modern-day Turkey and Greece. The New Testament account of his life ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:16), though tradition holds that he went on to Spain before returning to Rome. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Why did Peter and Paul, and the Apostles do what they did, even to martyrdom?  And so many Christians following Christ? What did they hope to get out of this new religion?  Many follow a new religion, or a new political theory or movement in order to get a new rule, power and a reign.  The promise is to get something out of this new thing based upon some human ideology, even tinged with religion, is to gain a fake ‘salvation’.  Man, instinctively knows that there is a God that I have to make myself right before God or some god.  To many it is not even the one true God, but say “right side of history” or “Allah”, or rules. Peter and Paul were not looking for salvation as the Savior had come to them and saved them!  As transgressors, they found out they could not justified themselves before the living God, but the living God justified them, made them right by dying and living again. They weren’t looking for  their own nirvana, utopia, or kingdom on earth. They weren’t hoping to get anything out of Jesus since He had already given them and everyone Himself and all things: His body and His blood!  They were hoping for many to receive the gift of salvation, be born from above and be saved.  As St. Paul wrote,

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 2 Cor. 4: 5  For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 2 Cor. 4: 15. 

St. Peter, one of the 12 who was with the Lord for three years and saw it all, expresses what I think is amazement that those who did not so see believe:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1). 

This is the only faith on earth that is spread because we are saved and the Holy Spirit works in us faith and belief through this Good News which is the acknowledged trust of that Fact in Jesus Christ,  but not in order to be saved.

Let us pray…

Almighty God, You upheld your servant Irenaeus, giving him strength to confess the truth against every blast of vain doctrine.   By Your mercy, keep us steadfast in the true faith, that in constancy we may walk in peace on the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Bio:  Irenaeus (ca. AD 130-200), believed to be a native of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey), studied in Rome and later became pastor in Lyons, France. Around 177, while Irenaeus was away from Lyons, a fierce persecution of Christians led to the martyrdom of his bishop. Upon Irenaeus’ return, he became Bishop of Lyons. Among his most famous writings is Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). This work condemned several errors but focused especially on Gnosticism, which denied the goodness of creation. In opposition, Irenaeus confessed that God has redeemed his creation through the incarnation of the Son. Irenaeus also affirmed the teachings of the Scriptures handed down to and through him as being normative for the Church. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer/CPH)

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Reflection:  In the reading selected for this commemoration in  The Treasury of Daily Prayer, St. Irenaeus wrote regarding the heresies of his day and the truth of Scripture:

For error is plausible and bears a resemblance to the truth but requires to be disguised;  while truth is without disguise and, therefore, has been entrusted to children.

The shocking part of that quote is that the truth has “…has been entrusted to children”!  Not to the adults, not to the learned, not to theologians.  This is keeping with our Lord Jesus Christ who said,

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.    St. Matthew 11

and

2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.   St. Matthew 18

In Irenaeus’ day there were the Gnostics who said creation is evil, spirituality is good.  They could not believe that God became flesh because of the evil of creation.  They said creation was made by a “demiurge”, not God!  Yes, human nature  fell in the sin of Adam and we sin and this lends plausibility to gnostic notions (which are very much in our day, see “spirituality”) of the badness of creation.  Plausible…except it is not the Scripture:  see Genesis 1! See Jesus Christ:  God  did become FLESH, His own creation to save us body/soul!   

Yet, the undisguised truth of God’s Word has so much that even the most able theologians cannot understand it all and they will admit it.  It is the heretics, who have enough of God’s own truth, to disguise and then complicate the truth of God’s own Word, now looking to themselves and a ‘superior’ spirituality.  It looks good but it is a wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing (see Matthew 7:15).  Beware of them, taught faithful pastors like Irenaeus.  Irenaeus also famously said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  How?  Answer:  Jesus loves me.  Upon Him, the solid rock, we can grow and be edified, built-up by the Holy Spirit.  

A child can get it and it is entrusted to His children of all ages and for all the ages until He comes again. One of my favorite theologians is my wife.  She once commented that adults like to think in terms of “moral grays”, a child does not:  it is either right or wrong.  It is that way with the Gospel:   a child gets it. I have done wrong, God is great, He loved us upon the cross.    Creation is good.  I have done wrong.   We are forgiven. This is truth without disguise.  The Father reveals His love to children not the “learned and the wise”. Jesus Himself entrusts it to children:  even if the child is 100! It is in keeping with Irenaeus and his love of Scripture is the lyrics of the old Sunday School song:

Jesus loves me! This I know,  For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong, They are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me! He who died, Heaven’s gate to open wide; He will wash away my sin, Let His little child come in. Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

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Blessed Feast Day of St. Cyril of Alexandria! #orthodox #orthodoxy ...

Collect of the Day

Let us pray…Heavenly Father, Your servant Cyril steadfastly proclaimed Your Son, Jesus Christ, to be one person, fully God and fully man.  By Your infinite mercy, keep us constant in faith and worship of Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bio: Cyril (ca. A.D. 376-444) became archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in 412. Throughout his career he defended a number of orthodox doctrines, among them the teaching that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is “rightly called and truly is the Mother of God”–Theotokos, “the God-bearer” (Formula of Concord, VIII, Ep VIII, 12). In 431 the Council of Ephesus affirmed this teaching that the Son of Mary is also true God. The writings of Cyril on the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ reveal him to be one of the most able theologians of his time. Cyril’s Christology influenced subsequent church councils and was a primary source for Lutheran confessional writings. (Source: LCMS website:  Commemoration Biographies)

St Cyril of Alexandria Quotes Hd-Wallpaper Download

From The Book of Concord: The Augsburg Confession, Article X, The Holy Supper:  “…there is a long exposition of Cyril on John 15, in which he teaches that Christ is corporeally offered us in the Supper. For he says thus: Nevertheless, we do not deny that we are joined spiritually to Christ by true faith and sincere love. But that we have no mode of connection with Him, according to the flesh, this indeed we entirely deny. And this, we say, is altogether foreign to the divine Scriptures. For who has doubted that Christ is in this manner a vine, and we the branches, deriving thence life for ourselves? Hear Paul saying 1 Cor. 10:17; Rom. 12:5; Gal. 3:28: We are all one body in Christ; although we are many, we are, nevertheless, one in Him; for we are, all partakers of that one bread. Does he perhaps think that the virtue of the mystical benediction is unknown to us? Since this is in us, does it not also, by the communication of Christ’s flesh, cause Christ to dwell in us bodily? And a little after: Whence we must consider that Christ is in us not only according to the habit, which we call love, but also by natural participation, etc.    

Rabbi Abraham Heschel on fundamental differences between Judaism ...
Rabbi Heschel

Bio: Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel, one of the most significant religious philosophers and interpreters of Judaism, was a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He gave the following speech in March 1938 at a conference of Quaker leaders in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. In 1938, it was clear to many people that war in Europe was coming. The Anschluss, the Nazi takeover of Austria, like Heschel’s talk, took place in March of that year. Heschel was arrested in October 1938 and deported to Poland. Six weeks before the invasion of Poland, in September 1939, Heschel was able to get to England and from there to the United States.

As then, darkness is spreading again…or we are finally seeing the darkness.  As Rabbi Heschel said, “Few are privileged to discern God’s judgment in history.  But all may be guided by the words of the Baal Shem:  If a man has beheld evil, he may know that was shown to him in order that he learn his own guilt and repent; for what is shown to him is also within him.” On this day, The Commemoration of Jeremiah the Prophet, this prophet’s insights are timely to the meaning of our hour.

Quotations:

“We have trifled with the name of God. We have taken the ideals in vain. We have called for the Lord. He came. And was ignored. We have preached but eluded Him. We have praised but defied Him. Now we reap the fruits of our failure. Through centuries His voice cried in the wilderness. How skillfully it was trapped and imprisoned in the temples! How often it was drowned or distorted! Now we behold how it gradually withdraws, abandoning one people after another, departing from their souls, despising their wisdom. The taste for the good has all but gone from the earth. Men heap spite upon cruelty, malice upon atrocity.

The horrors of our time fill our souls with reproach and everlasting shame. We have profaned the word of God, and we have given the wealth of our land, the ingenuity of our minds and the dear lives of our youth to tragedy and perdition. There has never been more reason for man to be ashamed than now. Silence hovers mercilessly over many dreadful lands. The day of the Lord is a day without the Lord. Where is God? Why didst Thou not halt the trains loaded with Jews being led to slaughter? It is so hard to rear a child, to nourish and to educate. Why dost Thou make it so easy to kill? Like Moses, we hide our face; for we are afraid to look upon Elohim, upon His power of judgment. Indeed, where were we when men learned to hate in the days of starvation? When raving madmen were sowing wrath in the hearts of the unemployed?

Let modern dictatorship not serve as an alibi for our con science. We have failed to fight for right, for justice, for goodness; as a result we must fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil. We have failed to offer sacrifices on the altar of peace; thus we offered sacrifices on the altar of war.”

“Our world seems not unlike a pit of snakes. We did not sink into the pit in 1939, or even in 1933. We had descended into it generations ago, and the snakes have sent their venom into the bloodstream of humanity, gradually paralyzing us, numbing nerve after nerve, dulling our minds, darkening our vision. Good and evil, that were once as real as day and night, have become a blurred mist. In our everyday life we worshiped force, despised compassion, and obeyed no law but our unappeasable appetite. The vision of the sacred has all but died in the soul of man. And when greed, envy and the reckless will to power came to maturity, the serpents cherished in the bosom of our civilization broke out of their dens to fall upon the helpless nations.
The outbreak of war was no surprise. It came as a long-expected sequel to a spiritual disaster. Instilled with the gospel that truth is mere advantage and reverence weakness, people succumbed to the bigger advantage of a lie—”the Jew is our misfortune”—and to the power of arrogance—”tomorrow the whole world shall be ours,” “the peoples’ democracies must depend upon force.” The roar of bombers over Rotterdam, Warsaw, London, was but the echo of thoughts bred for years by individual brains, and later applauded by entire nations. It was through our failure that people started to suspect that science is a device for exploitation, parliaments pulpits for hypocrisy, and religion a pretext for a bad conscience. In the tantalized souls of those who had faith in ideals, suspicion became a dogma and contempt the only solace. Mistaking the abortions of their conscience for intellectual heroism, many thinkers employ clever pens to scold and to scorn the reverence for life, the awe for truth, the loyalty to justice. Man, about to hang himself, discovers it is easier to hang others.

The conscience of the world was destroyed by those who were wont to blame others rather than themselves. Let us remember. We revered the instincts but distrusted the prophets. We labored to perfect engines and let our inner life go to wreck. We ridiculed superstition until we lost our ability to believe. We have helped to extinguish the light our fathers had kindled. We have bartered holiness for convenience, loyalty for success, love for power, wisdom for information, tradition for fashion.”

“What was in the minds of our martyred brothers in their last hours? They died with disdain and scorn for a civilization in which the killing of civilians could become a carnival of fun, for a civilization which gave us mastery over the forces of nature but lost control over the forces of our self.

Tanks and planes cannot redeem humanity, nor the discovery of guilt by association nor suspicion. A man with a gun is like a beast without a gun. The killing of snakes will save us for the moment but not forever. The war has outlasted the victory of arms as we failed to conquer the infamy of the soul: the indifference to crime, when committed against others. For evil is indivisible. It is the same in thought and in speech, in private and in social life. The greatest task of our time is to take the souls of men out of the pit. The world has experienced that God is involved. Let us forever remember that the sense for the sacred is as vital to us as the light of the sun. There can be no nature without spirit, no world without the Torah, no brotherhood without a father, no humanity without attachment to God.

God will return to us when we shall be willing to let Him in into our banks and factories, into our Congress and clubs, into our courts and investigating committees, into our homes and theaters. For God is everywhere or nowhere, the Father of all men or no man, concerned about everything or nothing. Only in His presence shall we learn that the glory of man is not in his will to power, but in his power of compassion. Man reflects either the image of His presence or that of a beast.

Soldiers in the horror of battle offer solemn testimony that life is not a hunt for pleasure, but an engagement for service; that there are things more valuable than life; that the world is not a vacuum. Either we make it an altar for God or it is invaded by demons. There can be no neutrality. Either we are ministers of the sacred or slaves of evil. Let the blasphemy of our time not become an eternal scandal. Let future generations not loathe us for having failed to preserve what prophets and saints, martyrs and scholars have created in thousands of years. The apostles of force have shown that they are great in evil. Let us reveal that we can be as great in goodness. We will survive if we shall be as fine and sacrificial in our homes and offices, in our Congress and clubs, as our soldiers are on the fields of battle.

There is a divine dream which the prophets and rabbis have cherished and which fills our prayers, and permeates the acts of true piety. ills the dream of a world, rid of evil by the grace of God as well as by the efforts of man, by his dedication to the task of establishing the kingship of God in the world. God is waiting for us to redeem the world. We should not spend our life hunting for trivial satisfactions while God is waiting constantly and keenly for our effort and devotion.

The Almighty has not created the universe that we may have opportunities to satisfy our greed, envy and ambition. We have not survived that we may waste our years in vulgar vanities. The martyrdom of millions demands that we consecrate ourselves to the fulfillment of God’s dream of salvation. Israel did not accept the Torah of their own free will. When Israel approached Sinai, God lifted up the mountain and held it over their heads, saying: “Either you accept the Torah or be crushed beneath the mountain.”

The mountain of history is over our heads again. Shall we renew the covenant with God?”

Let us pray…

Lord God, heavenly Father, You preserved the teaching of the apostolic Church through the confession of the true faith at Augsburg. Continue to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Intro: The Augsburg Confession, the principal doctrinal statement of…Martin Luther and the Lutheran reformers, was written largely by Phillip Melanchthon. At its heart it confesses the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone. Signed by leaders of many German cities and regions, the confession was formally presented to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, Germany, on June 25, 1530. A few weeks later Roman Catholic authorities rejected the Confession, which Melanchthon defended in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531). In 1580 the Unaltered Augsburg Confession was included in the Book of Concord. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH; read more about this holy day here)

“It is surely amazing that our opponents are unmoved by the many passages in the Scriptures that clearly attribute justification to faith and specifically deny it to woks.  Do they suppose that this is repeated so often for no reason?  Do they suppose that these words fell from the Holy Spirit unawares?”  (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. IV, Justification, para. 107, Tappert Edition)

In the General Index of the Tappert translation, the quote above is under the topic, “Scriptures, Holy: the Spirit knows what he says”. I love that:  The Spirit knows what He says!  The response to that commonsense statement is both Amen and Duh!  Philip Melanchthon and the blessed Reformers read the Scriptures as for the first time when they knew from the Scriptures the interpretative key of justification by grace through faith on account of Christ Jesus alone. They found out what the Holy Spirit says in “…the many passages in Scripture” regarding salvation in and through the Savior of mankind by His work alone, not our works. Too many theologians and speculators think they know more than God, more than the Holy Spirit by denying the passages they don’t like and then based upon their self ‘enlightened’ new understandings twist and pervert more of the Holy Scriptures.  The Augsburg Confession is short and to the point…but the papal Church wanted to miss the point.  They wanted to point to themselves instead of pointing to Jesus Christ alone  (as John the Baptist did) who did for all the world atone, He is our mediator.

This date is actually the birthday of the Evangelical and catholic Lutheran Church not October 31, 1517, but when the Reformers presented their Confession of Faith, they were not declaring a new independent Church but the continuation of the holy, apostolic, Christian and catholic Church reformed according to the Gospel.  They did not declare freedom from the Church but freedom for the Church and the world in Jesus Christ alone.

Galatians 5: 1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

The Lutheran Church has not the slightest theological interest in this antithesis between Catholicism and Protestantism. It does not know to which side it belongs. If only there were a clear-cut contradiction between true and false doctrine in the antithesis! But this does not happen to be the case. For there are heresies in Protestantism which are just as dangerous as those of Catholicism. Lutheran theology differs from Reformed theology in that it lays great emphasis on the fact that the evangelical church is none other than the medieval Catholic Church purged of certain heresies and abuses. The Lutheran theologian acknowledges that he belongs to the same visible church to which Thomas Aquinas and Bernard of Clairvaux, Augustine and Tertullian, Anthanasius and Irenaeus once belonged. The orthodox evangelical church is the legitimate continuation of the medieval Catholic Church, not the church of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council which renounced evangelical truth when it rejected the Reformation.For the orthodox evangelical church is really identical with the orthodox Catholic Church of all times. (Here We Stand (1932) by Rev. Hermann Sasse, Lutheran theologian and professor, at the time publication at the University of Erlangen)

Men Saint Icons: St. John the Baptist Icon | Monastery Icons

COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation. Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS: Isaiah 40:1-5 Psalm 85:(1-6) 7-13 Acts 13:13-26 St. Luke 1:57-80

Bio:  St. John the Baptizer, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was born into a priestly family.  His birth was miraculously announced to his father by an angel of the Lord (Luke 1: 5-23), and on the occasion of his birth, his aged father proclaimed a hymn of praise (Luke 1:67-79). This hymn is entitled the Benedictus and serves as the traditional Gospel Canticle in the Church’s Service of Morning Prayer. Events of John’s life and his teaching are known from accounts in all four of the Gospels. In the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, John began to preach a call to repentance and a baptismal washing, and he told the crowds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John denounced the immoral life of the Herodian rulers, with the result that Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had him arrested and imprisoned in the huge fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea. There Herod had him beheaded (Mark 6:17-29). John is remembered and honored as the one who with his preaching pointed to “the Lamb of God” and “prepared the way” for the coming of the Messiah. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Grünewald, Isenheim Altarpiece – Smarthistory

Reflection:

Above is an image of the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald (circa 1515).  The Lord’s vocation to John is amply shown in the detail of John the Baptist:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” St. John 1: 29

The long bony finger says it all: John 1: 29 is John’s sermon visualized pointing us to Jesus Christ and in particular upon the Cross.  There is our salvation, not in my heart and mind but in Jesus Christ so that the Holy Spirit bears witness to us all of so great a salvation, we must not neglect the preaching (Hebrews 2:3).  The Baptizer’s sermon recorded in John 1: 29 is only one sentence!  Reading carefully the entire text,  John 1: 29-34, and not that the Evangelist reports no other people listening to John in this paragraph.  We are the hearers of the Word and  doers of the Word (Luke 8:21). In fact, the whole world (in Greek, “world” is cosmos), is under the Cross, objectively, existentially and really (John 3:16).  We are all sinners.  John the Baptizer points not to himself, not to man nor woman, not to the Lord’s blessed Mother, not to our spirituality(s) but ever and only to Jesus Christ, and by faith in Him, we are His baptized saints, with John, Paul, Mary and the whole company of heaven.  The Lord’s finger pointing at us is His just Law and judgment of our wrong.  The finger pointing to Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the Gospel Who alone made us right through faith alone as He for all the world did atone. John points to Christ so that we born from above in Him.

Christ is our steadfastness in these times of immorality and unrest, even near  those who bear the name of brother (see 1 Corinthians 5:11). As I write lawlessness, rioting, pillaging and wanton destruction of public property is occurring. John lived in a lawless time as his king lustfully married his brother’s wife while his brother was alive. John preached the immorality of the ruler’s marriage: See Mark 6:16-18. (1) The saints are encouraged to hold the course steady.   John preached for the sanctity of marriage. Herod Antipas had John beheaded. 

We can “lose our heads” without decapitation:  our prudence, our “cool”, even engage in mob violence and the like.  John the Baptist held the course. He knew who was guiding him, though John had trials and tribulations. John was steadfast in his preaching, especially regarding marriage and crucial and central: he was steadfast in preaching, Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Your sin included, all of it. Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard, in his commentary on  Matthew 11:7well wrote:

 “…John’s (the Baptist) steadfastness is held up as an example to be followed by all faithful teachers—indeed also by all true Christians. John was not a reed. He did not allow himself to be deterred from the pathway of truth and from his calling by the world’s cunning and temptation.  So also Christians are not to be fickle and erratic like a reed.  Rather, they are to be grounded like pillars and columns in the house of God.   1 Tim. 3: 15, Rev. 3: 12—Johann Gerhard

I keep coming back to this hymn as my personal prayer for myself as one of the baptized and as a pastor and preacher:

1 Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word; 
curb those who by deceit or sword 
would wrest the kingdom from your Son 
and bring to naught all he has done. 

2 Lord Jesus Christ, your pow’r make known, 
for you are Lord of lords alone; 
defend your holy church, that we 
may sing your praise triumphantly. 

3 O Comforter of priceless worth, 
send peace and unity on earth; 
support us in our final strife,
and lead us out of death to life. 

(1) Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Granddaughter of Herod the Great. Her present husband, Herod Antipas, was a son of Herod the Great. She had been previously married to Philip, another son of Herod the Great (Philip was also the half brother of Herod Antipas). In other words, both of Herodias’s husbands were also her uncles (From the Lutheran Study Bible footnote)

Saint John the Baptist - Byzantine Icon - OramaWorld.Com
Indian-head test pattern - Wikipedia

I remember a time in which TV would go off the air, usually at midnight.  The National Anthem was played and that was it.  In retrospect, seems quaint but somehow good.  Then the image above would appear:  the test pattern. The TV show The Outer Limits and it’s famous intro was based upon the TV and TVs of the time: 

Here’s the text:

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: There is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits. 

“We will control all that you see and hear”.  Sounds ominous and it sounds like the omnicompetent controllers these days on the various social network platforms, and on TV and all forms of communications.  We are being taught, catechized, formed, misinformed, conformed and then deformed 24/7.  I remember first reading 1984 by George Orwell, some 50 years ago, and the scary thought of the “telescreen”, interactive (“They” could listen to you) was on 24/7.  We are there.

 Something is wrong with those who are controlling our TV sets, by their incessant, “…blessing the murder of children, the emancipation of women from womanhood, and the sowing of the seed of life in a sewer.” (Anthony Esolen)  We can add to the list. Controlling our TV sets and the internet is just the game to control our minds. 

What is being espoused now and has for some time now?  Answer: The “new normal”.  Can you even have a new ‘normal’?  Normal, from norm, which is standard, precept and originally from the Latin, a carpenter’s square.  “A new normal” asserts new standards and precepts.  Really?  Who’s inventing these new standards and precepts? Where are they?  Can we see their faces?  I don’t think so as evil likes to remain hidden.  And finally they are not flesh and blood,

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6

Can one improve on say 2 + 2=4?  Or marriage between man and woman? If an architect were to use a “new normal”, a new “carpenter’s square”,   would we have a building with walls that are plumb and the floors even?  I don’t think so. The building would be lopsided as the  spiritual new architects, the cosmic powers would proudly declare again and again:  This is the “new normal”.   No wonder the assertion of a new normal means abnormal, living in an upside-down world.  “The New normal” is just a fancy way of force acceptance of the sin of Adam and Eve and hypocrisy is okay.  Anything going from, per the Outer Limits, from the “inner mind” will end up in a warped fiction that is frightening.  FWIW, I never liked The Outer Limits.  The inner mind of man is enslaved to itself, and mind is it’s own place and can make a heaven out of hell, and a hell out of heaven (Satan, Milton’s Paradise Lost), destroys what is good, and true and beautiful.  BTW, the Outer Limits  was actually a science fiction TV show.  Seems to me we are living in a science fiction with the emphasis on fiction. No wonder the truth of the Gospel of the kingdom, of Jesus Christ, making people right in His sacrifice is hated by those who tenaciously cling to their idols, their fictions even with the patina of adjective “science”.  In fact the sane will be called demonic! But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1)

So if we are feeling strange and estranged in this “novus ordo seclorum”, the new order of the ages, then we know that the Lord has called us and showed us how wrong this new normal actually is. Does that mean we hunker down and keep away from it?  Yes and No.  Yes, we need to turn off more and more our “telescreens” and still use them to proclaim God’s salvation from this spirit of the age (zeitgeist).  We do this for our own sanity and for the love and welfare of our neighbors.  No, we can’t separate ourselves from the world and further: Jesus sent the 12, and His Church into the world against the Lord which now even denies even outer limits, that is, limits of any kind, which is a lie as well.  This opens us up to political and spiritual tyranny. The Gospel lessons for these Sundays (three year lectionary) are from Matthew chapter 10 which is our Lord’s Missionary Discourse to the 12 when they will be Apostles, sent into the world with the good news of forgiveness from God’s own hands.  There is  much for us to learn in Matthew 10 for us and our salvation and the salvation of many. We can take heart from the Lord when He both promises and commands His Church in these strange days of the “new normal”:

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. (St. Matthew 10)

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